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Expert: Accused killer reacted to stress in fight.

Byline: Gary V. Murray

WORCESTER - Patrick I. Powell was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and was likely in a state of "hypervigilance" when he stabbed Daniel Columbo to death, a psychologist testified yesterday.

Psychologist Robert Kinscherff, called as a defense witness in Mr. Powell's Worcester Superior Court murder trial, said Mr. Powell reported experiencing a number of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after becoming the unintended victim of a shooting in Boston on Labor Day weekend in 2005.

The director of clinical services for Easter Seals of New Hampshire, Mr. Kinscherff said he believed Mr. Powell was still suffering from the disorder when he fatally stabbed 20-year-old Mr. Columbo the night of Jan. 6, 2006, during a fight a short distance from Mr. Columbo's home at 26 Carroll St., Milford. Mr. Powell was 16 at the time.

Mr. Kinscherff, who was hired by the defense to evaluate Mr. Powell, said a person experiencing hypervigilance as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder would be expected to be "more on guard than an ordinary person."

Mr. Powell's lawyer, John G. Swomley, said in his opening statement in the case that the evidence would show Mr. Powell acted in defense of himself and co-defendant Vinnie Ruscitti when he inflicted a single stab wound that penetrated Mr. Columbo's heart.

Mr. Ruscitti, who is charged with Mr. Columbo's murder as a joint venturer, is awaiting trial.

Assistant District Attorney Eduardo O. Velazquez has maintained that Mr. Columbo's killing was planned.

Mr. Powell testified Thursday that he did not even realize he had a knife in his hand when he "punched" Mr. Columbo in the chest. He said he struck the blow only after Mr. Columbo punched him and Mr. Ruscitti in the face.

Three days earlier, Mr. Powell stole marijuana from a friend of Mr. Columbo, Mr. Powell acknowledged. He said he began carrying a kitchen knife in his coat pocket after the theft because he feared retaliation and had heard rumors that Mr. Columbo and his associates were out to get him and his friends.

Mr. Kinscherff was asked by Mr. Swomley's associate, Eric B. Tennen, whether Mr. Powell's statement that he did not realize he had the knife in his hand until after he fled from the scene of the stabbing was consistent with someone with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The psychologist said even people without any type of psychiatric disorder are likely to "go on automatic pilot" and act without thinking in "high-stress" situations.

Mr. Kinscherff also testified that adolescents process information differently from adults and may not be able to foresee the consequences of their actions.

Testimony in the trial is scheduled to resume Monday.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 13, 2009
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