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Title: McDermott tells of killings, stirs outrage

Source: Boston Globe, 4/12/02

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McDermott tells of killings, stirs outrage

By Michele Kurtz, Globe Correspondent, 4/12/2002

CAMBRIDGE - After listening for nearly three hours to Michael McDermott's boasting and his bizarre tale of time travel and Nazi killing, the relatives of the seven people he killed had had enough.

When McDermott matter-of-factly said the most humane way to kill people was to shoot them in the head, one man stood up, angrily muttered an expletive, and stormed out of the courtroom, slamming the door behind him. A dozen more relatives of McDermott's victims soon joined the exodus, red-eyed and angry.

''This whole thing was rehearsed for a year,'' said Marcelle Marceau, whose son, Paul, was killed in McDermott's shooting rampage inside Edgewater Technology in Wakefield on Dec. 26, 2000. ''If it was your son ... ''

It was an extraordinary scene inside a courtroom in Middlesex Superior Court yesterday as the man charged with the worst mass murder in Massachusetts history took the witness stand to convince jurors he was insane when he shot and killed seven of his co-workers.

McDermott's four hours of often chilling testimony elicited gasps from spectators as he calmly, often glibly, described the carnage, saying that he carried out orders from an archangel in order to gain a soul and go to heaven.

To McDermott and his attorney, Kevin Reddington, it is evidence of the full-blown schizophrenia they believe he was suffering from that day.

McDermott, as Reddington had previewed for jurors on Wednesday, said the seven people he shot and killed were not co-workers, but Adolf Hitler and six of his generals. And they were not killed inside a Wakefield office building, but inside a Berlin bunker in 1940.

McDermott told jurors he believes that after he completed his ''mission'' he died of a drug overdose in a Berlin police station and is currently in purgatory awaiting his ascension to heaven. He's sure he'll get there, he said, because weeks before the shooting, St. Michael the Archangel appeared in his cubicle and told him he'd be rewarded with a soul if he succeeded. ''God had a plan for me,'' McDermott testified. ''For the first time in my life I felt I could achieve what everyone takes for granted - that I could have a soul and go to heaven.''

The trial's outcome hinges on whether jurors believe McDermott is insane and did not know he was killing seven innocent people, or if they think he has concocted the story.

During cross-examination, which will continue today, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Thomas O'Reilly asked McDermott about his passion for Dungeons and Dragons, a fantasy game in which a ''gamemaster'' creates an elaborate set of circumstances and characters and a problem for them to solve. 

He suggested that McDermott was clever and experienced enough in fantasy playing to make up the Hitler scenario.

During three hours of direct examination by Reddington, the bearded McDermott, 43, of Haverhill, said he was raped repeatedly by a neighbor at age 8, suffered from hallucinations and heard voices, attempted suicide three times, and spent decades trying to mask his insanity. Reddington wants to persuade jurors that McDermott was schizophrenic at the time and not criminally responsible for the killings.

Prosecutors contend that McDermott knew what he was doing and reacted out of anger to Edgewater's plans to seize part of his wages at the request of the Internal Revenue Service to pay off $5,600 the agency said he owed. 

McDermott, clad in his gray jailhouse jumpsuit and shackled at the ankles, appeared both mild-mannered and arrogant on the witness stand. He boasted about the importance of his work aboard a nuclear submarine in the late 1970s and gave lengthy, technical explanations on everything from battery testing to giving blood.

He described hearing voices, which he said he initially thought were coming from electrical devices, such as television sets that had been turned off.

''The voices in my head, I clustered them into different groups,'' McDermott said. ''The major one I call the chorus. Its job seems to be to tell me what a bad person I am ... what a waste of space and skin and food I am.''

One of the ''nonchorus'' groups directs him to steal things, he said. For a decade he collected glass beakers and hoarded them in boxes in his apartment.

McDermott's nonchalance at times was startling. At one point, Reddington flashed a photograph on the courtroom monitor and asked McDermott to identify the item pictured.

''Ah, that's a bag for my AK-47 and the bayonet that comes with it,'' he said coolly, drawing gasps in the courtroom.

His path to the shootings began on Dec. 14, the day he learned the company would seize part of his wages.

''Michael the Archangel came and lifted me up'' to a ''celestial plane,'' he told jurors.

The vision told him to travel through a ''portal'' and that he'd know Hitler and the six other Nazis by their swastika armbands. If he did this, he would receive a soul, he said.

''I was born without a soul,'' he said. ''It's inferred rather than direct evidence. Everyone else seems to have a moral compass.''

McDermott testified that he was given two signs - the solar eclipse on Christmas Day and the mention of Boxing Day by his mother the following morning - to start the killings. That morning, he swallowed pills to kill himself and then proceeded to the Wakefield office building and finally Edgewater's lobby, toting an AK-47 and a pump-action shotgun.

He said he used the portal code word St. Michael had told him - HR - and was immediately ''blown'' through a door. He then recounted the killings, one by one, describing shooting men sporting swastikas - in the exact sequence and numbers as the Edgewater shootings. Four of the Edgewater victims were women, but McDermott only described killing men.

Finally, he testified that he could sense Hitler was in a locked room, so he blew off the door. The last two Edgewater victims were in the locked accounting office. ''The last Nazi was there. I shot and killed him,'' he said. ''And Hitler was there. I shot and killed him ... The mission was complete. I had a soul.''

Reddington focused on McDermott's lengthy psychiatric history.

McDermott said he left his job as a nuclear reactor operator at the Maine Yankee power plant because ''I'd gone crazy.'' He said he tried to kill himself and was hospitalized.

McDermott said that the jury, the judge, and everyone else in the courtroom did not exist, even his parents. ''That's actually not my mother and father,'' he said. ''Those are constructs of my mother and father.''

When Reddington asked if he talks to them, he said he did.

''I wouldn't want to be rude,'' he said.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/12/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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