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DAVID ALLEN, attorney
DR BRUCE ROWAN, defendant

Peninsula Daily News
October 27, 1998


PA murder trial ends

Jury to decide if doctor was a killer or insane when wife was slain

By Jesse A. Hamilton
Peninsula Daily News

Dr. Bruce Rowan stood and watched without expression as jury members filed out of the Clallam County Superior Court Monday.

The next time he sees the group he will hear the words “guilty” or “not guilty.”

The fate of Rowan is now the responsibility of a dozen men and women who heard day-long closing arguments in his murder trial Monday.

Jury members will select a leader today and debate whether Rowan murdered his wife, Deborah, last March with calculation or from madness.

The prosecutor, Dan Clem, said that Rowan, a former emergency room doctor at Olympic Memorial Hospital, planned his wife’s death.

Rowan carefully cleaned up the murder scene and staged a car crash to make it look as if she died in a traffic accident so he could collect on a life insurance policy and travel the world free of his wife’s “nesting,” Clem argued.

Rowan’s defense attorney, David Allen, cited Rowan’s activities the night his wife was killed as evidence that the physician experiences a major psychotic episode.

Rowan pleaded innocence by reason of insanity. It was acknowledged from the trial’s start that Rowan had killed his wife.

Amont the decisions the members must make will be whether Rowan was legally insane when he smashed his wife with a baseball bat and ax as she slept in their bed.

If so, the jury will decide what type of mental-health care the defendant should get.

If not, they must unanimously agree which criminal charge fits the bill. If they decide Rowan planned the killing, he will be convicted of first-degree murder. If they agree only that he intended she die from this attack, it will be a second-degree murder conviction.

Or Rowan could be convicted of first- or second-degree manslaughter. Basically, that would mean the death was his fault, but that he didn’t necessarily mean to kill his wife.

Sentencing for a conviction – which would vary depending on the severity of the verdict – would come at a later court date.

Even if he is not convicted of a crime, Rowan would likely be put under psychiatric care. Allen suggested the jury put his client away “in a locked ward in a mental hospital.”

“Bruce Rowan will obviously have to be under care for the rest of his life,” Allen said during his closing argument.

The defense and prosecution spent hours rehashing the details of the gruesome murder case before the jury and a crowd of family and friends of the defendant and victim.

Clem backed into the details of the case after a speech about the history of the legal system.

“I want to remind you of another person in this courtroom – Deborah Rowan,” he said to the jury. “There are bits and pieces of her here… Do not forget about Debbie Rowan.”

He weaved a possible pattern of motive, interspersed with queries of the jurors: Does this sound like the act of a psychotic man?

Clem offered Rowan’s reaction to the “nesting,” or settling down, of his wife as a possible motive for the killing, set in the contact of the defendants’ desire for world travel.

“That’s in direct conflict (here),” Clem said.

Answering questions that Rowan could have committed a better murder if in a sane state of mind, Clem said, “The fact that he’s not a very good murdered really is not relevant.”

Part of the requirement for proving insanity is that the defendant did not know right from wrong at the time of the murder.

Clem asked why Rowan would go to so much trouble to clean dozens of blood-stained surfaces and lie to police interviewers if he wasn’t aware of his actions.

In his closing argument, Allen followed the same line of logic he used throughout the trial.

“This is the only way there can be any sense made of this senseless act,” he said. “This case makes no sense unless you put it in the context of insanity.”

A favorite point for the prosecution was the $500,000 life insurance policy that Rowan had taken on his wife.

The policy, which names Rowan as the sole beneficiary, went into effect March 1. The prosecution says she was beaten to death that night.

“One would have to be crazy, stupid or insane to kill your wife on the day the insurance policy took effect,” Allen argued. “And we know Bruce Rowan is not stupid.”

Allen spent much of his time attacking one prosecution witness, Dr. James Bremner, a psychiatrist from Olympia.

“He didn’t have a clue,” Allen said of the doctor, talking about a point in the questioning last Wednesday when Bremner would not answer basic questions about police reports.

Allen also talked about whether his client faked insanity when police began an interview with him March 2, ending with the defendant’s suicide attempt.

“Nobody is that good an actor,” Allen said. “this is a psychotic state… He wanted to die at the time, and he still does.”

But Clem had the final rebuttal Monday.

“If a person lies about a little, how can you believe him about anything?” Clem asked.

As he came to the last words of the trial, his monologue was repeatedly interrupted by objections from Allen and a motion for a mistrial, which was denied by Judge George Wood.

Clem noted that on March 1 Deborah Rowan was a living, breathing, smiling woman.

The victim’s family wept at his next sentence:

“On March 2, 1998, she was a piece of evidence.”


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