A man accused of intentionally plowing his car into a Costa Mesa preschool playground conceived the attack years in advance, hoping that killing "innocent" children would halt the voices he claims the government was beaming into his brain, according to records unsealed Friday.
Psychiatric reports, released by an Orange County judge at the request of The Times, provide the first detailed look into the mind of a man accused of killing two preschoolers and injuring five others in May 1999.
In interviews with psychiatrists appointed by the court, Steven Allen Abrams repeatedly expresses disbelief at his own actions while justifying them as the only way to stop the "brain waves" that flooded his mind.
"I still don't believe I did it, that I could possibly do what I did," Abrams said. "I'm not a killer. . . . I love kids."
The 40-year-old Santa Ana man said he doesn't care whether he's put to death but worries about encountering in court the families of the victims, Sierra Soto, 4, and Brandon Wiener, 3.
"I dread the day I have to go to court to face them," he said. "There's nothing I could say to them. If I said, 'Sorry,' that wouldn't be appropriate."
The 52 pages of psychiatric records portray Abrams as a man haunted by delusions that the CIA or some other government agency wanted him to become a killer. For several years, he drove by the Costa Mesa day-care center, believing that if he killed the children, the government would stop torturing his mind.
According to the psychiatric records, Abrams began to display mental problems in 1994, about the time a spurned romantic relationship developed into stalking charges. He eventually spent several months in jail and psychiatric hospitals. Abrams began looking for new meaning in coincidences and became convinced people were following him, according to the records.
After interviewing Abrams at the Orange County Jail, Dr. David Sheffner concluded that the accused child killer suffers from "a most severe and major disorder." Another psychiatrist, Jose Moral, found that Abrams probably didn't understand "the wrongfulness of his actions" at the time of the crime.
Abrams, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, could face the death penalty if convicted. His trial is expected to begin in the next few weeks.
Defense attorneys are expected to base their case on mental illness, but Abrams contends to the psychiatrists that he functioned normally until age 34, even raising a daughter as a single parent.
Both psychiatrists traced Abrams' mental troubles to his brief relationship in 1994 with a neighbor, who broke up with him after a few weeks.
Abrams pleaded guilty to stalking the ex-girlfriend but now says it was only because the judge in that case, Robert D. Monarch, "tricked" him.
"He was one of the brain wave people, the judge," Abrams said in the psychiatric reports.
The fatal attack at the Southcoast Early Childhood Learning Center came hours after a confrontation with another driver on the Costa Mesa Freeway. When the driver of a Toyota Camry cut in front of him, Abrams said, he figured the government was behind it and proceeded to ram the car until the driver got out of his way, according to the records.
He drove himself and his 19-year-old daughter home, then became enraged when he realized his actions on the freeway could cost him his driver's license and his car.
"I'm going to end it all," Abrams told his daughter, Stephanie Young, according to the reports.
He grabbed his keys and left the house. He was ready "to do it, after all these years of thinking about it," he states in the court records.
His daughter, in interviews with the court psychiatrists, recalled that she told him, "Don't hurt anybody."
The preschool, Abrams said, was an appropriate target because it was affiliated with a Baptist church. In addition to an unknown government agency, Abrams blamed the Baptist church for his troubles. He thought the church might also have been toying with his mind out of anti-Semitism. Abrams' father, who died when he was a child, was Jewish, according to the records.
Abrams told psychiatrists that he drove his Cadillac Coupe de Ville past the preschool, turned around and accelerated into the playground, pinning children beneath the car. He sat in the car, weeping and rambling about the judge, until police arrived.
For his insanity defense to prevail, Abrams' lawyers must prove he could not understand the consequences of his actions on the day of the crime. The two court-appointed psychiatrists, Sheffner and Moral, conclude in their reports that Abrams suffers from psychotic delusions, but only one would say Abrams reached that legal threshold.
One of the doctors, Moral, wrote that he thought it was significant that Abrams had discussed the delusions with others for several years. His daughter told Moral in an interview that her father talked about killing preschool children as long as five years ago, the records state.