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Psychiatrist thinks 'Night Stalker' incompetent for trial

By
MICHAEL D. HARRIS

LOS ANGELES -- A psychiatrist who has watched 'Night Stalker' suspect Richard Ramirez says she believes his vacant gazes and inappropriate courtroom behavior indicate he is not competent to stand trial on charges he killed 14 people and brutalized dozens of others.

Dr. Lillian Imperi, 61, citing more than 30 years of clinical experience, also suggested during the weekend that Ramirez may not even be aware of the crimes he allegedly committed -- a string of nighttime attacks that terrified California for months. Fifteen killings -- 14 in Los Angeles County and one in San Francisco -- are blamed on the 'Night Stalker.'

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'I think the guy is psychotic, which means he lacks contact with reality,' Imperi said. 'I think he's incompetent to stand trial, and I have my reasons.'

Imperi said she is fascinated with Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from El Paso, Texas, whose friends and family say is a cocaine addict with a strong interest in satanism, and would like to write a book about him.

Imperi, who is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is a member of the American Board of Forensic Psychiatry, said she would have to examine Ramirez personally to be sure of her opinions.

She said she would like to win appointment by the court to examine him for either the defense or prosecution.

Imperi said she has attended four of Ramirez's court appearances, including the one last Thursday in which he pleaded innocent to 68 felony counts and left the courtroom shouting, 'Hail Satan.'

Imperi said Ramirez looked like 'he wasn't paying one bit of attention to the judge,' smiling inappropriately through much of the hearings.

'He was just real loose and real hyperactive and just gazing vacantly out into the audience -- what we call a fixed gaze -- obviously unaware of what was going on in the courtroom, which to me is a sign of incompetency,' she said.

'I don't think he's even aware of the nature of the charges or his plea or the gravity of the situation.'

Ramirez has twice changed attorneys, but none of them has yet mentioned a possible question about his mental competency in court, which could be the first step in an eventual plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

If found to be legally insane at the time of the alleged crimes, Ramirez could be sent to a state mental hospital. If convicted and found to be sane, he faces a death penalty.

Imperi indicated the suspect's mental illness could be drug-induced or linked to his reported satanic inclinations.

'Being involved with devils or Christ is common in schizophrenia,' she said. 'I don't know if he's in a state of preoccupation (with satanism). He may be hallucinating. His preoccupation could be of a psychotic nature.'

At his last court appearance, Ramirez entered innocent pleas to 14 counts of murder, five of attempted murder, 19 burglary, six robbery, seven rape, five forcible oral copulation, seven sodomy, two kidnapping and three counts of committing lewd acts on children.

Ramirez is scheduled to return to Municipal Court Dec. 13 for scheduling of the preliminary hearing to determine if enough evidence exists to try him.

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