A Colorado Springs psychologist testified Wednesday that a man on trial for murder suffered a "narcissistic injury" and might turn to revenge as a tonic.
"I thought his reactions, while understandable, had perhaps gone beyond normal," psychologist George Nicholos said of the defendant, former defense contractor Bruce J. Nozolino.
Nicholos evaluated Nozolino amid a heated divorce battle in 2000, and concluded that his lingering anger and frustration over his wife's affair a year earlier had resulted in vindictive and punishing behaviors toward her and their children.
His testimony came on the fifth day of trial for the former Lockheed Martin software engineer, and tied neatly into the prosecution's characterization of him as a man so bent on revenge after the betrayal that he killed his wife's former lover, shot her divorce attorney in the eye, and fired shots into the attorney's home and the home of a judge.
Defense attorneys sought to keep the contents of Nozolino's psychological evaluation from being admitted at trial, but the presiding judge, Pueblo District Judge Victor I. Reyes, ruled that it provided context and background for his alleged actions.
Although Nicholos testified that both Nozolino and his wife violated portions of a parenting program established by the courts, he portrayed Nozolino as the main offender.
During his psychological evaluation, Nicholos said Nozolino spoke freely and honestly about feelings and perceptions other respondents tend to minimize, adding the defendant didn't appear to cooperate with the exercise as much as he wanted to show he was "smarter" than the psychologist and "proud" of his reactions and behavior.
Nicholos said the flip side of that honesty was that he was able to offer a diagnosis: Narcissistic personality disorder, in his case characterized by feelings of mistrust, suspicion, enduring anger toward "the system," and a "tendency to misperceive his environment."
Although people with narcissistic personality disorder often appear "powerful," their posturing serves to protect a "fragile, vulnerable" ego, Nicholos said.
Impulsiveness, poor judgment and "repeat self-defeating behavior," are also features, he added.
"It'll tend to go away when the person maybe feels they have had some revenge," he said.
To illustrate the disorder, Nicholos used the example of a surgeon who is challenged by a nurse in an operating room only to "come unglued and destroy everybody in there."
At the same time, the psychologist offered a caveat: "If I thought he was in immediate danger to himself or others, I would have said that."
Defense attorney Tina Tussay fought back by pointing out that Nozolino was angered by common sources of frustration and tension during a divorce, in his case concerns about the children's safety while walking home from school and whether they were being properly cared for when left at their mother's work place at the Air Force Academy, among others.
Nicholos acknowledged he's heard similar complaints by spouses but said Nozolino's reactions appeared out of step with other people's behavior.
Prosecutors in the case are building a picture of Nozolino as an aggrieved, angry husband driven to harm his enemies out of what they called "an unrelenting desire to win." Midway into the trial's second week, they have yet to disclose any physical evidence tying Nozolino to the shootings, which spanned from 2001 to 2008.
Defense attorneys say prosecutors are seeking to convict Nozolino of murder and other crimes not on the basis of evidence, but for his spiteful actions during the divorce and his reputation for being difficult toward court personnel and others.
Earlier Wednesday, Nozolino's estranged daughter Brittany, 25, provided further testimony about a rifle she was given as a child by Nozolino, a practiced target shooter.
The gun, which Nozolino kept after his family left Colorado for Virginia in 2002, has an engraving of a mountain lion and was later outfitted with a scope and pistol grip and modified to fire more powerful ammunition, she said.
Prosecutors have applied a keen focus on the weapon, though they have yet to make explicit how it factors into their theory of the case.
Testimony continues at 9 a.m. Thursday.