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Defendant argues jury erred by disregarding experts

November 5, 2014

A Steuben County man convicted of attempted murder by a jury of his peers is asking the Indiana Supreme Court to take the rare step of reversing the verdict on the grounds the jury ignored evidence that he was delusional on the day he committed the crime.

Arguing before the justices, Donald William Myers’ attorney Kimberly Jackson and Deputy Attorney General Ian McLean disagreed over whether the defendant’s behavior provided sufficient evidence that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

The justices noted the attorneys and the court cannot know how the jurors’ weighed the facts and testimony presented at trial. In addition, juries do have the right to disregard evidence and to reach different conclusions than the experts.

In Donald William Myers III v. State of Indiana, 76A03-1305-CR-173, the jury found Myers guilty but mentally ill. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously reversed, finding the jury erred in rejecting Myers’ insanity defense because the state failed to present any evidence of probative value that even inferred his sanity at the time of the crime.

The Supreme Court heard arguments Oct. 23.

Myers has suffered from mental health issues since he was a young adult and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed on a regimen of anti-psychotic medications.

In April 2004, Myers walked along a state highway with a loaded shotgun and randomly shot at passing motorists and law enforcement officers. He fled into a nearby wooded area after local sheriff deputies and Indiana State Police officers cornered him. They shot at him, hitting him in the shoulder and groin. Following a three-hour standoff, Myers surrendered.

Subsequently, Myers was treated in a psychiatric facility for nine years before he was deemed competent to stand trial.

During the trial, the defense presented the unanimous testimony of two medical experts that Myers was legally insane at the time and did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct. The state countered that Myers’ actions, including his refusal to talk to police afterward and telling his mother he wanted a lawyer, indicated he was sane when he fired the shotgun.

“The Court of Appeals got it largely right and the jury got it wrong,” Jackson told the Supreme Court. “The evidence was insufficient to support a verdict of guilty but mentally ill. Furthermore, the trial court committed reversible error when it admitted evidence of Myers’ post-arrest request for counsel.”

She emphasized the testimony of the medical experts, which the state did not dispute, that Myers was delusional and had been off his medication for two months.

Calling the evidence uncontroverted and overwhelming, Jackson said, “No reasonable jury in this case could have determined that Myers was guilty but mentally ill rather than not responsible by reason of insanity.”

However, Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker questioned her about the jury’s role in considering the evidence. Rucker proposed the jury could have inferred from Myers’ actions of putting the spent shotgun shells in his pocket and running from police as indications he was aware that what he was doing was wrong.

Jackson relied on Galloway v. State, 938 N.E.2d 699, 714 (Ind. 2010), where the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling that Gregory Galloway was guilty but mentally ill for murdering his grandmother.

The majority, which included Rucker and Justice Steven David, found the evidence was insufficient to infer Galloway was sane. The expert testimony was without conflict that Galloway was insane at the time of the incident and there was not enough demeanor evidence to trump it.

Dickson joined former Chief Justice Randall Shepard in the dissent. Shepard underscored that juries and judicial factfinders are entitled to believe and disbelieve the testimony.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush also pressed Jackson on the jury’s right to draw inferences from Myers’ behavior.

The attorney responded the demeanor evidence the state presented is less important in cases where the defendant has a history of psychosis. In the Myers case, the medical experts agreed and the lay testimony concurred that he was mentally ill that day.

The small amount of demeanor evidence, she said, is not sufficient to outweigh the insanity defense.

As McLean began to make his argument, Rucker brought up Galloway and asked him how he would address the Supreme Court’s earlier stance that demeanor evidence is not very helpful when the defendant has a long-standing mental illness.

The state’s attorney replied that Galloway was shouting his delusions while stabbing his grandmother. But Myers, McLean said, did things that indicate he knew what was going on and he knew the difference between right and wrong. Myers aimed his gun at officers and hid in the bushes. Later, in court, he testified he was aware of the police officers and knew they were enforcing the law.

McLean pointed to the Indiana Constitution, which gives the jury the sole right to be the judge of the facts.

“The Court of Appeals reweighed their conclusion, nonsensically filtered the evidence and effectively came to a rule that whenever two mental health experts testify in their opinion that the defendant was insane when he or she committed a crime, no evidence beyond their testimony is probative enough,” he said. “It’s an ever receding standard.”

Under questioning from David, McLean conceded the prosecution did not ask the medical experts about the probative evidence being consistent or inconsistent with their diagnosis. Still, the attorney said, the jury was made aware of the experts’ limited review of the case and details about the incident they got wrong.

Rush focused on Myers’ actions after he was arrested and questioned McLean if a defendant who pleads insanity waives his right to ask for an attorney and remain silent.

McLean responded the state did not tell the jurors that Myers was guilty because he did not talk to police. Even if the Supreme Court found some of the evidence about what happened after he was arrested should not have been presented to the jury, it was a harmless error. There’s significant demeanor evidence and evidence impeaching the health professionals’ conclusions to support the verdict.

“I think in that balance, it would be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” McLean said.

“Are we not engaging in mere error correction, then?” Justice Mark Massa asked.

Myers is a dangerous man, McLean responded, and the jury was entrusted with the task of determining whether he was aware that what he was doing was wrong.

“We generally avoid error correction as a rationale but this is a case where it is warranted in your view?” Massa countered.

Yes, McLean replied.

During Jackson’s rebuttal, both Rush and David quizzed her about what would happen if they reversed the trial court. They wondered if Myers would be free or if he could be freed if his mental state improved after a period of treatment.

Jackson said the Court of Appeals found that he had proven his insanity and the verdict would presumably be not responsible by reason of mental insanity. If the Supreme Court agrees, at that point, the commitment proceedings would begin.•

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