HELENA — A state district judge resumed a hearing Monday on the mental state of the man convicted in the 2017 killing of Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore. Prosecutors brought in an expert witness to argue Lloyd Barrus did have the capacity to understand the criminality of what he did.
Last year, a jury found Barrus guilty of deliberate homicide by accountability and two counts of attempted deliberate homicide by accountability. Now, Judge Kathy Seeley is taking testimony as she determines whether to find him “guilty but mentally ill” – a choice that could decide whether he spends his sentence in a state prison or the state hospital.
The first day of the hearing was held Friday in Broadwater County court in Townsend. It shifted to Helena for the second day Monday.
Montana law says a person can be found guilty but mentally ill if they have a condition that left them “unable to appreciate the criminality of the defendant's behavior or to conform the defendant's behavior to the requirements of the law.”
The state’s witness was Dr. Alan Newman, a consulting psychiatrist from San Francisco who was brought in November to interview and evaluate Barrus. He previously testified in 2018, during a hearing on whether Barrus should be forcibly medicated to make him competent to stand trial.
Newman agreed with other doctors who diagnosed Barrus with a delusional disorder. However, he said his extreme delusions are separate from his anti-government attitudes.
On May 16, 2017, Barrus was driving with his son Marshall and sped past Moore’s patrol vehicle. They refused to pull over when Moore attempted a traffic stop. Prosecutors believe Marshall Barrus shot Moore in his vehicle, then the men turned around and returned to his stopped vehicle. Marshall Barrus then reportedly fired at least a dozen more times.
The two men then led officers on another chase for nearly 150 miles, ending on Interstate 90 near Missoula. Marshall Barrus was then killed in a shootout with officers.
During Monday’s testimony, Newman said Barrus explained his actions by talking about his son, saying Marshall Barrus – who was on bail and had cut off a monitoring bracelet – didn’t want to go to jail. He said Barrus reported he returned to Deputy Moore’s vehicle because his son repeatedly asked him to, saying he “didn’t want to be charged with attempted murder.”
Newman said the steps Barrus took to evade law enforcement could be a sign he understood he and his son had done something against the law.
“In most cases that I’ve seen, when people flee from law enforcement, they know that the reason they’re fleeing from law enforcement is that they’re going to get caught, captured and arrested by law enforcement,” he said.
Newman also highlighted Barrus’ decision to surrender to police – when he could have continued resisting – and his ability to cooperate with authorities after being arrested. He argued those indicated he was able to conform to the law.
“How’s he able to go from going 100 miles an hour to surrendering?” Newman said. “Well, the non-psychotic interpretation of that is, he’s surrendered, it’s over – his son has been killed, his tires have been blown out, and he’s surrendered. And when somebody surrenders, now they are conforming their conduct to the requirements of the law.”
Newman’s report also suggested some of Barrus’ actions may have been explained not by his delusions, but by his reported use of alcohol in the time leading up to the chase.
However, Barrus’ attorneys claimed his behavior was more likely caused by an acute episode of his mental illness and by a years-long paranoia that led him to believe the government was persecuting him.
Defense attorney Craig Shannon argued Barrus’ more rational explanations for his actions only emerged long after 2017, after he had undergone mental health treatment, and that there wasn’t clear evidence that alcohol played a major role. Shannon also questioned the thoroughness of Newman’s evaluation.
Last week, the defense presented their own expert: Dr. Virginia Hill, a Montana State Hospital psychiatrist who worked closely with Barrus during his time in custody. She argued his condition “robbed him of the ability to appreciate and conform,” and recommended he be committed to the state hospital and continue treatment.
Seeley is not expected to make an immediate ruling on Barrus’ mental state. After she does, there will be a final sentencing hearing at a date yet to be determined.