A former Hamilton County corrections officer charged with fatally shooting his 15-year-old son in August showed signs of "psychological deterioration" in the days before, a public defender argued Wednesday.
Assistant Public Defender Boyd Patterson said Michael McElrath claimed he was God, that his 15-year-old son, Dylan, was Jesus, and that his wife was the Holy Spirit in the days before he admitted to shooting Dylan and the family dog on Aug. 18 in their Hixson home.
"The state has a lot of proof for conviction of something," Patterson told Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Alex McVeagh at the end of a preliminary hearing. "I would argue this is definitely not a premeditated case. This was clearly psychological deterioration."
For now, prosecutors have charged McElrath with criminal homicide, but Patterson asked McVeagh to reduce his client's $1 million bond, saying McElrath "may be not guilty by reason of insanity."
McVeagh turned down Patterson's request for a bond reduction and sent McElrath's charge to a grand jury. If he's indicted for criminal homicide or another murder charge, McElrath's case will continue to Hamilton County Criminal Court.
On Aug. 18, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies raced to the 1800 block of Cotter Road around 10:30 p.m. after a neighbor called 911 and said a naked man was on their porch saying "there's blood everywhere," "call the police," and "I've shot my son," court records show.
On the scene, records show, authorities interviewed Beth Ann McElrath, who said she awoke suddenly to a commotion with a dog barking and her husband walking into their room and telling her to "go back to bed," and that "it was a dream."
Court records say Beth Ann McElrath got up when her husband of 21 years said "I had to shoot him in the head."
"I ... saw that [a dog] was lying in the hallway," she testified Wednesday, standing no more than a few feet away from her husband, who silently sat in a chair in a red jumpsuit. "The way he was lying, he looked like he was dead. I went into Dylan's room. He was on his bed.
"I turned him back over," she continued, sobbing, "and saw that he had wounds on his arms. I saw two gunshot wounds to his chest."
"Did you check to see if he had a pulse?" Executive Assistant District Attorney Cameron Williams asked.
"Yes," she said.
But Dylan didn't have one. And when she looked, Beth Ann McElrath said, her husband was gone.
Williams also called Richard Patterson, a detective with the sheriff's office who said Wednesday he found about 10 9mm shell casings in the house. Detective Patterson said the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and that Dylan was shot 11 times, mostly in the upper body.
McElrath, who worked as a corrections officer from 1996 to 1999, has no prior criminal history in Hamilton County's courts system.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.