A multi-day hearing will determine whether Lloyd Barrus can be forcibly medicated so he will be mentally fit to stand trial in connection with the shooting death of a Broadwater County deputy in 2017.
Barrus' medical and legal history were explored during the first day of the Sell Hearing Wednesday in Lewis and Clark County Court.
Barrus was involved in a May 16, 2017, high-speed chase that started when he and his son allegedly killed deputy Mason Moore near Three Forks. The chase, which ended after 184 miles of high-speed pursuit on Interstate 90, concluded with the death of Barrus’ son, Marshall, and the arrest of Barrus.
Barrus is charged with accountability to deliberate homicide, two counts of accountability to homicide, assault on a peace officer and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted person, all felonies. If he does go to trial and is convicted, he would face multiple life sentences in the Montana State Prison.
Barrus is currently considered incompetent to stand trial in the case and is in custody at the Montana State Hospital. He refuses to take anti-psychotic medications to deal with a diagnosed delusional disorder and other mental illness, and the Montana Attorney General’s Office and Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson are arguing that Barrus needs to be medicated.
Sell Hearings are fairly rare. Montana State Hospital head psychiatrist Dr. Virginia Hill counted 48 such hearings she had testified in since 2012. Hill believes she was the only psychiatrist involved in Sell Hearings in Montana.
Barrus believes medications are “sorcery” and calls Hill a “witch,” according to testimony from Hill and statements from Barrus’ defense lawyer, Helena attorney Greg Jackson. Barrus refused antibiotics and pain medication when he had a dental abscess, according to Hill, because he wanted “nothing to do with conventional medication.” His denial of medication is also tied to religious concerns, Jackson and Hill agreed.
Hill said Barrus had “promised to fight to the death” if he was forcibly medicated. Hill said she had to prepare for Barrus’ resistance to the medication for both staff and Barrus. Hill said Six to eight staff members would need to help medicate Barrus, using physical holds and shields if necessary, if Judge Kathy Seeley decides to allow the State Hospital to forcibly provide anti-psychotic medications.
“What does forcible medication do to someone that already has delusions about their treatment by the government?” Jackson asked.
“We keep trying to process it,” Hill said, and agreed that the forcible medication would confirm Barrus’ paranoia about the government.
Jackson also argued that medication would make Barrus “a very different person than you dealt with for the last year … and different from the man who committed those crimes last year.”
“We’re only looking at involuntary medication solely for the purpose of competency,” assistant attorney general Mary Cochenour said.
Hill agreed. “There is no reason to medicate [him] for any other reason,” Hill said.
“How long has the mental illness gone untreated?” Jackson asked.
Barrus’ last interaction with mental health treatment was in 2002, when he was treated with anti-psychotic medication following a standoff with law enforcement in California. Jackson referenced multiple scientific studies on the use of medication for people suffering delusional disorders, arguing that Barrus should not be forcibly medicated due to potential side effects and suggesting that cognitive therapy would be a useful tool to restore Barrus to competency.
“I don’t believe he would become fit to proceed in the foreseeable future without anti-psychotic medication,” Hill said, noting that with medication and “sufficient time” Barrus would become fit to proceed. Hill said on the stand that she was concerned forced medication would harm Barrus, as he has high blood pressure and the procedure could put Barrus into a “flight or flight” response that could cause serious physical health issues.
Hill went through a detailed history of Barrus’ mental illness, including his prior medication for delusional mental illness after a Death Valley standoff with law enforcement in 2000. According to Hill’s testimony, Barrus was facing down an aggravated DUI charge in California and was paranoid that the government was going to kill him.
In March of 2000 his son Jeffery and Barrus’ girlfriend at the time were helping Barrus transport his weapons to a “safe place” when they were stopped by a police officer who noticed the weapons in the vehicle. That stop started a high-speed chase that ended in Death Valley after almost a day. A law enforcement helicopter was also forced to make an emergency landing after being clipped by a bullet fired by one of the fugitives.
After that incident, Barrus was treated with anti-psychotic medications and responded well to them, according to Hill. “These are the same symptoms in California,” Hill said of Barrus’ current medical and mental state.
Hill testified that Barrus has a complex set of delusions involving paranoia, believing at one point he was Michael the Archangel, and harbors suspicions about the government and law enforcement. In interviews with Hill, Barrus was “proselytizing about the evil government … violating his liberty rights and being captured and detained without a grand jury.”
According to her testimony, that style of thinking is a key to Barrus’ delusions, which are part of a “delusional disorder persecutory type.” Barrus, who also has an alcohol use disorder, has demonstrated symptoms of a personality disorder “for years, mostly in the narcissistic and antisocial realm,” Hill said.
Hill said she believed it would take two years to have Barrus’ delusions fade.
“I don’t believe any of the most serious illnesses can be cured,” Hill said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.” Hill also said Barrus’ personality meant “he’ll always have an anathema for government, and his personality is to proselytize” about that anathema.
A decision has not been made as more witnesses have yet to be called. The hearing will continue Thursday.
Editor's note -- This story has been updated to reflect that Lloyd Barrus was charged with accountability to deliberate homicide, not deliberate homicide.