HOUSTON (AP) — A forensic psychiatrist told jurors Monday that a man accused of fatally shooting six members of his ex-wife’s family near Houston in 2014 wasn’t responsible for his actions because of severe mental illness that made him believe voices in his head telling him to carry out the killings.
Prosecutors allege Ronald Lee Haskell, 39, created a meticulous plot in which he traveled from California to suburban Houston in 2014 and stalked his ex-wife’s family for two days before killing six of them, including four children. One family member, a then 15-year-old girl, was also shot but survived by playing dead.
But Stephen Raffle, a forensic psychiatrist who examined Haskell and reviewed his medical records, testified at his capital murder trial that Haskell didn’t know what he was did was wrong.
Raffle said that at the time of the killings, Haskell was suffering from a form of bipolar disorder, a brain condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, and from schizoaffective disorder, a condition characterized by hallucinations or delusions.
The voices in Haskell’s head “had basically taken control” of him, Raffle said.
One voice named Joseph “was telling Ron that he has to kill members of his ex-wife’s Melannie’s family in order to get reunited with her,” Raffle said.
Haskell’s marriage had ended after years of domestic violence, according to court records. His ex-wife and his children had moved from Utah to Texas to be with her family.
Prosecutors allege Haskell became so enraged his ex-wife had left him that he planned to harm anyone who had helped her.
During her questioning of Raffle, prosecutor Lauren Bard portrayed Haskell as someone who was faking being mentally ill and who killed the six family members out of rage and narcissism.
Bard suggested to Raffle that Haskell had manipulated him and that Haskell minimized the killings.
Killed in the shooting were 39-year-old Stephen Stay and his 34-year-old wife Katie, along with their children: 4-year-old Zach; 7-year-old Rebecca; 9-year-old Emily; and 13-year-old Bryan. Katie Stay was the sister of Haskell’s ex-wife.
During her cross examination of Raffle, Bard also said Haskell had told other medical experts who had interviewed him that he wanted to shoot his ex-wife in the back of the head because he had “so much hate and anger.”
“He said he felt good about killing Katie,” Bard said.
At the start of the trial, Cassidy Stay, the only person to survive the shooting testified she begged Haskell to not hurt her, her parents or four siblings. She told jurors Haskell had her and her family lie face down on her living room floor before shooting each person one by one.
After the shooting at the Stays’ home, Haskell tried going to the houses of his ex-wife’s parents and brother before officers took him into custody after a long standoff.
Raffle was set to resume testifying on Tuesday. He was expected to be the final witness for the defense in Haskell’s trial, which began Aug. 26.
Prosecutors were expected to present about 10 rebuttal witnesses before the trial’s closing arguments, which could take place by the end of the week.
Haskell faces a possible death sentence if convicted of capital murder.
By JUAN A. LOZANO
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