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Jail interview: Oak Harbor man suspected in double murder claims ‘hallucination’

Suspected murderer Joshua Lambert listens as a judge discusses his case in Island County Superior Court last week. Lambert is acting as his own attorney. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Suspected murderer Joshua Lambert listens as a judge discusses his case in Island County Superior Court last week. Lambert is acting as his own attorney.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Joshua Lambert claims he had an extremely intense, day-long hallucination on Oct. 3 of last year.

That was the day he allegedly stabbed one of his grandfathers more than 30 times, tied up his great aunt with packing tape and then drove to his mother’s house where he also stabbed his other grandfather to death.

In a jailhouse interview with the Whidbey News-Times, Lambert discussed some of the details of the two murders he’s accused of committing on North Whidbey. In addition, the newspaper obtained more information about the crimes and Lambert’s history through public records requests.

Lambert has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 80-year-old paternal grandfather, George Lambert, and the first-degree kidnapping of his grandfather’s sister. In addition, he said he expects to be charged in the death of 80-year-old August Eugene “Sonny” Eisner, his maternal grandfather.

Insanity claimed

Lambert, a 30-year-old high school drop-out, is acting as his own attorney and is planning an insanity defense. He said he’s sure he’ll be able to describe his hallucinations well enough to psychologists that they will understand he was insane at the time and not legally culpable for the murders.

“I think I will be able to prove I was insane before. I’m really confident in that. I’ve never been so confident before,” he said.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, however, said he will almost certainly oppose the insanity defense. Under state law, Lambert will have to prove that he “was unable to perceive the nature or quality” of his actions or was unable to tell right from wrong, according to model jury instructions.

Even if Lambert did have a hallucination or is diagnosed by an expert with a major psychiatric disorder, Lambert still may not be able to prove he was not guilty by reason of insanity, according to Banks. Lambert’s alleged comments to his great aunt, for example, could be used to show he realized he had killed his grandfather and he knew it was wrong since he told her not to call police.

“My position is that he was not insane,” Banks said.

Still, the prosecutor said the psychiatric evaluation will be an important consideration. He’s waiting until after the report comes in to decide how to charge Lambert for the Eisner murder and whether to pursue the death penalty.

Psychiatric report

Lambert said he wasn’t comfortable describing the details of the hallucination until after a psychological evaluation scheduled at Western State Hospital, but he wrote a statement for the News-Times that offers some clues.

“I was hallucinating on that day,” he wrote. “I was not in fear for my own safety. I was in fear of something much worse than my own safety. I also believe that if my hallucination was a reality they would have been willing to die to stop it.” Presumably, “they” refers to his grandfathers.

Deputies attacked

After his arrest, Lambert became frantic at the jail and demanded to speak to his son before suddenly attacking deputies. Lambert said he was still in the midst of the hallucination at the time.

Lambert also wrote that he “did not intend to be brutal on purpose.”

“I love my papas very much, I did not want this to happen,” he wrote.

Lambert said he also wasn’t ready to discuss whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the day of the killings. His criminal history indicates that he’s used methamphetamine and abused alcohol in the past, but there’s no clinical evidence that he was intoxicated Oct. 3. He was carrying a plastic bag of white, crystalline material when he was arrested, but laboratory tests show it didn’t contain any controlled substance.

State law specifically states that a voluntary act, such as drug or alcohol use, does not constitute insanity.

Lambert said he had no motive for the murders beyond the content of his hallucinations.

Looking for guns?

Investigators, however, believe he commit the murders while searching for guns, though only Lambert knows what he planned to do with the firearms.

Still, Lambert said he understands that he may never be free again, or at least not until he’s an old man.

“If I get acquitted, I will still go to a mental institution,” he said. “It’s not like television where I will just walk out.”

Lambert doesn’t see that there’s really much difference between a prison and a secure mental hospital, though he said he would probably prefer a mental hospital because he may have a chance at being placed in “a less-restrictive alternative,” like a halfway house, someday. He hopes the doctors don’t put him on drugs, but he admits he may have to take them.

“I hope I don’t get the death penalty,” he said nonchalantly.

The real reason he’s putting on an insanity defense, he said, is that he wants the community, and especially his relatives, to know what really happened and that he would never knowingly harm his grandfathers.

Reality in doubt

“I don’t want people to think I was trying to do something like this,” he said. “I was hallucinating the whole day. I could not decide what was real and what was not real.”

“Because we’re related, I feel like I want to explain,” he added.

Lambert is very protective of his family, which includes well-known and respected members of the Oak Harbor business community. He refused to name family members, to discuss his two children or talk about friends.

