The jury that found Houston Herczog was insane when he killed his father discounted the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness, psychiatrist Dr. James Missett, who believed the slaying happened during a drug-induced rage. “The jury didn’t give a lot of weight to his testimony. There were no favorable opinions of his testimony,” juror Jim Dobbins, 55, of Santa Rosa said. Three psychiatrists who testified for the defense said Herczog, 22, was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia when he brutally stabbed his 63-year-old father Mark Herczog and crushed his skull with a guitar amplifier in their Santa Rosa home around 1:15 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2011.
The jury convicted Herczog on May 6 of first-degree murder and this afternoon the panel found he was insane at the time. Some jurors smiled and at least one wiped tears from her eyes when the panel’s verdict was read. Herczog stood and blew kisses to family members in the audience as the jurors left the courtroom. The prosecution argued during sanity phase of the trial that Herczog might have been suffering from schizophrenia, but was sane when he killed his father and might even have been exaggerating his symptoms to avoid criminal responsibility. Herczog will be sent to a mental health hospital until it is demonstrated he is fully restored to sanity, a decision that will be made by a judge, Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner said.
A hearing on the placement issue is scheduled for June 4. Herczog faced life in prison if the jury found he was sane at the time of the murder. “This was a good jury. We trusted them to make a first-degree murder decision and we trusted them to make a decision on whether he was sane or insane,” Waner said. “The jury made the decision based on the evidence. There’s nothing to say about it,” Waner said. In his closing argument Waner told the jury Herczog became enraged and killed his father when he confronted him about stealing his mother’s Adderall pills hours before the slaying.
Psychiatrists who testified for the defense said Herczog heard voices telling him his father was an evil spirit and he believed he had to sever his father’s head to get the evil spirit out. “Common sense says this was a psychotic killing, not a normal killing,” Deputy Public Defender Karen Silver told the jury in her closing statement. “I’m ecstatic. This was always a sanity trial for me,” Silver said after the jury’s decision today.
The defense had the burden of proving Herczog’s was insane because he was incapable of knowing the nature of his acts and that they were legally and morally wrong. “The defense showed me more evidence that he didn’t know the nature of his acts than the evidence that he did know,” juror Lew Spengler, 66, of Petaluma said. ” A lot of it came down to he was not a bad kid and then suddenly he has this downward spiral,” Dobbins said. Herczog’s mother Marilyn Meshak Herczog said she is happy with the verdict. “My son is clearly sick. I’m so glad he going to get help,” she said.
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