Man accused of threatening El Camino College massacre granted new hearing

A Hawthorne man charged last year with threatening to commit a “Santa Barbara-style” massacre at El Camino College near Torrance was granted a new preliminary hearing Monday after two psychiatrists testified he was delusional during the original proceeding.

James Gustavo Lemus, 36, who has been taking the antipsychotic medication Abilify while in jail for nearly a year, sat calmly and talked with his attorney during the hearing in Torrance Superior Court, unlike last year when he rocked in his chair, swung his legs under the table and babbled to his attorney.

In a rarity in court, two experts — psychiatrists Risa Grand for the prosecution and Sanjay Sahgal for the defense — agreed that Lemus was not competent to understand what occurred during the Nov. 4, 2014, hearing, when witnesses described threats he allegedly made to kill a top campus official and to slaughter students and faculty on the lawn in front of the campus library.

El Camino College police arrested Lemus on Oct. 1, 2014, after he allegedly told an employee at the campus veterans center that he intended to kill students and their parents, tying them to poles to “rip them to pieces.”

He also allegedly threatened a mass killing similar to the violence committed on May 23, 2014, when Elliott Rodger killed six people, stabbing three and shooting three near UC Santa Barbara, and announced his intention to kill Francisco Arce, the college’s former vice president of academic affairs.

Lemus, charged with one count of making terrorist threats, was detained for 72 hours for psychiatric observation at County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Carson, then was transferred to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks and given Abilify when he was determined to be an undiagnosed schizophrenic, Sahgal said. On Oct. 17, however, he was released, arrested and placed in county jail.

Both doctors testified he then went without medication for six days until he was prescribed a very low dose of Risperdal, another antipsychotic drug that each psychiatrist said would have little effect. His preliminary hearing occurred two weeks later.

“He was not competent at that time,” Grand said.

Grand testified that with his treatment on Abilify, she believed he was now competent to understand the charges and court proceedings. Judge Eric Taylor then ruled Lemus incompetent last year, but competent to appear for a new preliminary hearing on Oct. 20.

Lemus remained in custody on $1.2 million bail. Last year, judges issued restraining orders to keep him away from campus and raised his bail to a high level to keep him in custody.

Although the defense motion for a new preliminary hearing succeeded Monday, Lemus could end up facing more charges at the next hearing. Deputy District Attorney Pat O’Crowley said more terrorist counts not charged last time could be filed in the next couple weeks.

Deputy Public Defender Vanessa Johnson said she was unsure whether the psychiatrists’ diagnosis that Lemus is schizophrenic could be used in an insanity defense.

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” she said.

Lemus’ mother, Maria Lemus, said she has tried to tell authorities for a year that her son was sick following service in the Navy during the Iraq War. He returned in 2008.

“He’s been jailed for the whole year for nothing, instead of them treating him,” she said. “He was sick from the very beginning.”

Full article source: Daily Breeze