LAX cop killer in trial’s sanity phase

By Heather Hope

November 30, 2009

William Sadowski had a history of being indignant with police officers, a psychologist testified Friday during the sanity phase of his trial.  

Dr. Barry Hirsch, a forensic psychologist hired by the prosecution, said after reviewing the 51-year-old Sadowski’s files and interviewing him on three occasions, he found that he had been unnecessarily bold with authority figures and women.

“Whenever he did not get his way with them, he acted out by yelling and being very rude,” said Hirsch, who had been working with Sadowski for more than three years and was familiar with his jail records and medical history.

Hirsch gave various examples of instances, when he said Sadowski, who was found guilty on Nov. 16, 2009, of killing a Los Angeles International Airport police officer in 2005, was disrespectful with people in charge. He told of a time when Sadowski stole a laptop from a store when the clerk was not looking, and then hid it in a bush outside. When he came back to retrieve it, and the police and store clerk caught him, he screamed at the clerk, and said she was wrongfully accusing him.

Hirsch and Dr. Jack Rothberg, a forensic psychiatrist, who was hired by the defense, were selected from the Los Angeles County Superior Court Panel of Approved Psychologists and Psychiatrists. Both doctors were asked to define legal insanity and explain to the 16 jurors some of the mental illnesses and symptoms that Sadowski suffered from.

Legal insanity is “whether a person understands the wrongfulness and nature of his or her acts, has the ability to distinguish from right and wrong and is totally knowledgeable of his or actions and possible outcomes,” Hirsch said.

Rothberg said Sadowski had a “bipolar phase 1 type of disorder,” where he could go from a normal to manic state rapidly. He said the symptoms of a manic, or very excited condition, include acting disturbed, erratic, overvaluing one’s thoughts and insomnia. Rothberg said later after Sadowski stole 35-year-old Officer Tommy Scott’s police car and dragged him to death, he said statements such as, “I thought I was trying to get to hell, and the only way to get there is to kill yourself,” and “I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t care,” Sadowski said.

The hallmark of psychosis is illogical thinking, Rothberg said. He said he thinks Sadowski lost his moral compass because of mental disease, and when he was driving that patrol car, the rest of the world did not matter to him.  

“I feel that if Mr. Sadowski was in his right mind, none of this would have ever happened,” Rothberg said.

Hirsch argued that although Sadowski had a range of deep depression issues and became homeless, at one time, he graduated from college and worked as an aerospace engineer. He said Sadowski was very unhappy and dissatisfied with his life. He began receiving disability checks from his job in 2001.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Linda Loftfield said Sadowski appeared to be sane enough to do extensive international traveling. She said with a difficult itinerary, composed of places like Mexico and Russia, the computer expert was well-capable of functioning by his self while navigating in foreign countries.

Sadowski’s attorney, Los Angeles County Public Defender Irene Nunez, said her client would sometimes lapse into delusions, and his sole purpose to go to Russia was to reunite with his 17-year old lover, Olga, whom he had given much money to and wanted to go to hell to save.

During the time of one of his trips to Russia, Hirsch said Sadowski wrote Olga in an email that said he had fooled the Russian police and was defiant with them at a convenient store. He said he made it seem like they were beating him and gave an impression that authority meant very little to him.

Loftfield said Sadowski knew exactly what he was doing on April 29, 2005, when he committed first-degree murder of a much-loved police officer, who had only served in his position for four years.

“He was purposeful, and tried to get rid of Officer Scott to do what he needed to do,” she said. “He knew that it was legally and morally wrong, and that it was violating a man of authority.”

She said Sadowski saw Scott, who was the first airport police officer to die in the line of duty, as an impediment on his way to the airport. She said he didn’t have any money to make it to the airport for his flight to Russia, and had already given his passport to a cab driver as payment.

“He was desperate, saw the police car and saw the opportunity,” Loftfield said. “He was going to try to make it there by any means possible.”

Nunez defended that Sadowski was overwhelmingly filled with suicidal thoughts and faced extreme financial pressures. She said his goal that day was to step off the sidewalk, near the airport, and kill himself because it was a very busy intersection.

Loftfield argued that he had many chances to commit suicide if that was what he wanted to do. She said although Sadowski probably did not plan to kill Officer Scott, he had every intention to run that car into the fire hydrant, which decapitated Scott, who was hanging out of his police car, as Sadowski drove down Lincoln Boulevard with the body around 40 mph.

        The Judge, Lance A. Ito, known for presiding over popular cases, such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995, said he would like to finish up with Hirsch and the remainder of Loftfield’s witnesses on Monday. The closing arguments are expected to begin on Tuesday, followed by the jury’s decision on whether they found Sadowski to be sane, in which he would spend a life sentence in prison without parole. If they decide he was insane at the time of the crime, he will be taken to a mental hospital.