Suspect in hatchet attack says he skipped meds, police say
A mentally ill man accused of killing a stranger with a hatchet Monday told police he thought the victim had belittled his family and had threatened him, according to a police report.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Whatever demons clawed at the mind of Michael LaRosa — and those who knew him say there were many — he apparently chose to confront them directly rather than take the medications he was prescribed to help keep them at bay.
In the hours after he was arrested by Seattle police on Monday in connection with the unprovoked hatchet attack on a stranger, LaRosa told detectives that he has long struggled with mental illness but was not taking his medications because he didn't like how they made him feel, according to documents filed in court on Wednesday. That statement echoed a report in Seattle Municipal Court a year and a half earlier after he was arrested for assaulting a security guard at Swedish Medical Center/Cherry Hill.
LaRosa, 26, believed he was well enough to live without medication, says his half-brother, Paul Umland. Instead, a source says that he has used illegal drugs to quell the noises in his head.
On Monday, police say, off his medication and reportedly hearing voices, LaRosa killed Joseph LaMagno, 58, in a grisly attack witnessed by numerous people, including students from a nearby school. LaRosa later told police he believed LaMagno, a stranger, had threatened and taunted him, according to a police report released by King County prosecutors on Wednesday.
A judge on Wednesday found probable cause to hold LaRosa for investigation of murder. LaRosa is being held in lieu of $5 million bail at the King County Jail in Seattle. The deadline to file criminal charges is Monday.
On Sunday night, LaRosa, who is homeless, rode King County Metro buses to stay warm and camped out at a Denny's restaurant, police said. On Monday morning, the report says, LaRosa went to a grocery on Capitol Hill but left when he realized that he didn't have his food stamps.
As he was leaving, LaRosa immediately became fixated on LaMagno, who also was walking out of the store, according to the report.
LaRosa, police said, was convinced that LaMagno had said, "I gave your sister herpes, without having it."
The report said that LaRosa believed that LaMagno struck him and then said, "What are you going to do about it?" LaRosa told police that he then pulled the hatchet out of his bag and struck LaMagno "many times," according to the report.
Police said the attack was so sudden that LaMagno had no time to defend himself.
"The straps to his shopping bag were still around his arm," the report said.
"Never done murder"
Witnesses directed police to a nearby alley that LaRosa reportedly fled to after the attack. La Rosa told police that he was scared because he didn't think they would believe his side of the story, the report said.
"I don't know what came over me because I've never done murder, you know," LaRosa told homicide investigators after his arrest, according to the report.
LaRosa told investigators that voices in his head tell him that certain people are trying to infect him and his family with "diseases," the report said.
LaRosa was diagnosed more than 10 years ago with paranoid schizophrenia and placed on medication, said the half-brother, Umland. Since moving to Seattle nearly three years ago, LaRosa had become a patient at Sound Mental Health on Capitol Hill and enrolled in Seattle Mental Health Court as part of a 2009 municipal-court case involving the assault on a security guard at Swedish. A police report detailing the assault was not available Wednesday.
Beginning in March 2009, LaRosa was enrolled in the mental-health court, a program designed to get mentally ill defendants treatment while their criminal case is working through the system.
But, according to one source with knowledge of his Seattle Municipal Court records, LaRosa was known to take marijuana, methamphetamine and Oxycodone instead of his prescribed medications.
In June, LaRosa was convicted of assault and criminal trespassing in the Swedish case and sentenced to one year in jail, with 305 days suspended as long as he abstained from using illegal drugs and alcohol, did not contact the security guard and did not possess any weapons or commit new crimes.
With the conviction, LaRosa was no longer eligible for mental-health court. According to the City Attorney's Office, he was placed on probation after he was released from jail just over a month later. It was unclear from the City Attorney's Office why he was released from jail so quickly. Officials at Seattle Municipal Court could not be reached to explain.
LaRosa was back behind bars in August for violating a domestic-violence no-contact order filed by his former girlfriend. The woman told The Seattle Times earlier this week that he punched her twice and destroyed her sofa and other property.
He was released from the King County Jail on Oct. 15 after serving 2 ½ months behind bars and was ordered to remain on probation until mid-2012, the City Attorney's Office said. It's unknown what his probation entailed because officials at Seattle Municipal Court Probation could not be reached Wednesday. Also unclear is how LaRosa's supervision was going.
Steve McLean, spokesman for Sound Mental Health, confirmed this week that LaRosa is a patient, but he said federal health-privacy regulations prevent him from saying more.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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