April 13, 2010

Defense Examines Kot’s Psychological Stability

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Continuing its investigation through the sometimes opaque, convoluted mind of accused murderer Blazej Kot, the defense turned to the former Cornell graduate student’s psychiatric test results Tuesday in Tompkins County Court.

An expert witness for the defense, Dr. Rory Houghtalen, a psychiatrist, attempted to build the case that Kot — a former Cornell graduate student who has already admitted to killing his former wife, Caroline Coffey, also a graduate student at Cornell — suffers from mental illness, and is therefore guilty of manslaughter, not murder.

In a video played in the courtroom, Houghtalen asked Kot to explain his “sometimes contradictory” answers to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test, a common psychiatric test used to measure a subject’s personality. Houghtalen read two questions from the test: “Someone has it in for me” and “I have no enemies that wish to harm me.”

“You answered ‘true’ to both these questions,” Houghtalen said gently from behind the camera. “How do you explain that?”

Throughout the interview, filmed just six weeks after Coffey’s death, Kot appears to be a gaunt figure, with his voice reduced to a hoarse gasp due to a self-inflicted cut to his throat.

Still, Kot defended the logic he saw in his responses, arguing that he believes that the person who has it in for him is “not a physical threat,” whereas the second question implies a physical threat.

Houghtalen continued reading questions from the test: “I am happy with myself [being] who I am” and “if I could live my life again, I would not change much.”

Kot said the first question was false, but that the second was true. “I could be [a] better person,” Kot said, but added that he has been “pretty lucky in life.”

Kot answered that both “my level of sex is satisfactory” and “I worry about my sex life” because he said he had “trouble” with his sex life as a teenager, but that his current level of sex is satisfying.

Before the video was played, Houghtalen explained to the court that he was “struck” by the “pairs [that] didn’t make sense” in Kot’s responses.

“His difficulty separating the long term from the recent,” was troubling, Houghtalen said, adding that Kot had registered high on the test’s “paranoia scale.”

Houghtalen said that the former graduate student was “diligent to a fault” in his answers, and that Kot’s “obsessive style” showed mental neurosis.

Houghtalen mentioned Kot’s indecisiveness in deciding how to answer a given test answer, and said that Kot had asked him for clarification on questions an inordinate number of times.

It took Kot three hours to complete the test, Houghtalen said, when the “norm” is usually around 45 minutes.

In the video interview, the psychiatrist and Kot also discussed Kot’s medical history. The defense hopes to establish that the anti-malarial drug chloroquine, which Kot had been taking in preparation for a trip to Costa Rica, exacerbated his mental illness, according to The Ithaca Journal.

Kot and Hougtalen discussed how Kot received this medicine from Gannett. Kot recalled the Gannett nurse saying that the medicine would “have no side effects.”

Kot said that the nurse told him, “as a side joke,” that “‘[chloroquine] is not the kind of stuff that makes you go crazy.”’

“I don’t know why she said that,” Kot said.

Each sentence he uttered appeared to be a struggle for Kot, whose voice was reduced to a hoarse gasp after a failed suicide attempt paralyzed one of his vocal cords.

The prosecution did not to cross-examine Houghtalen Tuesday, but is expected to call its own psychiatric witness on Friday.

Original Author: Jeff Stein