WAILUKU - Confronted with intense and new stresses during a night of arguments and fights in the family home, murder suspect Joe D. Antonio reached the point where he lost self-control and reason when he fired shots that killed his 19-year-old son, a psychologist testified Tuesday.
"This was a series of events that starts spiraling upward, with each party feeding into the anger of the other party," said David Randall, a clinical psychologist who spoke with Antonio and his family members to reconstruct the events of that night. "What's noteworthy is this was the first time father and son had had an argument like this."
After Randall's testimony, the defense rested its case in Antonio's nonjury murder trial.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Clinical psychologist David Randall takes the stand Tuesday afternoon during the second-degree murder trial of Joe D. Antonio. Randall testified that Antonio was under intense emotional stress when he fatally shot his 19-year-old son on Dec. 16, 2008.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Defendant Joe D. Antonio (left) listens to testimony with attorney Philip Lowenthal on Tuesday afternoon.
The 47-year-old, who is also known as Jose Antonio Sr., has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony in the Dec. 16, 2008, killing of his son Jose "JR" Antonio Jr.
After the 10:40 p.m. shooting, the youth was found lying on the ground just outside a door to the family's two-bedroom residence on South Kamehameha Avenue in Kahului.
Police said Joe Antonio fired his .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol seven times, with five gunshot wounds found in his son's body.
Questioned by defense attorney Ben Lowenthal, Randall said it was his opinion that Antonio was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation when he shot his son.
Randall charted a timeline of events in the hours before the shooting that added to ongoing stress in the family. The timeline started at about 5 p.m. with an argument between Antonio and his wife, Zenaida, over her belief that he was going to the Philippines with another woman. It continued later that night with arguments and physical confrontations with his son over a video game cord that the youth had left running from a living room computer down the hallway to his bedroom.
After 10 p.m., when the son again rejected his father's apology and an attempt to repay $1,400 borrowed from the son, Joe Antonio retreated to his bedroom with his teenage daughter.
His wife reported hearing Antonio say he was going to kill himself and couldn't accept what his son had done. It was then, Randall said, that he believed Antonio "crossed the line" and was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance.
"At this point, the extreme emotion is overwhelming his ability to control himself and his ability to . . . reason," Randall said. "I think that's the point where the line is crossed."
Randall said Antonio remained under extreme mental or emotional disturbance when he removed his gun from a safe, loaded it, went outside and shot his son.
"I believe that period lasted through the period of the shooting and then afterwards," Randall said. "I believe he finally regained self-control when
he got into his truck and
started phoning people and started processing what he had done."
While his wife and others called for help and checked on his son, Antonio went into the house, got his keys and left in his truck. He turned himself in at the Wailuku Police Station within an hour after the shooting.
Cross-examined by Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa, Randall said Antonio's self-control and "ability to make rational decisions was impaired in an extreme way" at the point where he told family members he wanted to kill himself.
Higa asked why, if Antonio lost his ability to resist his impulses at that point, he hadn't shot himself.
Randall said being under extreme mental or emotional disturbance "does not preclude some self-control, some purposeful behavior."
Second Circuit Judge Joel August asked whether it
was significant from a psychological standpoint that Antonio allegedly fired seven shots, possibly six of them while his son was lying on the ground.
Randall said it was an indication of Antonio's loss of control.
"It's not a rational behavior," Randall said. "If the person was already down, then the threat was no longer there. But Mr. Antonio, in my opinion, was under such extreme stress, had such an extreme reaction to the stress, that the shots were automatic in the sense that the clip was emptied."
The judge also asked about Antonio's behavior after the shooting.
People react to grief in different ways, Randall said.
"He's numb after this incident. He doesn't break down like Zenaida broke down," Randall said. "But it doesn't mean there's a sociopathic control where he's not feeling anything. It's just the way he's coping with it."
Clinical psychologist Greg Turnbull, called by the prosecution as a rebuttal witness, had the opposite opinion from Randall about the defendant's mental state when he shot his son. Turnbull said it was his opinion that Antonio wasn't under extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation.
Turnbull, who reviewed police reports and conducted an hourlong interview Tuesday morning with Antonio, said he based his opinion on Antonio's statements about what he was feeling and thinking in the minutes before the shooting.
"He disclaims that he was angry with his son," Turnbull said. "He merely claims that he was worried about getting into a fight with his son."
About 15 minutes before the shooting, the lights were out in the home and family members had gone to bed, putting Antonio in a different frame of mind, Turnbull said.
Antonio got up to get a drink of water, saw the video game cord on the floor and yanked it, breaking the cord. He earlier testified that he could hear his son swearing in his bedroom and was afraid when he got his gun, tucked it into his waistband and went outside the house.
Antonio said his son kicked open the screen door and was reaching for the father's neck and pushing him before the father fired.
Now in its fifth week, the trial was scheduled to resume today.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.