By many indications, 26-year-old Morgan Rothe-Skinner had a turbulent upbringing before he allegedly stabbed his father's stepbrother to death at a French Quarter home last month.
When Rothe-Skinner was about 5, his father, according to news reports, helped produce much of the LSD available in the United States at his home, a 1960s-style commune at the site of an abandoned Kansas missile silo.
When Rothe-Skinner was 13, his father was handed a life sentence for drugging, torturing and kidnapping a man who had previously dated his wife.
It's not clear whether Rothe-Skinner's attorney will invoke that history as he seeks to present a rationale for his client's behavior the night of Feb. 6, when he allegedly fatally stabbed 52-year-old Daniel Magrini 20 times and held his paternal grandmother hostage.
But the attorney, Billy Sothern, this week began building an insanity defense for Rothe-Skinner, asserting that doctors at the New Orleans jail determined that he is “seriously mentally ill” and "a probable schizophrenic" while prescribing him the antipsychotic medication Abilify.
The doctors have concluded that Rothe-Skinner “has psychotic symptoms, hallucinations and delusions,” Sothern wrote in a filing Wednesday and then argued at a court hearing Thursday.
The filing said the doctors' conclusions are consistent with reports that Rothe-Skinner’s mental health had been declining in the years before he allegedly killed Magrini at his grandmother's home in the 600 block of Burgundy Street.
Sothern requested that bail for Rothe-Skinner — whose family has ties to Oklahoma — be lowered from $500,000 to $100,000, so he could post it and be moved to a “secure, inpatient” psychiatric facility that would be better equipped to treat him than the Orleans Justice Center.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Magistrate Commissioner Jonathan Friedman denied Sothern's request at Thursday's hearing, saying he had been given no information about a facility outside the jail that could ensure both the public's safety and Rothe-Skinner's continued presence in court.
Friedman also ruled that there was probable cause for Rothe-Skinner's arrest on a count of second-degree murder.
Nonetheless, Sothern argued that his client has no prior criminal record and has the lowest possible risk scores for new criminal activity or failing to return to court. He argued that keeping him in New Orleans’ jail could worsen his symptoms.
That could result in a range of consequences, from making him unfit to stand trial to creating a potential for self-harm, according to Sothern’s filing, which portrayed Rothe-Skinner’s alleged behavior the night Magrini turned up dead in a rolled-up rug as “aberrational.”
Neither the filing nor the hearing delved into Rothe-Skinner’s unusual background.
Rothe-Skinner’s father, Gordon Todd Skinner, owned an abandoned missile silo in Kansas. After meeting Skinner in 1997, a California university professor named William Leonard Pickard set up a lab there that produced copious amounts of LSD, according to multiple media reports.
According to lengthy 2001 stories in the San Francisco Chronicle and Rolling Stone magazine, the silo resembled a psychedelic commune out of the 1960s. There were women in their 20s bathing in a marble tub, a collection of expensive sports cars, and horses, llamas and rabbits. A babysitter watched Skinner's two young children; many guests were tripping on acid.
Skinner was eventually arrested on a count of involuntary manslaughter after a man overdosed at the silo in 1999, the Chronicle story said.
Skinner later met with federal agents and, in return for immunity, helped them build a case against Pickard, who was ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment.
Though the claim has been disputed, the feds contended that the nation's LSD supply dropped by 95 percent during the two years after the arrest of Pickard, a drug researcher whom Rolling Stone dubbed “the Acid King.”
But the elder Skinner’s dealings with Pickard were far from his only brush with the law.
In July 2003, an 18-year-old man who had dated Skinner’s wife before he married her passed out while taking drugs with Skinner in a hotel room in Tulsa, Oklahoma, authorities said in an Associated Press story. He said he woke up naked on the bathroom floor being kicked by Skinner, who later took the bound, blindfolded and gagged victim to Texas.
The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office on Monday identified the man who was stabbed to death in a French Quarter home last week as Daniel Magrini, 52.
In Texas, the man was assaulted again and dumped in a field, according to the AP story, published in 2006.
Authorities eventually charged Skinner, his wife and a third man accused of helping to dump the victim, who survived despite being injected in the groin with chemicals. Skinner, now 54, was sentenced to life in prison.
New Orleans police encountered Rothe-Skinner when 911 operators received a call from his paternal grandmother, Katherine Magrini, who described being held hostage in her home on Burgundy Street at knifepoint after Rothe-Skinner killed Daniel Magrini, her stepson.
Katherine Magrini, who owns a steel spring manufacturing company in Tulsa, told police her grandson had pushed her down and twisted her arms. She said she had called police after managing to escape, despite needing a wheelchair to move around following a prior leg injury.
Rothe-Skinner barricaded himself inside the home after police arrived to confront him but surrendered following a brief negotiation.
Officers later found Magrini’s corpse in a rear apartment. The body was rolled up in a rug wrapped around a bloodied bedsheet.
On Thursday, New Orleans police detective Stephanie Gray testified about interviewing Rothe-Skinner. She said he claimed that Daniel Magrini had drugged him the day of the killing and had raped him on previous occasions.
Gray said there was no evidence Rothe-Skinner had been drugged, but Friedman didn't allow her to answer when Sothern asked for her opinion on the rape claim's credibility.
Gray said officers seized a knife, prescription drugs belonging to Magrini, and Rothe-Skinner's cellphone from the scene of the slaying.
Sothern at one point asked Gray if Rothe-Skinner pleaded for officers to shoot him during their standoff with him. She said she wasn't aware.
Gray also said police were investigating a tip that Rothe-Skinner may have threatened a local professor.
A Tulane University student at the time of his arrest, Rothe-Skinner faces mandatory life imprisonment if convicted of murder. Prosecutors have yet to charge him, and he therefore has not entered a plea.
New Orleans police have jailed Morgan Rothe-Skinner, 26, on a count of second-degree murder in connection with a deadly stabbing in the French…