Court hears from psychologist in Risinger case

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Friday morning found the court listening to the last witness in the trial of Joshua Risinger, 29, Salem, accused of murder, felony murder and arson after Jefferey Givan, 62, was found dead in a trailer Risinger is accused of setting on fire to kill Givan.

Psychologist Dr. Heather Henderson-Galligan took the stand and explained her process of examining Risinger for competency to stand trial and evaluating his sanity.

She said Risinger didn’t want to talk about the events of March 14, 2017, the evening he is accused of setting the fire, but did give her information on his personal history, including family, medical, work history and more. She relied on video interviews of Risinger with police to form her opinion as to his mental state at the time of the fire as, during her face-to-face interview with Risinger, she would not have diagnosed him with any mental disease or defect. Her eventual opinion was he was mentally and cognitively in-tact and competent to stand trial, though he was not sane at the time of the events.

Washington County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin said in his opening statements Henderson-Galligan did not perform the evaluation correctly and discussed what he considered to be her evaluation’s shortcomings. He said she failed to mention both parts of the state’s legal requirements for an insanity defense: that he was suffering from a mental disease or defect and that he was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions at the time.

In her report, she discusses her diagnosis of Risinger — unspecified psychotic disorder — and how she came to it, but, according to Houchin, not whether he was able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.

Houchin pointed out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) allowed for the diagnosis of “other psychotic disorder,” which differed from unspecified psychotic disorder in that choosing other would require why Risinger wouldn’t have met the criteria for a more specific category of psychotic disorder.

Henderson-Galligan said in her report that “additional evidence of past psychiatric history, including medication logs may be helpful in assessing for accurate diagnosis.” Houchin asked why, if additional information would have helped make an accurate diagnosis, why didn’t she ask. Henderson-Galligan confirmed she knew she could have asked for more information, and did ask for different copies of the video interviews when the ones she was given didn’t work, but concluded her evaluation having watched only the video interviews Risinger had with police and the phone calls he made to his mother, or someone he referred to as “Mom,” from the jail, asking her to delete social media content. She said she did not request any records gathered during his incarceration when she conducted her interview in June 2017, or the contents of the deleted social media posts and messages, despite later admitting they could have been helpful.

Henderson-Galligan also said drugs could have caused the unusual behavior displayed by Risinger during the police interviews. She said Risinger denied being under the influence of drugs, though he told Dr. George Parker, who had also evaluated him for the court, he had started using marijuana at age 14 and used it a few times a week ever since. Risinger also told Henderson-Galligan his only remarkable medical history was a heart murmur, but told Parker his only medical history was a broken right arm.

“So the defendant hasn’t been honest?” asked Houchin.

“Correct,” replied Henderson-Galligan.

“And the video evidence is subject to interpretation.”

“Yes.”

Guidelines Henderson-Galligan provided Houchin before the trial began dictated a clinician should always consider malingering (“the intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated physical or psychological problems,” according to the DSM-5). Henderson-Galligan said there are two tests for this, but she did not feel there was reason during the interview, held before she viewed the video recordings she used as the basis for her diagnosis, to administer either test. She acknowledged she could have gone back and conducted malingering tests after watching the videos, but did not.

“There is a true mental defect that may indeed emerge under extreme duress or pressure,” Henderson-Galligan wrote in her report. “The defendant more likely than not suffered from mental disease or defect at the time of his arrest, the dame day of the event … Mr. Risinger was not sane at the time of the events. There was evidence of mental disease or defect at the time of the crime being committed.”

Houchin questioned why the opinion portion of her report didn’t include information about whether Risinger appreciated the wrongfulness of his actions. Henderson-Galligan confirmed she didn’t use exactly language of the insanity statute or clearly explain her reasons for the opinions. She confirmed she made two of the common mistakes listed in a professional journal entry on insanity defense evaluations, but denied a third, equating a mental disorder with insanity.

“The jury can’t rely on your evaluation if you didn’t analyze the wrongfulness of his conduct,” said Houchin.

“I think that’s more of a legal question,” Henderson-Galligan replied.

