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Judges uphold jury's rejection of insanity defense

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A woman convicted of murdering her young son has lost her appeal, in which she claimed the jury didn’t have sufficient evidence to reject her insanity defense.

In Latisha Lawson v. State of Indiana, No. 02A03-1107-CR-350, Latisha Lawson appealed her convictions of murder, Class C felony neglect of a dependent, and Class D felonies neglect of a dependent and battery. The convictions stem from an incident where she forced her two children to drink mixtures of oil and vinegar to exercise demons. In order to get her toddler son to drink the mixture, Lawson held her hand over his mouth, which suffocated J.K.

She kept J.K.’s body in a bin and told her daughter not to tell anyone what had happened. She told people who asked where J.K. was that he was living with another relative or had been adopted. Eventually, police learned about J.K.’s death and found his body inside the plastic tub where Lawson was living.

Lawson wanted to rely on the insanity defense, so she was examined by a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The psychologist believed she was sane at the time of the incident; the psychiatrist felt she wasn’t sane at the time. The jury was instructed that it could find Lawson not guilty, not responsibly by reason of insanity, guilty, or guilty but mentally ill. The jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to 61 years.

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Lawson’s claim that the psychologist’s testimony rendered an opinion lacking in probative value so only the psychiatrist’s opinion should have been considered. This case differs from Galloway v. State, 938 N.E.2d 699, 708 (Ind. 2010), in which the expert in that case originally testified that he thought the defendant was sane but later said on cross-examination that he was unable to offer a definite opinion on sanity. In the instant case, the psychologist never changed his opinion that Lawson was sane.

In addition, independent lay witness testimony corroborated the psychologist’s opinion she was sane.

“Lawson’s behavior in this case admittedly was highly bizarre; her actions concerning the ‘exorcism’ and retention of J.K.’s body thereafter were confirmed by three independent eyewitnesses. Still, as we recently noted, our supreme court has affirmed the rejection of an insanity defense even ‘where the crimes appear to have been completely irrational,’” wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

 

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