Can you imagine how frightening it must be to feel that you are living in ‘The Matrix'? Michael Brea told a New York Daily News reporter that he believed he was like the main character in that Sci-fi movie. Keanu Reeves played Neo, a man living in a dream-like world controlled by machines.

Brea, a 31-year-old aspiring actor lived with his family in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. On November 23rd he was arrested for killing his mother. It was alleged that he hacked her to death with a 3-foot-long ceremonial sword.

Brea had walk-on roles on the television show "Ugly Betty" and the movie "Step Up 3D." His mother was described by a neighbor as, "a wonderful mother. She was always cooking black beans and Creole food. On New Year's [Day], she made this traditional soup that was amazing...[she] raised [Michael] to be loving "

It was reported that Brea attended a meeting at a Masonic lodge the night before and returned home complaining of a headache. The neighbors were jolted awake by his mother's screams early that morning. They heard Brea yell "Repent! Repent! Repent!" and "You never accepted Jesus." They also heard him shouting Bible verses and comments about Freemasons.

Neighbors called 911. Clinton Clare, the downstairs neighbor, told reporters that the police delayed about an hour before breaking into the apartment. Clare recalled, "I could hear her groaning inside ... She was still alive, but they wouldn't go in."

When police entered the apartment they found Brea in his bedroom, holding a Bible and the sword. The police used a Taser to subdue him. When they carried him out on a stretcher he screamed: "The greatest architect in the universe!," which is a Masonic reference to God.

Brea was taken to Kings County Hospital and later admitted to the psychiatric jail ward of Bellevue Hospital. Somehow, a NY Daily News reporter was able to obtain an hour long, exclusive interview with him there. How did the reporter get onto the locked ward? Did Brea's attorney give permission? Was Brea even competent to agree to the interview?

Although the circumstances of the interview raise some ethical concerns, the information obtained sheds light on Brea's mental state at the time he killed his mother. Brea told the reporter, "I felt like Neo from 'The Matrix.' I began hearing voices and feeling powerful ... They were asking about the difference between mom and mother. It was a sign...I was sleeping in my bedroom. God came above my bed and reached his arm to me...I said, 'God, is my time on earth over?' I heard a voice say, 'Yes Michael, today is your last day.'",

Brea vividly described the attack, "I was slashing my mom and I heard the police knocking on the door yelling, 'Michael, open up, Michael, open up,' but I knew they wouldn't open the door and stop me because the spirits were protecting me ... I just kept cutting her. No one could stop me. I was doing the work of God...I didn't kill her. I killed the demon inside her. It was the work of God."

Did Brea's family realize he was mentally ill? He was never violent before and had no criminal history. It appeared that he had a close relationship with his mother. His uncle, Martial Brea, told the Daily News. "He's [Michael Brea] very smart. He's had a good life. He made money easily. He's in the movies. It's something that's impossible to believe. I would believe someone else [did it], but not him."

Although we have much to discover about Brea's state of mind that night, his behavior reminded me of a case I included in my book, The Measure of Madness: Inside the Disturbed and Disturbing Criminal Mind. The patient I evaluated, Mr. Russo, was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the attempted murder of his mother. I was retained by the district attorney to assess whether he was still dangerous and required placement on a secure forensic psychiatric unit.

Mr. Russo told me how he had begun hearing voices after suffering brain damage from a gun shot wound. He recalled how he was drawn to watching evangelical shows on TV. He was convinced that Jimmy Swaggart had prompted him to stab his mother.

Mr. Russo was home on a visit from a nursing home when he heard the command to "bleed" his mother. He explained that he never intended to kill his mother; he was only following God's instructions to "bleed" her in order to guarantee her place in heaven. He stabbed her not because he was paranoid or angry, but because he "loved her so much."

"Did you do the right thing when you bled your mother?" I asked.

"Yes I did," he calmly replied. "Wouldn't you do that for your mother? If I hadn't stabbed her, I think she might have gone to hell. I couldn't let that happen to my mother."

I believed Mr. Russo's mother never imagined that her loving son would try to kill her. I suspect Mr. Brea's mother also had no suspicions. The police found a pot with a chicken on the kitchen stove. Evidently, she was about to prepare the chicken for the family's meal that day.

About the Author

Cheryl Paradis, Psy.D.

Cheryl Paradis, Psy.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Marymount Manhattan College.

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