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Family backs up troubling behavior

Updated:   12/07/2006 12:21:32 PM EST

 Joan Hobart, mother of murder suspect William S. Demagall, enters a Columbia County courtroom in Hudson, N.Y.,  before testifying in the defense of her
Joan Hobart, mother of murder suspect William S. Demagall, enters a Columbia County courtroom in Hudson, N.Y., before testifying in the defense of her son. (AP)

Thursday, December 07
HUDSON, N.Y. — Joan Hobart testified yesterday that she tried repeatedly last December and January to have her son hospitalized, as his pronouncements that he was "Merlin," a medieval magician, King Arthur and Jesus Christ escalated. He had stopped eating and sleeping. He would dress entirely in black clothing and a purple cape.

"He had this sword that he would forge in my wood stove. He was up all night doing this," Hobart said of her son, William S. Demagall, 23, who was urged by his family to raise an insanity defense in his murder trial.

"He said he was forging this for my brother, whom he (also) believed was King Arthur. ... He would only drink from this cup he calls the Holy Grail," she said.

But the rules of court only allowed her, and other family members who testified yesterday, to deliver their direct observations of him and his statements, in months leading up to the Feb. 11 murder of George Mancini of Hillsdale.

Mancini was stabbed, bludgeoned and burned two days after Demagall escaped from a psychiatric unit at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass. A prosecution psychiatrist testified yesterday that the former Stockbridge resident, despite his illness, knew that his actions were wrong and therefore is legally responsible for the crime.

Two defense psychiatrists stated this week that Demagall was operating by an archaic and delusional moral code and had no appreciation or responsibility for his criminal conduct.


Demagall's cousin, John Culleton, 27, testified that as he was parking his car in Great Barrington on the night of Feb. 10, he was startled when Demagall, dressed in black, pounded on his driver-side door.

"I unrolled the window and tried to stay relaxed and said, 'Hey, Will,' and he said, 'I am Merlin; I am not responding to William anymore.' "

Culleton, a graduate student of architecture in California, said he asked his cousin what he'd been doing. Demagall replied that he had broken out of Berkshire Medical Center, jumped into the Housatonic River and floated 10 miles down the river.

"He said he'd been running night and day," Culleton said.

Judge Paul Czajka ordered jurors to ignore Culleton's remark that Demagall "looked worse than I had ever seen him before, like a wild animal."

It was his paternal grandmother, Helena Blanche Demagall, a retired social worker, who sought his Feb. 3 commitment to Berkshire Medical Center.

That morning, after spending the night at her house in Adams, her grandson told her about his life as Robin Hood and his special powers. She called police and mental health crisis workers to take him for an evaluation, but he fled her house, she testified.

He returned later, soaking wet, and told his grandmother that he had hidden for hours in the Tophet Brook, to evade police and a search dog.

Helena Demagall said she had tried "many times" in the past to get help for him.

Joan Hobart stated several dates in December and January when she tried to get her son hospitalized, but Czajka upheld Assistant District Attorney Michael Cozzolino's objections to her comments on his admissions in 2003 and 2004.

"He told me he was going to live in the woods, that he couldn't live in my house, and that he would go into the woods where he belonged," his mother said. "He spoke of the fact that he was not of this world, that he did not belong here.

"He would pack constantly, and in between packing he was Merlin, or Jesus; he was drinking from the Holy Grail," Hobart said. She had seen for herself, she said, the cave in Stockbridge where her son went to live.

As she left the witness stand, Hobart passed her son at the defense table and whispered, "I love you." He smiled.

Laurel Demagall wept on the witness stand as she described her brother leading her into the woods in Stockbridge, where he was delivering food and other possessions to a cave where he was staying last winter.

"He said he would only show me one (cave) because the other was his sacred place," she wept. "He was very hyper and he told me to be quiet."

He pointed out a particular tree she should not disturb, and said "It's the tree of life." The tattoo he had made on his forehead, he told her, was "Merlin."

After defense attorney Richard Mott rested the defense's case yesterday morning, Cozzolino called Dr. Alan Tuckman, a Rockland County forensic psychiatrist, private practitioner and medical school faculty member.

Tuckman related two meetings with Demagall in October, lasting a total of just under three hours. He told the jury that he had reviewed records in the case, but did not interview Demagall's family members, as the defense psychiatrists had done.

"I had the information I needed," he said.

Under Cozzolino's questioning, the doctor said was satisfied that Demagall had an understanding of legal and illegal behaviors. He also said he reviewed Demagall's statement to police, given after his arrest in Schodack, N.Y., on an unrelated charge on Feb. 12.

He said Demagall's actions that day reflected guilty behavior and a desire not to get caught: He was hiding in a Burger King bathroom to avoid police, used a false name when he finally spoke to them and lied about possessions of Mancini's found in his motel room.

The day before, he had tried to "cover up" his crime at the Mancini house by partially covering the body with a blanket before setting it on fire, Tuckman said.

In his cross-examination, however, Mott noted that Tuckman never inquired as to why Demagall was hiding or taking on an assumed name.

Demagall had told police — who at that point knew nothing of the murder — that he did not want to go back to Berkshire Medical Center.

Tuckman said that he did not probe into Demagall's delusional beliefs about his assumed identities, nor did he explore Demagall's statement that he was a "soldier of God," on a "mission" to kill Mancini. Demagall had met Mancini briefly just once, about two weeks before the murder.

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(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
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