Judge loses her patience with Lambert

Judge Vickie Churchill chastises Joshua Lambert for acting out in court Thursday. She removed him as his own attorney. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Judge Vickie Churchill chastises Joshua Lambert for acting out in court Thursday. She removed him as his own attorney.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Joshua Lambert questioned himself at trial. He described killing his grandfathers to the jury. He swore at the judge and prosecutor during hearings.

After issuing dozens of stern warnings, Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill ruled Thursday afternoon that Lambert may no longer represent himself in his double murder trial.

The final straw came when Lambert called Island County Coroner Robert Bishop to the stand and accused him of lying about the shape of a stab wound on one of the victims.

“He has lost his right, through his behavior, to represent himself,” Churchill said.

Lambert’s standby attorney, Tom Pacher, will take over Monday.

Pacher took the position late last month after a previous standby attorney left Pacher’s firm.

Lambert is charged with the Oct. 3, 2011 murder of his two grandfathers, August Eisner and George Lambert, and the kidnapping of his great aunt. He is asserting an insanity defense.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks rested his case Monday afternoon and Lambert started presenting his defense Wednesday.

During his opening remarks, Lambert went through the evidence he hopes to present. He focused on his history of “really extreme, odd behavior” and talking to himself.

“The evidence will show I got a history of not-very-well-documented mental episodes,” he said.

He pointed out that he had “no normal motive” for committing the crimes. He said the voices in his head drove him to kill the elderly men during a mission to save his son.

Lambert then called a series of guards from the jail to testify about him talking to himself.

He became upset when the prosecutor objected to his questioning of the jail administrator.

“I was under the impression that the prosecutor has been to law school,” he said sarcastically after the jury was excused.

Lambert called his mother to the stand and questioned her about his troubled childhood. She explained that he got into trouble for truancy and running away from home, as well as other bad behavior.

She sent him to a “boy’s home” in Mississippi when he was in eighth grade and a couple of years later sent him to a special camp for troubled youth in Samoa.

She testified that he was different after returning home.

“You were very paranoid,” she said. “You always slept with some kind of weapon, like a bat or a bar.”

She described his other odd behavior: He called in the middle of the night and warned “to get out because they were coming to get us;” he talked to himself often; he spoke in different voices.

Lambert then called himself to the stand. He asked himself questions and testified from the defense table.

He spoke at length about the events surrounding an assault he committed in Alaska years ago. He said voices told him that a man had raped his ex-girlfriend and that his toddler daughter confirmed it by speaking with him telepathically and in encoded messages.

He said people spoke to him through “aura body language.”

Lambert eventually described the murders. He said the hallucinations started two days before; the voices threatened that his son would be killed if he didn’t complete a mission that involved getting guns to kill a bad FBI agent who kidnapped the boy.

Lambert said the dominant voice, “a judge-type person,” told him he was legally authorized to kill certain people.

“He said he had authority over the government, the police and the military,” he said.

Lambert’s testimony was temporarily put on hold so he could interview other witnesses Thursday.

The day started out well for Lambert. He called Dr. Lawrence Wilson, who was originally a prosecution witness, to testify about his competency evaluation. Wilson found that Lambert was competent to stand trial and also offered a diagnosis that included amphetamine abuse and the possibility of psychosis, schizophrenia and malingering, which he said could mean faked or embellished symptoms.

Wilson said he considered the possibility that Lambert may be exaggerating his schizophrenic symptoms, though he said he placed it last on the list of possibilities. He admitted that accounts from Alaskan jail guards that Lambert “held court” by himself for hours in his cell adds credence to the possibility that Lambert is schizophrenic.

Lambert, however, became upset when Wilson said he meant to write in a report that it’s “possible” Lambert may suffer from a psychotic disorder, instead of a definitive diagnosis.

He argued with the judge and made sarcastic comments after she sustained objections about his questions, prompting her to remove the jury and warn Lambert about his behavior once again.

“The next time you do this is the last time,” she said.

“I will not put up with this disruptive behavior any longer.”

Lambert agreed to follow the rules and called a former friend, Misty Mann, to testify. She described his odd behavior years ago. She said he spoke to a person who wasn’t there and thought he could read her mind.

“I just remember you saying you had people in your head and you couldn’t be around other people,” she said.

Under cross examination, Mann admitted that Lambert and his ex-girlfriend used  meth frequently; under redirect, she said Lambert seemed to have delusional thoughts both on and off meth.

Bishop was the last witness called Thursday. Lambert quickly became frustrated by the coroner’s answers to questions about one of the victim’s wounds. He repeatedly asked to interview Bishop in private, but the judge refused to allow it.

Churchill sent the jury out of the room and even helped Lambert by sorting through autopsy photos.

Lambert continued questioning Bishop but quickly became upset.

“I see what you’re doing. I see what you’re doing,” he said aloud, earning a warning from the judge.

Lambert asked Bishop why he doesn’t remember any details that support his case. Banks objected, saying he was harassing the witness. Churchill sustained the objection and again warned Lambert.

Lambert, clearly angry, asked Bishop if he knows what perjury is. Churchill immediately excused the jurors and announced that Pacher would take over as defense attorney.

“What did I do?” Lambert asked before the judge left the courtroom.

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