Whether David Attias, the chronically mentally ill UCSB student who — as the self-proclaimed “Angel of Death” — killed four people after plowing his car into an Isla Vista crowd 11 years ago, is fit to be released from Patton State psychiatric hospital will be the subject of a four-day hearing this May. Attias was found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) in 2002 and is one of the few people, if not the only person, charged with homicide in Santa Barbara history to receive that verdict. The May hearing promises to be the first in memory to determine if someone found NGI in Santa Barbara should be released from Patton and placed into continuing treatment in a facility contracted by the California Department of Mental Health’s Forensic Conditional Release Program (CONREP).
Attias has been evaluated every six months since he was sent to Patton, and Patton and CONREP administrators agree he’s sufficiently stabilized to be released. Prosecuting attorney Paula Waldman said she’s requesting a hearing just to make sure. “We’re just doing our due diligence,” she said. Waldman explained that under state law the legal burden of proof will be on Attias and his attorney — Public Defender Deedrea Egar — to prove he does not pose “a danger to others based on his mental defect.” Egar and Attias will have to show Judge Thomas Adams, who presided over the trial 10 years ago, that Attias poses no such danger to the public. Waldman said she intends to send a psychiatric expert to Patton to interview Attias in the meantime.
The evaluations upon which Patton is basing its recommendation are confidential for the time being but will become public during the course of the trial. After Judge Adams scheduled the hearing from May 8-12, Egar met briefly with reporters to express grave concern how state and county cuts to mental-health services have put the public at greater risk by reducing — and eliminating — care that could prevent those with mental illness from reaching the breaking point. If her petition proves successful, Egar stressed, Attias will not simply be released but will be consigned to treatment with 24-hour supervision.