SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah man serving prison time for the attempted murder of a teenager wants his conviction overturned because of emotional distress he claims he suffered as a result of the stabbing.
In an unusual request, defense attorney Stephen Howard told the Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday that the jury in the 2011 trial didn't adequately consider the distress that 25-year-old Cody Jesse Augustine was under.
Howard acknowledged that some of the stress was caused by Augustine's decision to attack then 17-year-old Justin Ennis in July 2008. But, he said there were other personal issues that contributed as well, including Augustine's belief that he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from his girlfriend.
"He did not have a jury that understood what the constitution required before they could convict him of a very serious crime," Howard said.
He did not have a jury that understood what the constitution required before they could convict him of a very serious crime.
–Stephen Howard, defense attorney
Utah Assistant Attorney General Karen Klucznik countered that it wouldn't matter if the jury had been given inadequate instructions. Augustine testified during the trial that stabbing Ennis triggered an adrenaline rush and fears that a friend who joined the assault using a medieval battle-ax could be hurt, she said.
That shows the emotional distress was self-inflicted, making the defense irrelevant, Klucznik said.
"No jury would have bought it," Klucznik said. "There is no reason to reverse the defendant's conviction."
Augustine was convicted of attempted murder after stabbing Ennis several times with a knife while his friend Scott Tyler Stapley attacked him with the battle-ax, which he called a "toy." Ennis survived and spent five days in a hospital.
Court documents show Augustine thought Ennis was the original source of the disease he thought he got from his girlfriend. He and Stapley lured Ennis outside by posing as the girl and sending text messages, the documents state.
Stapley, 26, was also convicted of attempted murder and is in state prison. Police said Augustine and Stapley were members of Juggalos, a name for fans of the Insane Clown Posse rap group that is considered a gang in Utah.
Howard said proper jury instruction about the emotional distress claim might have led to a conviction on a lesser charge. He also argued that a psychologist should have been allowed to tell jurors that Augustine's emotional distress was legitimate.
Judges Stephen Roth and J. Frederic Voros Jr. questioned how that testimony would have added anything to the trial.
Roth suggested that people are able to determine if somebody experienced emotional distress without hearing from a doctor. Voros said even when stripping away the self-inflicted emotional distress caused by Augustine, there wasn't much left other than his fear that he had a disease, which he didn't.
"Is that really enough to raise a reasonable doubt in this case?" Voros asked.
Roth, Voros and Judge James Davis spent about 30 minutes hearing arguments from both attorneys. Davis said the arguments will be taken under consideration, with a ruling issued in the near future.
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