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Testimony Reveals Nicolas Holzer Spoke of Killing Family Months Before Stabbing Them to Death

Goleta man's sister and brother take witness stand in sanity phase of his trial for murdering parents and 2 sons in 2014

Murder defendant and attorneys in court. Click to view larger
Nicolas Holzer, right, sits in Santa Barbara Superior Court Wednesday during a break in the sanity phase of his murder trial, while prosecutor Ron Zonen and defense attorney Christine Voss confer. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Six months before Nicolas Holzer brutally stabbed his two sons and his parents to death in their home near Goleta, he separately told his mother and father that it was his destiny to kill them all.

That revelation emerged Wednesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court as Holzer’s younger sister testified in the sanity phase of his murder trial.

Judge Brian Hill already has found Holzer guilty of the four murders, and now must decide whether he was sane when he committed the Aug. 11, 2014, killings.

Holzer, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for the murders of his parents, William Charles Holzer, 73, and Sheila Garard Holzer, 74, and his two sons, Sebastian, 13, and Vincent, 10.

If Holzer is found to have been sane at the time of the killings, he will be sent to prison for life; if he is ruled to have been insane, he will be sentenced to a state mental hospital.

Suzanne Holzer Gunn, who is four years younger than her accused brother, was called to the stand by prosecutor Ron Zonen, who is trying to convince the judge that Holzer’s mental illness — which no one seems to be contesting — does not meet the legal standard for insanity.

During her testimony, Gunn recalled a day in mid-February 2014 when she received separate phone calls from her parents recounting disturbing conversations each had had with Holzer.

The first call came from her father, who had taken Holzer for a drive in hopes of calming him down from one of his many episodes of sleeplessness, pacing, ranting and anxiety.

“During the drive, Nick told my dad that he was going to have to kill my parents and the boys,” Gunn testified.

Later in the day, Holzer made similar statements in a conversation with their mother, Gunn said.

Gunn testified that she urged her parents to call for an involuntary 5150 three-day mental-health commitment for her brother, but they did not heed that advice.

Murder defendant and judge in court. Click to view larger
Nicolas Holzer sits in court Wednesday during the sanity phase of his murder trial before Superior Court Judge Brian Hill. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

“They held a belief that if they could get him to go to sleep and take his anti-psychotic medications, he would be better,” Gunn said.

After learning about her brother’s statements about killing his family, Gunn testified, she also urged her father to take him to one of his doctors, in the hopes they would be compelled to order him committed on a 5150 hold.

Father and son did go to see a medical professional identified in court only as “Dr. Mike,” Gunn testified, but Holzer would not recount the conversations he’d had with his parents about killing his family.

The father then shared the stories, and Holzer confirmed the accounts to the doctor, Gunn said.

However, the doctor did not order a 5150 hold, she added.

“This guy’s solution was that they should come back in two days,” she testified.

During cross-examination, Gunn was asked by defense attorney Christine Voss whether she considered Holzer’s statements about killing his family members to be “a threat or stated as fact?”

Gunn responded that she interpreted them to be statements of fact in Holzer’s mind, rather than a direct threat.

That conclusion is consistent with statements Holzer made shortly after the killings, when he was interviewed at length by Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department detectives.

“That (the killings) was something that I was supposed to do to fulfill my destiny to becoming the world’s worst human being from trying to start World War III several times to spreading AIDS,” Holzer told the investigators during a video-recorded interview that was played during the guilt phase of the trial.

Zonen took Gunn through a history of Holzer’s mental health issues, from a breakdown that occurred during his mid-20s, when he was living in Japan in the mid-1990s, to his return to California, to his marriage and divorce, through a lengthy custody battle, and finally to the years and months leading up to the slayings.

In each case, Zonen asked Gunn if she thought Holzer was delusional or psychotic, and her general response was rather that he was suffering from extreme anxiety and possibly depression.

Gunn testified that she and Holzer had been close since childhood, and she described a family dynamic in which both he and her parents relied on her to help deal with her brother's mental-health issues.

She spoke of making frequent visits to the family home, during which she spent much of her time with the two nephews, Sebastian and Vincent, whom she doted upon.

She also described a grueling period of several years during which she shuttled back and forth with Holzer to San Diego so he could spend time with his sons while he worked through his divorce and a lengthy custody battle.

His ex-wife, Juanita Holzer, had taken the boys to San Diego as the marriage was disintegrating, but he eventually won custody and they moved in with his parents at their home on Walnut Park Lane.

Wednesday’s testimony started off with Scott Holzer, the defendant’s older brother, and Zonen also reviewed with him Holzer’s history of mental illness, starting with his breakdown and a suicide attempt in Japan.

“He looked fragile” and much skinnier, the brother said of Holzer’s return from Asia.

Scott Holzer and his family, who live in Missouri, would visit the Goleta-area home and his parents each summer.

Both siblings testified that the visits at times evolved into stressful situations.

During Scott Holzer's 2013 visit to Santa Barbara, he testified, his brother had been much angrier, “kind of a seething anger.”

The visit was so awful that the family decided not to return in 2014, for the first time ever, Scott Holzer testified.

He recalled a phone conversation with his father and Nicolas, one after the other, in March or April of 2014, in which Nicolas “was delusional” and talked about being responsible for HIV, Nelson Mandela's death, and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.

Holzer also said Sebastian was going to die.

Scott Holzer said he told his father to do something about the situation, and suggested his father go with Nicolas to see his psychologist.  

Both siblings described Holzer as extremely intelligent, but an introvert who was easily offended. The also said their brother could easily be moved to anger.

“He could have a very short temper,” Gunn testified. “He could fly into a rage, would be more accurate.”

Testimony in the case resumes Friday morning with Voss’ continued cross-examination of Gunn.

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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