Lawyers For Wesleyan Slaying Suspect To Mount Insanity Defense

Lawyers for the man accused of gunning down Wesleyan University student Johanna Justin-Jinich inside a bookstore cafe near the campus almost a year ago would not disclose Thursday the mental defect that they say their client suffered from at the time.

But they say that Stephen Morgan's mental illness was severe enough for them to mount an insanity defense.

Morgan's lawyers notified the court Thursday that two physicians who evaluated Morgan will testify about his "mental disease or defect" when he stands trial in the death of Justin-Jinich. Morgan is scheduled to appear today at Superior Court in Middletown.

Morgan, 30, a former Navy petty officer from Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to killing Justin-Jinich, 21, inside Broad Street Books on May 6, 2009.

Police said that Morgan, wearing a disguise, shot the Wesleyan junior several times in the head and body with a 9mm handgun. He faces charges of murder, intimidation based on bigotry or bias, and carrying a pistol without a permit.

The shooting prompted a nearly two-day campus lockdown and a wide-ranging search for Morgan, who turned himself in the night after the shooting after public pleas from his family to surrender.

When asked Thursday about the specifics of Morgan's condition, attorney Richard Brown said that releasing that information would be "premature."

Brown said he planned to submit copies of mental health evaluations of Morgan to Middlesex State's Attorney Timothy J. Liston. The evaluations were done by Dr. Howard V. Zonana, professor of psychiatry at Yale University and president of the medical staff at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, and Dr. Madelon V. Baranoski, a psychologist and associate professor at Yale's psychiatry department.

"[Liston] will then have an opportunity to review the reports and determine whether he will have his own expert evaluate Stephen," Brown said. Liston could not be reached for comment.

Jeffrey A. Meyer, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said that prosecutors will probably seek their own independent evaluation of Morgan.

According to the state insanity defense statute, Morgan's lawyers will have to show that at the time of the fatal shooting, Morgan "lacked substantial capacity, as a result of mental disease or defect, either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to control his conduct within the requirements of the law."

Defense attorneys, Meyer said, try to prove that their clients lacked the mental capacity to realize that they committed a crime and "can't appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct." Defense attorneys can also argue that mentally ill defendants may have understood the wrongfulness of their behavior but were unable to control it.

"They're going to need strong circumstantial evidence well before the shooting that suggests this was a person wandering around without the ability to distinguish between right and wrong," Meyer said.

Meyer said that although insanity defenses are not rare, "it's very rare for them to be successful." Meyer said that proving such a defense often comes down to a "battle of the experts" in front of a jury.

Defendants acquitted under insanity defenses are rarely set free and often get committed to mental health facilities for long periods of time until mental health experts decide they are not a danger to the public.

"The message to defendants is be careful what you ask for," Meyer said. "It may very well mean you end up being hospitalized for a long period of time and held under possibly more restrictive conditions and a greater degree of control than in an ordinary prison."

According to a New York City police report, Morgan had threatened Justin-Jinich in 2007 when they attended a New York University summer program.

After the Wesleyan shooting, investigators found a journal that they believe belonged to Morgan that contained writings about a killing spree targeting Jewish people and "beautiful and smart" Wesleyan students, according to court records. Justin-Jinich, of Timnath, Colo., came from a Jewish family, and her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.

Police also found the anti-Jewish publication "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in the motel room that Morgan rented the night before the shooting, according to court documents.

The book, a 19th-century hoax by the Russian secret police that alleged a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world, is embraced by neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

Authorities and court records have yet to disclose a motive for the fatal shooting.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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