Nathan Yager's murder trial entered the third week Tuesday with testimony from Dr. Karen Fukataki, a forensic psychiatrist who believes Yager was in a disassociative state when he murdered his wife Melinda in January 2011.
Yager has been charged with second degree murder and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The trial is moving more quickly than anticipated. Tuesday morning, attorney Stephen Schweissing began presenting the defense's side of the story.
After two interviews with Nathan, the first just 10 days after Melinda's murder, Dr. Fukataki said she found Yager to be insane at the time of the act. She based her findings on the fact that Yager remembers charging at Melinda, he remembers the blood, and he remembers driving from the scene in Paonia, but he can't recall two "significant" occurrences that tragic afternoon.
First, she testified, Nathan does not remember taking out a knife and severely cutting Melinda's neck. Second, he doesn't remember how he fractured his left hand, although he admits striking Melinda. Dr. Fukataki said Nathan is right handed so it's unlikely he would have used his left hand to hit Melinda.
He is also unable to recall visiting the district attorney's office the day before the murder, although there is no reason for him to deny that event, Dr. Fukataki testified.
Disassociative disorder is a result of feelings that are too intense for the conscious mind to handle, she said. There was evidence Nathan Yager was under tremendous stress, to the point he began disassociating, she testified.
She also diagnosed Nathan with depression.
The "mental disease or defect" became evident to the victim herself, who in December 2010 asked the court to order Nathan Yager to submit to drug testing. She found his behavior so erratic, his demeanor so different, she was convinced he was on drugs, Dr. Fugataki testified. The court ordered the drug test, Nathan submitted to hair analysis, and the test came back clean. The symptoms described by Melinda in that court filing are consistent with depression, and possibly depression with psychotic features, Dr. Fugataki said.
The jury will balance her testimony against that of Dr. Richard Astafan, an expert in forensic psychiatry who is a consultant at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. When an insanity plea is entered, Dr. Astafan explained, the court orders the defendant be evaluated at the state hospital. The psychiatrist is not handpicked or paid by the district attorney's office, although in this case he was called as an expert witness for the prosecution.
Insanity, Dr. Astafan testified, would be characterized by a gross impairment of reality. Impairment is so "demonstrable" even non-psychiatrists can identify the mentally ill. Such behavior is not transient . . . it is not temporary, Dr. Astafan said.
Colorado does not believe a person can be sane one minute, insane a few minutes, then sane again, he added.
His comments generated objections from Schweissing, who said the psychiatrist was not qualified to testify about the state statutes definining insanity.
Despite Schweissing's objections, Hotsenpiller was able to pose the question, "Where do anger and rage fit into insanity?"
"Anger is not a basis for insanity," Dr. Astafan said.
In anticipation of the testimony to be provided by the defense expert in the same field, Hostenpiller asked if it made any difference if Dr. Astafan's evaluation was made seven or eight months after the incident.
Nathan's story shouldn't change that much, Dr. Astafan said. At his age, it's unlikely that severe, persistent mental health issues would have gone undetected.
During evaluation, Nathan spoke freely — and at length — about his marriage and separation, Dr. Astafan said. When it came to the events of Jan. 7, he was able to recall only "bits and pieces" of the events that unfolded the afternoon of Melinda's death, but Dr. Astafan said that's common among those who have been involved in extremely violent crimes. It is not an indication of mental disease; in fact, Dr. Astafan said, he believes Nathan is legally sane. Drugs or alcohol were not factors. Nathan was simply a frustrated, angry, upset guy who snapped and killed his wife.
Co-workers testified that their employer, TK Mining Services, accommodated Yager's need to remain close to Delta, despite the firm's involvement in a coal mine at Trinidad. It became evident to some, but not all, co-workers that personal issues were affecting Nathan's ability to perform his duties as a purchasing agent for the firm. A couple of co-workers expressed concern about his demeanor, about things he said to them. None saw any evidence of bizarre behavior.
His oldest friends described him as happy-go-lucky, friendly, a jokester. While the district attorney got them to admit Nathan was not delusional, the defense pointed out that his personality had clearly changed by July and August 2010, when he and Melissa separated. He could not be described as happy-go-lucky, friendly or a jokester by those who encountered him during his divorce proceedings.blog comments powered by Disqus