Psychologists fill in picture of man accused of violently stabbing young Lawrence woman to death
Rontarus Washington had disturbing behavioral problems that began during his childhood in Greenville, Miss.
Washington acknowledged that those problems included fire-setting, cruelty to animals, fighting with weapons, truancy and drug use, according to two psychologists who evaluated him this year. They said Washington also struggled and was bullied in school and told them he acted as a class clown in an attempt to deflect attention from his learning disabilities.
The psychologists’ testimony was part of a deep dive into Washington’s personal history and mental state that began playing out in a court hearing earlier this month.
At issue: Is Washington mentally competent to stand trial for a violent murder three years ago this month at Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments?
Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria has yet to rule on that question.
In late August, the judge sent Washington from the Douglas County Jail to Larned State Hospital to undergo an evaluation. While the psychiatric hospital deemed him competent, his defense attorneys contend he is incompetent, citing a separate evaluation they ordered from a local professional.
Washington, 21, is now back in jail here, and prosecutors and his attorneys are debating the issue in court. The next of multiple hearings so far on the matter is scheduled for Nov 28.
On Nov. 9, 2014, 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso was discovered dead in a bloody bathroom of an apartment leased by her estranged husband at 1727 W. 24th St. Police believe she was killed two days earlier, on Nov. 7, 2014.
Mosso had been bludgeoned and stabbed repeatedly in the face, head and neck, according to testimony by the coroner, who described the severity of the wounds as “overkill.”
The case against Washington, who lived down the hall, was opened in January 2015, after he was arrested in Mississippi. He is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary.
At a Nov. 6 hearing on Washington’s competency, Larned State Hospital psychologist Abigail Taylor — via video from Larned — said Washington arrived there Aug. 22 and that during his two-month stay she interviewed him, reviewed his records and observed him interacting with others.
Taylor said Washington told her of problems he had as a youth, including bullying, stealing, arson, animal cruelty, fighting with weapons, truancy, drug use, drug sales and gang affiliation.
He told her he’d been arrested multiple times during adolescence and a couple of times as an adult.
Washington denied ever being diagnosed with or prescribed medications for a mental illness or having a head injury, Taylor said. He also denied a history of mental illness in his family.
Washington also discussed his drug use, Taylor said.
She said his drug of choice is marijuana, with “very regular use that I would characterize as severe … daily use, including during his incarceration prior to being admitted to Larned Hospital.”
She said Washington also used the synthetic marijuana known as K2 and recreationally used prescription drugs including Percocet.
Prior to being arrested in the murder case, Washington held numerous — albeit short-lived — jobs, Taylor said.
He told her the longest he held a job was a year working at a Captain D’s seafood restaurant before moving to Kansas. His string of other employers included McDonald’s, a lawn service, Berry Plastics, a garage door company and American Eagle Outfitters.
Washington also is a father, Taylor said. He told her he has four children, though they don’t live in Kansas, she said.
At Larned, Washington became his unit president and had the highest privilege level, green, Taylor said.
However, Taylor said, during conversations with her, Washington described hospital staff as “liars,” “vindictive,” “judgmental” and another vulgar term.
Washington told Taylor that three things made him mad — “lying on me, lying to me and putting hands on me,” she said.
Taylor said Washington was “very much able” to track their conversations and that she did not observe anything that would warrant further investigation into his “neuropsychological functioning.”
However, Washington’s brain function is the crux of what Lawrence clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist Marc Quillen based his conclusions on.
A Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center evaluation in 2016 concluded Washington was competent to stand trial but raised “significant concerns” about Washington’s cognitive ability and the possibility of “neurocognitive defects,” Quillen testified on Nov. 6.
Quillen then evaluated Washington over the course of three meetings at the jail in January and February.
Quillen said records dating back to Washington’s elementary school days in Greenville indicated he had deficits in reading, language and math, took special education classes and had an IEP, or Individualized Education Program.
In school, Quillen said, Washington was consistently “substantially below” expectations for his grade and dropped out in 10th grade.
Quillen said a test he administered to Washington concluded that his IQ is in the 2nd percentile of adults. Quillen said he believes Washington has attention, hyperactivity and learning disorders.
“My opinion is that he is not competent to stand trial,” Quillen said. “I believe he has a mental disease or defect.”
While Washington can adequately describe the court actors and processes, Quillen said, he lacks situational awareness, attention, language and information processing abilities needed to “understand the proceedings as they are unfolding.”