By Dan Nienaber
---- — ST. PETER — Burton Ewing Jr. did not meet Minnesota's definition of insanity when he attempted to beat and stab his mother to death, but a judge also should consider the fact Ewing has a serious mental illness if he is facing a prison sentence, said an expert testifying for prosecutors at his trial Thursday.
Two experts previously called by Ewing's defense attorney, Stephen Ferrazzano, had said that they concluded Ewing, 49, was delusional and didn't realize what he was doing on May 8, 2012, when he attacked his mother, Marlys Olson, at Seven Mile Creek County Park. Ewing and his mother had left the security hospital on a day pass that day, which also happened to be one day after the 14-year anniversary of the incident that resulted in Ewing being found mentally ill and dangerous. He beat his sister to death May 7, 1998, and, if he hadn't been arrested, also planned to kill Olson.
One of those experts called by the defense, Dr. George Komaridis, said the delusions Ewing was experiencing while he was stabbing his mother were the same he was experiencing in 1998. He believed his mother was the antichrist and, if he killed her, the world would become a better place and he would feel better about himself. That met Minnesota's definition of innocent by reason of mental deficiency, which is known as the McNaughton defense.
Dr. James Gilbertson, the expert called by Assistant County Attorney James Dunn on Thursday, said he could understand why other experts would reach that conclusion. Experts who evaluated Ewing's mental health after his sister's murder found his psychotic delusions at the time were so strong that he didn't realize what he was doing was wrong. It would be easy to compare the 1998 and 2012 incidents and find the incidents are so similar that Ewing had to have been in the same mental state, Gilbertson said.
He took a different approach because he is very familiar with how people are treated in the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center's security hospital and sex offender programs, Gilbertson said. He does many evaluations for people who are committed there and also serves on the Supreme Court Appeal Panel, which reviews the cases of people being released from those programs.
The 1998 incident and 2012 incident were completely different, Gilbertson said. Before killing his sister, Ewing refused to admit he had a mental illness, wasn't taking his medications and had only been treated periodically when he was forced into emergency treatment facilities after a breakdown. The attack on his mother happened while he was receiving constant treatment, taking his medications and had gone more than a decade without any violent incidents.
“He had been exposed to 14 years in a hospital that was designed to treat people like him,” Gilbertson said. “I believe it was a different case, a different time and a different individual.”
Ewing knew it was his mother he was attacking even though he referred to her as the antichrist, Gilbertson said. The fact he brought supplies with him and made plans to escape after killing his mother were also a sign of “moral reflection,” meaning he was considering whether what he was doing was right or wrong, he said. When Ewing was interviewed by investigators four hours after the 2012 attack, he also talked about wondering if killing his mother would accomplish his goal of killing the antichrist and changing the world.
While answering questions from Ferrazzano, Gilbertson said he didn't believe either incident would have happened if Ewing wasn't bipolar with a schizoaffective disorder. But that didn't mean he wasn't capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Gilbertson also said he believes it would have been impossible to mask potentially dangerous delusions from security hospital staff for 14 years.
When Dunn asked if any of Ferazzanno's questions had changed his evaluation of Ewing, Gilbertson said no. Then he added that he wasn't sure a long prison sentence would be a good thing for Ewing, either.
“In my opinion he doesn't meet McNaughton, but I do believe he has a serious mental illness,” he said. “It's serious enough to be a mitigating factor at sentencing.”
After both sides submit closing arguments, Nicollet County District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel will decide if Ewing is guilty of first-degree attempted murder or innocent by reason of insanity.