“I would be embarrassed to know me after something like this,” he said.

His great aunt Kay Gage is the only eye witness to the murders, but he doesn’t want her to worry about having him cross-examine her on the stand. He said he’ll probably rely on police reports or ask his standby counsel to handle her questioning.

Lambert in person

In person, Lambert seems like a nice guy. He has a good sense of humor and is bright, though he sometimes loses his train of thought. He talked about how he feels terrible about what happened to his grandparents, but his emotions seem muted. He’s focused on the technicalities of law and spends his time, alone his cell, reading law books.

On the other hand, he enjoys talking about his time in Alaska, where he worked on fishing and crabbing boats. He fondly remembers watching grizzly bears and has harrowing stories about riding huge waves in the Bering Sea. Once he inadvertently walked onto one of the boats from the “Deadliest Catch” TV show to ask for a job, but nobody was there.

Lambert grew up in the Oak Harbor area. He said he had a happy childhood and enjoyed going to Oak Harbor High School, though he didn’t get very good grades. He didn’t graduate but later earned a GED.

Troubled past

Court records indicate that Lambert started getting in trouble with the police in 1999, when he was 17 and 18 years old. The police reports document a young man with impulsivity and anger control problems.

He was arrested in June of 1999 after getting into a fight with his girlfriend, the mother of his first child, at his trailer home on Heller Road. After she broke a window of his trailer, he flew into a rage and threw a rock through the window of a truck while she and their 2-year-old child were inside.

A month later, Lambert was again arrested for breaking the windshield of his girlfriend’s truck, this time with a crowbar.

By the time Lambert moved to Alaska when he was 21, his arrest record included DUIs, shoplifting, unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of methamphetamine and a car theft out of Oregon. Yet his crimes, at least on paper, did little to hint at the violence to come.

Lambert said he mainly lived on fishing boats in Alaska and didn’t really have a home there, though a member of his family said he had a relationship that resulted in the birth of his second child.

Violence in Alaska

On a night in September of 2005, Lambert convinced a man at a bar in Kodiak that they should beat up a man who Lambert claimed had sexually assaulted his ex-girlfriend. They beat the man on the head with rocks until he was bleeding severely. The police later investigated and found that the victim had not sexually assaulted the woman or even engaged in any sexual contact with her. Police reports state that the woman was a witness to the assault.

Lambert and the other man were originally charged with first-degree assault and attempted murder. Lambert later pleaded no contest to assault in the third degree and was sentenced to five years in prison, with half of the time suspended. Lambert ended up doing the entire five years because he violated conditions of parole.

Lambert was written up a dozen time for assaulting fellow inmates, and in one case a guard, while in Kodiak jail and prison in Seward, Alaska. He’s not a large man; court documents describe him as five-foot-six and 160 pounds. Yet he was feared behind bars.

In December of 2005, Lambert suddenly started punching a fellow inmate in jail. He had a phone call with his girlfriend, which upset him, and he announced that he felt like hitting someone and ended up assaulting a man who made a sarcastic remark, according to records from the Kodiak Police Department.

In an interview with police, the victim said Lambert had previously tried starting fights with several different people and punched a man who was lying in a bunk.

‘Needs some help’

“Josh needs some help or something,” the man told investigators. “We hide pencils in jail at night because we don’t want to wake up with a pencil in our necks. Josh is just not right.”

On another occasion, Lambert and two other men targeted a prison inmate because he had been convicted of assaulting an infant. While two men blocked the view into the room, Lambert beat the man, according to records from Alaska’s prison system.

Lambert returned to Oak Harbor after getting out of prison in November of 2010. He initially lived with his mother and stepfather at a house on Hastie Lake Road. One of the murder victims, Lambert’s grandfather August Eisner, also lived there in an attached apartment. But Lambert was eventually kicked out and lived in a van and possibly a wooded area on Crosby Avenue, according to the prosecutor.

Lambert went on an alcohol-fueled crime-spree in Oak Harbor over the course of eight months. He stole frozen burritos and smoked oysters from Walmart and a case of Miller beer from Albertson’s. He was arrested for disorderly conduct after drunkenly stumbling around Highway 20, urinating on buildings, screaming obscenities at nobody in particular and blocking traffic. He tried to pick a fight with a man outside of Safeway and ended up punching him for no reason. In all, he was arrested and charged in nine gross misdemeanor cases last year.

Bill Hawkins, the former Oak Harbor city prosecutor, handled the misdemeanor cases against Lambert. He said he was shocked when Lambert was accused of the murders.

“He was showing signs of stress, but certainly nothing to make anyone think he would do anything like this,” he said.

