Final witness called in capital murder trial

Adrian Hargrove’s scores on a personality test to determine mental illness indicated he was not being truthful a prosecution expert witness testified Wednesday.

“He faked it,” said Michael Vitacco, a Georgia Regents University associate professor who runs the medical school’s forensic psychology fellowship.

After the defense rested its case Wednesday morning in Richmond County Superior Court, the prosecution called Vitacco as a rebuttal witness.

Vitacco was expected to be the final witness in the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. Closing arguments are set to begin at 1:30 p.m. today.

Hargrove’s defense team called several mental health experts who told the jury that Hargrove, 36, was intellectually disabled and mentally ill to the extent he meets the legal definition of “guilty but mentally ill” and “guilty but mentally retarded”.

The distinction may be crucial in the capital murder trial. If the jury returns a verdict of guilty, or guilty but mentally ill, the trial continues into a second phase in which the jury is asked to determine punishment for murder – life in prison with or without the possibility of parole or death.

If the jury finds Hargrove guilty, but mentally retarded, there won’t be a second phase to the trial because an intellectually disabled person cannot be subjected to a sentence of death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

District Attorney Ashley Wright filed notice of her intention to seek a death sentence not long after Hargrove was indicted on multiple charges in the Feb. 9, 2008, killings of 18-year-old Allyson Pederson and her parents Sharon and Andrew Hartley.

Vitacco was the last of the mental health experts who examined Hargrove. Vitacco testified he was suspicious of Hargrove’s account of hallucinations because he had never seen or heard of a patient who experienced hallucinations of all five senses at the same time – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling things that were not there. And Hargrove’s report that he saw horned beasts, devils, is actually a sign offaking, the psychologist testified.

Hargrove’s actions after the killings also didn’t fit with how a person in psychosis would behave, Vitacco testified. Hargrove tried to evade arrest by ditching evidence, and, once arrested, he blamed the killings on someone else.

But it wasn’t impossible that Hargrove was suffering from psychosis or organic brain damage, Vitacco testified. That’s why he had Hargrove take the personality test.

Hargrove’s scores were so high the computer program that calculated the results warned they could not be trusted, he testified. Hargrove reported experiencing symptoms of every possible mental illness.

Under cross examination, Vitacco agreed Hargrove did have impaired adaptive function – a crucial point of the legal finding of intellectually disabled – but Vitacco testified in his opinion, Hargrove’s skills were not so low as to qualify for the legal definition.

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