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Final witness testifies in trial of murdered football coach

Photo by Cliff Jette

Photo by Cliff Jette

ALLISON, Iowa -- The prosecution's final witness in its case against a man charged with killing an Iowa high school football coach testified Tuesday that the defendant was sane at the time of the shooting.

Michael Taylor, a psychiatrist from Des Moines, said Mark Becker was too organized in his thinking to be insane on the morning of June 24, when Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas was shot and killed.

"There's been talk about the zeal that Mr. Becker feels and on being on a mission from God and being an angel from God," Taylor said. On June 24, "He wasn't in a hurry. He wasn't like a chicken with its head cut off. ... He was a meticulous, organized man."

Becker has been charged with first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Taylor said Becker thought out the shooting. At one point during an interview with an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent, Becker said he deciding against killing Thomas' family.

"He thought about taking out Coach Thomas' family, then decided against it right away," Taylor said. "He was weighing the possible options and made a conscious decision not to."

Several members of Thomas' family were in the courtroom on Tuesday, and Becker's apparent thoughts about shooting the family caused Thomas' son, Aaron, to sigh and drop his head.

Taylor followed the same path laid out by a previous mental health expert who testified for the prosecution: though Becker is a paranoid schizophrenic, his hallucinations and delusions did not prevent him from knowing right from wrong.

Previous witnesses, including Becker's mother, said Becker saw Thomas as being possessed by Satan. Psychiatrists called by the defense have testified that Becker, 24, thought he was acting in the town's best interest by killing the 53-year-old coach.

Taylor disputed that notion.

"Clearly, Mr. Becker knew that he was killing a human being, not Satan, because he yelled "(expletive) you, old man" while kicking Mr. Thomas in the head," Taylor said.

Taylor also said that when he interviewed Becker on Aug. 28, he asked Becker what he would have done should a police officer have been near the site of the shooting.

"He said, I would have put my gun in my pocket, put my gun in my car and drove home," Taylor said. "Clearly, he knew what he was doing was wrong."

Taylor was the final witness called by either side in the trial, which included two days of jury selection and seven days of testimony.

The defense rested its case on Monday. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Taylor was the last of four mental health experts to testify and the second called by the prosecution.

A psychiatrist and psychologist hired by the defense testified Monday that Becker's delusions were so severe that he was unable to function in society.

In order to prove Becker was insane, the defense must show he didn't understand the nature and quality of his acts and he wasn't able to distinguish right from wrong.