MAYVILLE - Jason Wells' diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic took center-stage as the defense continued calling witnesses during Wells' murder trial Tuesday in Chautauqua County Court.
Various county jail officials took the stand to explain the defendant's peculiar and sometimes threatening behavior during his incarceration there. A jail psychiatrist testified that after examining Wells, she determined he had suffered from "paranoid delusions" when he allegedly murdered Ruth Fisk.
Wells' mother, Mary Lynn Timon, also testified as to her son's supposed delusions and began to tear up when she recalled her son had told her over the jail's telephone that he killed Fisk because she "molested (his) children," to which Timon replied, "No, she didn't."
Before testimony began, the court learned one of the jurors on Monday was admitted to a hospital's intensive care unit, but was fortunately getting better as of Tuesday. Judge John Ward deemed the individual unable to continue as a juror within a reasonable period, thus having an alternate assume the vacant seat.
"Drive back and forth from Mayville very carefully, as we don't have any more backup," Ward told the jurors half-jokingly.
Wells, a former resident of Fre-donia's One Temple Square apartment complex, allegedly stabbed and beat Fisk, 81, a retired nurse and a fellow One Temple Square resident and friend, to death on Feb. 4, 2010. He was 37 at the time.
The defendant faces second-degree murder, a crime punishable by 25 years to life behind bars.
After giving Wells an initial evaluation on Feb. 11, 2010, Dr. Caillean Maureen McMahon Tronetti, a psychiatrist with the county jail and a published schizophrenia researcher, determined Wells could not have understood his actions while he murdered Fisk.
"He was difficult to question and would answer me in a disorganized fashion, going off on tangents," McMahon explained. "He also seemed preoccupied internally."
She cited various factors she considered before making a diagnosis, including disorganization and looseness of thought process, abstract reasoning, a sense of being distant and auditory hallucinations.
After asking him what he was charged with, McMahon said Wells told her, "She (Fisk) first surprised me when I was young and asked me to take her life so she didn't have to deal with the pain anymore."
"I did it sloppy," he told her.
McMahon diagnosed Wells as having chronic schizophrenia with paranoid features, as well as a possible alcohol dependency.
"The person becomes more agitated, more likely to commit a violent act after having alcohol. Paranoid features means the person is suspicious, constricted, has these false or grandiose beliefs of persecution and can become hostile," she noted. "At the time of the crime, he would know he is killing someone, but he would not have the capacity to appreciate what was wrong (or right)."
On cross-examination, District Attorney David Foley had McMahon point out she had probably spent 20 to 30 minutes with Wells before the diagnosis. He also pointed out she did not know too much about the case at that time, including how Wells tried disposing of evidence and cleaning up blood around his apartment, lying to police at first and even denying any auditory hallucinations when McMahon asked him, even though she noted he did have them.
"It's difficult to call it a lie when someone so paranoid and afraid of you won't tell you much and is clearly responding to internal stimuli," McMahon said on defense attorney Lyle Hajdu's re-direct examination.
FREQUENT OUTBURSTS AND "PARANOID" BEHAVIOR
Hysterical laughter at nothing, threats to kill Fisk "again" and accusations of molestation seemed the norm during Wells' incarceration before his transfer to another facility in October 2011, according to jail officials.
Patrick Johnson, the jail warden at the time of the murder, recalled Wells was isolated from other inmates by being taken to the special housing unit.
"He seemed a threat to himself and other people, inmates and staff alike," Johnson stated, pointing out two officers needed to move him instead of the usual one officer. "He continuously acted out with outbursts, yelling and making statements about hurting (or killing) people. He had fits of rage, pounded on a cell door and had a '100-mile stare,' as if looking past you with no emotional attachment."
Johnson also noted Wells would stand in a corner and talk "100 miles an hour" with his hands at his side. He said the defendant would stare at a wall for hours while sitting on his bunk.
Wells' behavior toward the corrections officer in charge of him, Sashene Garlick, seemed to become more hostile over time.
"He accused me of stealing money from his bank account, raping and sodomizing him, and that Ruth Fisk was embodied within me and that he would do anything to get me out of his life, that he would kill me again," Garlick recalled, adding she was concerned for her safety if the electric doors restraining him were to malfunction. "He also accused me of wanting to poison him and he would clean his food. He refused to give us his laundry and insisted on washing it himself in a dirty mop bucket."
Yvonne Calcaterra of the jail's mental health department added that during her talks with Wells, he appeared unresponsive, as if she was not there.
"It was as if he was preoccupied by something else, not just ignoring me," she said. "At one point, when his attorney came to see him, he was convinced (Hajdu) was part of the conspiracy to keep him there and that he was sodomizing him and that he was Ruth, too. He just couldn't be convinced."
Assistant District Attorney Grace Hanlon on cross-examination had Johnson point out Wells was cooperative during booking at the jail and spoke responsively with a corrections officer.
"Is it correct to assume jail is not a pleasant place to stay?" Hanlon asked, to which Johnson agreed and said the inappropriate behavior was not exclusive to Wells.
Hanlon also had Johnson add that Wells would oftentimes not take the pills given to all inmates in the jail. On one occasion, during an outburst, 10 corrections officers were apparently called for backup since Wells would not go back into his cell.
Foley, on cross-examination with Garlick, had her point out that Wells' behavior began to get really bad several months after booking, not immediately. He added the embodiment comments were never indicated in any official reports, though Hajdu on re-direct had Garlick explain that her job is not to write reports every time she felt uncomfortable by Wells, but when he breaks a rule.
Foley also pointed out Calcaterra was not present for the first 10 months of Wells' incarceration, as she took on her job in 2011.
"Mental health can deteriorate over time in jail, right?" Foley asked, to which Calcaterra replied, "I suppose."
WELLS' MOTHER TESTIFIES
Emotions ran high when Timon took the stand in defense of her son.
Timon explained she lived in Ellicottville at the time Wells lived at One Temple Square, which he moved into in April 2009.
"We talked on the phone often and I would visit him and go shopping with him once a month," she said. "I was acquainted with Ruth Fisk by phone, too, since he told me after I had had my heart attack in 2009 that she would take him shopping with her."
Hajdu asked Timon if Fisk ever knew Wells as a child, to which Timon replied, "No." Previously, it was alleged in a statement Wells made to police that he knew Fisk when he was 14.
In November 2009, Timon was visiting her son when he apparently told her Fisk was evil and had a gun and that she molested children, which startled Timon, who brushed it off at first.
"I didn't believe him," she said.
On Feb. 3, 2010, Timon and a friend had gone to visit Wells and have lunch with him. Wells apparently disappeared for a while and when he had come back, they went shopping at Walmart.
"He seemed quiet ... but OK," Timon said.
In an effort to demonstrate motive, Foley on cross-examination brought up that Timon had stated in an email to Hajdu that Wells was getting tired of Fisk's constant phone calls to chat. He apparently even changed his number so Fisk could not get in touch with him.
"He called me and told me he changed his number because he couldn't take Ruth's calls anymore," Timon recalled.
Trial proceedings should continue today at 10 a.m.
Comments on this article may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org