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Posted on Fri. Dec. 14, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Mental state during slaying discussed at murder trial

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FORT WAYNE — Four mental health experts testified Thursday in the fourth day of Joseph Kast’s murder trial.

Three were called by Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck, and the fourth testified for the defense as to whether the 35-year-old man was sane at the time prosecutors allege he fatally stabbed 85-year-old Claude Berkshire inside his garage in June 2002.

Kast’s mental health has been an issue since his arrest on the murder charge in the summer of 2010. And it was an issue in the summer of 2002 when he admitted to murdering the Huntington County building inspector just days after he is accused of killing Berkshire.

Kast pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the death of the building inspector, Earl Bowman, who stopped off at a home construction site to check concrete footers. Kast ran at him and stabbed him four times in the chest.

While serving a 55-year sentence for that killing, Kast wrote a letter to a Fort Wayne police detective in the spring of 2010. And, during a subsequent interview with police, he confessed to killing Berkshire.

But interspersed between his statements about the stabbing death of Berkshire, Kast talked about combining license plate numbers into telephone numbers, reading messages in garage sale signs, and seeing demon faces in wood grain.

Little to no physical evidence ties Kast to Berkshire’s death.

The elderly man appeared to be getting ready to feed some birds before heading to Mass, as he did every day, when someone stabbed him inside his garage.

The mental health experts were split on whether Kast was insane at the time of Berkshire’s death – or able to determine right from wrong.

A court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Herbert Trier, who examined Kast for about an hour, said he was insane.

Kevin Wieland, one of two clinical psychologists, said Kast was likely delusional and paranoid in June 2002 but said he was reasonably sane at the time and competent. He examined Kast for about five to six hours over two separate interviews.

The other clinical psychologist, David Lombard, said that because of Kast’s reluctance to talk about the crime – other than what was written in court documents or told to him – it made it difficult to ascertain his mental status at the time.

With both Wieland and Lombard, Kast refused to complete some of the tests used to evaluate his mental health. None of the three court-appointed mental health experts reviewed audio and video recordings of Kast’s statements to detectives.

But Stephen Ross, a forensic psychologist testifying for the defense, did. Using that information, as well as other data, Ross said he believed Kast suffered from a paranoid personality disorder, as well as schizophrenia.

Ross testified another mental health expert at some point diagnosed Kast with paranoid schizophrenia. He said it was likely Kast was suffering from a psychological disorder at the time Berkshire was killed.

The trial is expected to conclude today.

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