The court proceedings for the two charges of murder against Michael LaRosa continue this week with what is expected to be a continuation filed by his lawyers in preparation to defend their client for the killing of two men with an axe on the streets of Seattle this past November. One of those Thanksgiving week murders happened at the corner of 15th and Union and left neighborhood resident Joe LaMagno dead in the snow after a brutal blow to the head. From documents compiled by doctors who evaluated LaRosa at Western State Hospital, CHS has learned more about the accused murderer, his mental illness and the findings that, with treatment, he is fit to stand trial.
LaRosa is currently in prison but for a time in January, he was sent to Western State Hospital to be evaluated for his mental competency to face the murder charges. CHS has reviewed the report redacted for public release from forensic psychiatrists Margaret Dean and Glenn Morrison. It reveals LaRosa’s troubled past including physical and sexual abuse, extensive drug use and his battles with mental illness. It also documents the doctors’ belief that LaRosa was exaggerating some of his psychotic symptoms and lays out the case for why they believe that, with medication and treatment, the 26-year-old is fit to stand trial despite his history of bi-polar behavior and schizophrenia — or, as the report terms it, his “severe mental illness.”
The doctors also noted his hygiene was poor: “he was malodorous with an unkempt, scruffy beard, brown hair sticking up off his head in tufts; and he appeared anxious, restlessly moving his feet.”
LaRosa reported being physically and sexually abused as a child and said his stepfather later committed suicide. The report documents a significant history of drug use including huffing gas and freon and using marijuana, heroin, mushrooms, LSD, “pills,” crack cocaine, meth and alcohol.
In assessing his competency, the doctors noted that LaRosa had endorsed past “non-lethal sounding” suicide attempts including eating toothpaste, scraping paint off the wall and attempting to eat it, and trying to scrape his wrist with a plastic spork while in jail. A more serious attempt three years ago landed LaRosa in Harborview, according to the report.
We also learn more about what brought LaRosa to the area after his childhood in New York and some of the heartbreak that proceeded his period of homelessness. LaRosa told doctors that he moved to Seattle after graduating from high school to join a girlfriend he had met on the Internet. That woman was the same he broke up with about a year before the murders. He said he had supported himself via Social Security Disability Insurance but had also worked as a volunteer writing for a magazine.
Doctors found LaRosa to be of above average intelligence and intellectual functioning based partly on his love for reading — especially authors William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson, according to the report.
The psychiatrists also cite LaRosa’s effort to clean himself up while at Western as part of the evidence that helped them determine his competency for trial. “Mr. LaRosa availed himself of the barber services on the ward and soon improved his hygiene and grooming dramatically, choosing a hairstyle that was completely shaved on the sides of his head, with a short-clipped topknot at the top of his head; his face was clean-shaven.”
As his stay at Western progressed, doctors note LaRosa kept a low profile in the ward and showed no signs of paranoia, agitation or further hallucinations. They also note that he was fully compliant in taking his antipsychotic medication. According to police reports, LaRosa has admitted he stopped taking his medication before the grisly November murders.
The report also documents skepticism about the extent of some of LaRosa’s claimed delusions. The doctors noted that LaRosa had exaggerated some of his psychotic symptoms including visions involving animal pelts but that it was still well documented that he has a “genuine psychotic illness that is well-controlled with medication.”
The report concludes that LaRosa “has the capacity to understand his legal situation and communicate effectively with counsel in his own defense.” The report notes that LaRosa would possibly be found to not be competent should he stop taking his medication.
The psychiatrists were also asked to assess LaRosa for future dangerousness and the likelihood of re-offending. Citing “limited insight” into his mental illness, his history of substance abuse and his lack of social stability, the report concludes that LaRosa has an “elevated” risk for harm to others.
The next court date for the case is scheduled for Wednesday. It is expected the defense will ask for more time before a trial date is set.