HOUSTON - Most of the focus Wednesday, which was day three of Ronald Haskell's capital murder trial, centered on the moments after he admittedly killed Stephen and Katie Stay, along with four of their five children.
Jurors listened to audio from the phone conversation Haskell had with hostage negotiators who worked to get him to surrender.
For the prosecution, the goal was to prove to jurors Haskell was rational, lucid and fully aware of what he had done. Haskell's defense challenged that notion, using cross-examination to question whether negotiators fully acknowledged what they argued was a man with mental illness.
Sgt. Lonnie Cox, of the Harris County Sheriff's Office, was one of three negotiators on the scene who talked Haskell out of the car. Cox said Haskell seemed defiant over the phone and used stall tactics to buy time.
"This is a bad scenario, but I can secure your safety," Cox said in the recording. "Come out, all right?"
"I'm not coming out," Haskell responded.
"Why?" Cox asked.
"Because I'm not coming with you," Haskell responded.
Throughout the call, Haskell said he couldn't think right and that he heard voices and saw things. Haskell told Cox he had been diagnosed with manic depression.
"You know you can get help for that," Cox said.
"I tried in California. No one understood," Haskell replied.
Cox asked Haskell if he was on any medications at the time. Haskell replied, "No." Haskell continued, "[Doctors] screwed up my medications."
Throughout direct examination, the prosecution asked Cox if Haskell seemed mentally ill, based on his training as a hostage negotiator.
But the defense made several objections to the prosecution's queries into Haskell's mental state, which spoke to the debate at hand in a trial where the intent is the central focus.
Was this the account of a man who didn't realize what he had done, a man battling schizophrenia? Haskell's defense argued the warning signs were well apparent, pressing Cox on whether he took Haskell seriously.
Haskell is charged with murder in connection with the shooting death of his sister-in-law, her husband and four of their children.
Court will resume Thursday with the cross-examination of Sgt. David Johnson, another member of the hostage negotiation team.
During direct examination, Johnson testified he didn't think Haskell was struggling mentally.
"He was aware of what's going on, and he thought we were going to trick him," Johnson said. "He was a sharp, smart man."
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