Thursday, September 25, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Teen's Trial A No-Win Case -- Loukaitis' Attorney Calls For New Kind Of Verdict: Guilty But Mentally Ill

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

Jurors in the Barry Loukaitis murder trial spent a full day discussing his insanity defense, but in the end had little trouble rejecting it, jurors said today.

Yesterday, the King County Superior Court jury found the Moses Lake teenager guilty of fatally shooting a teacher and two classmates, and injuring another classmate as he held a room of terrified students at gunpoint last year at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake.

His attorneys, who entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, had argued that Loukaitis was delusional at the time.

But this morning, jury foreman David Zarzoza said jurors didn't buy that. "We could not hear any of that . . . that he was speaking in a delusional state . . . in his voice," Zarzoza said.

After nearly four weeks of testimony, jurors deliberated four days before returning the verdicts at 12:06 p.m. yesterday.

They found the 16-year-old guilty of aggravated-first-degree murder in the Feb. 2, 1996, deaths of Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz, both 14; guilty of second-degree murder in the death of teacher Leona Caires, 49; and guilty of first-degree assault against Natalie Hintz, 13. They also convicted him of assaulting a teacher who managed to disarm him, and of kidnapping the other 15 students in the classroom.

Juror Gerald Terry said one sticking point during the deliberations was Caires' death. While some jurors argued that the shot fired at Caires was deliberate, most said it seemed less intentional, he said.

"Many people thought that at that point in time he was just going on spontaneity," Terry said.

Zarzoza said most jurors were in agreement on the charges from the beginning, with usually just one juror expressing a dissenting vote. In the end, though, that juror sided with the others.

Loukaitis, who was 14 at the time of the attack, was tried as an adult. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced Oct. 10.

To clear him on an insanity defense, the jury would have had to decide that a mental disease or defect left him unable to perceive the nature of his actions or to tell right from wrong.

Donna Wise, King County deputy prosecutor who worked with the Grant County prosecutor on the case, said the insanity defense is rarely successful, mainly because it's tough to convince jurors that a defendant was completely unaware of his or her actions at the time of the crime.

Defense attorney Mike Frost said the criminal-justice system needs an overhaul and that he would urge the Legislature to come up with a new verdict - "guilty but mentally ill" - to provide for both treatment and a penalty in such cases.

"The real question in this case is whether Barry Loukaitis walked into the classroom the day of the shootings with murder in his heart or sickness in his mind," Frost told jurors during closing arguments. "The evidence is overwhelming in this case he went there with sickness in his mind."

Quiet weeping pervaded the courtroom as Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper read the verdicts. Loukaitis kept his head bowed and stared at the defense table, as he had done throughout much of the trial.

"There is no happy ending here," Fritz's mother, Alice Fritz, said yesterday. "We still hope that somehow Barry can get some help. We were prepared for either verdict."

Emilio Vela, uncle of Manuel Vela, said after the verdict: "There's definitely no clear winners. We will live with this for the rest of our lives. I'm just glad this part is over."

The defendant's mother, JoAnn Phillips, sat with a friend in the emptied courtroom, tears streaming down her face.

Loukaitis' father and grandfather, Terry and Dale Loukaitis, stood awkwardly by the door as the victims' relatives clustered around them, patting and hugging. Terry Loukaitis wept.

Throughout the trial - moved to Seattle because of publicity - prosecutors John Knodell of Grant County and Wise of King County argued that Loukaitis was a cold-blooded killer who planned extensively before murdering his victims.

They pointed to his attire the day of the shooting - an all-black Clint Eastwood-like outfit - as evidence that he wanted to "inspire fear" in the students when he entered the classroom and began shooting.

But Frost and co-defense attorney Michele Shaw painted a different portrait of their client - that of a sick teenager who had been severely emotionally neglected by his parents even as he was undergoing a prolonged and deteriorating mental disorder.

The elaborate outfit he wore the day of the shooting, the defense argued, pointed not to deliberation but to psychotic delusions.

All 15 students held in the classroom by Loukaitis 19 months ago testified at his trial. Most now attend Moses Lake High School.

At lunch hour, Moses Lake schools Superintendent Steve Chestnut said he saw students at the high school hugging each other.

Officials of the Moses Lake School District quietly informed teachers of the verdicts and let them decide whether and how to relay the news to students. Announcing the verdicts over the speaker system would have been inappropriate, a district spokesman said.

Material from Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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