A 79-year-old Lake Elsinore man convicted of gunning down a Newport Beach physician he accused of botching a routine surgical procedure told jurors during the sanity phase of his trial Tuesday that he would have used a different type of weapon if he wanted to avoid culpability.
“If I wanted to get away with murder I would have used a revolver,” the defendant, who uses a wheelchair, said.
The Glock he actually used “auto-ejects” the bullets, so, “You get my fingerprints on the shell,” accused killer Stanwood Fred Elkus said.
Plus, he added, the murder weapon he chose “was cheaper than the revolver. I always liked a bargain.”
When Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy pointed out contradictory comments Elkus made to his nephew, to authorities and during his testimony about the murder, Elkus replied, “I said a lot of things I didn’t mean to say.”
As Elkus was being led back to the defense table during a break for jurors, he said, “There’s a lot more things I wanted to say. … I can’t shut up now.”
Elkus was particularly irked that Murphy questioned his claim about being stricken by polio as a child. Elkus said he grew up in poor neighborhood where the “ice man” still delivered and that’s why he got polio.
“I swear by God, honest to goodness, I had polio,” he said. “I was eating the ice off the ice truck.”
Both Murphy and Elkus’ attorney, Colleen O’Hara, pointed to the defendant’s testimony to bolster arguments on Elkus’ claim to being legally insane during the Jan. 29, 2013, killing of Dr. Ronald Gilbert in his Newport Beach office.
O’Hara pointed to the testimony of experts that Elkus was diagnosed as suicidal and psychotic at the time of his arrest.
“He’s operating within his own reality,” O’Hara said. “Everything revolves around a surgery in 1992.”
Elkus’ psychosis deepened following a burglary of his home, prompting him to fear he was being “followed.”
“You just saw a full-on display” of his delusions, O’Hara told jurors.
But Murphy said Elkus’ problems boil down to chronic depression only, and that “psychosis” is not “interchangeable” with legal insanity.
“He was living in our reality,” Murphy said. “He was living in Dr. Gilbert’s reality. That’s why we’re here.”
Elkus’ testimony only demonstrated how understanding he is of right and wrong, Murphy said.
“For a prosecutor, it’s a dream” for a defendant to testify, Murphy said, adding, especially, “If the first words out of his mouth is a big, fat lie.”
Elkus is “a weird guy,” Murphy said. “But it manifested itself in a murder, not yelling at trees. This manifested itself in the murder of someone who was trying to help him.”
Murphy also argued that Elkus “packed a bag” for jail before shooting Gilbert, indicating he knew what he was doing was wrong. The defendant also called his nephew from jail to get him to transfer ownership of his assets to his nephew, saying he would be imprisoned for the rest of his life for the murder, Murphy argued.
Jurors deliberated for about 40 minutes Monday before convicting Elkus of the killing. They also found true a sentencing enhancement allegation of personal use of a gun and a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait.
If jurors determine Elkus was insane at the time of the crime, he will be sent to a mental health facility indefinitely. Elkus could petition at some point that his sanity has been restored and he is deserving of release.
If jurors reject the insanity claim, Elkus will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Elkus spent five months in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1956, which allowed him access to Veterans Administration health care, “which he took advantage of a lot,” Murphy told jurors at the trial’s onset.
In 1992, when he was 54, Elkus — a barber — made appointments with multiple doctors, complaining of urinary problems, Murphy said. One of the doctors he consulted with was Gilbert, who was a young resident at the time, he said.
Elkus was diagnosed with urethral stricture, a narrowing of the urinary tract, so doctors recommended a routine surgical procedure to correct it, Murphy said.
Elkus blamed the surgery for leaving him incontinent and impotent.
In 2013, he made an appointment under a fake name to see Gilbert in his Newport Beach office. When the doctor entered the exam room, Elkus shot him multiple times.
O’Hara said her client’s brain has significantly deteriorated to the point that he is at one percentile of the cognition of others his age. In a hearing in January of this year, Elkus told the judge presiding over his case that he has a brain tumor.
“His mental health issues started when he was young,” O’Hara said, telling the jury her client had polio when he was 7 and was not the same afterward.
The surgical procedure in 1992 was the “final trigger … into his eventual descent into madness,” O’Hara said.
Doctors have diagnosed damage to parts of his brain that control inhibitions and behavior, O’Hara said. Symptoms of his brain disease include “a feeling of unreality and fluctuations in consciousness,” she said.
–City News Service
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