When Catherine Krause saw a box of Halloween decorations askew, her husband's bloody face and her son standing near his body just after Christmas last year, she thought it was a bad joke.
It wasn't. Paramedics declared Peter Wiersma, 63, dead on the scene, and police arrested Krause's 30-year-old son Erich on suspicion of murder.
"He said, 'I had to kill him, mom,' " Krause testified Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court, crying as she looked at her son. "I thought that they were messing with me, and they had gotten into the Halloween stuff."
Judge Marie Silveira will decide if Krause will stand trial in the killing of his stepfather, whom he called "Dad," Catherine Krause said. Testimony will continue today at 10 a.m.
Erich Krause was twice hospitalized at the county's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Catherine Krause said. He was known to talk to himself "off and on" and enjoyed rearranging rocks on his street and at nearby businesses, she said.
Wiersma's chest was crushed and his lungs bruised, forensic psychologist Eugene Carpenter Jr. said. Wiersma also had "lethal" face and head injuries and a bruise on his face consistent with the bottom of a shoe, Carpenter said.
Wiersma died from suffocation before his head injuries could kill him, Carpenter said. He called it a "unique and unusual" case unlike anything he had read in his 20 years as an expert in forensic psychology.
Krause said her son lived in a trailer in her back yard. He came into the house Dec. 27 and took a 2½-hour shower. Krause said he was in one of his usual agitated moods, in which he referred to people he hated as "them."
"He started saying he was going to kill somebody," Krause said. "I assumed it meant 'them,' the people out on the streets."
Police received a 911 call about 2 p.m. from the home, in the 300 block of East Roseburg Avenue, reporting that Wiersma was down and unresponsive in the detached garage.
Krause's mother found him standing in the garage with blood up to his wrists. His mother said he was "matter of fact" when he told her his stepfather was dead.
Krause's blood tested negative for alcohol and drugs, according to testimony from a Modesto police detective.
Krause remains in the Public Safety Center in lieu of $2 million bail.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.