Expert raises sanity issue

Psychologist: Man charged with killing cop was delusional

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A defense expert psychologist witness testified Tuesday that David Forster was delusional and displaying psychotic behavior when he waived his rights to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney after allegedly murdering Kenai Police Officer John Watson 13 months ago.

"Mr. Forster believed he was in a war with the devil, he prayed to God who helped him win the battle, and when he (later would tell) people in the courtroom about the war, everyone would understand and everything would be all right," said Susan LaGrande, Ph.D.

LaGrande testified for more than four hours in the first of a planned two-day evidentiary hearing in Kenai Superior Court on a defense motion to keep Forster's statements from being used during his murder trial.

Forster is charged with murdering Officer Watson on Christmas in 2003.

Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh had filed a motion alleging that taking statements Forster made while in police custody about the shooting death of Watson violated Forster's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights — the right to remain silent and the right to be represented by a lawyer.

Those statements, according to Murtagh, should not be allowed as evidence during Forster's trial in part because Forster's mental status at the time was questionable.

LaGrande, who said she had a master's degree and a Ph.D. in psychology from the Fielding Institute and has completed 200 hours of continuing education training in forensic psychology, told the court she had reviewed transcripts from investigators' interviews with Forster, reviewed transcripts of the grand jury proceedings in the case, interviewed Forster's parents and friends and examined Forster.

"I was looking for any history of problems predating Christmas of 2003 and looking at his history of head injury for any markers of mental health issues," LaGrande said.

She said she also tested Forster to ascertain whether he might be "attempting impression management" or faking mental health problems. He was not, she said.

LaGrande said several events leading up to the night of the Watson killing contributed to his psychotic state and may have led to his perceived powerful religious experience manifested in his mind as a battle with evil.

Forster is accused of killing Watson late Christmas night after Watson went to Forster's residence on Watergate Way in the Kenai VIP Subdivision in response to an Alaska State Trooper request for help in conducting a welfare check.

At first, Watson reported that Forster's vehicle was not at the residence, but as Watson was leaving, he saw the suspect vehicle drive past him.

He turned around and stopped the vehicle in Forster's driveway, and a female companion of Forster's asked if she could take two dogs from the vehicle into the residence. Watson allowed her to do so.

A few minutes later, he radioed to police dispatch that he needed assistance.

According to troopers, it is believed Forster acted aggressively toward Watson, a struggle broke out, and Forster managed to obtain Watson's service weapon, a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun.

It is believed two shots were fired, one of which struck Watson in the head, killing him.

Forster then allegedly walked into the residence, where the female took the gun from him.

Backup Kenai police and troopers responded to the residence and remained in a standoff with what was believed to be an armed subject inside the residence until 1:07 a.m., when Forster surrendered without incident.

Shortly after the standoff began, the female ran from the residence unharmed.

"This was a huge religious experience to him. He was pressed to relate this experience," LaGrande said, as to why Forster told trooper investigator Jane Schied about the shooting.

"His view is investigator Schied is his friend — he does not understand the context of the interrogation," LaGrande said of police questioning on Dec. 26, 2003.

"People in a severe psychological state will answer — fabricate an answer — toward the question.

"In this case, he was so lost in the powerful experience, he's not focused on Ms. Schied's questions. He had this war with the devil and he had been saved by God," she said.

"His grasp of reality is loose at best," LaGrande said.

She told Judge Donald Hopwood, presiding over the Forster trial, it was her opinion that Forster was not aware of what rights he was waving at the time.

During questioning by Kenai District Attorney June Stein, LaGrande was asked if she recalled saying Forster was distraught when being questioned by Investigator Dane Gilmore.

"Would you not agree that anyone who had just shot and killed an officer would be distraught?" Stein asked.

"Do you agree that a lot of people say they are speaking with God?" Stein asked.

"Yes," LaGrande said.

"Do people who speak with God attribute power to God?" Stein asked.

"That's correct," LaGrande said.

"And that in and of itself is not characteristic of a delusional person?" Stein asked.

"Correct," LaGrande said.

When asked why Forster told LaGrande he wanted a jury trial, she said, "He believed if he could explain things to people, everything would be OK.

"He believed if he described his battle with evil, he would be set free," she said.

"He didn't believe that in connection to the shooting of Officer Watson?" Stein asked.

"The overriding experience for him is religious — the shooting was intertwined with that," LaGrande said.

She said the psychotic process for Forster began on Christmas Eve when he said he wrestled with Satan and, while helping a friend with a sauna, he was electrically shocked and said the devil sent the current directly to his heart.

Later that evening, he reportedly shot a gun into his own couch, saying the devil was on it; he plugged holes in the wall with rags to keep evil from getting in and he related an episode with a magic waterfall to his fiancee.

LaGrande said the psychotic process continued with the struggle and eventual shooting of Watson followed by a long period of howling inside his house before he surrendered to police.

"All of that is psychotic behavior," LaGrande said.

The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to resume this morning at 9:15 in Kenai Superior Court. Forster remains in custody at Wildwood Pretrial Facility on $1 million bail.

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