Blood on their hands

Page 5 of 8

Pawar agreed to sign Anita Watson's petition with the court to allow Rodney's transfer to the county hospital's psychiatric ward.

That day, Rodney tested positive for cocaine use, which lent credence to his family's initial impression about why he'd cracked mentally. But, even now, it remains frustratingly uncertain if or how much Rodney's possible use of cocaine fueled his festering paranoia and rage against his family.

That's because a second drug test administered two days after the June 17 one came up negative. According to experts contacted by New Times, that speaks against Rodney's chronic coke use (he once claimed he'd ingested it for several days before his county commitment) and raises legitimate questions about how often he actually did the drug.

The best evidence against the cocaine-induced violence theory (which criminal prosecutors and attorneys for Maricopa County in the civil case have raised in various pleadings) may be the continued intensity of Rodney's mental illness since his arrest and incarceration.

"The severity of [Rodney's] unawareness of illness is among the worst I have ever seen," says Dr. Xavier Amador, a New York clinical psychologist hired last year by the Aviles criminal defense team. "He is still not normal in his mental capacities. He will never be normal, and there is no way to `compensate' for his problems."

Rodney Aviles tried to smuggle a six-inch folding knife into the Maricopa Medical Center when he was admitted on June 18, 1999. Authorities confiscated the weapon.

How Rodney had kept the knife hidden until then is uncertain. He may have had the mental capacity to be cunning, but he also was psychotic.

"I see lasers ever since I was young," Rodney earnestly told a hospital nurse during his intake interview on the evening of June 18.

He told the nurse about his mother's alleged tattooing and scarring of him. Trouble was, no one could see the markings but Rodney.

Doctors put Rodney on Haldol, a potent anti-psychotic with a sedating effect that's often a plus in an acute-care setting.

Rodney would insist until his June 23 release that he wasn't sick. But, tellingly, his medical charts indicate that his psychotic delusions, most of them focused on his mother, continued unabated until he walked out the door.

Rodney was getting little, if any, treatment at the hospital. He spent hours on end under his bed covers, lost in his own thoughts.

Rodney first spoke with his "treating" psychiatrist, Dr. Carla Denham, on June 21. It was his third day of what would be a six-day stay.

"Patient believes his ankle is broken when it is not: 'It snaps now!'," she wrote immediately after the session. "Believes he has scars, tattoos on face that he wants to have removed (skin is not scarred or tattooed) . . .Believes others can read his mind: `I'm bugged right now in my head.'"

To put the time frame into perspective, Denham would authorize Rodney's release from the psych unit less than two days later.

Rodney's mother and sisters visited him at the hospital every day, though he didn't have much to say to them.

The magnitude of the situation was great enough for Rodney's Marine brother Orlando to take an emergency leave from Camp Pendleton. Orlando felt compelled to visit after his mother told him by phone that "`Rodney had gone crazy, that he's not good in the head.' That's what she told me, and she cried."

The second youngest of the Aviles siblings, Orlando visited Rodney at the hospital. He, too, was troubled by Rodney's demeanor:

"He was quiet, didn't look me in the eye . . .He [said] that he had something on his penis, and he wanted it removed . . .I didn't know what to tell him," Orlando recounted. "I just said, `Don't worry brother, don't worry. We'll take care of it.'"

Orlando returned to Camp Pendleton later that day.

He never again saw his mother alive.

If things had gone differently, Anita Watson and Mauricia Aviles would have testified in favor of keeping Rodney in the hospital for months of in-patient treatment.

But several key events on June 22, 1999, conspired to keep that from happening. To the contrary, Rodney Aviles was just one day from murdering his mother and niece after summarily being released.

He met that day with a graduate psychology student named Kristi Walter, who administered a series of standardized tests designed to assess his current state of mind.

The results showed a marked elevation on the schizophrenia scale, but surprisingly no indication of drug abuse. That led Walter to note that Rodney "may have exaggerated [his drug use] in an attempt to get help . . .Although his drug use has likely resulted in problems, he does not meet the criteria for substance abuse."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin