Doctor says Helzer viewed himself as a soldier of God

Defendant thought he was fighting a war against Satan, psychiatrist says

Tri-Valley Herald/July 7, 2004
By Simon Read

Martinez -- Justin Helzer believed he was a soldier waging war against Satan when he took part in the murder of five people in the summer of 2000, a psychiatrist testified on Tuesday.

Dr. Robert Dolgoff said Helzer, after a lifetime of self-perceived failure, felt he was playing a pivotal role in preparations for the second coming and the abolishment of evil.

"His psychosis was a solution to the life problem he was having," said Dolgoff, testifying for the defense in the sanity phase of Helzer's capital murder trial.

The "life problem" was one of rejection and a neglected childhood in which his mother doted on Helzer's older brother, Glenn.

"(Justin Helzer) felt like a misfit and unsuccessful in everything he tried in life," Dolgoff said.

The depression brought on by Helzer's low opinion of himself made him mentally vulnerable, leading to his eventual belief that his brother was a prophet of God, Dolgoff said.

Helzer, 32, was convicted on June 16 on multiple counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Ivan Stineman, 85, and his wife, Annette, 77, both of Concord; Selina Bishop, 22, of Woodacre; her mother Jennifer Villarin, 45, of Novato, and Villarin's companion, James Gamble, 54, of Laytonville.

Helzer believed these killings were part of God's master plan to defeat Satan, Dolgoff said.

"It was completely nuts -- completely crazy," Dolgoff said. "But he didn't get that it was."

Helzer had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. To avoid a possible death sentence, the defense must prove Helzer was insane at the time of the killings.

Under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Hal Jewett, Dolgoff said Helzer never mentioned his brother was divinely inspired until after Dawn Godman, a third co-defendant, turned state's evidence.

Godman and the Helzers originally placed a strong emphasis on keeping Glenn Helzer's communiqus with God a secret, Dolgoff said. After Godman became a witness for the state, Justin Helzer saw no harm in discussing his brother's prophecies.

Delving into the Helzers' former association with the Mormon church, Jewett asked Dolgoff if the church perceives some people to be prophets of God.

Dolgoff said it does, but in the context of the church and the faith's belief system people who claim to be prophets are not delusional.

"Joseph Smith was delusional then?" asked Jewett, referring to the Mormon "I never examined Joseph Smith," Dolgoff said. "I can't make that judgment."

Testimony continues today.

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