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Child Custody Evaluator Testifies in Sanity Phase of Nicolas Holzer’s Mass-Murder Trial

The psychologist who conducted the court-ordered child custody evaluation for Nicolas Holzer, the Goleta-area man convicted of killing his parents and two young sons, testified last week during the sanity phase of Holzer’s criminal trial.

Having waived his right to a jury trial, Holzer was convicted May 21 by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Brian Hill on four first-degree murder charges. He was found guilty of the Aug. 11, 2014, murders of his family, parents Sheila and William Holzer, 74 and 73, respectively, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, inside the elder Holzers’ neatly kept home they all shared on Walnut Park Lane near Goleta.

Holzer has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges, and his attorney, Public Defender Christine Voss, has the burden of proof during the sanity phase of the trial, which started last week.

He would be sentenced to life in prison if found sane by the judge, and sentenced to a state mental hospital if found insane.

Gary Rick, a clinical psychologist, did the evaluation of Holzer and his former wife, Juanita, in 2007 and 2008 during the couple’s contentious divorce proceedings.

The court ultimately awarded Holzer custody of the two boys.

Rick said the evaluations help the court understand the interests of the children in custody cases, and he interviews the parties, observes them with the children, and interviews other people — family, teachers, friends — and reviews documents for his report.

He testified that Juanita Holzer did have concerns Holzer had some form of psychiatric condition, and that his final report criticized Holzer for the risk associated with his past psychiatric history and suicide attempts.

“Most custody litigants accuse the other of some sort of mental disorder,” he noted.

Juanita Holzer had mentioned some specific events of Holzer being paranoid during their early relationship, and moments when he was pacing and unaware of people talking to him.

As part of the evaluation process, Rick talked to Holzer’s siblings and parents, who told him that he had a thyroid problem but seemed better since that had been treated.

Rick said he also reached out to psychologists and psychiatrists who had treated Holzer, but only one responded and said he didn’t remember much.

Vincent Holzer Click to view larger
Vincent Holzer
Sebastian Holzer Click to view larger
Sebastian Holzer

“Therapists are sometimes gun-shy to get involved” in custody battles, he noted.

Rick said he saw no evidence at the time that Holzer suffered a serious mental illness.

Voss asked whether Rick could have missed whether Holzer had a delusional disorder or other serious mental illness at the time.

“Anything’s possible,” he replied, calling it a “low probability.”

Rick also said that Juanita Holzer “did not mount a very strong defense” in the custody battle, saying she was not very assertive.

Child custody evaluations also have to do with relativity, he said, adding, “So the other parent is a factor as well in the custody battle.”

Custody court documents describe Holzer as a UC Santa Barbara graduate and Juanita Holzer as having a seventh-grade education from Mexico, where she grew up.

“When they met, neither could speak the other’s language very well, could they?” prosecutor Ron Zonen asked in court.

The couple lived in a condo with their sons during their marriage, but Juanita Holzer moved to San Diego when they separated and Holzer moved in with his parents, according to court documents.

Rick’s evaluation recommended giving primary custody to Holzer, and court documents noted that they would all live with the grandparents at their house on Walnut Park Lane, a few blocks south of Cathedral Oaks Road west of North San Marcos Road.

Juanita Holzer filed a wrongful death claim against Holzer in 2016. In the complaint, she said she had last seen Sebastian and Vincent alive in March 2008.

She is expected to be called as a witness in the criminal trial, and Holzer’s two siblings also may be called to testify.

Scott and Suzanne Holzer have filed a lawsuit to cut Holzer out of the family inheritance, asking the court to determine that he “feloniously and intentionally” killed his parents and therefore is not entitled to any of Sheila and William Holzer’s property.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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