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Top court refuses to grant new trial for killer (UPDATE)

By: Eric Heisig//July 30, 2014//

Top court refuses to grant new trial for killer (UPDATE)

By: Eric Heisig//July 30, 2014//

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Donyil Anderson
Donyil Anderson

A convicted Beloit man who used an insanity plea to defend against a murder charge is not entitled to a new trial, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The court, in a 5-2 decision divided on ideological lines, said a defendant’s claim that he or she took prescription medication is not enough to sustain an insanity defense.

The case centers on Donyil Anderson, who fatally stabbed his ex-girlfriend and wounded her new boyfriend in August 2008. At his trial, Anderson, 41, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity because he was taking Strattera, a medication to treat his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression. He also admitted to police that he drank that day, and a test showed that he had a blood-alcohol content of more than 0.15 percent.

Before deliberating, Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley instructed the jury that “a temporary mental state which is brought into existence by the voluntary taking of drugs or alcohol does not constitute a mental defect.” Anderson’s attorney had argued that the word “street” should go before “drugs,” as to differentiate between illegal narcotics and prescription medication, but the judge did not do so.

Following his conviction of first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, Anderson appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, explaining that the jury instruction suggested that taking prescription medication is voluntary and cannot give rise to a mental defect.

But the state Supreme Court, in a decision authored by Justice Michael Gableman, reversed the appeals court, saying “we have never held that consumption of prescription medication can give rise to a mental defect that would sustain an insanity defense.”

Instead, the decision asserts that Anderson tries to “shoehorn” in an involuntary intoxication defense, which is different than an insanity plea and doesn’t result in a bifurcated trial.

“We decline to craft a new affirmative defense that would incorporate elements of the involuntary intoxication and insanity defenses simply because Anderson cannot meet the requirements of the involuntary intoxication defense statute,” according to the opinion. “Moreover, even if the circuit court had instructed the jury that the consumption of ‘drugs and alcohol’ cannot create a mental defect, Anderson would fare no better, because it is established law that one who mixes prescription medication with alcohol is responsible for any resulting mental state.”

Assistant State Public Defender Bill Schmaal, who argued the case, called the Supreme Court’s decision “confusing” and “difficult to understand.” He said the court’s decision essentially ignored 50 years of Wisconsin law that differentiated between illegal narcotics and prescribed medication.

“It’s important to remember that Mr. Anderson had been diagnosed with a long existing condition of severe depression,” Schmaal said. “(The medication was) designed to treat depression. He was doing what he was supposed to. It wasn’t like a person taking goofball street drugs and saying ‘my drugs made me do it.’”

Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck had no comment.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, in a dissent joined by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, said that the laws pertaining to insanity and involuntary intoxication defenses are similar and that “violation of each might be proven by similar facts.”

“According to the majority opinion, under no circumstances may prescription medicine, when used as directed by a medical professional, be the basis of an (insanity) defense,” Abrahamson wrote.

Anderson is serving a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in 40 years.

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