A chaotic mind: A clinical psychologist offers an explanation

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

In April, Joshuah Rainbolt pled guilty in his best friend, Blake Box-Skinner’s murder. Just before that, Rainbolt’s defense team, led by attorney Mark Clark, called Dr. Bart Ferraro to evaluate him. Ferraro is a clinical psychologist with Meridian Psychological Associates interviewed Rainbolt extensively and ran a battery of tests. On the stand Monday, he told the court he found Rainbolt to have significant psychological issues, including developmental arrest and that the actions he took that night could be interpreted as a sign of significant psychological immaturity, rather than the lack of remorse of which the state accused Rainbolt.

At his very best and in a calm, structured environment, Ferraro said Rainbolt showed signs of average intelligence and an advanced ability for abstract thinking, but when confronted with a stressor, his thinking became “incongruous and fragmented.” He said Rainbolt had very immature coping skills and his primary reaction to stressors was escape or avoidance.

Ferraro added that the disposal of the gun in the White River exhibited that drive to avoid and escape, saying he drove to the river because that’s where the road ended and that he was driving without knowing where he was going. He said Rainbolt told him he’d considered jumping off the bridge and that throwing the gun in was part of his attempt to escape and avoid the incident.

Washington County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin later expressed incredulity at this statement.

“It was incredulous for the doctor to say that what he did with the gun was anything but disposing of a weapon,” Houchin said.

Rainbolt, Ferraro said, was, to an extent, a product of an unstable home with no role models showing a healthy means of coping with difficulty. When he lost his father at 13, Ferraro said Rainbolt’s life began to take a turn for the worse and by 16, he was never experiencing a day without smoking pot.

Ferraro explained to Judge Larry Medlock the list of possible factors that combined to result in such a fractured psychology.

“It’s complicated,” he said. “No one thing occurred in his development. His parents weren’t married and fought, exchanging him between them at police stations. In first grade, he was failing all his subjects, hating everyone, hating everything. His role models all used drugs or abused drugs. He said his goals were to ‘get high and live life out.’” Ferraro added that his father was also “seriously psychologically fractured,” but he was bonding with him before he died and after his death, things started to go downhill.

“We don’t learn mature, adaptive coping skills if we pick up heavy substance abuse as our coping mechanism,” Ferraro said.

While Ferraro said there was no question that tests indicated that Rainbolt could be violent, angry and hostile, he dealt with them by avoiding and escaping rather than getting violent.

“He’s more likely to be passive aggressive — maybe not show up to something to avoid conflict,” he said.

Ferraro said the “internal collapse” Rainbolt experiences occurs when he’s faced with a complexity, pressure or difficulty he can’t escape or avoid.

He said Rainbolt expressed regret for many things when he examined him in April, but that he can’t express that in a way someone with a healthy mind can. This, he added, is unlikely to change if he receives only limited mental healthcare that tends to be available to those in prison. He said these conditions don’t tend to improve with time and while his substance abuse will be curtailed, how Rainbolt takes in information may become more entrenched, though some dimensions of his acting out may diminish as decades pass.

He said Rainbolt’s inability to explain what happened could be mistaken for efforts to conceal rather than the result of a “primitive psychological state.” His daily marijuana use for years, the doctor said, could have further impacted his cognitive function.

Houchin was not convinced. He cited in the report compiled by Ferraro the section that showed Rainbolt’s average intelligence and advanced abstract thinking and asked, why then, did Ferraro insist that Rainbolt’s psychological make-up was so disorganized that it left him unable to explain why he did what he did. How could he be both?

“So, he had poor role models, learning problems, picks up drugs,” he said. “He devolved into a guy who hangs out on the couch all day smoking weed and playing video games and throws tantrums when he gets angry.”

“Things are rarely as simple on the inside as we see on the outside,” said Ferraro.

Houchin suggested, rather than being unable to tell what happened, he knew what he told the doctor would be placed in a report for the judge to see and he didn’t want the judge to know.

“Anything is possible …” Ferraro said. “It doesn’t fit with the test data.”

“Lots of things don’t fit the test data, like that he did this,” Houchin said.

“Yes,” replied Ferraro.

Ferraro said, while it’s unlikely Rainbolt will get treatment in prison, if he takes the opportunities to better himself offered to inmates, he may benefit.

“If he lives long enough to be released, I don’t know if he’ll continue to exhibit a lack of psychological maturity,” Ferraro said. “If he develops any life motivation and availed himself of opportunities for education and substance abuse recovery, he could come out better than he went in.”

“He will also be surrounded by people who may be similarly impaired,” Medlock said. Ferraro replied that Rainbolt would be very vulnerable to that.


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