It will be treatment rather than a jury trial for Fortuna resident Sean Michael Allman, accused of sending gory text messages to members of a church youth group planning to visit then-Humboldt State University.
This morning Judge John Feeney granted a defense petition to place Allman, 22, in a mental health diversion program instead of being tried on felony charges of making criminal threats and inhibiting the practice of religion.
Feeney said Allman is the type of person the state Legislature had in mind when creating the option for mental health diversion. That is, he has a mental health disorder and the disorder played a significant role in his alleged crimes.
The main criterion is whether Allman poses an unreasonable danger to public safety. Feeney believes he does not.
Allman was 18 when he sent text messages to eight members of an Episcopal youth group in summer 2019. The texts portrayed mass-shooting victims bleeding on the ground. One message showed a person having his head blown off by a bullet.
Allman was arrested but posted bail a few months later. He has been out of custody for nearly three years without further arrests. But during those years, Allman told a psychologist, he began experimenting with Xanax and nitrous oxide, consuming so much nitrous oxide that he considers himself forever changed.
At the time the texts were sent he was obsessed with mass murders, spending hundreds of hours reading about the crimes or writing about them in his journals. He idealized the Columbine High School shooters. Allman even wrote about what to wear when carrying out such killings.
During closing arguments this morning before the judge made his ruling, defense attorney Andrea Sullivan argued the text messages in question contained no comments from Allman.
“It’s not a direct threat, like ‘I’m going to do this to you,’ ‘’ Sullivan said. Allman suffers from both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and low-level Autism. He has said he has no empathy for the alleged victims, which is characteristic of Autism sufferers.
“The real question,” Sullivan argued, “is does Mr. Allman present a serious threat to public safety. I don’t believe the evidence supports that.”
Deputy District Attorney Whitney Timm countered that Allman’s actions place him “on a path to violence.”
She said Kevin Kelly, a psychologist who evaluated Allman and determined he was not a threat to himself or others, acknowledged he had little experience with people obsessed with mass killings.
Timm said mass shooters start out with a grievance. In this case, Allman’s grievance went back to 2018, when he attended a church camp with the people he later texted. His grievance? The other campers had no interest in talking about mass shootings, and Allman felt they were being unfair.
Three times, Timm said, Allman tried to buy a gun on the Dark Web. Ammunition was found when officers searched his home.
“Then he went so far as to threaten the people he had a grievance with,” Timm said.
It’s typical of mass killers, Timm said, to write down their thoughts or post them online. She also pointed out Allman idealized those who committed such crimes.
“Granting diversion in this case is not in the interest of justice,” Timm argued.
Feeney listened to hours of testimony on Monday from the defense expert, forensic psychologist Kevin Kelly. He also read a report from the prosecution’s expert, along with the 108-page transcript of Allman’s preliminary hearing in December 2019.
The judge said he was struck, when reading the transcript, with the conflicting reactions of the eight alleged victims.
“They varied from being terrified, which I find understandable, to indifference,” he said. One of the group members said he hoped “the situation would result in some positive action and help and assistance for Mr. Allman.”
Outside of court attorney Ben Okin, also representing Allman, said the mental health program could last up to two years and can be a residential program. At this time no detailed program is in place. That will be discussed at the next hearing on Dec. 12. Allman remains out of custody.
If he successfully completes the diversion program, charges will be dismissed.
Psychologist Kelly testified that Allman, because of his OCD, believes he is always right. He wants all things in order and under his control. And he is obsessed.
“Mr. Allman is obsessed with death,” Kelly said under questioning by Sullivan. “He is obsessed with thoughts of suicide and his own death. He is also obsessed with notorious mass shooters in the United States and New Zealand … thoughts of death and carnage are on his mind every day for hours at a time.”
Although Allman has somewhat “reigned in” the obsession with mass killings, his fascination with suicide remains.
“He flat-out says he’s going to kill himself,” Kelly said. There has been no intervention because Allman, when Kelly interviewed him on Nov. 8, had no immediate plan.
Allman expressed no desire to hurt anyone else, Kelly said.
At age 4, Allman suffered “extreme trauma” when his father killed himself during a standoff with police.
“A trauma of that nature can cause PTSD, depression and anxiety,” Kelly testified.
Although Allman is extremely intelligent, Kelly said, he’s socially immature and, in modern terms, could be described as nerdy.
As to dealing with grievances, “most people can take what life dishes out and move on,” Kelly said. But that’s not the case with people afflicted by OCD. When Allman sent the texts, he was still upset with people who didn’t want to converse about mass shootings. a year before.
“Someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder never lets it go … he never let that go.”
His goal in sending the messages was simply to shock the recipients, Kelly said.
Kelly said he believes Allman is treatable and could succeed in a diversion program. Allman’s trial had been scheduled to start next week.
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