A 22-year-old Santa Rosa man was declared not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday in the brutal slaying of his father, paving the way for extended confinement in a state mental hospital instead of a 25-years-to-life prison term.
A shaggy-haired Houston Wolfe Herczog, hunched and nervously bouncing his leg as the jury entered the courtroom, visibly relaxed his face and body as the court clerk proclaimed the verdict.
Next to him, his attorney rose as if she might leap from her seat before embracing her young client.
Fatal Stabbing On Parkhurst Drive In Santa Rosa
"I could tell he was so relieved," Deputy Public Defender Karen Silver said later. "I was so delighted."
She noted that the same jury that found her client to be insane had convicted him two weeks earlier of first-degree murder, bypassing lesser charges, like voluntary manslaughter.
But the brutality of the slaying, Silver said, made it obvious: "This kind of murder is not something you do in a rage. This is a psychotic murder."
Herczog's mother, Marilyn Herczog, wept audibly as it became clear that jurors believed her son's mental illness, diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, prevented him from understanding the meaning of what he was doing when he repeatedly stabbed and bludgeoned his father, Mark Herczog, 63.
"I hope I can hug him," she said during a brief interview outside the courtroom. "I haven't touched him in a year and a half."
The verdict revolved around whether jurors believed that Herczog had a mental disease that prevented him from understanding the nature of the violent actions that resulted in his father's death.
Jury foreman Lew Spengler of Santa Rosa said jurors were divided on the matter as they began deliberating in earnest Monday, and that several — himself included — had to be brought around to the notion that someone could engage in such violent, purposeful conduct and not be held completely liable.