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Sanchez Was Unstable Months Before Slaying, Psychiatrist Says

Doctor testifies for the defense in the murder trial of a man accused of killing a Moorpark College student.

June 27, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

A Simi Valley serial rapist on trial in the death of a 20-year-old college student was mentally disturbed, homicidal and suicidal when he was released from a mental hospital months before the slaying, a psychiatrist testified Thursday.

Dr. John Liebert, a former employee of the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department, was the first defense witness in the trial of 32-year-old Vincent Sanchez, who faces charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and attempted rape in connection with the July 5, 2001, killing of Moorpark College student Megan Barroso. Sanchez already has pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges involving a dozen women. If convicted of all charges he could face the death penalty.

On the witness stand Thursday, Liebert said he had diagnosed Sanchez with a number of potential psychiatric disorders, including "intermittent explosive disorder" and "adjustment disorder" in January 2001 before Sanchez opted to leave the hospital against the doctor's advice. He had entered the hospital expecting to stay only three days, but was held an additional period after making threats.

Liebert said he had no authority to keep Sanchez in the facility. A court ordered that Sanchez be released on Jan. 16.

"There's nothing you can do," Liebert testified. "It's against the law to ask him to stay another five minutes. When they want to leave, you let them go." While being treated in the hospital, Liebert said, Sanchez "made a robust threat ... that he was going to kill his girlfriend and himself and that he had a viable weapon to do it."

As a result, Liebert said he was forced to invoke a legal procedure holding himself responsible to warn potential victims that Sanchez was being released and could pose a danger to them. Liebert issued the warning to police and Sanchez's former girlfriend, Luz LaFarga.

Liebert said it was clear at the time that Sanchez had no insight as to why his threats against LaFarga and himself were serious. Sanchez had formed an intense bond with LaFarga and her children and believed he could reconcile their relationship, he said.

"I was trying to get him to accept that this relationship was dead and that he needed to grieve," Liebert said.

On direct examination, defense attorney Neil Quinn went through Liebert's notations on Sanchez's discharge report, which included several possible diagnoses. Liebert described "adjustment disorder" as an inappropriate reaction to stress and a sign of an underlying personality disorder. He said "intermittent explosive disorder" describes someone who exhibits violent or verbal explosions without provocation.

Sanchez also could have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Liebert testified, stemming from a 1997 industrial accident in which Sanchez suffered a severe head injury.

On cross-examination, Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona asked if someone with "intermittent explosive disorder" would plan ahead before committing violent acts. Liebert said they would not.

Corona then listed several actions Sanchez had taken after making the threat against LaFarga, including stealing a shotgun from his roommate, sawing off the barrel of the gun and preparing a duffel bag with handcuffs, a ski mask, duct tape and ammunition before asking LaFarga to meet him.

Liebert then said he would have needed at least six months to definitively diagnose Sanchez, rather than the eight days he had in January 2001.

"Is it correct to say you were not confident in the diagnoses at the time Mr. Sanchez was released?" Corona asked.

Liebert replied, "Yes, that's correct."

Testimony continues today.

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