Doctors: Kinkel hid schizophrenia

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Both a psychologist and a psychiatrist testified Tuesday that lawyers for Kip Kinkel probably should have taken the case to trial and argued an insanity defense for the 1998 killings of his parents and two Thurston High School students because Kinkel was too mentally ill to understand a plea bargain that sent him to prison for more than 111 years.

"He was very, very ill," said Dr. William H. Sack, the retired director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, who also treated Kinkel during his stay at the state juvenile prison before Kinkel was transferred to the state penitentiary earlier this month.

Both Sack and Dr. Orin Bolstad, a clinical psychologist who is an expert on juvenile offenders, said Kinkel exhibited all the "classic signs" of paranoid schizophrenia, a mental illness Kinkel had gone to great lengths to hide because he feared he would be considered abnormal or even mentally retarded.

Kinkel also suffered from hallucinations, hearing "voices" in his head, and from delusions, including his belief that the Walt Disney Co. was trying to take control of the country, and that the government had implanted a computer chip in his brain, Sack and Bolstad said.

"Kip Kinkel began hearing voices in the sixth grade, when he was 12 years old," Sack said. "He was just a kid. He desperately wanted to be normal."

Bolstad added that Kinkel was too young to understand what was happening to him, so he kept his symptoms hidden, even though he later called the voices "a living hell."

In addition, Kinkel had an irrational fear of courtrooms and prosecutors, and wanted desperately to avoid being sentenced to the Oregon State Hospital if he was found guilty but insane at trial because that would label him as mentally ill, both factors that also may have contributed to his decision to accept the plea bargain, Sack and Bolstad said.

"I think his mission in life was to avoid going to court," Bolstad said.

In 1999, Kinkel pleaded guilty to shooting his parents, William, 59, and Faith, 57, in their Springfield home and, the next day, opening fire in the Thurston High School cafeteria, wounding 25 students and killing Mikael Nickolauson, 17, and Ben Walker, 16. Kinkel was 15 at the time.

Kinkel is seeking a new trial, arguing his original attorneys should have raised the insanity defense and gone to trial instead of striking the plea deal.

The hearing before Marion County Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond was expected to last through Wednesday. Kinkel was not in court Tuesday, but attorneys in the case said he might be on the stand before the hearing ends.

Susan Howe, representing the Oregon attorney general's office, argued that Kinkel had been thoroughly evaluated and was competent to enter into the plea bargain.

"The issue is not whether he was mentally ill," Howe said. "The issue is whether he was mentally competent at the time."

She said that Kinkel did not want to sit through a long trial and believed that he was going to be found guilty anyway. He also believed a plea bargain was his best shot at a reduced sentence, Howe said.

Doug Park, also with the attorney general's office, added that competence is a legal question for a judge to decide, relying on the advice of experts.

But Park pointed out to Sack during cross-examination that none of the mental health experts who evaluated Kinkel had expressed concern that he could not aid or assist in his own defense.

"I wish I had said something in 1999, but I didn't," Sack replied.

Larry Matasar, the new attorney for Kinkel, told the judge in his opening statement that Kinkel had been taken off his medications for more than two months during a state evaluation of his mental health, and that he had resumed them for only about two days before the plea bargain.

Matasar later asked Sack, who managed Kinkel's medications at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility following his conviction, whether the minimal dosage given Kinkel at that point would have had any effect.

Sack said it would have taken about two weeks before the medication had any real effect.

Meanwhile, he "fooled everybody" - the judge, attorneys and doctors - by again hiding his symptoms and appearing rational, Sack said. 

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)