By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Once, early on, they'd argued and almost broken up. In a particularly dark mood, Teresa had said, "I've always felt that some day I'm going to destroy everything I love." The words hadn't meant much at the time, but they had stuck with him.
That fear, he knew, stemmed from her messed-up childhood, which he'd learned about in bits and pieces over the years. Her biological father was an abusive man who'd split before Teresa was old enough to remember him. Shortly before the wedding, he'd sent an e-mail threatening Spitz and warning him to stay away from his daughter. "I turned that over to the Englewood police," Spitz says. "He was living in Arizona at the time and was a registered sex offender."
Her mother had remarried twice. Before Spitz's friend Harry, there had been another stepfather in California. One of Teresa's earliest memories was of discovering the man's nude body in a pool of blood. He was dead from a gunshot wound to the head, which police ruled an accident or suicide. Teresa wasn't yet three. The next-door neighbors found her there, like a gore-stained toddler in a scene from Dexter, trying to wake him up.
But that was all in the distant past. What did it have to do with their life together now?
And yet. And yet.
In the weeks before the shooting, he'd woken up in the middle of the night a couple of times to find Teresa crying in bed. She'd been having nightmares, she said, about stabbing him. It sounded disturbing, but not as if she was afraid that it was actually going to happen. He suggested she talk to her doctor about it.
It was just a dream, she insisted.
In the absence of a clear motive for the shootings, the question of Teresa's mental state became a key focus of the subsequent trial. And, as often happens in such cases, that question soon evolved into a contest between dueling shrinks.
The first doctor to examine her in detail was Robert Miller, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. A former chief of psychiatry for the state prison system, Miller often testified for the prosecution, but Teresa Spitz, he concluded, had suffered a genuine psychotic episode. The night of the shootings, she was operating under the influence of what Miller called "command hallucinations" related to the list that she had to accomplish.
Miller's full evaluation of Teresa has never been made public, but it's clear from other court documents and his testimony that she told him she'd been having "bad thoughts" for some time about hurting herself or her loved ones. The thoughts may not have been a full-blown auditory hallucination — voices in her head, telling her what to do — but Miller believed she was powerless to resist them. She had considered suicide, but then the thoughts had focused on killing Peter, which she believed would be an even greater punishment for her than her own death.
When Miller asked if she thought killing her husband was wrong, Teresa told him that "it was better for Peter because he was a very sad man and would be happier in heaven, where God would give him peace."
In Colorado, a defendant is considered not guilty by reason of insanity if he or she is found to have been incapable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the crime or suffers from a mental illness that prevents him or her from forming a "culpable mental state." In Miller's opinion, Teresa Spitz fit the criteria.
Yet a person can be chronically mentally ill for years — and have the medical records to prove it, something the Spitz case lacked — and still not be considered legally insane under state law. A second doctor who evaluated Teresa at the state hospital disagreed with Miller about the degree of her psychosis or whether she was "powerless" to resist the impulse to kill. Indeed, the same list that Miller considered an example of her insanity was seized upon by prosecutors as proof that the woman had planned and carried out her crime methodically, knowing exactly what she was doing and what the result would be.
"We would not have proceeded to trial if we believed that she was legally insane," says John Franks, a chief deputy district attorney for Arapahoe County. "We argued that the evidence showed a rational, planned course of conduct to take her husband's life that was inconsistent with a legal finding of insanity."
Franks notes that Teresa not only removed her son from the house before her rampage, but looked up the address of the Englewood police headquarters so she'd be prepared to turn herself in — a good indication that she was aware of the criminal nature of her actions. "This was not someone who was acting psychotically, who doesn't have reality testing," he says.
While the experts debated her culpability, her husband had no doubts. For Teresa to calmly execute his mother, whom she'd adored; for her to shoot him like that, leave him for dead — that wasn't the woman he knew. A restraining order had been issued, forbidding contact between Teresa and her surviving victim. But six months after the shooting, when she was sent from the jail to the mental hospital in Pueblo for evaluation, Peter Spitz called her ward from the rehabilitation center he'd been living in for months and got her on the phone.