Sanity trial begins in Hillsdale High School bombing case 

Nearly a week after a San Mateo County jury found Alexander Youshock guilty of attempted murder and five other charges related to his attack at a high school in 2009, a trial began today to determine if he was sane the morning he committed the crimes.

Defense attorney Jonathan McDougall said in his opening statement that Youshock has been diagnosed with schizophrenia by more than a half-dozen privately hired and court-appointed psychologists and psychiatrists. They all examined the defendant in the months after he went to Hillsdale High School on Aug. 24, 2009, loaded with 10 pipe bombs, a concealed 10-inch sword and a chainsaw in a guitar case.

Youshock's severe mental impairment prevented him from realizing the true consequences of carrying out his farfetched plan to trap three of his former teachers in classrooms and kill them with the chainsaw, McDougall said.

Hallucinations, delusions and other symptoms of Youshock's mental disease ultimately prevented him from being capable of differentiating between right and wrong, and prevented him from recognizing the symptoms of his burgeoning disease, McDougall said.

In her opening statement, Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti argued that if Youshock suffered from schizophrenia, it was in its earliest stages and of such a low severity that it did not prevent the defendant from discerning right from wrong.

The defendant's careful and secret preparations before the attack, his fear of being caught by police or his parents, and his choice of weapons he knew were capable of causing death were proof that Youshock was aware of the possible consequences of his actions and aware that his actions were wrong, Guidotti said.

Clinical and forensic psychiatrist Pablo Stewart was the first expert witness to testify this morning for the defense.

Stewart, who twice interviewed Youshock within days of the attack on Hillsdale High in September 2009, said it was immediately clear the defendant was mentally impaired.

"It was very difficult for him to even answer the questions I was asking him," Stewart said.

"He was clearly psychotic," he said.

Stewart said he diagnosed the defendant with schizophrenia based partly on interviews with Youshock and his family and analysis of psychiatric reports, police reports and school records.

Youshock's significant behavioral impairments that became evident before the attack -- his inability to appropriately socialize with people, his suspicion of his mother's cooking, his social withdrawal -- were all signs the defendant's schizophrenia was ramping up.

Stewart said the defendant's bizarre plan to kill his teachers was born from "normal high school stuff," like being asked to work in groups and complete homework assignments.

Under cross examination, Stewart repeatedly told Guidotti that individual incidences of executive functioning exhibited in Youshock's behavior on the morning of the attack -- such as abandoning his chainsaw when it failed to start and apologizing for having lied in a suicide note he left on his bed - were not enough to derail the overriding evidence that the defendant was a paranoid schizophrenic.

It was clear Youshock did not "appreciate wrongfulness," Stewart said.

The psychiatrist said he had interviewed thousands of psychotic individuals in his career, and, from a clinical standpoint, he was "very convinced" that his diagnosis of Youshock was correct.

Last week, the jury convicted Youshock of six felony counts: attempting to murder his former chemistry teacher, Meghan Spalding; exploding a destructive device in an act of terrorism; possession of a destructive device in a public place; carrying a concealed dagger; carrying a concealed explosive; and exploding a destructive device with the intent to kill.

The jury did not convict Youshock of a second charge of attempted murder.

In the sanity phase of the trial, the burden of proving that Youshock was insane on the morning of his attack rest with the defense because the defendant is presumed sane, Guidotti said.

Youshock would be institutionalized if found not guilty by reason of insanity, which he has pleaded to all of the charges against him.

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