Hoarder defense employed in murder trial of Galt man

The psychologist said she saw all she needed to see in looking at the pictures of Joseph Francis Corey’s house around the time he shot and killed animal control officer Roy Marcum.

Garbage stacked 6 feet high, trash pushed aside to make for minimal walking trails inside the house, animals penned in cages in the bathroom and elsewhere – it made for an easy diagnosis for celebrity psychologist Robin Zasio, founder of the Sacramento-based Compulsive Hoarding Center.

“He does suffer from hoarding disorder,” Zasio testified Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court about Corey, who is accused of murder in the Nov. 28, 2012, killing of Marcum at the doorstep of the defendant’s residence in Galt.

Defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis had said in her opening statement that Corey was so impaired by his hoarding disorder that he was incapable of premeditating a murder, a requirement for a first-degree conviction.

Mouzis stepped beyond the obvious Tuesday to pose a hypothetical question to the doctor.

It went like this:

You’ve got a guy who’s been living indoors amid mountains of refuse he refuses to throw away. He’s got eight dogs and two cats penned up in cages strewn with feces. He’s been the subject of a foreclosure proceeding. He faces the likelihood his beloved animals and prized stuff is going to be taken from him. Given these circumstances, Mouzis asked, how would he be affected?

“It would be absolutely devastating,” Zasio replied.

Would a homicidal or suicidal reaction be possible?

“Absolutely,” said Zasio, who has spent 20 years in the obsessive-compulsive business and is a star on the popular TV reality show, “Hoarders.”

“For somebody whose entire existence is based on caring for these animals and protecting their stuff,” she said, “I can’t think of any other word to say but devastating.”

Deputy District Attorney William Satchell had a few questions on cross-examination that he felt pressed closer to the key issue of the trial.

The prosecutor asked the psychologist if she’d ever come across any other instances of such people who flipped out to the point of murder when Child Protective Services came to their homes to take their kids away. How about when adult dependency workers were set to remove grandma or grandpa from the filthy premises? Or, in cases when public health or sanitation officials responded to lock up a house, or even when animal control officers rounded up the dogs and cats – did Zasio ever see any of these people get shot and killed by the resident hoarder?

Zasio’s answers were “No,” “no,” “no,” and “no.”

Following Zasio’s testimony, the defense rested, and the attorneys are scheduled to present their final arguments to the jury on Wednesday in front of Judge Greta Curtis Fall, after which the panel will begin its deliberations.

Corey, 67, was arrested following a 17-hour standoff with law enforcement agencies after he admittedly shot and killed Marcum, 45, with a high-powered hunting rifle the day the animal control officer showed up amid eviction proceedings to remove animals from the defendant’s house in the 600 block of First Street in Galt.

The day before, a sheriff’s deputy served the eviction papers on Corey, a one-time electrician and mechanic who hadn’t made a house payment in three years.

While Mouzis said Corey was too deranged to premeditate, Satchell, the prosecutor, suggested the defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he armed himself with a 35 Whelen bolt-action hunting rifle and fired from the top of his interior stairway, aiming down through a window in the front door at the uniformed officer who came for the dogs and cats.

Marcum’s mother, Charlotte Marcum, testified at trial that she visited Corey in jail to ask him why he killed her son. She said he told her, “I wanted to kill an officer.”

In her testimony, Zasio said Corey is one of an estimated 4 million hoarders in the country and that 99 percent of them face the same kind of mental stress that Corey did on the day animal control showed up at his front door.

Their lives and homes, she said, are “not functional.” Their houses fall apart because hoarders won’t call electricians and plumbers and the like out of fear of exposure that would lead to the loss of their stuff.

The prospect of having their belongings taken from them sets off a fight-or-flight response, according to the psychologist.

“It’s chemically driven,” Zasio said. “You will see very extreme anxiety and fear because of the chemicals going through their brain.”

Animal hoarders pose a whole different set of complicated issues, Zasio said.

“They believe they’re doing these animals a favor,” she testified. Hoarders feel “so connected” to their animals, Zasio said, “they’re almost like their children in their own mind,” largely because those are the only living beings in their lives once friends and family abandon them.

“That’s what their interaction is during the day, between them and their animals,” Zasio testified.

Before Zasio took the stand, Satchell closed the prosecution’s case by calling Elk Grove Police Department dispatcher Jamie Hudson, who acted as a hostage negotiator the day of Corey’s 17-hour standoff.

Toward the end of the ordeal, Hudson testified that Corey told him “he wanted to be buried in Vietnam. He wanted people to know that.”

The defendant is a Vietnam War veteran, according to his lawyer, who said the information was excluded from trial.

According to Hudson, Corey said during the hostage negotiation “he’d been in a fight before and he wanted to die fighting.”

“I want to finish what I started,” Corey said, according to Hudson, right before he gave up.

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.