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Plea Bargain Likely in Fatal Shooting of Escondido Doctor

February 23, 1987|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

An agreement is expected today under which Steven Alan Larsen will plead guilty to murdering an Escondido physician and be committed to a state mental hospital, according to his attorney.

Larsen, 31, is charged with gunning down Dr. Craig Blundell last July in the physician's office.

Barton Sheela, Larsen's attorney, said Larsen probably will plead guilty today to either first- or second-degree murder before Vista Superior Court Judge Zalman Scherer and be committed to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.

"We've been wanting to get him into a treatment facility and get him under care," Sheela said. "This man has been sick for a long time and is still sick."

George Beall, the deputy district attorney handling the case, said the plea bargain is all but certain. "I think it's going to get resolved on Monday," he said.

Beall said the district attorney will go along with the plea bargain because Larsen, a former dentist and Eagle Scout, could easily be found not guilty by reason of insanity if the case went to trial. Three experts on psychiatry have said that Larsen, a paranoid schizophrenic, was insane at the time of the crime.

"The primary reason we'd agree to a plea bargain is there's no evidence on our side to refute the reports of the doctors," Beall said.

Larsen is expected to agree to the settlement, Beall said. Even if Larsen were to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would still be taken to a mental hospital, the deputy district attorney said. If Larsen went to trial and was found guilty of murder, Beall said, he could face prison.

"For Larsen, it's a guarantee instead of a question mark," Beall said. "I think he wants to get into the hospital as quick as possible. This would speed things up."

The case is scheduled to go to trial March 9 in San Diego.

Beall said the length of Larsen's stay at Patton would be determined by how well he responds to treatment.

"There's no way to say how long it will be," he said. "Years, probably. How many is difficult to say. He could be there for the rest of his life."

Even if doctors eventually declare Larsen cured, the district attorney could ask for a jury trial to determine whether he is a threat to society, Beall said.

Last July, Larsen fired several shots from a handgun at Blundell, then fled the physician's office. Police arrested Larsen shortly after the shooting about a mile from the doctor's office.

Before the shooting, Larsen had met Blundell only once for treatment of a stomach ache that Sheela and some doctors say was psychosomatic.

Larsen, who is a graduate of the USC School of Dentistry, became a petroleum engineer and worked in oil fields in Alaska and Bakersfield for the Atlantic Richfield Co. Last May, however, he was laid off, and he was living at his mother's home in Escondido.

While in custody in the jail's psychiatric ward, Larsen has been under medication and undergoing group and individual therapy, but has remained generally despondent, Sheela said.

"He gets to thinking that everything that happens is directed at him," Sheela said. "When the guys in the other cells laugh, he thinks they're laughing at him. When he's under medication, he's calmer and begins to understand that he can't assume that everything that happens around him is directed at him.

"He still thinks, in the back of his mind, that it (Blundell's murder) was part of a plot to get him. He's still a very sick man. He'll be in (Patton) for years. His condition may be controllable after several years, but he'll never be cured."

Times staff writer Tom Gorman contributed to this story.

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