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Extent of Defendant’s Mental Illness Is Focus of Sanity Phase in Quadruple Murder Trial

Forensic psychologist testifies that Nicolas Holzer, who killed his parents and 2 sons in 2014, suffers from 'schizoaffective disorder'

Man leaving courtroom. Click to view larger
Nicolas Holzer exits court Wednesday during the sanity phase of his trial for murdering his parents and two sons in 2014. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a brutal stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges, and there seems to be no disagreement that he suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the nature and extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he murdered his family members.

That question is at the center of the sanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the sanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental health issues, which began when he was in his 20s in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion, Holzer tried to take his own life.

Attorneys discuss documents Click to view larger
Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss and prosecutor Ron Zonen discuss some documents Wednesday during the sanity phase of the Nicolas Holzer murder trial. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

After graduating near the top of his class at UC Santa Barbara with a double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, characterizing it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings, “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Murder defendant sits in court. Click to view larger
Nicolas Holzer sits in court Wednesday during the sanity phase of his murder trial. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychological experts who interviewed Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggest he knew what he did was wrong, and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zonen also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the seven-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, an Atascadero-based forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

Murphy responded that it is “schizoaffective disorder,” a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder, she said.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

He also asked questions implying that Holzer could be malingering — fabricating symptoms to avoid being held responsible for his crimes — although Murphy said she does not believe that is the case.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had characterized him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from his trip to Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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.

No one disputes that Nicolas Holzer killed his parents and two sons nearly four years ago during a bloody stabbing rampage in the home they shared near Goleta.

He called 9-1-1 himself to report the killings, and spoke openly about them when he was interviewed a few hours later by detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found Holzer guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10, on Aug. 11, 2014.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges.

There also seems to be no disagreement that Holzer suffers from significant mental illness, including chronic delusions and depression.

What’s in dispute is the extent of that mental illness, and whether Holzer was legally insane when he killed his family members.

That question will be resolved during the insanity phase of Holzer’s trial, which got underway Wednesday in Hill’s courtroom in the main Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, the burden of proof in the insanity phase falls on the defense.

Holzer’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss, began the proceedings Wednesday by recounting her client’s long history of mental problems, which began in the mid-1990s.

In her opening statement, she highlighted the assessments and diagnoses made over the years by mental-health professionals, and noted that on more than one occasion Holzer tried to take his own life.

After graduating at the top of his class at UCSB with double major, Voss said, Holzer traveled to Japan, where he got a job teaching English.

It was there that he suffered his first psychotic episode, Voss said, calling it “a complete break with reality.”

Holzer began to harbor delusions that he was the most evil person in the world, Voss said, and developed a fabulist’s accounting of heinous crimes that he claimed to be responsible for — from the bombing of Hirosima to starting the AIDS epidemic to killing multiple people around the world. And on and on.

For these imagined but impossible crimes, Holzer believed he would suffer eternal damnation, Voss said, and that his family would share his terrible fate in Hell.

“He believed, in his delusional, inexplicable mind, that by killing his family, through some deal he had made with a higher power, that they would not be condemned,” Voss said.

“He sincerely believed he was saving his family from a worse fate.”

Holzer “believed it was the right thing to do,” Voss said, adding that at the time of the killings “he could not discern right from wrong.”

Voss recounted numerous psychological crises that occurred over the years, including some that ended with Holzer involuntarily being committed to the hospital.

She mentioned an incident in 2009 when he became “catatonic,” and was taken by ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen, a retired deputy district attorney brought back to handle the case, attempted to undermine Voss’ narrative in his opening remarks.

Zoned asserted that psychiatric and psychologic experts who interview Holzer in the wake of the slayings do not believe he was insane.

There are specific requirements that must be met in order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, Zonen said.

First, it must be determined that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder, a point Zonen seemed to concede.

Second is whether the defendant understood the nature and consequences of his behavior.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zonen said.

Finally, there is the question of whether the defendant understood that what he was doing was wrong — legally and morally.

Zonen contended that Holzer made numerous statements following the killings that suggests he knew what he did was wrong and there was a price to be paid.

“Did he believe he was morally right?” Zoned asked.

None of the experts who evaluated Holzer believes he thought what he did was morally right, Zonen said.

Zoned also recounted periods of Holzer’s life when he appeared to be fully functioning — holding down a job, getting married and raising a family.

There was a 10-year period, he said, “when Mr. Holzer showed no signs of delusional disorder.”

Zoned also said there was “a very stressful environment” during the 7-year period when Holzer and his sons lived with his parents following his divorce.

“He was a pretty unpleasant person to live with,” Zonen said, calling Holzer “controlling” and “manipulative.”

The day’s main witness was Carolyn Murphy, a forensic clinical psychologist who has testified in a number of criminal cases on the Central Coast.

Murphy was retained by the defense, and interviewed Holzer in January. She also reviewed the reports and assessments of a number of other mental-health professionals involved in the case.

After walking her through a lengthy review of the psychological reports in the case, Voss asked Murphy what mental condition she believes Holzer is suffering from.

She responded that it is schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that includes features of both schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or depression, with Holzer suffering from the latter. Paranoid delusions are among the common symptoms of the disorder.

Murphy testified that she believes Holzer “knew what he was doing at the time of the killings.”

She also said she believes Holzner knew that killing his family members was legally wrong, but did not understand that it also was morally wrong.

Murphy concluded that Holzer “was not capable of exercising correct moral judgment at the time of the killings.”

During the afternoon session, Zonen conducted his cross-examination of Murphy, with questions aimed at highlighting significant periods of time when Holzer was not on medication or seeing a psychiatrist, and appeared to be functioning fairly well.

Also testifying Wednesday were Dr. George Bifano, a psychiatrist who had treated Holzer in the 1990s, and at the time had diagnosed him as delusional, and George Frakes, a Santa Barbara City College teacher who had Holzer in classes.

Frakes testified that Holzer was a good student, motivated and hard-working, but seemed different when he returned from Japan.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this report.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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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