Insanity defense anticipated in Sitka slayings

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

If Jason Abbott's jailhouse comment to a friend is accurate, the 18-year-old Sitka man will use insanity as a defense against allegations he stabbed four people to death and tried to kill a fifth at his grandparents' home on March 25.

Two of the dead were Abbott's grandparents.

During his friend's visit, Abbott said he was "taking the insanity plea" and would "get off in three years," wrote District Attorney Doug Gardner in an April motion requesting Abbott undergo a forensic mental evaluation.

Gardner based his request for a court-ordered psychiatric exam on Abbott's statements. Under state law, two examinations are required if "insanity" is used as a defense, he said.

"There is reason to believe that the defense in the case may be mental disease or defect, or that mental disease or defect will be an issue," Gardner wrote.

Abbott was indicted on four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder shortly after his March arrest. Responding to a 911 call in which dispatchers heard screaming, Sitka police found Abbott on the stoop of his grandparents' home holding a knife to his own throat. Police subdued Abbott with a stun gun.

One woman, Abbott's aunt, survived. According to police, all were stabbed multiple times by Abbott.

"Clearly, Jason Abbott is mentally ill," said Marcy McDannel, Abbott's attorney.

McDannel has not determined what form of defense she'll offer on Abbott's behalf. Insanity is a legal definition not a medical one, she said.

Insanity is seldom used as a defense "because the definition is extremely narrow" and many serious mental illnesses such as paranoid schizophrenia can forgo the legal definition of insane in Alaska, McDannel said.

"You basically have to be hallucinating," McDannel said.

When asked about the killings, Abbott told investigators, "The Lord made me murder them," Gardner said.

In 2004, Abbott's girlfriend sought a restraining order after receiving letters detailing his suicidal and homicidal thoughts.

"I think I wanna strangle you, then I think not," Abbott wrote in a letter.

Two days before he was accused of killing four people, Abbott was arrested on a charge that he assaulted his mother.

McDannel has yet to respond to Gardner's motion seeking the mental evaluations and may seek court permission to delay the testing. She expects to address the issue during a hearing Thursday in Sitka Superior Court. There is a lot of evidence about Abbott to wade through, she said.

"I'm just starting to unravel Jason's mental state," McDannel said.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or e-mail

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