There was no rational motive for Christopher Shumey to murder his mother — a Lompoc Valley schoolteacher — a psychiatric witness testified Wednesday in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
And despite Shumey’s seemingly normal behavior around the time of the crime, the witness added, he was in the throes of a “psychotic storm.”
“Mr. Shumey is the kind of patient who tries to act normal,” testified Robert Halon, a psychologist hired by the defense. “Sometimes people who have very severe psychotic disorders can appear OK.”
Halon is the first of several expert witnesses who will testify about Shumey’s mental state on Sept. 17, 2011, when he shot his mother, Karen Shumey, a 65-year-old teacher from Arroyo Grande who taught at Vandenberg Middle School.
Shumey has been convicted of second-degree murder. Now the trial is focusing on his sanity at the time of the slaying.
Defense experts will point to what family members have described as Shumey’s documented 15-year struggle with mental illness. But they’ll also have to address why Shumey appeared calm, rational and organized shortly before, during and immediately after the crime.
To get an insanity verdict, the defense will have to show that Shumey didn’t know what he was doing or couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong.
When detectives spoke to Shumey immediately after the crime, Halon said, Shumey appeared “oddly neutral.”
“At the beginning, he never talked about his mother,” Halon said. “He had no emotional connection to anything.”
After three days of medication, however, he said Shumey better understood what he’d done, saying, “It hit. The reality hit,” and “I just can’t believe I shot her.”
“When he’s medicated, he can be reasonably rational,” Halon said.
Defense attorney Pierre Blahnik has said that Shumey planned to kill himself inside his San Luis Obispo apartment. But when his mother arrived, he turned a 12-gauge shotgun from his head toward the front door and fired. Later, he told police, “I didn’t shoot myself, so I shot her.”
Although he appeared “oddly neutral,” Halon said, eventually a medicated Shumey realized his mental illness played a role in his actions, telling detectives in a subsequent interview that he had been in a “fantasy area.”
Halon said that fantasy area entailed delusions and hallucinations.
Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray, however, said most people with mental illness don’t commit violent crimes.
And she noted that Shumey displayed organized behavior when he purchased shotgun slugs, loaded and reloaded the weapon and later fired on police, hoping they’d shoot him.
“Another interpretation of the evidence,” Gray told Halon, “is he was angry at his mother, he did an impulsive thing and regretted it later.”
At one point, Shumey told police, “I guess it was her I wanted to shoot.” But he said he didn’t know why.