Opening statements in Dustin L. Zapel’s double murder trial began Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court, with neither attorney denying that he stabbed to death two people who lived in his apartment complex in July 2017.
Zapel, 38, had been living at the Central Park Place Apartments, 1900 Fort Vancouver Way, when he “acted with premeditation to stab two men to death and to chase after a third man and attempt to stab him. He had been thinking about what it would be like to kill someone. Particularly, what it would be like to stab someone,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Anna Klein said.
“That morning, he decided he was going to do it,” Klein told the jurors.
Zapel is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. He’s accused of killing Thomas West, 42, and James Olsen, 55, in the early morning of July 16, 2017, at the apartment complex, which is on the Portland VA Vancouver Medical Center campus and is a transitional housing program for people who are low-income, homeless or at risk of being homeless. Zapel is also accused of attempting to stab David Garner.
According to court records, arriving officers found West and Olsen’s bodies in the apartment complex courtyard. Surveillance cameras caught the act, which police said appeared to be unprovoked, on video.
Klein said Zapel was wandering around the common areas of the apartment complex at 1:20 a.m. when he came upon West in a smoking area.
Zapel sprinted to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and ran back to West. He stabbed West 26 times, according to the prosecutor. Then, he attacked Olsen, stabbing the man 18 times, and at one point, holding him down to continue the slaying, she said.
Afterward, he returned to the kitchen, rinsed his hands off in a sink and placed the weapon back in its drawer, Klein said. He picked up another knife when Garner stumbled on the grisly scene and raised it toward him. Garner escaped and called 911, she said.
Zapel tucked the knife under his clothes and fled, according to the prosecutor. Officers found him in the Five Corners area after a seven-hour manhunt. He had allegedly ditched the knife and his bloody jacket.
Klein told the jurors that Zapel has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he was likely off his medications when the slayings occurred. She said the question before jurors is whether Zapel had the mental capacity to act in a purposeful way. Jurors will be asked to watch the video of the killings to prove he did, she said.
“He told law enforcement that he made a plan to kill and you’ll see he carried out that plan, and he took steps to hide what he did afterward,” Klein said.
Defense attorney James Sowder told the jury that premeditation is different than intent, and the two concepts should be considered separately.
Sowder also noted his client’s long history of mental illness.
“It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It goes on for decades,” he said.
The defense attorney said that a recorded interview will show that when Zapel was caught and questioned, he was speaking to auditory hallucinations and gave a variety of statements about what happened. Sowder did not go as far as to say whether the killings were premeditated. He simply asked jurors to pay attention to the testimony of witnesses and to jury instructions.
The trial is expected to continue into next week.