The young man had delusions that his mother was “destroying him” so he had to “destroy her,” according to a defense attorney who spoke at the beginning of a sanity-murder-trial yesterday afternoon, October 21.
Bryan Chang, now 33, pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. His mother, Sherry Chu Chang, 60, was found beaten to death in her Solana Beach home in January 2010.
(This is the most recent spelling of defendant’s name, as displayed on a screen yesterday for jurors. Bryan Chenhua Chang and Brian Chang are other versions used in court documents over the years.)
Private defense attorney Kathleen Cannon has the burden of proof in this sanity trial, which is estimated to last three or four weeks. The defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two weeks ago, on October 7.
“This is a tragic case,” Cannon told a jury of seven woman and five men in her opening statement. “He was insane at the time he killed his mother.”
The defense attorney explained that Sherry Chang had been supporting her adult son for years: she paid for her son’s car, his phone, and his apartment in Santa Monica. Her son’s last declared ambition, before he was arrested for murder, was to become a singer on tour.
The defense attorney spoke of “thousands of emails between the two of them,” which were found on Sherry’s computer; these emails are expected to be part of the evidence during trial.
Some of the disagreements between Bryan and his mother were about money. Bryan, then 28, had used the credit card his mother had given him to spend thousands of dollars on electronics equipment and at a marijuana dispensary, his attorney said.
Sherry believed that her son’s problems were “just about drugs,” according to defense attorney Cannon. “She didn’t understand how seriously sick he was.”
The defense claimed Bryan was hospitalized in March, November, and December of 2009, after which he was described as having paranoia and anxiety. Bryan was prescribed Ativan for anxiety, his attorney said.
On Friday, January 22, 2010, Bryan phoned his mother 18 times at her work, which was in Poway. He wanted use of her car and claimed that his car had been stolen. Sherry told her son she could not come get him that day, but the next morning she drove to Los Angeles County and picked him up and brought him back to her home in the 900 block of Santa Florencia, in Solana Beach. Sherry last used her cell phone that evening at 6:43 p.m.
“He doesn’t kill her, he eviscerates her,” the defense attorney told the jury. “With a hammer.” Cannon told the jury that Bryan put one of his mother’s arms and part of her brain into the refrigerator.
The jury is expected to hear from competing mental health experts, who will testify for both sides. The defense attorney said she has two psychologists and one psychiatrist who have written reports stating that Bryan was insane at the time he killed his mother.
Prosecutor Rachel Solov did not specify how many experts she intends to call. She told the jury that behavior speaks louder than words and “He knew that killing his mother was wrong.”
Judge Harry Elias has already read some instructions to the jury that go into the legal definition of insanity.
The prosecutor said Bryan hit his mother approximately 75 times with a hammer and that he did not leave the weapon at the scene. She said he attempted to clean up the murder scene, and he disposed of his bloody clothes, which were never found.
He was arrested at his Santa Monica apartment days after his mother’s body was discovered.