Killing of GOP staffer may involve insanity defense

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Florida, like most states, has a statute that specifies the nature and degree of proof required to establish insanity as a defense to a criminal prosecution. A recent homicide in Kissimmee appears likely to bring the insanity defense front and center once again.

According to the arrest affidavit, a 30-year-old man was found dead in the bedroom of his home with 13 gunshot wounds in his head, back and legs. His roommate, a 45-year-old male, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Police say that deputies from the Orlando County Sheriff's Office responded to a burglar alarm at the home and were greeted at the door by the suspect. The suspect had blood on his hands and feet. The suspect allegedly told the officers that he had entertained thoughts about killing young men. He is also alleged to have told police that he is "mentally disabled" and that he had been taking psychotropic medication, although the exact kind has not been disclosed. According to the police account of the incident, the suspect told them that he woke up in the dead man's bedroom and was frightened by the sight of blood and a gun on the bed next to him. Police also allege that the suspect said that he kept a shotgun and a 9mm handgun in his bed stand. Surveillance video in the apartment shows the suspect moving around during the period before police arrived, but the video does not show the alleged shooting.

Assuming that the police committed no errors in gathering evidence or interviewing the suspect in this case, the basic facts appears to be undisputed, leaving the insanity defense as the major bulwark against a conviction. Florida law defines insanity as the existence of a mental infirmity, disease or defect that prevents the defendant from either knowing what he or she was doing or being aware that the criminal act was wrong. A defendant wishing to assert the insanity defense must prove the existing factors by clear and convincing evidence. The heavy evidentiary burden and the complexity of the insanity defense makes the assistance of counsel a virtual necessity for any criminal suspect who chooses to assert insanity as the defense to a serious criminal charge.

Source: New York Daily News, "Former GOP staffer is shot 13 times, killed in his sleep," Jessica Chia, Oct. 13, 2017

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