In for Life: Day Nine of the Michael Tate Trial

Many psychologists have evaluated Michael Tate, but none of them know for sure what’s wrong with him. He committed murder and all the doctors, depending on if the defense or prosecution calls them to the stand, want the jury to believe that he is insane or he is not.

Testimony in the ninth day of the 19-year-old’s murder trial for a three-year-old crime began with Dr. Donald Jacobs, who evaluated Tate twice before the murder took place, once as a child at the Denver Children's Hospital when Tate was 8 and again at a residential treatment facility in Aurora when Tate was about 14. On the first evaluation, Jacobs testified, he diagnosed the youngster with bipolar disorder.

Later that year, post traumatic stress disorder was added to the list, at least partially due to Tate’s odd behaviors ranging from not being unable to get over life's minor stresses, things as trivial as not getting the breakfast that he wanted, to peeing all over the place. Tate's brain had been tested twice by that age, after he had already reported hallucinations that had led to his hospitalizaton for psychiatric reasons. One of the brain scans proved Tate normal, another declared him diffusely abnormal, which, Jacobs testified, means that he was exposed to some kind of toxin that could've come from medication, lead poisoning or even an injury sustained due to a lack of oxygen, perhaps during birth.

On the doctor's second evaluation of Tate about six years later, when Tate was a patient at a residential treatment center, Jacobs prescribed Tate anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, lithium for the bipolar disorder and anti-seizure drugs for mood regulation.

Over the next six to eight months, Jacobs testified, he noted a grandual improvement in Tate. But then Tate's irritability increased, his volatibility and his inability to tolerate frustration also got worse, he grew violent and had to be restrained a few times because he couldn't control his aggression. Tate refused to go to school, he stayed up all night and still had energy the following day, a symptom of mania, Jacobs said.

“They could (also) be symptoms of bipolar disorder,” Jacobs said. “Those things often co-occur and usually it’s difficult to tease them out and in particular it's difficult to tease them out in a person like Michael who has been in institutions their whole life.”

Jacobs testified that for a young child to experience the PTSD symptoms that he observed, like dissociative episodes where Tate would stare into space and call out names of people who were not there and say things out of context like "don't kill me," that Tate must've been exposed to very severe abuse, perhaps sexual abuse, very young in life, maybe before he could speak.

All the testimony offered on day nine was an attempt by the defense to uphold Tate's plea that he was not guilty by reason of insanity for murdering his buddy's father, a crime for which both he and his friend, Michael Fitzgerald, were charged as adults despite being minors at the time. Fitzgerald is serving 62 years and, as part of a plea agreement, has already testified against Tate.

The next witness called to the stand was Dr. Ed Miller, a licensed psychologist who knew Tate when Tate was about 13. Miller was investigating Tate's reports of hearing voices and trying to address his aggressive behaviors, like choking himself, exposing himself in his foster home, jumping out of windows or the back of a van and a bus. Tate was also making sexually provocative comments toward other kids and threatening to kill them.

“It seemed like any sexualized talk, at the center, provoked him into rages,” Miller said.

By the time he was 14, long after Jefferson County had given up all hope of getting Tate adopted, he was getting worse, too out of control for foster homes, too fucked up for public school, so he bounced mostly between residential treatment facilities and psychiatric hospitals, testified Christina McNeal, a social services caseworker in Jefferson County.

“I knew that he would always need the support of mental health systems for the rest of his life,” McNeal said to a jury that will decide if Tate's fate is the mental institution until he gets better, which could be never, or the penitentiary forever. -- Luke Turf

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