Mom says son was depressed

Updated: February 17, 2010, 6:13 PM ET
Associated Press

ALLISON, Iowa -- The mother of a former football player accused of fatally shooting his high school coach testified Wednesday that her son suffered from severe bouts of depression and occasionally violent episodes.

Joan Becker said her son, Mark Becker, was hospitalized for mental issues three times before he was accused of gunning down Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas in June.

The first episode, in September 2008, began when Mark Becker began calling her "horrible, horrible names" and threatened to kill himself, she said.

"There was lots of swearing, which he did not ever do in front of me," Joan Becker said. "It went on for hours and hours. He kept asking, can't you see, can't you see?

"He thought he was being turned into our coon dog, Chief. Just extreme, bizarre behavior."

Becker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Thomas and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorneys have said that they will try to show he is a paranoid schizophrenic who had not taken his prescribed medication the night before the shooting.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Andy Prosser asked Joan Becker whether her son's apparent delusions ever focused on Thomas. Joan Becker said that during the first episode, Mark Becker tore down a poster of Thomas in his brother's room. Later, she said during an episode that Mark Becker claimed Thomas was in his room and trying to sexually assault him. There has been no suggestion that any of what Mark Becker said during the episodes his mother described on Wednesday ever took place.

"He said 'Coach Thomas is behind me, get him off me, he's raping me,'" Joan Becker said. "He would refer to it during episodes, [saying] 'Get them off me, get them off me.'"

The Thomas and Becker families attend the same church. Joan Becker said after high school, Mark Becker only interacted with Thomas "in passing" at church.

The most recent time Becker was hospitalized came after he threatened a Cedar Falls man and damaged his garage, then led police on a high-speed chase on June 20.

Joan Becker said she wasn't able to reach a mental health counselor when her son was released from the Waterloo hospital the night before the June 24 shooting.

Defense attorneys on Wednesday showed a videotape of Mark Becker in a Butler County sheriff's office interrogation room after the June 20 chase. Becker is shown in the video sitting for more than an hour and only speaking for a few minutes.

"What did you do to me, God?" Becker said on the video.

Without specifying who he was talking about, Becker said "He's forcing me to be evil and I'm not. I work for God, I don't work for Satan."

Some of the comments Becker made to Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson in the video were similar to those he made after the shooting four days later, when he told police he shot Thomas "for you cops."

"I want to work with you," Becker said to Johnson in the video. "Everyone's hypnotized right now. None of it's real."

Johnson responded: "This part's real."

In a controlled voice, Joan Becker described her son's descent from an outgoing child to a severely depressed and withdrawn college student who didn't recognize his parents during his episodes. While testifying about his change in personality, she looked at her son and gave a tight smile that lasted several seconds.

She said her son suffered a second episode in November 2008, when he was arrested after a fight. Joan Becker said she picked him up from jail and was driving him home when he began to shout at her, grabbed for the steering wheel and broke her cell phone in half. She forced him to get out of the car.

"He showed up at the house, apologizing, crying, saying 'It wasn't me, it wasn't me, Mom,'" Joan Becker said. "He explained to us that in these episodes, he would be up in the air and he would look down at his body and have no control over it."

Dr. Mark Lassise, a Mason City psychiatrist who treated Becker in September 2008 and November 2008, said Becker experienced intense hallucinations that seemed to worsen between episodes.

"Mark felt he was receiving telepathic messages," Lassise said. "He was mad at his parents, I think he felt like he was receiving messages from them."

Lassise and a fellow doctor diagnosed Becker with "psychotic disorder," a catchall term for the various possible psychiatric disorders from which Becker could have been suffering. Lassise said Becker tested positive for amphetamine in a urine test, leading doctors to believe he could have been suffering from methamphetamine-induced psychosis.

"It can give a picture similar to schizophrenia," Lassise said.

Each time Becker was released, Lassise said he prescribed him medication. Joan Becker said her son took the medication "sporadically."

Mark Becker wasn't considered a risk to himself or others, Lassise said, though he didn't examine Becker after he released him on Dec. 1, 2008 and didn't examine him after the shooting.

Late Wednesday morning, public defender Susan Flander, one of Mark Becker's attorneys, called two former high school coaches as witnesses.

Aplington-Parkersburg high school wrestling coach Clint Dohlman said he coached Becker in wrestling about a decade ago, but didn't know him otherwise. Assistant football coach Jason Key said he coached Becker in football and attended the same church.

Key said Becker never exhibited any animosity toward Thomas, a one-time National Football League high school coach of the year, in church or on the football field.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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