Psychologist questions insanity

A psychologist who interviewed Ramadan Abdullah in 2006 testified Monday that the 26-year-old is mentally "very sick" and "absolutely psychotic."

Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Abdullah didn't know exactly what he was doing when he shot and killed sheriff's deputy Erik Telen, said Kris Mohandie, a private psychologist who used to work for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Mohandie, the first expert to testify for the prosecution in Abdullah's trial, said there's no question Abdullah currently suffers from schizophrenia. But on the day of the killing -- Aug. 21, 2001 -- the disease was only in its early stages, known as schizophreniform, he said.

"He did not have the same level of impairment as someone who has full-blown schizophrenia," Mohandie said.

In July 2001, Abdullah ran away from his family in New York, joined an Islamic camp in the Tulare County foothills, and then ran off a month later and broke into an unoccupied home near the Fresno County town of Dunlap. When Telen and his partner entered the home to investigate, Abdullah shot and killed him. Abdullah surrendered to police after a 51/2-hour standoff.

On Monday, the defense rested its case after a week of testimony from its witnesses. The Fresno County Superior Court jury will return Thursday to hear closing arguments. If jurors find Abdullah guilty of murder, they will then hear further testimony from mental health experts to help them determine whether Abdullah was insane at the time of the crime. Abdullah has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder and found to be sane.

Defense attorneys are trying to convince jurors that they should find Abdullah guilty of second-degree murder -- not first-degree murder -- which would spare him the death penalty. They argue that Abdullah's schizophrenia drove him to shoot Telen.

But Mohandie, who reviewed police reports and interview transcripts related to the case, testified that he "found an absence of fear and paranoia" in Abdullah's actions and statements during the killing and immediately afterward.

"If a person is impaired enough to be responding to delusions, it's not going to be subtle, it's going to be obvious," Mohandie said.

The psychologist said that during the 2006 interviews, Abdullah said that he knew it was sheriff's deputies who had entered the house, and he realized Telen was an officer because of his uniform.

"It appears that the shots that were fired were in response to real-world stimuli," Mohandie said.

On cross-examination, however, Mohandie agreed that it's "possible" Abdullah was simply reciting in his interviews what he had been told had occurred on the day of the killing.

To be considered schizophrenic, a person must exhibit signs of the disease for a period of at least six months. Mohandie said that based on documents he has reviewed, it appears that Abdullah began experiencing delusions in June 2001. Friends and family of Abdullah have testified that Abdullah's behavior began changing as early as late 2000. In the summer of 2001, he repeatedly claimed to be Jesus, witnesses said.

Mohandie said that at the time of the killing, Abdullah's delusions appeared to be sporadic, rather than consistent. He said he concluded Abdullah was suffering from schizophreniform, not schizophrenia.

Defense attorney Pete Jones suggested that Abdullah may have been experiencing one of those delusions at the time of the shooting and then returned to somewhat normal behavior after the 51/2-hour standoff.

Based on jail records of Abdullah's erratic behavior after his arrest, Mohandie said that he believes Abdullah's mental illness may have progressed from schizophreniform to schizophrenia by late August or September -- perhaps days after the killing.