Nick Holzer was too deeply psychotic to know right from wrong the night he killed his parents, two sons, and the family dog, testified psychiatrist Howard Babus at Holzer’s sanity hearing this week. Babus, an expert witness called by defense attorney Christine Voss, argued that Holzer is not guilty by reason of insanity. Babus worked 32 years for the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility, where he encountered Holzer in 1998 after he’d been placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold for three nights. At the time, Babus said, Holzer was all but catatonic after having stabbed himself in the abdomen with a kitchen knife. On a mental-illness scale of 1 to 10, Babus said he’d rank Holzer a 9.5 at the time, the same number he gave after listening to Holzer’s taped interview by Sheriff’s Office deputies hours after the killings in 2014.
Holzer had cycled in and out of deeply delusional and psychotic states since his first breakdown in 1995, Babus said. Since then, he has suffered from profound delusions that he was one of the most evil beings on the planet and that he would spend an eternity in hell. According to Voss, Holzer believed he needed to kill his family to save them from the damnation awaiting him. That Holzer lacked the capacity to know right from wrong morally would be the key finding for Judge Brian Hill to rule Holzer not guilty.
Prosecuting attorney Ron Zonen pressed Babus to explain how someone so deeply psychotic could have gone 10 years without psychiatric intervention or medication without incident, as was the case with Holzer between 1999 and 2009. In that time, Holzer worked five years at Raytheon, got married, had two children, got divorced, and quit his job. Zonen stated Holzer’s ex-wife would testify she never observed signs of mental illness during their years together. He noted that Holzer had been awarded sole custody of the two children only after he’d been screened by a court-ordered psychologist. Babus acknowledged that Holzer’s trajectory of mental illness was unusual, but hardly impossible.