Bellingham man found incompetent to stand trial in 2010 murder case

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 25, 2013 

Per Olaf Johansson

Per Olaf Johansson makes his first appearance in Whatcom Superior Court at the Whatcom County Jail on Dec 29, 2010, after he was arrested for allegedly stabbing his father to death. At left is Deputy Public Defender Darrin Hall.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - A Bellingham man accused of murdering his father by stabbing him more than 30 times has been found incompetent to stand trial.

Prosecutors have dropped second-degree murder and second-degree assault charges against Per Olaf Johansson, 35, until he's found sane enough to assist in his defense. In the meantime, both sides in the case expect he'll be held indefinitely at Western State Hospital.

Johansson had been charged with stabbing his father, Raymond Edler Johansson, 69, to death in a delusional rage in December 2010. The younger Johansson had been diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia a year earlier, but stopped taking his medication.

The evening before the killing, Johansson's mother, Loretta, saw him walking around with a slashed-up plastic bag on his head, according to court records. Later she saw him wearing three hats at the same time. Johansson explained, in later forensic interviews, the hats helped him to communicate with spirits - visions of golden-green spiraling lights he called "angels." Johansson also used an "angel clock," a cistern with cups tied to it, to listen to the spirits.

Voices in his head kept him awake for days at a time. He believed he was "Jesus Christ, and was also the creator of the world and of mankind," Loretta Johansson told Dr. Mark R. McClung, one of at least three psychologists who studied the alleged killer at length in the past 2 1/2 years.

Johansson attacked his father, his mother and his 13-year-old niece on the morning of Dec. 28, 2010 at his family's home on Lahti Drive, off Britton Road. His father died of his wounds in the emergency room; the others were stabbed but survived.

After his arrest, Johansson rambled nonsensically to the police: The Illuminati, he claimed, had hurt his children, so he needed to stab his family to get vengeance.

"I think I was programmed to commit this crime," Johansson later told Dr. McClung, "which I had no intention of doing. I just woke up one night from sleeping and did it. I didn't want to; I can't even find words for it. I was sleeping in bed and got woke up, and frikkin' did it."

For months, Johansson's public defender, Darrin Hall, struggled to get him to understand the charges.

In one of their first meetings, for example, Johansson abruptly refused to talk until Hall brought him a deck of cards. Hall humored him. He borrowed a deck of playing cards from the jail staff. Johansson then conducted "what he called a tarot reading on my behalf," and said the lawyer had - in Johansson's mind - both angel wings and devil horns, Hall recounted in court documents.

Johansson "stated he could see the devil and the angel on me," Hall wrote. "After this meeting, along with every other meeting, (Johansson) stated that he would absolve everything he said and therefore it did not happen and he did not say it."

Several months later, Hall showed Johansson photos of his father's body and the knife used to kill him. Johansson dismissed the pictures as "forged" by Hall.

Since mid-2011, Johansson has refused to discuss the case with his lawyer in even the most basic of terms, according to Hall.

During his confinement Johansson hoarded feces, and refused to bathe, to cut his toenails or fingernails, or to use the toilet because he "saw blood in the pipes," according to court records.

Yet in an interview with forensic psychologists in June 2013, he rejected the notion that he has a mental illness. One evaluator asked him if there was anything they can say to change his opinion.

"No," Johansson replied, "I'm pretty dead set on that, sir."

Because of that unshakable belief, Johansson has refused to consider a defense strategy of arguing insanity or diminished capacity, the report says.

Instead Johansson wanted to proceed straight to a jury trial: He'd find himself not guilty if he were in the jury box, he claimed, according to the report. He asserted he'd never seen any "real" evidence against him, and denied his lawyer ever showed him his own confession or any probable cause statements.

"There's a difference between a stubborn client and a client who doesn't grasp what the process is," Hall said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald.

The report concluded Johansson appears to understand the charges against him, but he's still delusional and doesn't understand the likely consequences of a trial.

"Mr. Johansson has likely reached a baseline regarding his symptomatology," wrote Dr. Ray Hendrickson, a psychologist at Western State Hospital.

Hendrickson declined to speculate further about Johansson's chances of improving with more treatment.

A Whatcom County Superior Court order signed earlier this month described Johansson as "a high risk for future serious dangerous behavior jeopardizing public safety or security." The court ordered him to undergo evaluations for a civil commitment at Western State Hospital. Those proceedings are ongoing.

The criminal charges - second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and two counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon - were dropped but can be refiled if Johansson is found competent to stand trial.

That might take years, said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Mac Setter.

"Basically," Setter said, "it's time to fish or cut bait."

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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