SANTA ANA, Calif.—A 22-year-old man was convicted March 21 of killing his father on a Laguna Niguel trail the day after Thanksgiving in 2018, but an Orange County Superior Court judge found he was insane at the time of the attack.
Maximilian Gregory Ludwig is convicted of murder with a special circumstances allegation of lying in wait in a non-jury trial before Orange County Superior Court Patrick Donahue, who also found the defendant was insane at the time he killed 59-year-old Christopher Ludwig on Nov. 23, 2018.
Ludwig will now be examined by Orange County mental health officials and make recommendations to Donahue who set April 14 for a hearing on committing Ludwig to a state mental health hospital indefinitely.
Orange County sheriff’s deputies were called to a home in the 29000 block of Highlands Avenue about 4 p.m. Nov. 23, 2018, to investigate the killing of the victim, according to Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Ludwig killed his father on a trail near Highlands Avenue in Laguna Niguel.
Three out of four psychiatric experts who analyzed the defendant found that he was insane at the time he killed his father. The experts said Ludwig was a paranoid schizophrenic who felt he had to kill his father because the defendant believed the victim was killing others, including relatives.
One of the experts said Ludwig was delusional and felt he had to stop his father from more killings and was “turning into God” in ending the victim’s life, according to Donahue. Another of the psychiatric experts said Ludwig may have also suffered from schizoaffective disorder stemming from depression, Donahue said.
Ludwig’s delusions led him to believe his father was “evil” and that when he called authorities they would understand what he did was okay, some of the experts said.
One of the experts said Ludwig was “actively psychotic” at the time, Donahue said. Ludwig wrongly thought his father was causing cancer and radiation poisoning, one expert said.
When Ludwig was treated for his schizophrenia he was “quite disturbed” about what he did, psychologist Richard Lettieri said.
Another expert, psychologist Roberto Flores Deapodaca, was the lone dissenter who said Ludwig was sane at the time.
Psychologist Kris Mohandie was asked to review all of the reports and make an analysis of them. Donahue said he found that 57-page report “incredibly thorough.”
Mohandie also found Ludwig was schizophrenic and incapable of understanding that what he did was legally and morally wrong.
“The court’s put a great weight on this,” Donahue said. “This was going to be the report that really determined what would happen [in the case].”
Ludwig’s attorney, Adam Vining, argued against the special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, saying that while his client did surprise his father he did not do so from an advantageous position, which is one of the elements of the crime that has to be proven. Vining said Ludwig decided to kill his father “face to face” and did not attack him from behind.
But Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker argued that the fact that Ludwig took his father out for a hike on the same trail the day before and did not attack him left him even more surprised by the attack.
Donahue noted that the defendant knocked the victim down and then attacked him with rocks until he was dead, which gave the defendant a position of advantage over his father.
It was academic, however, since Donahue ruled the defendant was not sane. Ludwig could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole, but since he was found to have been insane, he will be committed indefinitely and can later petition for release when his sanity has been restored.