A psychiatry expert witness provided a report that an Oklahoma man charged with murdering his father is mentally unfit to stand trial, setting the stage for a critical ruling on mental competency from the presiding trial judge. The case has gained attention in Oklahoma because the victim was a former state official, and the defendant has displayed signs of significant mental disorder.
Oklahoma Man Accused of Murdering his Father
Christian Costello, 27, is on trial for the fatal stabbing of his father, Mark, at a fast-food restaurant in August, 2015. According to witnesses, Christian attacked his father with a knife while in the restaurant and then continued the fatal assault outside in the parking lot after Mark attempted to flee. Mark Costello is the former labor commissioner of Oklahoma, and his death brought statewide attention on the question of whether or not Christian is mentally competent to stand trial.
Throughout the investigation into the crime, Christian Costello has been housed at a state run mental hospital where he has undergone a series of examinations in preparation for trial. Costello’s attorneys have argued that their client is legally insane, and the defendant gave a convincing show of his deficient mental state during this week’s competency hearing by admitting to killing his father because he was a hit man who was ordered to commit the crime as part of a “military operation.”
Despite the defendant’s odd behavior, proof of legal insanity requires more substantial evidence, which attorneys for Costello attempted to provide by calling a psychiatrist expert witness to provide an expert report supporting the insanity defense.
Psychiatry Expert Witness Testifies to Legal Insanity
Dr. Jason Beaman, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Oklahoma State University, was hired as a psychology expert witness by Costello’s defense team and asked to write a report on the defendant’s competency to stand trial. Dr. Beamon returned a 39-page report which detailed Christian Costello’s long history of mental health issues including schizoaffective disorder, which is a mental illness causing hallucinations, delusions, depression, and mania.
In regards to the effect of Costello’s mental health issues on his competency to stand trial, Dr. Beaman wrote, “It is my opinion … that the defendant has the ability to appreciate the nature of the charges filed against him but he does not have the ability to consult with his attorney and rationally assist in the preparation of his defense.” Dr. Beaman went on to write that Costello could meet the legal requirement of mental competency if he underwent psychiatric therapy or training to help him understand the legal processes.
Costello Faces Uphill Battle for Insanity Defense
Dr. Beaman’s psychiatry expert witness report is interesting because it may not provide a strong enough pillar for an insanity defense to stand on – particularly if the trial judge is willing to delay proceedings while Costello undergoes further evaluation or therapy. Further, Costello’s attorney told reporters that he believes his client was legally insane at the time the attack occurred, telling the press, “I think that’s just the way he is, and I don’t think he knew what he was doing when he killed his father.” Dr. Beaman’s report, however, did not say Costello didn’t understand the consequences of his actions, but instead focused on his ability to contribute to his own defense – a distinctly different proposition.
With a middling endorsement of the insanity defense from the defense expert witness which does not quite support Costello’s attorney’s position, the defense team may have a difficult time convincing the court to accept an insanity plea. The insanity defense remains a difficult prospect for any defendant as attorneys must use a psychiatry expert witness to not only show a mental defect, but also demonstrate that the defendant did not know their actions were wrong, could not understand the consequences of their behavior, and are unable to contribute to their own defense.
Depending on Oklahoma’s insanity plea laws, Costello’s proposed defense faces a stiff challenge. The proceedings are on hold while the court awaits the results of an evaluation by a court appointed psychiatrist before moving forward.