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Trial ends in 2010 Capitol Hill hatchet murder as defendant ruled insane

The schizophrenic man who hacked area resident Joe LaMagno to death with a hatchet on the sidewalk near 15th and Union in the cold of November 2010 has been ruled insane and acquitted of the murder. 

Michael LaRosa, hospitalized over the last two years at the Western State Hospital as his trial dragged on, will remain at the secure mental facility indefinitely following the December 13th decision that came to light this week in  a report.

A neighbor lights a candle at a 2010 memorial for LaMagno (Image: CHS)

LaRosa’s trial for the hatchet murders of LaMagno and Dale Holme in separate incidents in late 2010 had dragged on as prosecutors worked to have the defendant “restored to competency” with treatment at Western State Hospital. A 105-page report on LaRosa’s mental health was considered as part of the acquittal.

“Mr. La-Rosa continues to endorse active symptoms of a major mental illness, despite a lengthy period of medication compliance while at WSH,” a November 2012 report concludes. “The symptoms exhibited by Mr. La-Rosa at the time of the deaths of Mr. Holme and Mr. Lamagno continue, albeit to a lesser degree.”

According to police and medical reports, the LaRosa was off his antipsychotic medications at the time of the 2010 attacks and was also severely dehydrated after not eating or drinking for fear that his food and drinks had been poisoned. According to court records, LaRosa reported being physically and sexually abused as a child and said his stepfather had later committed suicide. Reports also document a significant history of drug use. LaRosa said he had episodes when he had heard voices and seen hallucinations of demons.

According to police, LaRosa was homeless and stayed at downtown shelters. He had an address on Summit Ave just prior to the murders, according to county records.

LaRosa, 26 on the day of the November 22, 2010 murder at 15th and Union, was arrested only minutes after the attack when police chased him down in a nearby alley.

The 58-year-old LaMagno was remembered by neighbors as a friendly man who “liked to hang out, drink coffee, chat with the neighbors he warmed up to over the years and, yes, smoke his cigarettes.”

The 2010 murder scene (Image: CHS)

LaRosa’s acquittal follows a 2010 guilty plea by James Williams in his sidewalk knife attack that killed 31-year-old Shannon Harps outside her 15th and E Howell building. Williams also suffered from mental illness but was eventually tried in the 2007 New Year’s  Eve killing, plead guilty and received a 35-year-sentence. In another area case involving mental fitness, the new year is expected to bring the start of the trial of Dr. Louis Chen  in the double murder that claimed the lives of his partner Eric Cooper and two-year-old son Cooper in a violent knife attack inside a First Hill condo in August 2011.

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10 thoughts on “Trial ends in 2010 Capitol Hill hatchet murder as defendant ruled insane

  1. Or until psychiatrists at WSH determine that he is fit to be released, which will not necessarily mean he is fit to be released. It’s not an automatic life sentence, and it’s not purely subject to budgets. Of course, budget cutbacks certainly could be a release factor, but so can the absurdly subjective nature of psychiatry.

  2. Come on you guys, I expected more… Indefinitely more often than not means “unspecified.”

    That could mean, well, in a few weeks. Always bothers me when people use indefinite as infinite.

    Dictionaries are our friends!

  3. I had the opportunity to interact with Dale Holme on a number of occasions. I was so saddened by his death. He was a troubled man, murdered by a troubled man based on paranoia and hallucinations, fueled by Dale’s efforts to be kind to the killer. We can do better by our homeless and mentally ill. Really, we can.

  4. He will go to Western State, but not for life as most commenters are assuming. Not at all for life. Western state empties its beds as fast as it can. I’d say 10 years, tops.

  5. I sincerely hope that this guy remains at Western State until he dies. Just the fact that he has been there for 2 years, getting regular medication, and still has significant mental illness means that his condition is quite intractable.

    And as I recall, before his crime he was enrolled in an outpatient treatment program at Sound Mental Health, and that obviously was not very helpful as far as protecting the community from his murderous act.