PONTIAC, Mich. (FOX 2) - The attorney for the Oxford High School shooter argued in court during the Miller Hearing to determine his sentencing that the then-15-year-old suffered a traumatic brain injury one year before the tragedy.
Attorney Paulette Loftin called a witness on Tuesday a witness, Dr. Colin King – an expert in mental health, forensic psychology, and brain injury – to testify about the shooter's previous brain injury prior to Nov. 30, 2021. The shooter pleaded guilty last October to four counts of murder, among other charges.
Dr. King said he tested the shooter across 15 different tests, leading to a 70-page report that detailed his findings.
"I performed 15 different types of test and I wanted to - because there was an opportunity to image his brain, I wanted to test his brain to see what his brain looked like," Dr. King said.
Loftin presented a video in court, from the back room of an Oxford diner in 2020. In the video, the shooter is walking through the kitchen when he suddenly collapses.
"I observed (the shooter) walking in the diner and, for some inexplicable reason, his head takes a direct hit to the floor. I observed him trying to get up on his own volition and he was not able to," he said.
Dr. King said the brain is very soft and has a consistency of a raw or soft egg and is susceptible to injury. He then presented a demonstration of how soft a brain is with an egg.
The prosecution objected, questioning the basis of the testimony but Judge Kwame Rowe overruled the objection.
"I have had the opportunity to visit a lab. I have handled a human brain, i have seen a human brain and what it looks like. It has the consistency of an egg," Dr. King said.
He then held the egg in his hand but now it was Rowe's turn to pause the hearing.
"Are you gonna drop this egg in the courtroom?" he asked.
Dr. King then held up the bowl and Rowe allowed him to proceed. When Dr. King dropped the egg in the bowl, it unsurprisingly broke in the bowl.
"The reason why our brains don't collapse when we have an injury is because the brain is housed in the hard shell, called the skull. This shell protects the brain from external injuries," he said.
Dr. King said there were other times in the shooter's history when had fallen and hit his head.
"(The shooter) disclosed he was out with his parents, I think they were picking strawberries or doing something like that, and he fell and all he remembered was coming to and regaining consciousness. He asked his parents what happened and they said he had taken a blow to the head. There is no indication that he was taken to the emergency room or received medical assistance," Dr. King said.
In both the diner fall and the strawberry picking fall. Dr. King said there was no evidence that his parents took him to get medical care.
Additionally, Dr. King testified that there was an interview with the owner of the diner where the diner stated the shooter's parents asked him not to call 911.
Dr. King also testified about the intelligence of the shooter, saying he was at average or above average intelligence.
"Unfortunately, intelligence and this is critical, intelligence does not protect someone from mental illness. So being very intelligent does not mean you cannot be mentally ill," Dr. King said, citing Robin Williams and tWitch as highly intelligent people who both took their own lives.
The defense then played video of an incident in the jail where deputies were trying to place him in restraint. The video shows deputies struggling with the shooter who is screaming ‘why god', ‘you could have saved her’ and telling himself to stop it.
"We witness a child in the throes of psychosis," Dr. King said. "We witnessed someone saying ‘God, why didn’t you stop it?' And that's exactly how psychosis works."
Loftin argument centers around a childhood full of trauma, violence in the home, mental illness, and an overall lack of resources. Dr. King said that all of that affected how the shooter aged, mentally.
"Chronologically, he may have been 15 at the time but given the high levels of stress and complex trauma, his age was much younger than his chronological age," Dr. King said.
According to Dr. King, the shooter's Google searches – which indicated his concern for his mental illness.
"Here is a child that has just been trying to make sense in the world. He couldn't get help from his parents or from his school system. He couldn't get to a doctor. He couldn't get to a counselor. His last resort was to figure out 'what's wrong with me – is this normal?"
Dr. King addressed the gory website the shooter was known to access and said that had a major impact on his brain and development as well.
"During adolescence, the person's brain is still in the formative stage. if one spends an inordinate amount of time ingesting that type of content without supervision, before long it's natural to lose sight of what is real and what is not real," Dr. King said.
As for the tablet, which the shooter used to access the same gory website after being able to figure out the password, Dr. King said the shooter was proud that he had the password for several days before he accessed the site.
"(The shooter) was given a tablet and, because he's a fairly intelligent person, he was able to figure out the password and go on the internet to use his tablet. What he indicated to me was that, although he had an urge to go to the site, he was able to restrain himself - which he's pretty proud of - for two weeks. but he eventually went there," he said.
Dr. King said, compared to what the shooter had done before on the website - ingesting the content for hours on end - this was progress of him improvement.
Before the prosecution cross-examined Dr. King, attorneys asked for a recess, which was granted.