Is The Diagnosis
BY KEN LITTLE
ROGERSVILLE -- A psychologist and a psychiatrist both testified Monday that Ethan A. Self was the victim of physical and emotional abuse by his father, Roger Self.
But the two professionals part ways when it comes to the question of intent in the fatal shooting of Roger Self on March 24, 2010 at the Love Street home he shared with his son.
Ethan Self, 21, is charged with first-degree murder. Monday was the
first day of defense testimony in the trial, held in the Hawkins County Justice Center with a jury
drawn from Hawkins County residents.
Roger Self was a Greeneville Police Department sergeant. He was found shot in the head in his bedroom by Greeneville officers after he did not report for work on the night of March 24, 2010.
Ethan Self admitted to investigators the next day that he was holding his father's Glock service weapon when it discharged, but maintains that the shooting was accidental.
The jury on Monday also viewed a two-hour videotaped interview with Self conducted earlier this year by clinical psychologist H. Abraham Brietstein in his Knoxville office.
Brietstein, who was hired by the prosecution but testified for the defense, concluded in a report after the interview that Self was the victim of "a detailed history of physical (and) emotional abuse by his father."
"I think about it every day. I wish I could take it all back. I lost my dad that day," Self said in the videotaped mental health evaluation interview.
Brietstein's report concluded that Self endured years of abuse and "decided to confront his father with a gun, the outcome being all but inevitable."
ACCIDENTAL OR NOT?
That statement and Brietstein's opinion that the gun "didn't go off accidentally" prompted verbal fireworks between defense lawyers John T. Milburn Rogers and Herbert Moncier, on one side, and prosecutors Tony Clark and Dennis Brooks, on the other side.
The argument between the prosecution team and the defense team took place after Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sent the jury out of the courtroom.
"This man has no business whatsoever for that kind of speculation," Rogers argued after the jury left the courtroom.
Judge Blackwood denied Rogers' motion for a mistrial while noting that two other doctors who interviewed Ethan Self came up with entirely different conclusions about the shooting.
Blackwood said he had "a problem how a psychologist has an opinion whether it was an accident or whether it was not."
"The only person who could say whether he fired the gun is Mr. Self himself," the judge said.
"I don't know how a doctor can say from a reasonable amount of psychological certainty that (Self) pulled the trigger."
When the jurors were brought back into the courtroom, Blackwood told them to disregard Brietstein's opinion about the shooting.
ETHAN SELF VIDEO
Near the end of the video mental health evaluation, Brietstein suggested to Self that he didn't sound remorseful about his father's death.
"I'm very remorseful," Self responded.
He became emotional and appeared to shed tears at several points during the video evaluation.
Self, who was 18 at the time of Roger Self's death, detailed what he described as years of mental and physical abuse by his father.
He said that the abuse only intensified after the sudden death of his mother, Kathryn Anne Self, in December 2007.
Ethan Self repeatedly said during the interview with Brietstein that he cared for his father and did not mean to harm him.
"I loved him. I didn't want to cause him pain. I didn't want to hurt him," Self said.
Brietstein said in his report that Ethan Self provided "a detailed history of physical (and) emotional abuse."
Even though there was no other supporting evidence, "this contention is believable," the report said.
"What makes this more believable is that abuse in families tends to be highly insulated and (hidden) from outsiders," Brietstein said in his evaluation.
When Anne Self was alive, she "served as a buffer," and after her death, "the level of abuse escalated," the evaluation said.
Before viewing the video, Blackwood cautioned the jury not to consider Self's statements as evidence, but to use the evalution tape to get a better sense about his demeanor.
Self began by describing incidents in which he said he and his mother were abused by Roger Self.
"We didn't say anything about it. We were just quiet about it," he said.
Anne Self "tried to keep me away from that as much as possible," Ethan Self said. "I loved her. She was an amazing person. She was my best friend."
Self's voice broke as he spoke about his mother on the video. Brietstein offers him a tissue in the video.
"In my household, crying (or) showing emotion -- Dad said that was a weakness and you weren't supposed to," Self said.
He said Roger Self repeatedly told him that he was "worthless."
"I never really understood why he hated me," Self said.
He said he went out for football and other athletic teams to please his father. He also got good grades.
"Nothing was ever really good enough," he said in a soft voice on the video.
EVENTS OF MARCH 24, 2010
Ethan Self's account of the events of March 24, 2010 were consistent with what he told investigators at the time about going into his sleeping father's bedroom with his father's gun.
Self said in a statement to detectives that he reacted to physical abuse by his father that March afternoon by deciding "to show him who the bigger man was."
After Roger Self was struck in the back of the head with a bullet, Self said he didn't know what to do.
"I had lost both my parents at that point," he said. "I was scared. I didn't think anybody would believe me.
"It was so stupid of me. I should of never picked the gun up, and I should of handled it in a different way," he told Brietstein in the video.
"I couldn't believe it was what happened. It was never what I wanted to do. It was all an accident."
Self pulled out drawers in rooms of the house and scattered the contents on the floor to make the scene look like a burglary.
"My world was just crumbling down," he told Brietstein.
Dr. Paul R. Kelley, a forensic psychiatrist who is on the faculty at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University, performed another evaluation of Ethan Self, in December 2010 while he was still held in the Greene County Detention Center.
Self's family later posted $500,000 bond.
Kelley said he determined that Ethan Self had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"Ethan told me he felt safer in jail than he did at home," Kelley said.
"He hadn't been able to put into words about his father when I spoke to him. He said, 'Every day I think about my mother.'"
Self told Kelley he had nightmares about his father "coming from the dead to kill him."
Self recounted different times that Roger Self abused him and his mother, Kelley said.
A 'DESPERATE STRUGGLE'
Ethan Self's life was "a desperate struggle" to avoid being beaten and humiliated, Kelley said.
"Ethan said he tried to never remember life with his father," Kelley testified.
The experience left Self "with a laceration of the mind," Kelley said.
The day before his father's death, Ethan Self told Roger Self he wanted to move out and live with his maternal grandmother.
"He [Roger Self] laughed at [him] and said, 'You think you can do this to me?' and kneed him in the groin," Kelley said Ethan Self told him.
Ethan Self told Kelley he went into Roger Self's bedroom on March 24 to tell him he was leaving. Bringing his father's gun was the only way Self thought he would have protection, Kelley said.
"He walked into his father's bedroom. The lights were out," Kelley said.
Roger Self was snoring loudly. He suffered from sleep apnea, a condition in which a person can momentarily stop breathing in his sleep, and then resume.
"He was standing there with the gun, petrified" when he thought his father had stopped breathing, Kelley said.
When Roger Self "snorted or made some kind of sound," the gun went off, Kelley said.
"He didn't know what to do," Kelley said. "He checked his father, and he looked like he had a mortal wound in the back of the head. It was dreamlike, surreal."
Ethan Self told Kelley that before the gun was fired, he thought he saw the "covers move" and "flinched," causing the gun to discharge.
Those with PTSD have undergone traumatic experiences, Kelley said.
Self "had developed PTSD over the time he was abused as a child," Kelley told Rogers under direct questioning in the courtroom.
Those with PTSD are prone to what is called the "startle response," Kelley testified.
When Roger Self resumed snoring after silence, it "was plenty enough to trigger a startle response," Kelley said.
Kelley has more than 30 years' experience as a psychiatrist and has performed evaluations on many abuse victims. He told Rogers he believes that Ethan Self was credible.
Defense testimony continues today.