On Wednesday, the 21st anniversary of one of Isla Vista’s darkest days, David Attias took the stand in a Santa Barbara courtroom asking for unconditional release from his outpatient supervision program.
Attias, who was an 18-year-old UC Santa Barbara freshman at the time, drove his car into a group of pedestrians on Feb. 23, 2001, killing four people: Nick Bourdakis, Chris Divis, Elie Israel and Ruth Levy. Attias critically injured Bert Levy, Ruth Levy’s brother, who died in 2016.
Attias was convicted of four second-degree murder charges, and then found not guilty by reason of insanity.
He was sent to the Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino and was released into the Department of State Hospitals’ conditional-release program (CONREP) in 2012.
Attias, now 39, has been living in Oxnard for the past nine years while participating in the community outpatient program.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Adams, who presided over the original trial and the release from Patton State Hospital, is now hearing Attias’ petition for restoration of sanity and unconditional release from his program.
Deputy District Attorney Maggie Charles and defense attorney Jack Earley will each call witnesses and make arguments during the hearing, which is expected to continue into next week.
In the audience of the courtroom was Lindsey Bourdakis, Nick’s younger sister. She was a junior in high school and Nick was a sophomore at UCSB when he was killed.
She called the timing of the hearing on the anniversary “cruel irony.”
Bourdakis traveled to Santa Barbara for the court hearing so the victims and their families were represented.
“I don’t want people to forget,” she said. “I don’t want his family to be done with it. We’re reminded of it every day, and I only hope he’s reminded of it every day.”
Bourdakis said she worries that it won’t be safe to have Attias “out there with no accountability to anyone” if he is released from the supervision program.
“I don’t want his crime to be forgotten in the mental-health discussion,” she said.
Wednesday’s testimony started with Daniel Attias, David’s father, and ended with Attias himself.
Daniel Attias said he now has a very close relationship with his son. The night of the homicides was “the defining event in David’s life,” he said.
He testified that his son was prescribed psychotropic drugs in high school and rebelled against taking medication almost from the beginning.
“He was not on board with the need for medication,” Daniel Attias said.
Attias moved out to attend UCSB, and admitted he wasn’t taking his medication during the first semester, his father testified.
Attias’ parents tried to convince him to start taking it again and see a therapist, and threatened to cut him off financially if he didn’t.
When asked about Attias’ behavior at the time, his father said, “Part of the tragedy of that whole situation is we didn’t have much opportunity to observe him at all” since he was away at college. Attias’ parents gave him time to find a therapist and eventually gave him a car, since they thought he needed one to see therapists in Santa Barbara.
“As we learned later, he was stringing us along,” Daniel Attias testified.
Now, Attias is very committed to sobriety, therapy and taking his psychiatric medication, his father testified.
“David knows that he has serious mental illness that if untreated could lead to disastrous outcomes,” Daniel Attias said.
Maggie Charles, representing the District Attorney’s Office, asked what Daniel Attias would do if it appeared Attias stopped taking his medication or started taking illicit drugs.
Daniel Attias said he would confront his son and “remind him of his 20-year commitment.”
He and his wife would act “as a backstop” if they saw any sign of regression, delusional thinking, violent behavior or Attias not taking his medication, Daniel Attias said.
Other witnesses on Wednesday included Attias’ girlfriend, one of his friends, one of the Attias’ family friends, and one of Attias’ current therapists in Ventura County.
His girlfriend said he had disclosed the homicides on their first date, and that CONREP representatives had called to make sure she knew about his past.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, one of the Attias family’s Santa Monica neighbors, said he noticed changes in Attias between his adolescence, his time at Patton and his time after being released from Patton.
Attias has “worked on his brain to be a different person,” Siegel said, adding that Attias “doesn’t have typical neural status” and needs to listen to professionals, take medication and do psychotherapy.
One of Attias’ current therapists, Judy Marquez, said he has taken anger-management classes and gets help with reading social cues and making appropriate responses.
Charles again asked what would happen if Attias stopped taking his anti-psychotic medications.
Marquez said she would engage his support network to try to get him to take them again. If certain criteria were met, Attias could be placed on an involuntary 5150 mental-health hold — usually meaning that someone is considered a harm to themselves or others.
In the late afternoon, Attias himself testified. He is thinner than he was during court appearances a decade ago, and he no longer wears glasses.
He responded to Earley’s questions with short, quick answers, and said he lives in an apartment in Oxnard and has a cat.
When asked about his diagnosis, Attias said it has changed a lot since he was a child, and he focuses on the symptoms rather than the label.
He plans to continue taking his anti-psychotic medications even if he is released from CONREP “because they help me a lot,” he told the court.
Attias also said he has been sober for many years.
“I’m embarrassed of who I was when I was 18,” he said.
He takes public transit, including trains, Lyft and Uber, and said he does not want to drive again.
“I just don’t want to get behind the wheel after what happened,” he said.
Testimony in the hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.