Monday, July 6, 2009

Son Charged In Stabbing Spoke Of Devil

Lolita Windsor could hear her adult son in the darkened kitchen as he rummaged through drawers. He was looking for something. It was just after midnight. "Deshawn?" she called. No response. Windsor, 40, went to the kitchen doorway, where she caught a glimpse of her son in the dark holding a serrated knife above his head. Windsor turned to run. The knife pierced the back of her head. She fell to the floor. Deshawn, 22, was silent as he stabbed her in her back, legs and arms, Windsor said as she recalled the night in an interview with The Des Moines Register. Police say Deshawn plunged the knife into his mother's body at least 30 times. Windsor said each time she moved, inching to take cover under a nearby coffee table, her son stabbed her. When she finally was able to drag herself under the table, Windsor said she lay motionless for two hours, her blood pooling around her. She asked herself: How could something like this happen? To her? To him? To them? Experts say what played out on that horrific May night in Windsor's living room was not a symptom of a broken mental health system, professional neglect or someone who "fell through the cracks." When an adult with mental illness rejects help, violence is often the only thing that triggers change. Windsor said she had watched her son fall into a deep depression just before he graduated from Hoover High School, where he had excelled academically. He distanced himself from friends and relatives, became obsessed with evil spirits and the devil, and had begun to clean his ears with toothpaste. But Deshawn Lamont Davis refused to seek medical help. Now, he is in the Polk County Jail on a $270,000 cash bond, charged with attempted murder. A judge will decide July 14 whether he is mentally fit to stand trial. Violent psychotic episodes often erupt in late adolescence or early adulthood, according to Cynthia Steidl, who leads the Polk County Mobile Crisis team. But such episodes cannot be predicted. The crisis team, eight people trained to help law enforcement officers deal with the mentally ill, has been called out more than 1,900 times in the past year. Only two other Iowa counties have similar teams. It requires more than strange behavior to force an adult into mental health treatment, Steidl said. "If he's talking about demons or toothpaste, that's not a reason to take somebody to the hospital," she said. "People have rights. "It's not against the law to be mentally ill." Other high-profile cases have put a spotlight on the challenge family members and mental health experts face in trying to understand how to help individuals with possible mental health issues:

- Last month, 24-year-old Mark Becker allegedly shot and killed his former high school football coach in Parkersburg. A witness heard the shooter scream, "Make sure Satan knows!" right after the assault. Becker was discharged from a mental health unit at a Waterloo hospital the day before the slaying.

- In April, a Delaware County man, Jesse Fierstine, 32, allegedly attacked his 63-year-old father and used a penknife to carve a pacemaker from the man's chest. Fierstine has since undergone psychiatric evaluation that will determine when and if he stands trial for attempted murder.

- In 2005, a judge ruled that a former Maharishi University of Management student was insane when he stabbed a classmate to death. Shuvender Sem had been hospitalized nearly a dozen times for psychiatric problems.

About 41 percent of Iowa's more than 8,000 prisoners are mentally ill, according to the state Department of Corrections. When Davis routinely accused others of being the devil, his family shrugged it off. "I just thought it was because he was brought up spiritually," Windsor said. She knew her son needed help, but she didn't think he was dangerous. Davis was arrested in November after he started fires in the backyard and driveway of his grandfather's former house, down the street from his mother's home. "He was trying to kill the spirits," Davis' grandfather, Arvell Windsor, said. "He had painted himself red and black." Davis moved in with his grandfather when he was 17 and stayed there on and off for several years. "Everybody was the devil but him," Arvell Windsor said. When Arvell Windsor remarried and moved to be with his new wife, Davis stayed in the house, even though there was no electricity or water. Neighbors who reported the fires to police said they had witnessed strange behavior from Davis, such as when he walked down the street in a parka in 100-degree heat. "That cat was out there," neighbor Jeff Cavil said. "His mom really tried to get help for him, she really did. But nobody would keep him locked up, and he ended up stabbing her. It's a shame."Lolita Windsor convinced a judge to send Deshawn Davis, against his will, for an evaluation at Broadlawns Medical Center several months after he graduated from high school. She said he was hospitalized for about a week, but Davis, then 18, did not give permission to release his medical information, and none of that information is contained in court documents. Broadlawns spokesman Rick Barrett said adults, by law, must give written consent for medical information to be released, even to relatives. Des Moines Police Sgt. Lori Lavorato said there is nothing in police records from the November arrest that points to Davis' strange behavior. She said a detective marked "No" under "mental health problems" on a checklist that was completed before Davis was taken to jail. "If he would have said he was seeing demons, the officer would have written, 'Yes,' " Lavorato said. Davis spent 11 days in jail, pleaded guilty to reckless use of fire, and was released. Arvell Windsor's former house was foreclosed on last year, but Davis returned to stay there. He broke in four times while it was being renovated by a new owner. Davis was eventually arrested May 8. "He thought that was his home," his mother said. "It was his home before." Davis was released from jail and had been ordered to be in court on June 3. He stayed with his mother in the meantime, in his old room in the basement. His name is written in wax on the door. Below it, also in wax, is scrawled: "Great One." Star Salazar, 29, along with her husband and seven children, moved next door to Windsor two days before the stabbing. She said she saw Davis wash the base of a tree trunk and gave it offerings of bread, pour vodka on a dandelion, and hold a bowl of what appeared to be urine and spin around to spread it in the yard. Salazar said she also saw neighborhood children walk by and kick the window to Davis' basement window to taunt him. On May 28, Lolita Windsor had just finished talking to a friend on the telephone and had turned on the television. It was late. She told Davis to go to bed so he could wake up early to look for a job. He went instead to the darkened kitchen and opened a drawer. Windsor said Davis repeatedly stabbed her over the next two-and-a-half hours. When he broke a serrated knife during the attacks, he went back to the kitchen for another - twice. Court documents say Windsor was stabbed 30 times. Windsor said surgeons patched 74 wounds. Two of Windsor's other children - a girl, 10, and a boy, 7 - were asleep in a nearby bedroom. They awoke to their mother's screams for help, but stayed put and weren't harmed, Windsor said. From under the coffee table, Windsor said she pleaded with her son for a telephone: "I won't tell them you did this." It worked. Windsor called her father, who called police. The first officer to arrive saw Davis near the back door and ordered him to the ground. Davis pointed at the house and whispered: "She's inside." "He had a very distant look in his eyes," the officer wrote in a report. Windsor continues to recover at her mother's home a few blocks away from her own. She hasn't gone back since the stabbing. Her hands and arms took the brunt of the attacks. Windsor, who works at Mercy Medical Center, says she knew to protect vital areas, like her neck. Her thumb and three fingers on her left hand are still numb, but doctors hope the feeling will return with time. Davis was in court on June 9. The judge ordered a psychological examination because Davis didn't "appear to understand the charges or the reasons he is in court," according to court documents. Davis went before the judge "with Kleenex stuffed in his nose and hanging out several inches - he says he has a runny nose." "It wasn't my son who did this to me," Windsor said through tears. "That wasn't him." A hearing is set for July 14 to determine if Davis can stand trial. Windsor hasn't seen him since the stabbing, but she was told he will likely be sent away for six months for treatment. She hopes her real son comes back when it's over.