A 16-year-old Long Beach youth was "an accident waiting to happen" from emotional problems caused by the murder of his sister, a psychiatrist testified Monday at a hearing to determine whether the teen-ager will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult for gunning down two deaf brothers he did not know.
But psychiatrist William Vicary said Joey Paul Bellinger, 16, is "not a hardened antisocial individual" and could be rehabilitated by the California Youth Authority by the time he turns 25.
Bellinger is charged with murdering Cesar Vieira, 30, and attempting to murder Edward Vieira, 25, with a .25-caliber pistol during a Jan. 28 confrontation in a Granada Hills parking lot. The fight occurred after the Palmdale brothers--who had been on a motorcycle--traded insults with five teen-agers, including Bellinger, in a car stopped next to them at a traffic light.
"This kid is falling apart," Vicary--called by Bellinger's attorney--testified in the fitness hearing in Pasadena Juvenile Court. "That is why you see him doing something so stupid--something really out of character for him."
The fitness hearing is expected to conclude today.
Prosecutors want to try Bellinger as an adult, which could mean 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted. Defense attorney Gerald L. Fogelman is attempting to persuade Juvenile Court Judge Sandy R. Krieger that Bellinger should be tried as a juvenile and could be rehabilitated in the California Youth Authority, which would have to release him when he turns 25.
In the testimony Monday, witnesses said the shots were fired in the heat of a fight between the brothers and Bellinger's friends. These descriptions contrasted with earlier accounts, which suggested that Bellinger fired the gun suddenly, surprising his companions.
Witnesses also said that one of Bellinger's friends, identified only as "Alfred," screamed repeatedly for Bellinger to shoot the Vieira brothers as the brothers charged toward them.
Authorities said the youth, who could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a murder, has been missing since the incident. Los Angeles Police Detective Mitchell Robins said police have not been able to find him for questioning. His parents "haven't seen him and haven't heard from him" since the shooting, the detective said.
Joey Parody, 16, testified that Bellinger fired the gun in panic as the Vieira brothers--who had already chased away one of their group--charged toward him.
"He was afraid of being beaten up," Parody said.
Before he fired, Parody testified, Bellinger screamed "Get back! Get back!" unaware that the deaf brothers could not hear him. When one of the brothers was within "striking distance" of Bellinger, the teen-ager fired the shots in rapid succession.
"It was random shots," Parody testified. "He wasn't aiming at anyone."
Vicary said that "the victims were definitely part of the problem here. They were menacing."
During his testimony, the psychiatrist described Bellinger as a "smart kid," and a "low-key, shy, passive person" who suffers from bouts of depression from the tragedies that have recently befallen his family.
In 1987, both of Bellinger's maternal grandparents, who lived with his family, died after agonizing illnesses. Several months later, his older sister Michelle was raped and murdered. Her body was dumped in three plastic garbage bags, her ankles and chest bound with duct tape.
Bellinger never received counseling to help him cope with these losses, Vicary said. And when he drinks, he "ventilates frustrations that have been building up," the psychiatrist said.
Vicary said he believes that on the night of the shootings, Bellinger exhibited "unreasonable behavior" but thought he was acting in self-defense.