It’s been a year and nine months since two elderly men were stabbed to death at their North Whidbey homes and a woman was tied up with packing tape.
Trial for suspect Joshua Lambert finally started this week with two full days of jury selection followed by harrowing testimony about the events of Oct. 3, 2011.
Lambert, 32, a high-school dropout, is acting as his own attorney and is asserting an insanity defense against charges that include two counts of first-degree murder and a count of kidnapping.
He’s accused of killing both his grandfathers and abducting his great aunt; he claims that he committed the acts in the midst of a schizophrenic delusion in which he needed to save his sons from hostile FBI agents.
Lambert continues to be frustrated by court rules. He frequently argues with Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill, who told him on at least one occasion that he’s in contempt of court. He sits alone at the defense table, surrounded by two corrections deputies and the bailiff because he’s considered a security risk.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks outlined the case against Lambert in opening statements. His voice was thick with emotion as he continually turned to look at Lambert when describing the violence.
“The evidence will show that Mr. Lambert went on this killing spree, this crime spree, in a desperate attempt to obtain guns,” he said.
Banks briefly described the two murder victims, both 80 years old, and projected their photos on a screen.
George Lambert was a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather. He was a local businessman and the elder member of a large Oak Harbor clan.
August Eisner, who went by Gene, lived at a North Whidbey home with Joshua Lambert’s mother, stepfather and son.
Banks explained that Joshua Lambert lived with his mother and the rest of the family after his release from prison in Alaska three years ago. But he was kicked off the property after he starting drinking excessively and became volatile.
A few months later, Joshua Lambert allegedly became a murderer.
Banks’ voice broke as he described the details of the victim’s injuries; both men were stabbed many times, beaten and their throats slashed.
Banks described how the police gathered up all the members of Lambert’s extended family on the day of the murders because he had threatened to “kill them all.”
Joshua Lambert chose to reserve his opening statement until after the prosecution rests.
Joshua Lambert’s great-aunt, Kay Gage, 68, took the stand Thursday afternoon and calmly described walking into a scene of horror. Gage said she moved in with her brother, George Lambert, at his home on Oldenburg Lane after his wife died and he suffered a stroke.
Gage testified that she was outside when Joshua Lambert startled her by walking out of the woods on Oct. 3, 2011. He asked to see “Papa George” and went into the house. Gage said George Lambert got along well with his grandson.
“He loved him to death, but he was wary,” she said. “He didn’t know what he would do next. But he was his grandpa. He would do anything for him.”
Gage said she went into the house shortly afterward and encountered Joshua Lambert, who grabbed her and said he wanted to show her something. She said she immediately sensed something was wrong.
“He didn’t look right,” she said, describing Joshua. “I can’t explain it to you, he just didn’t look right.”
In the living room, Gage said she saw her brother on the floor surrounded by “a lot of blood.” She realized Joshua Lambert had blood on his face, hands and clothes.
Banks asked her what was going through her mind.
“I think I was blank,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I was seeing what I was seeing.”
Gage said Joshua Lambert told her not to worry because “the old man is dead.” She said he then hit her over the head twice and taped her wrists and ankles together after she fell to the floor.
Gage described “nudging” her brother, who was lying beside her, in an attempt to keep him awake. She said Joshua Lambert demanded to know where the guns were and ransacked the wrong bedroom. She told him that there were guns in the garage, knowing that they were air rifles.
Joshua Lambert grabbed an air rifle, apparently not realizing that it wasn’t a real gun, she said. He demanded her car keys and left after making one final statement.
“He said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll just kill them all,’” she said.
Gage described her struggle to get to her brother’s cell phone with her hands tied behind her back. After about 40 minutes, she managed to call her brother’s friend, who rescued her.
During a brief cross examination, Joshua Lambert asked Gage if she smelled alcohol on him and she said she didn’t. He then asked her about one of the things he said.
“You said, ‘You don’t understand, this is an emergency,’” she testified.
Lambert ended his questioning with a series of questions about the tape dispenser he used to tie her up.
The prosecutor called Lambert’s stepfather, James Coffin, to testify. He explained that he and his wife, Lambert’s mother Susan, lived on Hastie Lake Road. They have custody of Lambert’s teenage son. Susan’s father, Gene Eisner, lived in an apartment above the garage.
Coffin said Lambert came to live with them after getting out of prison in Alaska in the fall of 2010. Lambert insisted on living outside, so he bought a van that he parked at the house. He got a job at a local farm on the second day of being home.
“He was doing great,” Coffin said. “He was a joy to be around.”
Coffin said Eisner and Lambert got along fine.
“Gene liked Josh,” he said. “Gave him the benefit of the doubt. He knew him all his life.”
After a few weeks, Coffin said, Lambert became more distant and started drinking. Coffin said Lambert became increasingly volatile and attacked a neighbor for no reason.
Finally, his mother told him he had to leave.
Coffin said he was afraid of Lambert and wore a .357 magnum if he showed up on his property when his wife wasn’t around.
Coffin testified that he found his stepfather’s body in his driveway when he drove home on the day of the murders. He thought Eisner had fallen and hit his head until he got a closer look. He said the elderly man was lying in a large pool of blood and his throat was cut open.
Lambert questioned Coffin only briefly, focusing on events that occurred before the murder.
Former Oak Harbor resident Amber McCabe testified about her encounter with Lambert on the day of the murders. She said she only met him a couple of times through her ex-boyfriend.
McCabe, 31, said she was at a friend’s apartment when she saw Lambert coming out of her unit; he was carrying her hunting bow. She yelled at him and he went back inside.
McCabe said she confronted Lambert inside her apartment. She repeatedly swore and demanded that he get out of her apartment. She said he immediately dropped the bow when he saw her and said the police were after him.
He was very apologetic, she said.
McCabe said Lambert’s clothes appeared to be covered in blood. She said she noticed hypodermic needles sticking out of his pocket when he was leaving.
Lambert also questioned McCabe briefly. He asked her about his appearance.
“Your eyes had this lost, scared fear in them,” she said. “It’s hard to explain your eyes at the time.”
One of the few times Lambert appeared shaken in court was when his uncle Jeffrey Lambert was called to the stand.
Jeffrey Lambert, a soft-spoken man, wept openly and had a difficult time answering questions about his father.
“He was always helping people,” he said. “That was who he was.”
Joshua Lambert held his hand over his face during his uncle’s testimony. He declined to ask questions.