Killing day

It happened in the afternoon of Oct. 3. Kay Gage, Lambert’s 66-year-old great aunt, was inside the open garage of the house she shared with her older brother, George Lambert, on Oldenburg Lane near Oak Harbor. At about 1:30 p.m., Joshua Lambert walked up the driveway, asked her where his grandfather was and walked into the house. Gage heard a commotion and went in.

Hours later, Gage described the scene to Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office. According to the recorded statement taken at Whidbey General Hospital, Gage said Lambert grabbed her with bloody hands as she entered the attached office of the house. He pushed her into the living room where she saw her brother on the ground with blood everywhere. Lambert allegedly told her, “Never mind him, he’s dead” and threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply with his demands, according to Wallace’s report.

Lambert hit the frail woman over the head with the handle end of what she thought was an ice pick and then bound her hands and feet with packing tape. He then started ransacking the house and asked Gage several times where the guns were, the report states.

Gage lay on the floor at her brother’s feet for about an hour as Lambert searched the home. She kept telling her brother to hold on as she watched his breathing become slower and slower until it stopped.

At one point, Lambert repeatedly told Gage, “I’ve got an emergency.” He eventually took her car keys and drove off in her car.

‘On a mission’

Gage told the detective that “it was like Lambert was on a ‘mission’” and she tried hard to get loose from the bonds because she knew he was headed to his mother’s home. She eventually was able to reach a cell phone and called a friend for help.

Deputies responded to the scene and issued an alert to locate Lambert at 3:12 p.m.

According to Wallace’s report, Gage told Lambert at some point that there were guns under George Lambert’s bed, but he never found them. The detectives recovered two rifles.

Lambert drove to his mother’s Hastie Lake Road home. There are no witnesses to what happened, but Eisner was later found dead in a large pool of blood outside the garage. An upstairs bedroom and the garage had been ransacked and a gun cabinet was knocked over.

Savage stabbings

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said both of the victims had been stabbed about 30 times in the neck and body with a knife. He said the murders were the most savage attacks he’s ever seen in his many years as coroner.

After the second murder, Lambert drove to the Crosby Road area of Oak Harbor. The Oak Harbor police reported that they received a report of a suspicious man, believed to be Lambert, walking on Oak Harbor Road with a bow and arrow. The police responded but didn’t find him.

Since Lambert had taken Gage’s cell phone, the police had it “pinged” to determine his location. The technology helped police determine that Lambert was in the northwest area of the city.

Arrest made

Officer Cedric Niiro saw Lambert exiting the wooded area on Crosby Avenue and arrested him in the middle of the road at the intersection of NW Crosby and N. Oak Harbor Street.

Lambert’s boots, pants and sweatshirt were stained with blood. He warned officers that he had needles in his pocket, but he thought he dropped the knife in the woods.

Lambert was initially cooperative after his arrest, then suddenly became violent at the jail. He asked if anyone had spoken to his son but the deputies didn’t know what he was talking about. Lambert screamed that he needed to talk to his son “right now” and lunged at a corrections deputy. It took three men to wrestle Lambert onto a bunk and handcuff him.

Lambert awakened the next day in the jail’s “blue room” to the reality of what he had done, yet he was surprised at all the TV cameras focusing on him at his first court appearance.

His own attorney

He has insisted on acting as his own attorney, which is his constitutional right but also very unusual in a murder case. He doesn’t like the idea of having to be silent in court while an attorney speaks for him and makes strategic decisions. He said it would be difficult to explain his case to a jury “through a third person.”

“I would rather be able to address the court myself because the rest of my life depends on it,” he said. “I don’t have to spend the next 20 years blaming an attorney or blaming someone else.”

Lambert has undoubtedly had trouble understanding court procedures, but, as Banks pointed out, he’s competent. Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill appointed him a standby counsel, attorney Peter Simpson of Coupeville, to help him, though their contact has been limited so far.

Lambert was successful in a motion to allow only Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill to hear his case and to send out subpoenas to the Oak Harbor School District, Island Transit and the ICOM dispatch center.

‘Framed for sanity’

On the hand, Lambert submitted a motion requesting full discovery from the prosecutor, claiming he’s trying to “frame me for sanity.” He lost a motion to have his interviews with psychologists taped and threatened that he wouldn’t answer questions.

But whatever happens in court hearings, Lambert insists that he will argue his case to a jury. The trial is currently scheduled for July 10.

“Proving that I didn’t do that out of anger or hatred is important to me because we’re related,” he said. “It’s horrible being in jail for this. I care about them being dead, too.”

“It’s not about the time,” he added. “There’s no way of getting out of doing time."

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