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Man who killed 4 with car seeks release from mental hospital

David Attias, who was convicted and found insane after the deadly incident near UC Santa Barbara in 2001, has made great strides, his lawyer tells court. Relatives of victims aren't convinced.

May 30, 2012|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
  • David Edward Attias, shown in 2002, was sent to Patton State Hospital.
David Edward Attias, shown in 2002, was sent to Patton State Hospital. (Mike Eliason / Pool photo )

Eleven years ago, David Attias declared he was "the angel of death" and plowed his car into an Isla Vista, Calif., crowd, killing four pedestrians and severely injuring a fifth.

On Tuesday, his attorney described Attias as a mentally ill young man who has made great strides in self-awareness and self-control, and he asked a judge to release Attias from Patton State Hospital, where he was sent after a jury found him legally insane in 2002. The same jury also found him guilty of four counts of second-degree murder in the incident near UC Santa Barbara.

Attias, now 30, would be placed in an unspecified halfway house if Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Adams agrees that he no longer poses a threat.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday, relatives of his victims objected to his possible release.

"It would be grotesquely premature," said Abby Pollak, whose son, Elie Israel, 27, was among those killed.

"There's no guarantee he won't go off his medications," said Pollak, a retired professor of comparative literature. "We feel he's still incredibly dangerous."

Several of Attias' relatives, including his TV director father Daniel Attias, attended the hearing but declined to be interviewed.

Santa Barbara County Deputy Public Defender Deedrea Edgar said Attias' bipolar condition has been "in remission for several years at least" and that the former UC Santa Barbara student is no longer diagnosed as psychotic.

His treatment team at Patton has recommended him for community placement, she said, adding that he is not violent, addicted, alcoholic — or perfect. She said he has broken some rules over the years, including sending a "sexually inappropriate" letter. At times, he has been prickly and confrontational.

Prosecutor Paula Waldman recounted numerous incidents involving Attias, stretching back to his expulsion from kindergarten after an attack on another student. At Patton, he was disciplined for "essentially stalking" a woman with phone calls and letters.

The hospital's positive reports reflected staff members' "selectively looking at the best of his behavior, mostly in the last year and a half," Waldman said. She said Attias told the staff what he believed they wanted to hear.

Attias' psychiatrist and other staff members are expected to testify at the hearing, which attorneys said may last into next week.

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