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The following article was posted on January 30th, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 27

Mental state debated in SLO murder trial

BY MATT FOUNTAIN

A San Luis Obispo man was suicidal, delusional, and not in control of his actions when he shot and killed his mother—a longtime Lompoc Valley teacher—at his apartment in September 2011, his defense attorney argued before a jury.

But in opening statements in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Jan. 28, Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray argued that witness testimony will show Christopher Schumey was acting “very appropriate and very coherent” in contact with neighbors just prior to the shooting.

Christopher, 36, is facing charges of first-degree murder and assault on a peace officer with a firearm in the shotgun killing of Karen Schumey, 65, a teacher at Vandenberg Middle School. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

During the first day of his trial, jurors heard from Christopher’s downstairs neighbor and viewed footage showing a shotgun blast raining down on officers from the apartment window.

A long-haired and bearded Christopher sat quietly during the roughly five-hour long hearing, appearing to nod off occasionally. The next day, he appeared shaven and coherent, though he could be seen mumbling to himself.

Gray described a young man who began sinking into mental illness in 1999 during his senior year at U.C. Santa Cruz, where he was a film major, she said. According to the prosecution, Christopher stole his father’s shotgun from a storage unit shared by the family and hid it in his apartment. On the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2011, Gray alleged, he and his mother had an argument in his apartment leading neighbors to inquire. Christopher came to the door and said that everything was alright, according to testimony from former neighbor Heather Stewart.

Following the incident, according to prosecutors, Karen Schumey left the apartment briefly to calm the situation and when she returned was shot in the abdomen with a shotgun slug through the front door. Gray alleged that Christopher then reloaded the weapon, opened the door, and shot his mother again in the head.

“He was angry with her and the situation,” Gray said. “He wanted something to die.”

His defense attorney, Pierre Blahnik, outlined Christopher’s long struggle with mental health issues, including a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, and argued that Christopher was showing progress before work-related issues in the summer of 2011 led to a “complete psychiatric breakdown,” which included religious delusions and “prolonged grandiose fantasies.”

“After that, the wheels started falling off again, leading up to this terrible tragedy,” Blahnik said, adding that shortly thereafter Christopher unsuccessfully attempted suicide with his father’s shotgun, and began talking to people who weren’t there, drafting a celebrity murder list.

Blahnik argued that following Christopher’s mother’s departure from the apartment, Christopher placed the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth but couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. When she returned, for a reason “neither he nor anyone else would be able to explain,” Blahnik said, Christopher turned the barrel of the gun to the front door.

“Christopher Schumey loved his mother and would never do anything to harm her—if he was in his right mind,” Blahnik said.

During a second day of testimony, neighbor Benjamin Lobue recalled a chaotic scene with neighbors in the streets trying to tell officers where the shots came from before Christopher allegedly fired out the window, sending neighbors running for cover.

Testimony is expected to continue throughout the next week, with up to 60 witnesses potentially taking the stand. Should he be found guilty, Christopher will enter a sanity phase, in which jurors will be asked to determine whether he was sane during the shooting.