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Baumhammers parents plead for his life

| Friday, May 11, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

For more than three hours Thursday, Andrejs and Inese Baumhammers described their family's well-guarded secret in the most public of settings - the courtroom where their son was fighting for his life.

Their son, Richard S. Baumhammers had an incurable mental illness that he ordered them not to discuss with anybody, they testified.

'We weren't allowed to talk about his medication or his illness,' said Andrejs Baumhammers, 65, a dentist from Mt. Lebanon. 'He threatened to go out West and live in a commune or live in the street.'

The parents' testimony came during the sentencing hearing in which their son, 35, faces the death penalty or life in prison for killing five people and paralyzing another in a racially motivated shooting rampage on April 28, 2000.

Andrejs Baumhammers, occasionally breaking out into bellowing sobs, pleaded with jurors to spare the life of their son, who he said suffered from delusional disorder, an incurable mental illness.

'If I could trade places with any of the victims I would,' he said to the jury, sobbing. 'I would like to see him placed in a prison for the criminally insane and not executed.'

Inese Baumhammers' early life was fraught with tribulations linked to World War II, following her birth in Latvia in 1937.

'You survived the Soviet occupation, you survived the Nazi occupation, you survived the firestorm of Dresden, four years in a refugee camp ... and now seven years of dealing with your son's illness,' Baumhammers' attorney, James Wymard said to Inese as he concluded his questioning of her.

She acknowledged the summary then replied with little emotion:

'I could not survive my son dying.'

Deputy District Attorney Edward Borkowski immediately objected to the statement and Common Pleas Judge Jeffery Manning instructed the jury to disregard the remark.

Jurors heard a torrent of diary entries recorded in seven spiral notebooks by Inese Baumhammers during her son's battle with mental illness in the 1990s.

Few details appear to have escaped her attention, including Richard's utterances of 'Sieg Heil' while taking a shower.

She said she feared that his use of the Nazi slogan meant that he was getting Tourette's Syndrome, a disorder that can include involuntary bouts of cursing.

The parents described their son as a man riddled with paranoia who fretted over his appearance and could not be convinced he wasn't being pursued by federal agents.

They depicted a man who wanted to make a life for himself but was emotionally unable to hold a job, and who once wanted to marry his Japanese girlfriend until his parents told him they couldn't support another family.

Richard Baumhammers loved the young woman, whom he dated in 1995 and 1996 and who made frequent trips to visit him, sometimes for as long as three months, his mother said.

Baumhammers expressed interest in marrying the girl, she said. But since he was unable to hold a job and her Japanese customs prohibited a married woman from working, his parents suggested they not marry, they said.

'We could stretch our finances to support him but we couldn't stretch our finances to support a family,' Andrejs Baumhammers testified.

He described April 28, 2000, as one of two of the worst days of his life.

The other, he said, was Sept. 1, 1993 - the day they learned the son they called 'Ricky' had severe mental problems.

Richard Baumhammers had returned from a trip to Europe, where he was enthralled by the Ukraine where street vendors gave him food, and open and friendly people would approach him.

He told his parents he traveled to Finland and that people there followed him in white cars, and people dressed in white harassed him.

'They hounded him out of the country,' Andrejs Baumhammers recalled their son saying. 'My wife and I were really disturbed by that.'

Richard Baumhammers said the FBI was monitoring his conversations, so his father suggested writing down questions and replies. Andrejs did not believe the FBI was monitoring their conversations, but to convince him to talk he suggested they go to Andrejs' dental office in the South Hills. The father told his son the walls were lead-lined and therefore the FBI couldn't hear them.

The exchanges that day led Andrejs and Inese Baumhammers to the first in a long line of medical visits for their son.

The parents told of how he frequently discussed suicide.

'At one time he asked if we could take him to Dr. (Jack) Kevorkian to find the best way to commit suicide,' said the sobbing father, speaking of the assisted-suicide physician from Michigan. 'My wife said it was only for the terminally ill.'

Another time, during lunch at a Mt. Lebanon restaurant, Richard Baumhammers said if his health didn't get better in two to five years he'd kill himself, his father said.

The fears of their son committing suicide were heightened in April 1999 when they discovered he had purchased a gun.

'Even though he insisted it was for protection or target practice, we thought he would use it for suicide,' Andrejs Baumhammers said.

Upset that he had a weapon in the house, the parents gave him an ultimatum - he was to sell the weapon and provide them with a receipt or he couldn't live there, his father said.

That July, Richard Baumhammers left his parents a note saying he sold the gun and would show them the receipt later. Inese Baumhammers later asked for the receipt but he refused to provide it, saying it was a breach of privacy.

Andrejs Baumhammers told of how his son often would leave places in a panic.

He once moved to Estonia to look for permanent work and signed a six-month lease on an apartment, only to leave in two days because he feared federal agents were after him, his father said.

The family hired an Estonian woman to pack up their son's belongings and ship them back because he refused to return to the apartment, his father said.

The Baumhammers said they told their son he needed help.

'I said, 'Look Ricky, you've got to take more medicine and see the doctor more often,'' Andrejs Baumhammers said. 'He wanted me to apologize. My wife threatened to divorce me because I wouldn't apologize.'

Christopher Zurawsky can be reached at czurawsky@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7840. Erik Siemers can be reached at esiemers@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7997.

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