News

Did 'voices' drive him to kill?

Joshua Lambert is acting as his own attorney and asserting an insanity defense. He claims he’s schizophrenic and voices tricked him into killing his two grandfathers on North Whidbey last October. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Joshua Lambert is acting as his own attorney and asserting an insanity defense. He claims he’s schizophrenic and voices tricked him into killing his two grandfathers on North Whidbey last October.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

Joshua David Lambert woke in the North Whidbey woods with voices screaming in his head.

Cruel, taunting FBI agents were threatening to kidnap and kill his teenage son.

He searched the dark woods in a panic for a shotgun he had stolen from his stepfather the day before, but couldn’t find it. He was convinced that the agents had stolen it.

He needed a gun. He needed to stop the men. He needed — he now says, from his cell in the Island County Jail — to kill them.

Lambert hurried to his grandfather’s home, where he knew there would be guns, and found 80-year-old George Lambert inside. The elderly man wouldn’t give him any firearms, but Lambert was going to take them anyway.

The problem was that the grandfather “wouldn’t tie up,” as Lambert later explained to court psychiatrists. So he stabbed his grandfather once, decided it was too late to stop, and slashed him some more. Lambert beat him until the old man’s eyes looked dead.

Then his grandfather’s sister, Kay Gage, was there. Lambert hit the elderly woman over the head and tied her up with packing tape, leaving her on the floor to watch her brother’s breathing slow to silence while Lambert ransacked the house.

Failing to find guns, Lambert drove to his mother’s home a few miles away. The only person home was his other grandfather, 80-year-old August “Sonny” Eisner.

He allegedly stabbed and slashed until Eisner too was dead.

Lambert, now jailed and awaiting trial in Island County Superior Court, described to psychiatrists and a News-Times reporter a delusional, hallucinatory state that he claims led him to commit the double murder of his two grandfathers on North Whidbey last October — allegations he does not contest.

The 31-year-old high school dropout is acting as his own attorney. He claims he’s schizophrenic, and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity.

Psychiatrists at Western State Hospital, however, believe that Lambert’s only mental illness is an anti-social disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and disregard for rules. They concluded that his delusions, if real, were caused by drug use, likely from injecting methamphetamine.

Jurors will have to weigh the evidence from both sides during what will be a one-of-a-kind trial scheduled for November.

Courtroom outbursts

So far, Lambert has had some trouble comprehending the technicalities of courtroom procedure and has expressed concerns about the trustworthiness of many involved in the case, including his own expert witnesses.

His frustrations have resulted in some courtroom outbursts. When Judge Vickie Churchill ruled that one of Lambert’s voluminous motions was frivolous, he yelled, “You’re frivolous!” He later asked her sarcastically whether she realizes that it’s a murder case.

The judge assigned a standby attorney for the case, but Lambert insists on handling everything himself and has even tried to get the attorney, Peter Simpson of Coupeville, fired. He also made a motion, unsuccessfully, to have Simpson turn over his notes to him.

Lambert has repeatedly claimed in court documents that Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks is trying to “frame (him) for sanity.”

At the same time, he has been busy collecting evidence, studying the law and psychology, and making his case.

He has two cells in the jail to hold all his materials. He’s successfully petitioned the court to get a laptop computer and a digital recording device.

He has his own experts, including a private investigator and a psychologist.

Lambert claims that a Seattle psychologist diagnosed him as being schizophrenic with long-term delusions and non-substance-abuse episodes.

It’s clear that Lambert is absorbed in the details of the case. He concedes that he will likely spend the rest of his life in captivity – in prison or a mental hospital – and he doesn’t see much of a difference between the two. He wants to make an argument to a jury on his own terms.

Yet Lambert seems unaware of his paradoxical situation. He argues that he’s mentally competent to represent himself – and no one disagrees – but at the same time is arguing that he wasn’t culpable for the murders because he’s schizophrenic.

“I can function just fine,” he said in an interview. “I hear multiple voices all the time and they change at times, but I can usually tell what’s real.”

He has also written reports detailing how he believes the government causes his hallucinations with brain implants and satellite beams.

 

The jailhouse ‘confession’

 

Lambert has written voluminous “self reports” and a document labeled “confession” that he says explains what was going on in his mind at the time of the murders, all of which he shared with the News-Times.

He’s scoured police and court records going back a decade and more to find evidence of his mental illness, which includes talking to himself and episodes of random violence.

