PORT ANGELES — Opening statements were delivered Wednesday in the trial of a Sequim woman accused of stabbing her wheelchair-bound neighbor in an attempt to kill him in October 2019.
Larisa Jean Dietz, 50, repeatedly stabbed the late Ricky Lynn McGowan in the neck and chest in McGowan’s Sunbelt Apartments unit on the evening of Oct. 8, 2019, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sarah Woolman said.
McGowan, 58, survived the attack but died of unrelated health issues while the case was pending.
“This case is about misdirected rage and a violent attack on a vulnerable person,” Woolman said to begin a 10-day jury trial in Clallam County Superior Court.
Defense attorney Karen Unger said her client suffers from a mental disorder and that Dietz did not commit the crimes for which she is charged.
Dietz is charged with second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault. Both charges carry vulnerable victim and deadly weapon enhancements.
“This is really not a whodunit,” Unger said in her opening statement.
“This is actually a whydunit.”
Unger said she would not dispute the fact that Dietz was alone with McGowan in his apartment drinking alcohol with him before he was stabbed.
“After you hear all the evidence, I’m confident that you will agree that not only did she not commit the crimes that she is charged with, but whatever she did do was impacted by her mental illness and her perceptions at the time,” Unger told the jury.
The eight-woman, seven-man jury panel was spread out in a reconfigured courtroom for COVID-19 precautions. Glass dividers were placed in front of the witness stand, the attorneys seated in the jury box and Superior Court Judge Simon Barnhart and his staff.
Dietz, who is being held in the Clallam County jail on $1 million bail, was seated next to Unger wearing street clothes and a face mask.
Casey Sires, a firefighter/paramedic with Sequim-based Clallam County Fire District No. 3, described a chaotic scene in McGowan’s apartment unit No. 1 when he arrived with other first responders.
Sires heard a man repeatedly saying “help me” before he and another firefighter broke into the locked unit, he said.
“There was a copious amount of blood,” said Sires, the state’s first witness.
“We saw a woman behind our patient, who we knew from seeing him previously.
“She had her arms around his neck.”
Sires said he and fellow firefighter/paramedic Jack Hueter separated Dietz from McGowan before police arrived.
“She sat up and started grabbing at Ricky’s throat, and trying to stick her hands in his mouth,” Sires said on direct examination.
“She began yelling ‘I am the victim,’ over and over again.”
Sires said he found a small black knife near Dietz. He retrieved the bloody knife with a cloth and handed it to a Sequim police officer before evaluating McGowan’s injuries, he said.
McGowan used a wheelchair and a walker and was known to District 3 personnel.
“Generally, it would be intoxication, and he would fall and injure himself in different ways,” Sires said.
“Sometimes it was just helping him back into his wheelchair and getting him back into his apartment.”
McGowan’s injuries consisted of deep lacerations to the neck, Sires said.
“These were full-thickness lacerations going though skin and fatty tissue,” Sires said.
“It was kind of hard to determine whether some of them were punctures or some of them were cuts, so we were just kind of treating it worst-case scenario that they were all very, very deep.”
McGowan was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
A Harborview trauma surgeon will testify that McGowan had a “lacerated jugular vein and significant blood loss, and that Ricky required significant blood transfusions to stabilize him,” Woolman said in her opening remarks.
Sequim Police Officer Devin McBride said in court papers that an upside-down cross and the word “DIE” were painted on the outside of McGowan’s apartment.
The apartment manager said the word appeared on McGowan’s door after Dietz had been released from jail six weeks earlier, and after McGowan and Dietz started a romantic relationship, according to the affidavit for probable cause.
Unger said Dietz and McGowan had become friends but were not romantically involved.
“For reasons that are unknown,” Unger said, “Ms. Dietz ended up causing injury to Mr. McGowan.”
Forensic Evaluator-Psychologist Amy Sellers of the state Department of Social and Health Services determined that Dietz did not “present with symptoms of mental illness that severely impair her ability to provide for her needs of health and safety,” according to a forensic mental health report.
Sellers said Dietz had a history of repeated trauma and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sellers said Dietz told her McGowan grabbed her crotch on the day of the assault.
Dietz had a “significant history” of childhood sexual assault, violent assault as a young adult and a pattern of violent intimate relationships, according to Sellers’ report.
Unger said she planned to call to the stand forensic psychologist Dr. Kenneth Muscatel to address whether Dietz could form an intent to assault McGowan or whether she “lashed out at an imaginary enemy” as a result of a mental disorder.
“You’re going to hear a statement from Mr. McGowan where he told the police, or the EMTs, that ‘She’s crazy. She’s crazy,’ ” Unger told the jury.
“That is what this case is about, whether or not Ms. Dietz had the mental capacity to commit this offense.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at email@example.com.