During defense attorney David Smith’s cross examination, Henderson-Galligan cited the numerical fixation Risinger exhibited, including signing his name as the number 75. She noted Risinger became agitated and emotionally shut down during the interview with police, and mentioned the shift she noticed in his personality, the strange arm movements, the removal of his shirt to display his tattoos, the religiosity of his statements and what she referred to as “word salad,” defined as “a confused or unintelligible mixture of seemingly random words and phrases.”

“This indicates delusional thinking or hallucination,” said Henderson-Galligan. “It’s evidence of a psychotic disorder.”

She noted in the second video Risinger looked exhausted and slumped down in his chair and appeared nonverbal at times. She said that wasn’t unusual for people after a period of extreme stress, referring to it as an “endorphin rush crash.”

She noted Risinger was more alert in the third video and became more agitated as talk continued about how Givan may have propositioned him. He repeated the statement that Givan was “trying to consume me,” and became frustrated and ended the interview. She said this was further evidence of psychosis and that she didn’t believe she needed more information to make a diagnosis.

“The behavior spoke for itself at the time,” she said. She added she saw no indication the strange behavior was drug related and hadn’t received information about him having used marijuana the day of the fire.

Henderson-Galligan said it isn’t unusual for an interview subject to be less than truthful during an evaluation, but that wouldn’t prevent a diagnosis. She said a lack of trust is consistent with psychosis because they often believe people are out to get them. She said she saw this when she asked about the events that led to Risinger becoming incarcerated. She said he became noticeably agitated and distressed and said he knew what happened, but didn’t want to say anything, along with more word salad, when she brought it up.

“Do you believe your findings are accurate?” Smith asked.

“Yes … I would not turn in a report I believed to be less than accurate.”

She said he believed Risinger met the insanity standard and stood by her opinion despite the doubts expressed by Houchin.

Houchin addressed Henderson-Galligan again, questioning why, when he asked if she had considered if Risinger had appreciated the wrongfulness of his actions, she had said no, but when Smith asked her, she’d said yes. She responded she did analyze that, but didn’t include that specific verbiage in her report and didn’t usually.

Henderson-Galligan said she wasn’t aware of any statements made by Tyler Davidson, who spoke in court earlier that week about giving Risinger a ride home before the fire. Houchin recounted Davidson’s testimony about how Risinger had asked him if he should get help from the police to make Givan leave the trailer or if he should kill the man or set fire to the trailer. Houchin asked if that conversation would indicate Risinger knew what he was planning was wrong and Henderson-Galligan said it would. She also agreed in due course that Risinger’s leaving the scene, making effort to obscure his face, leaving with a bag packed with important items and lying to police about why he left the trailer, about how he’d managed to pack the bag with the fire in the trailer and the lies he told until police confronted him with evidence could all be factors in him appreciating the wrongfulness of his actions. He asked about Risinger’s asking if he was going to jail or that he was “ready to go to a cell … whatever you have to do. Put me in the electric chair,” to investigators and telling Davidson nothing was wrong and that he should go when Davidson asked about a crash he heard in the trailer. He asked about Risinger taking Givan’s cane and breaking Givan’s cell phone so he couldn’t walk or call for help, along with taking identification documents of the victim with him when he left and telling his mother to delete Facebook messages could have contributed to an analysis of whether he appreciated the wrongfulness of his actions. Henderson-Galligan said they could.

“So you didn’t appropriately analyze the appreciation of wrongfulness of his actions?” asked Houchin.

“According to you,” replied Henderson-Galligan.

She also admitted she had not read the police report and wasn’t sure she had it. During closing arguments, Houchin said she was given a copy.

Smith questioned Henderson-Galligan again, asking if an altered perception during a psychotic episode would be necessary for appreciation. Henderson-Galligan agreed if Risinger’s perception of reality was altered, it could affect appreciation.

She called the behavior exhibited in the videos she observed demonstrated acute psychosis and she was confident in her assessment of Risinger’s mental illness and that he didn’t appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.

Testimony from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are available at salemleader.com.

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