Wisconsin homicide case uses groundbreaking defense

A Wisconsin man accused of homicide has been found not guilty due to possible mental impairment caused by ALS.

A Wisconsin man who was accused of killing his wife and sister-in-law has been found not guilty by reason of a mental illness. According to the New York Times, the man's defense attorneys, Jessa Nicholson and Nicholas F. Gansner, successfully defended the former sheriff's deputy by arguing that the defendant's amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, could have resulted in cognitive impairment. The successful defense is being described as groundbreaking and could lead to a significant reassessment of how homicide charges involving mental illnesses are both prosecuted and defended against.

The case

The case stems from the August 2014 killings of two women in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. The 40-year-old defendant's 39-year-old wife was found in their home shot and killed with a zip tie around her neck. Her 38-year-old sister was also discovered on the premises killed with a gunshot to the back. The defendant was found in the laundry room with an outdoor grill and charcoal fire in the midst of a suicide attempt.

While the defendant admitted to remembering engaging in a consensual sexual act between himself and his wife involving a zip tie that was accidentally tied too tight, he denied being able to remember any of the subsequent events. The defendant was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and pleaded guilty. As a defense, however, his attorneys argued that the man's Lou Gehrig's disease could have impaired his cognitive functioning.

A unique defense

As KSTP News reports, the defense was a unique one. While ALS has traditionally been associated with physical impairment, in recent years research has shown that sufferers of the condition can also suffer from cognitive impairment called frontotemporal dementia (FTD) as well. The defendant's attorneys never claimed that the man suffered from FTD, but they did show how ALS sufferers could suffer from a cognitive deficit that could result in poor decisions and impulsive behavior. Witnesses at the trial, for example, testified to seeing the defendant engaging in behavior that was impulsive and unusual prior to the killings, such as unusual eating habits, changing clothes impulsively in front of his sister-in-law, and failing to use the correct golf club while on a golf course.

The successful defense has garnered national attention and even controversy. While the jury's decision to find the defendant not guilty has been received with skepticism in some quarters, his defense attorneys point out that the case is an example of how the law is taking into account advances in science's understanding of the impact neurological damage can have on defendants' behavior.

Criminal defense

As the above case shows, an experienced and qualified defense team can provide immeasurable help to those who are accused of a criminal offense. Anybody who is facing such charges should contact an attorney right away to ensure their rights are protected and that they know how to respond to the charges against them.