Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Killer Fails to Establish Diminished Capacity

State v. Williams, 2010 VT 83.

On a lovely summer’s day in 2006, Defendant went on a bloody rampage at two residences and an Essex elementary school that left two dead and two critically wounded.  Defendant failed to kill himself in an attempt at the end of his spree, and he failed to shoot or harm his girlfriend, the apparent target.  Defendant was taken into custody almost immediately thereafter.

Defendant was charged with first-degree murder for the two victims that were killed.  He was charged with attempted first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder for the others.  At trial, Defendant’s attorneys did not contest the facts of the murder or Defendant’s guilt, but they plead diminished capacity and moved to suppress all of Defendant’s statements made in custody based on the argument that the Miranda warning was delivered too late.

Defendant sought to use the diminished capacity defense to knock out the elements of deliberate action and premeditation, leaving Defendant eligible for only voluntary manslaughter.  To prove this, the Defense presented evidence on four issues that it believed proved Defendant’s diminished capacity.  These included: (1) Defendant’s low functioning intelligence; (2) his dissociative state at the time of the shootings; (3) his jealous delusions; and (4) the effects of his cocaine use at the time. 

SCOV rejects these arguments and upholds the jury findings on this issue because the trial court appropriately instructed the jury on diminished capacity.  SCOV also notes that the testimony for each of the four points was far from persuasive (practice note: tales of Bolivian marching powder woes rarely sway juries).  The SCOV further finds that the Defense failed to link each particular mental state with the ultimate question of ability to form intent, which appeared from the evidence fairly well thought-out for someone seeking to track down and murder his girlfriend.  Therefore, the cobbled-together issues were insufficient, as a matter of law, to require a directed verdict of diminished capacity, and the jury’s verdict stands.

On the issue of Miranda suppression, the Defense tried to suppress all of Defendant’s statements to the police.  The trial court agreed, in part, and it suppressed all of the Defendant’s statements made to police officers during the initial interview.  The trial court did not suppress and allowed testimony by an officer who Defendant spoke to while Defendant was in the hospital.  The difference was that the officer at the hospital was not assigned to talk to Defendant.  He was there to make sure Plaintiff did not escape and that no one visited him.  Nevertheless, Defendant began talking to the officer on his own initiative.  Because Defendant chose to talk, anything he said was voluntary and admissible.  SCOV also concludes that the testimony was largely duplicative and its admission is no big thing.  No error in the admission of that testimony, and the verdict is upheld.


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