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Witness: Abrams suffers from paranoid schizophrenia

September 06, 2000

Alex Coolman

SANTA ANA -- The defense in the trial of Steven Allen Abrams on

Tuesday presented some of its most powerful testimony to date in support

of its contention that the defendant is insane.

Public defender Denise Gragg brought to the stand UCLA psychiatrist

William Wirshing, who expanded at great length on the general issue of

psychosis, but was very succinct when it came to his diagnosis of Abrams.

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"He has paranoid schizophrenia," Wirshing said.

Abrams was found guilty Aug. 24 of two counts of murder and other

charges in connection with an incident on May 3, 1999, in which he drove

a car onto the crowded playground of a Costa Mesa day care center.

He could face the death penalty if he is found to be sane, but his

attorneys are in the middle of a weeks-long defense to argue that he was

mentally incompetent at the time of the incident.

Wirshing interviewed Abrams on two occasions after his arrest and

reviewed the tapes and transcripts Abrams generated in his discussions

with police after being taken into custody.

Through Wirshing's testimony, Gragg established that many of the most

bizarre aspects of Abrams' story are strongly correlated with

characteristic schizophrenic behavior.

Abrams told police, for example, that he had been manipulated by

"brain wave people" for years before taking his grim action, and that at

certain times these people "turned the volume up" and spoke directly into

his mind.

This form of auditory hallucination, Wirshing testified, is a classic

symptom of schizophrenia.

"That's important, because [auditory hallucinations] are uncommon in

other illnesses that you might consider for a diagnosis," Wirshing said.

The defendant also claimed that the brain wave people communicated

with him through an elaborate system of codes and signals that were

embedded in things like license plates, addresses and articles of

clothing and jewelry.

Such loaded perceptions, Wirshing said, are indicative of a psychosis

involving an "idea of reference" in which virtually everything seems to

communicate a message.

"Anything in the world can be perceived as having special meaning,

where you and I might look at it and say 'that's just noise,' " he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Debora Lloyd has contended that Abrams' actions are

best understood as a form of drug-induced psychosis, the result of years

of abuse of methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana.

Gragg, in her questioning of Wirshing, went out of her way to consider

the possibility that Abrams' drug use -- to which he has admitted --

might have been responsible for his mental condition in 1999.

Wirshing did not think so, however.

"The vast majority of the time, [such drug-induced psychoses] are not

systematic. They don't last for years on end" as Abrams' delusions appear

to have done, he said.

The defense's case is expected to continue for about two weeks.

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