Lambert’s most detailed accounting of the incident, including explicit descriptions of the killings, is in a 114-page report he titled “Recollection of 3-Day Long Hallucination.”

He describes an extremely convoluted hallucination that began two days before the murders. He claims to have debated with government agents “via inter-mind communication enabled by the computer chip and transducer in my ear and brain” as well as an omniscient “judge” who was pulling the strings in a complex test of Lambert’s worthiness.

Lambert said that in his mind, the agents threatened to kidnap and kill his teenage son; he spent much of three days trying to figure out how to kill the agents while simultaneously arguing with them and trying to hide his thoughts.

He described stealing a shotgun from his mother’s home and sawing off the barrel, but then not being able to find it after the agents said they took it.

On Oct. 3, he headed to his paternal grandfather’s home just west of Oak Harbor, he says, in search of a gun.

He found a bike on the side of the road and pedaled through the golf course to get there. His intention was to tie the elder Lambert up at knifepoint, he wrote.

Lambert described talking to his great aunt outside the house, going in, locking the door and pushing his grandfather down. The old man jumped up and Lambert put the knife in his face.

Lambert wrote that he “reflexively” stabbed his grandfather when the elderly man lunged at him.

“I wanted it to be over as quick as possible,” Lambert wrote in the documents. “I did not want to kill him. I was very sad and remorseful even during the stabbings. I started stabbing faster so it would be over sooner. You see I was sad during the act because I was not killing him out of anger or for anything that he had done, I was killing him because I thought it was the only way to save my son.”

After binding his great aunt and seizing an air rifle from the home, Lambert says he took her car and drove to the Oak Harbor High School, where he was supposed to confront the “agents” and save his son. But he found few people at the school – it was an early dismissal day – and goaded by the “voices,” drove to the home on Hastie Lake Road where his mother, stepfather, son and maternal grandfather live.

He confronted the only person home, his grandfather Eisner, and killed him in the same manner, he wrote.

Lambert said in the documents that the voices didn’t tell him to kill his grandfathers, but used “trickery” to get him to do it.

“Their intentions were not to kill my son, their intentions were to trick me into thinking that’s what they were doing, so they could trick me into killing my Grandfathers,” he wrote.

Doctors counter Lambert’s claims

After his arrest, Lambert spoke to the News-Times and said he felt confident that psychiatrists would understand that he was legally insane at the time of the murders.

He was then upset about the forensic psychiatric report by the doctors at Western State Hospital and has set about punching holes in it.

The psychiatrists diagnosed him as suffering from antisocial personality disorder, commonly understood as psychopathology.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual describes it as an Axis II personality disorder characterized by “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”

The report describes Lambert’s actions that demonstrate his lack of empathy or regard for others.

Just a year before the murders, Lambert was released from prison in Alaska after serving a five-year sentence. He had convinced a man at a bar to attack another who Lambert claimed had assaulted a woman, although the allegations proved to be baseless. The two men hit the victim on the head with rocks until he was bleeding profusely.

The psychiatrists noted that Lambert assaulted three fellow patients while he was at Western State, “one of which involved nearly gouging another patient’s eye out in a carefully-timed, predatory attack, in which Mr. Lambert asked the peer to engage in Bible study with him,” the report states.

Lambert spent much of the time with the team of psychiatrists reading aloud from “a script” that described what was going on in his head during the murders.

The doctors suspected he fabricated or exaggerated his symptoms.

“An individual suffering from an actual psychotic illness does not usually recognize and label their hallucinations as such,” the report states.

The doctors focused on Lambert’s history of methamphetamine use and the fact that a witness reported that he had “rigs” or hypodermic needles on him at the time of the murders.

After his arrest, Lambert spoke on the phone with his mother and asked her to dispose of dirty needles that he had hidden.

In addition, Lambert repeatedly asked for antipsychotic medication in increasing doses, which the psychiatrists felt was the drug-seeking behavior of an addict.

“There is a wealth of data to suggest that his delusions and hallucinations on the day of the incidents were the direct result of voluntary intoxication with an illicit substance, likely methamphetamine,” the report states.

Under state law, voluntary intoxication cannot be used as an insanity defense, even if the intoxication results in delusions.

In fact, the question of Lambert’s exact mental health diagnosis may not be the central issue for the jury. The jurors will be asked to decide if Lambert was able to tell right from wrong and to perceive accurately the nature and quality of his acts.

“Even if he is schizophrenic, that doesn’t mean he was legally insane,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

 

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