NEW YORK – Disturbed and desperate, David Tarloff set out with a bag full of knives and a plan he thought had God's blessing: Stick up a psychiatrist for $40,000, grab his mother out of a nursing home and escape with her to Hawaii, authorities and doctors say.
His odd plot became a bloodbath in an Upper East Side office. Tarloff slashed a therapist to death with a meat cleaver after she confronted him.
Five years later, Tarloff is set to go on trial this week in a case that points up the uncertainties of prosecuting people with major psychiatric illnesses. The case has stalled for years at a time because of the schizophrenic Tarloff's mental state, which halted an attempt to try him in 2010.
If the trial goes forward, jurors will be asked to decide whether Tarloff, who has a decades-long history of hospitalizations and hallucinations about God and Satan speaking to him, knew he was doing wrong when he killed psychologist Kathryn Faughey. They had never met.
He has variously said he was frightened that she was going to attack him — her long fingernails alarmed him, he said — and that he mistrusted her because she shared an office with the doctor he'd targeted for the robbery, the one who had first committed Tarloff to a mental hospital 17 years before.
"Believe me, I wish she was never there — but I thought she was evil," Tarloff told a psychologist in 2010. "I went to kill her. I thought I had no choice."
Tarloff's lawyers don't dispute that he killed Faughey. But they argue he was so psychotic that he shouldn't be held criminally responsible for her death.
"Everything about his thought process was so bizarre — so crazy — that the proof in the case shows he was legally insane," lawyer Brian Konoski has said.
But prosecutors and Faughey's family feel that, whatever Tarloff's illness, his actions bespoke a considered, violent scheme.
"He planned this out" and was heavily armed, said Owen Faughey, one of her six siblings. "He was determined, it would seem, to stop anyone who would interfere with his plan. And, unfortunately, that's where our sister fell victim to his plan. ...
"He should be held fully accountable."
It was an accident that Tarloff and Faughey, a 56-year-old therapist who specialized in helping people with relationships, met at all. Faughey shared an office with psychiatrist Dr. Kent Shinbach, who treated Tarloff in 1991 but hadn't seen him since.
Yet in February 2008, as an increasingly panicky Tarloff tried to craft what he saw as a rescue plan for his mother, he thought of Shinbach. He figured the psychiatrist had money, and he'd get it from an ATM after forcing the doctor to disclose his code, Tarloff later told police and psychologists.
"I figured a little bump on the head. No one would know, and I would have $40,000," Tarloff said.
He went to Shinbach's office one evening with a rubber mallet, a set of kitchen knives, rope, duct tape, a suitcase full of adult diapers and clothing for his mother — and a belief that the plan had God's blessing, he told a psychologist.
He encountered Faughey instead and hacked her 15 times, then seriously wounded Shinbach when he tried to save her.
Tarloff, now 44, was a college student when his mind abruptly began fracturing into paranoid suspicions of classmates and a preoccupation with God and the devil.
Over the years, as he was hospitalized more than a dozen times, he recounted seeing "Satan" spelled out in his mind and the "eye of God" on the kitchen floor, according to psychologists' reports and court papers. He heard police sirens and concluded they'd been summoned by his bad thoughts. He viewed pieces of paper on the street as a special message from God.
His relatives begged him to stay in mental hospitals or adult homes, but he left them, psychologists said.
After his mother, Beatrice, moved from the Queens apartment they shared into a nursing home in 2004, Tarloff grew still more erratic and fixated. Convinced she wasn't getting good care at a series of homes, he repeatedly clashed with staffers. Two weeks before Faughey's death, he got arrested in a scuffle with a security guard at a hospital where his mother was being treated.
"Our mother is getting sick and it is making me extremely beyond any normal patience furious and unnerved," he wrote to his brother around that time.
Tarloff is pursuing an insanity defense. It requires proving not only that he has a serious psychiatric disorder, but also that he didn't understand the nature or consequences of his actions.
Such defenses are offered for less than 1 percent of felonies nationwide and successful only about a quarter of the time, research has shown. When they do succeed, defendants are acquitted but held in secure mental hospitals until — if ever — a judge decides they're safe to release.
A jury was being chosen for Tarloff's trial in 2010 when he refused to leave a courthouse holding cell, ran nude around a psychiatric ward and was declared unfit for court, a finding separate from an insanity defense. Doctors said this summer his condition had improved enough to bring him to court again.
The starts and stalls have been frustrating for Faughey's relatives, who gathered last month to mark the fifth anniversary of her death.
"We just are really hopeful that this time, we will get through this and get some closure and get a conviction and get justice for our sister Kathryn," Owen Faughey said.
Tarloff, meanwhile, is in the city's Rikers Island jail, aware that the trial is coming up but stunned at the thought of the slaying, according to a person close to him, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the upcoming trial.
"He can't believe that he could do something like that," the person said.
Jury selection is due to start Monday.
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