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DAVID ALLEN, attorney
DR BRUCE ROWAN, defendant

Peninsula Daily News
November 1, 1998


Dr. Bruce Rowan, back, sits with attorney David Allen as the verdict is read. He was found innocent but mentally ill at the time he killed his wife, Deborah, in March.

Innocent

Family reacts to verdict Rowan was insane when he killed wife

By Jesse A. Hamilton
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES—The family of Dr. Bruce Rowan’s dead wife was outraged.

The defense attorney said it was justice and hoped that one day Rowan will start a new life.

The jurors said their deliberations were an exhausting and emotion-filled ordeal.

Rowan himself was grateful after the jury’s verdict Friday that he was innocent of killing his wife, Deborah, last March with an ax and baseball bat “because of insanity existing at the time of the act.”

But the jury also ruled that Rowan posed a threat to himself and others and should be confined to a state mental facility.

“I just wanted to say how much I appreciated your attentiveness,” Rowan told the jury.

“The most important thing for me was to get the story out accurately, and for Debbie’s parents and her family to hear directly from me what happened and for my family and friends to hear that…”

As emotion reddened his face, he added, “so once again thank you very much. I had planned to make this statement before you came back with a verdict.”

Superior Court Judge George Wood is expected to commit Rowan to a locked ward at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom for an indefinite period. A hearing on this will be scheduled later this week.

“This means the public will be protected indefinitely,” said Rowan’s attorney David Allen, telling reporters later, “It could be 10 years, it could be for the rest of his life.”

Allen had argued during the tiral that long-term depression and a “psychotic episode” made Rowan insane the night he hit his wife with the bat and split her skull with the ax as she lay sleeping in their bed.

“(At Western State” he’ll start to get the therapy he needs,” said Allen.

If Rowan had been found guilty of first-degree murder as charged, he could have been sent to prison for the rest of his life.

The former Olympic Memorial Hospital emergency room doctor wouldn’t be released from the mental hospital unless psychiatrists and a judge agree it would be safe.

Mentally ill offenders are kept in a separate building than other psychiatric patients, and their status is typically reviewed in hearings every 180 days, according to the court clerk’s office at Western State.

In his brief speech after the verdict, Rowan also thanked Wood and even the prosecution.

Other reactions to the verdict:

The jury: The 12 jurors wouldn’t detail their deliberations, but said the three-week trial and three and a half days of deliberations were arduous, emotional and difficult.

“Insanity is not an easy matter to come to a conclusion on,” juror Leo Schmalenbach of Sequim told newspaper and radio-TV reporters. “We had to really look at the evidence, and we did that very carefully.”

Said juror Charlene Kaestner, also of Sequim, without elaboration: “It’s been one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my life, and it will change the rest of my life.”

Allen told reporters he was told that jurors were split 10-2 in favor of the insanity verdict on their first vote Tuesday.

They kept reviewing the evidence, and finally all agreed that insanity was the only explanation that made sense of the crime, Allen said.

The victim’s family: Deborah Rowan’s parents and sister were at home in Idaho and Colorado. One of the sisters has custody of the Rowan’s 3-year-old adopted daughter, Anika.

Her father, Richard Fields of Boise, said the family was deeply disappointed with the verdict.

Fields, a lawyer for 35 years, said, “I sat through the trial from the beginning to the end and I can’t understand why the jury based on the evidence that I heard could reach that verdict.”

“… This one kind of tests my faith in the system,” he said.

The prosecution: Rick Porter didn’t think he and the other deputy prosecuting attorney, Dan Clem, could have convinced this particular jury that Rowan planned the murder.

“They believed that he did not know right from wrong at the time,” Porter said. “If we had it to do again tomorrow, we’d do it exactly the same way.”

The prosecution said Rowan, 34, killed his 33-year-old wife and then staged a car crash to make it look as if she died in a traffic accident so he could cash in on her new $500,000 life insurance policy and travel the world, free of his wife’s “nesting.”

The doctor’s family: After the verdict Rowan was allowed a 30-minute visit with four family members – his parents, a brother and a sister-in-law.

“We haven’t missed a moment of the trial,” said one of Rowan’s brothers, Barry Rowan. “We believe the jury returned a verdict of truth.”

“Our family has rallied behind Bruce in unconditional love. Our hearts have also gone out to the Fields. The families were close before this happened.  “There are no winners in a tragedy like this.”

The defense: The insanity verdict is an unusual one.

Allen said he couldn’t find a single successful insanity defense in Western Washington in the last 25 years.

The difficulty for defense lawyers is the burden of proving to the jury their clients are insane, rather than simply defending the clients from prosecution claims.

Rowan spent eight months in a padded cell in Clallam County Jail, watched around the clock for fear of suicide.

“I felt just incredibly tense, and I’m ecstatic now,” he said of the decision. “Justice has been done.”

Of Rowan’s future, Allen said, “Beforehand, he didn’t care if he lived or died. He said he was at peace with whatever the verdict would be.” Now Allen hopes Rowan will some day be able to start a new life.

“It’s not going to happen quickly,” Allen said.

It was never contested that Rowan had fatally bludgeoned his wife.

Allen said Rowan had long suffered from clinical depression and suffered a major psychotic episode the night his wife was killed.

Allen said Rowan had tried to handle his mental problems with medicine but was destabilized by two events.

The first was the controversial death of 3-day-old Conor McInnerney and the fallout involving Dr Eugene Turner. Rowan was the first physician to see the child at Olympic Memorial Hospital before Conor was turned over to Turner.

The second came the night of his wife’s death, Allen said, when, while watching the movie “Titanic,” at Deer Park Cinema, Rowan was traumatized by a scene in which a crew member accidentally kills someone and then kills himself.

Rowan called the night of his wife’s death a “poorly organized nightmare” and said it had taken him “weeks and really months to understand she’s dead.”

Sheriff’s deputies said Rowan stabbed himself in a suicide attempt as they interviewed him after finding his wife’s body in the family car in a ditch near the Rowans’ rural Port Angeles home.


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