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Accused killer builds a case for insanity

A deputy photographs Joshua Lambert soon after he was arrested for a double murder. - Island County Sheriff
A deputy photographs Joshua Lambert soon after he was arrested for a double murder.
— image credit: Island County Sheriff's Office

Joshua Lambert suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and was “in the throes of a heightened delusional state” when he killed his two grandfathers on North Whidbey Oct. 3, 2011, a defense psychologist says.

R.E. Deutsch, a Seattle-area psychologist, offers a much different assessment of Lambert’s mental state at the time of the killings than the conclusions drawn by psychiatrists at Western State Hospital.

Deutsch wrote that Lambert suffers from “a pervasive and longstanding pre-existing psychotic disorder” and was unable to appreciate “the wrongfulness” of his actions.

Lambert didn’t set out to kill anyone, but his crimes were the result of “psychosis induced incompetence,” Deutsch wrote.

State experts maintain Lambert’s alleged methamphetamine use, coupled with a personality disorder akin to psychopathology, likely led him to commit the crimes.

The conflicting assessments means that trial, set for July 9, may become a battle of expert witnesses over the question of what drove the troubled Oak Harbor man to kill and whether he belongs in prison or a hospital.

Lambert, a 32-year-old high school dropout, is acting as his own attorney even as he asserts an insanity defense, which has complicated the legal process. He questioned his own competency to stand trial, floated various defense theories and claimed the judge speaks with him telepathically.

Lambert is accused of stabbing to death his paternal grandfather, George Lambert, tying up his great aunt, Kay Gage, and then stabbing to death his maternal grandfather, August Eugene “Sonny” Eisner, on Oct. 3, 2011.

His grandfathers were both 80 years old and lived in separate residences on North Whidbey.

Lambert claims he killed his grandfathers in the midst of a complex delusion in which he was searching for guns to kill the FBI agents who kidnapped his son.

Lambert is facing two counts of first-degree murder, one count of kidnapping and a number of lesser charges.

He is not facing the death penalty.

Lambert granted a series of interviews with the News-Times from jail and provided documents about the case that are not normally available to the public, including psychological evaluations.

Lambert picked Deutsch as a defense expert from a list of providers. To complete his report, Deutsch interviewed Lambert for eight hours and read through voluminous documents. In fact, Lambert insisted on sending so much information to Deutsch that the trial scheduled for last fall was continued to March because he couldn’t complete his report on time.

By contrast, the doctors at Western State Hospital only interviewed him for an hour and a half, according to Lambert.

Deutsch finally completed the “Psychological Report” last month, but then Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks asked to have the trial continued because of the unresolved competency issues.

In addition, Banks said he wants to have Lambert evaluated by yet another mental health expert.

Banks said he’s hired a “highly recommended” psychologist from outside Western State Hospital to conduct the evaluation.

Lambert argued that the Western State Hospital evaluation is flawed because the psychiatrists didn’t have all the information they needed to evaluate him.

Banks agrees that Lambert has a point; the evaluation took place before Lambert was even charged with the second murder. He said the new doctor will have all relevant information, including historical details about Lambert.

Meanwhile, a state psychologist concluded that Lambert is competent to stand trial because he has “a factual and rational understanding” of the charges and court proceedings, according to the Feb. 27 report.

The psychologist also wrote that Lambert, who is acting as his own attorney and talks to himself, possesses the capacity to communicate with his attorney.

Lambert said he plans to obtain his own competency evaluation from a doctor.

Banks said he is not surprised by Deutsch’s report, given it came from an expert witness for the defense.

Even if Lambert is schizophrenic, Banks said, he may not meet the requirements for legal insanity.

Deutsch’s report begins with a description of Lambert’s troubled childhood in Oak Harbor. By the time he was in middle school, he was getting into fights, running away and drinking alcohol. His family sent him to a “boot camp program” in Samoa, which was later closed after allegations of widespread abuse surfaced.

“In this fragile condition as a 15-year-old boy he was exported to a boot camp type program in a foreign land where he was literally held hostage, isolated from his parents, and physically and psychologically abused for close to two years,” the psychologist wrote.

Lambert returned to Oak Harbor High School after the boot camp, but dropped out and got his GED.

Lambert started hearing voices when he was about 19 years old, which was after he started using methamphetamine. His mother noticed that he started to talk to himself when he was in his early 20s, the report states.

Deutsch wrote that the meth use and stressors in Lambert’s life were probably complicit in causing the initial psychotic episode; however, methamphetamine use “typically would not cause a psychotic condition unless there was a preexisting precarious psychological adjustment and predisposing factors.”

Lambert moved to Alaska and worked on fishing boats. He claims his meth use was minimal, but “he was continually influenced by his delusions and hallucinations,” Deutsch wrote. He developed a delusion that his girlfriend was raped and convinced an acquaintance to help him assault the man he thought responsible.

Lambert was convicted of assault and spent five years in prison, largely in solitary confinement.

Deutsch points out that there is abundant literature on the damaging psychological effects of isolation on inmates.

After prison, Lambert moved to his mother’s house near Oak Harbor, but continually talked to himself and appeared “shaky and post-traumatic,” the report states. His mother reported that he scared her by talking to himself and speaking in different voices. He left to live in the woods.

Lambert claims he woke up in the woods on the day of the murders with the voices of FBI agents and a nebulous “judge” screaming in his head.

Deutsch and the doctors at Western State Hospital noted that there’s evidence that Lambert did suffer from a delusion and truly believed his son was kidnapped. The cause of the delusion, however, is under debate.

Lambert claims that neither drugs nor alcohol precipitated the murders. There was little evidence that Lambert used drugs or alcohol on the day of the murders, though he has a history of significant drug and alcohol abuse.

Deutsch argues that Lambert believed the killings were legal in his delusional world.

Deutsch concludes that Lambert’s paranoia continues to make him a dangerous man.

“A powerful paranoid delusion system continues to influence Joshua Lambert and per his report he is being told to hurt people and act out in court,” the report states.

“Mr. Lambert will remain a high risk for violence without intensive psychological treatment including medications.”

 

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