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People v. Bloodworth





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon. WILLIAM L. BEATTY, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE KARNS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Barry Bloodworth, was convicted of murder in the Circuit Court of Madison County following a jury trial and sentenced to a term of 25 to 50 years imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends his conviction must be reversed on the grounds that the State failed to prove his sanity at the time of the killing beyond a reasonable doubt and because of certain allegedly prejudicial remarks made by the prosecution during closing arguments concerning defendant's assertion of the insanity defense. Defendant also contends that the sentence imposed upon his conviction was excessive.

Defendant was charged by information with the shooting death of Greg Ehlers on December 7, 1975. At trial, defendant did not deny committing the offense; however, he asserted the affirmative defense of insanity. The State presented the testimony of several witnesses for purposes of identifying the defendant and describing his behavior on the day in question and a few days prior thereto.

Janis Biggs testified that she had been dating Greg Ehlers for approximately one year prior to his shooting death on December 7, 1975. She stated that she met the defendant in mid-November, 1975, when he began living with her neighbor Bruce Dean in his trailer. Biggs related that Ehlers and the defendant had an argument concerning her on December 4, 1975, but the Ehlers was not armed nor did he make any significant threats towards the defendant. She recounted that from that day until the day of the shooting she saw the defendant on several occasions and was, in fact, unable to convince the defendant to leave her alone.

Biggs testified that the defendant slept on her living room sofa for several hours on December 5, 1975, after he had taken some pills and complained of a headache. When he awoke, he was coherent and carried on a conversation with her. Later that evening, while still in Biggs' trailer, the defendant attempted to write a list of possessions he had previously lost in a fire and became confused as to which of his possessions had been destroyed and which had been salvaged. Biggs stated that when the defendant left her trailer later that evening he appeared "dopey," walked unsteadily and his speech was slurred. She related that he returned twice later that evening and on each occasion told her that he wanted to marry her and promised that he would never take pills again. The following morning, the defendant and Bruce Dean ate breakfast with Biggs at which time the defendant proposed marriage to Biggs and acted somewhat unsure of his presence at Biggs' trailer.

Biggs recounted that she spent the evening of December 6, 1975, at a girlfriend's home in order to escape the defendant's constant attention and marriage proposals. When she returned to her trailer on the morning of December 7, 1975, she discovered her front door was unlocked and living room lights on. A few minutes later, the defendant appeared at her door, informed her that he had spent the evening before in her trailer and proposed marriage which she again refused. Biggs related that she then told the defendant to leave her home and that he complied with her request, but he returned shortly thereafter only to be refused entry again. She stated that she was familiar with the symptoms of stimulants and depressants and that the defendant showed no signs of having taken drugs that morning since he followed her directions, spoke clearly and was not hysterical. According to Biggs, after the defendant left her trailer the second time, Greg Ehlers and her mother arrived and entered her residence. Approximately one hour after they arrived, the defendant began telephoning Biggs and during one such call asked to speak with Ehlers. Shortly after the last telephone call, the defendant appeared at her front door whereupon Ehlers walked outside apparently to speak with him. After a few minutes, during which time Biggs recalled hearing mumbled conversation between the two men, Biggs heard several gunshots fired followed immediately by the defendant's shouted demands that she unlock her front door and allow him entry into the trailer. Biggs stated that she looked outside through a front window and observed the defendant standing over Ehlers who was lying on the ground. She recalled hearing two more gunshots whereupon she telephoned the police while the defendant persisted in his attempts to enter her home.

Bruce Dean testified that he observed the encounter between Ehlers and the defendant on December 4, 1975, and described it as a heated argument during which each man physically threatened the other. According to Dean, Ehlers and the defendant met again shortly after their argument at which time Ehlers apologized to the defendant for his behavior. Dean stated that the defendant acted somewhat unusual on the morning of December 6, 1975, in that he stumbled around and made certain remarks to Dean which prompted him to strike the defendant and render him unconscious. Dean recounted that upon questioning the defendant the following day, the defendant told him he could not remember his behavior on the previous morning. Dean related that he took the defendant's gun and holster from him that day, but returned them to the defendant the following morning, December 7, at the defendant's request after first loading the gun. He described the defendant as being stable and coherent at that time.

Roger Bloodworth, the defendant's cousin, testified that the defendant visited him on the morning of December 7, 1975, at which time he appeared nervous and upset. He related that the defendant's hands were shaking and that he was crying as he told Bloodworth that he could not remember certain recent incidents and that he suffered blackouts. Bloodworth recalled that the defendant regained his composure after he suggested, and the defendant agreed, that he seek psychiatric help.

The arresting officer, J.W. Apperson, testified that when he arrived at the scene of the shooting he found the defendant standing over Ehlers with a gun in his hand. The defendant surrendered peacefully and informed Apperson that he was also carrying a pocket knife. Apperson stated that the defendant's demeanor was excited, but no more so than his own. Officer Don Knight testified that the defendant told him that he shot Ehlers until the gun would no longer fire, that he realized that Ehlers was dead, and that he was aware of the seriousness of the incident. The defendant told Knight that he had taken precautions to avoid offending the arresting officer, such as holding the gun between his thumb and forefinger. He also asked Knight how much time he would get for the killing.

The defendant testified that he first met and began dating Janis Biggs in November 1975, and that he was aware that she was also dating Greg Ehlers. He stated that during his initial encounter with Ehlers on December 4, 1975, only Ehlers made threats and that one of Ehlers' companions had a gun in his belt. The defendant related that he took several amphetamines on the morning of December 5, 1975, and that he saw a physician that afternoon to whom he complained of headaches and was given a prescription for Valium and sleeping pills. According to the defendant, he took some of the prescribed drugs that day and had virtually no recollection of the events of the following days until after the shooting on December 7, 1975. As for the shooting, the defendant recalled Ehlers reaching into his pocket before he shot him. He stated that if he shot Ehlers it was because he was tremendously afraid of him. The defendant testified to a several year history of drug usage including amphetamines, barbiturates, sedatives, hallucinogens as well as consumption of alcohol. He further testified to a history of blackouts which lasted from several hours to a few days and that some of these blackouts had occurred when he had taken no drugs. He related that he often felt people were "after him," watching and monitoring him by way of various electronic devices such as toasters and telephones. He also stated that he was frequently followed by airplanes and automobiles.

Garnett Bloodworth, the defendant's father, stated that the defendant had once complained to him that airplanes were watching him which on that occasion caused him to run into his father's house to escape from them. He also testified that approximately two weeks before the shooting, his son had told him that someone's automobile antenna was following him.

The defendant called a psychiatrist, Dr. Fred Bergmann, and a psychologist, Dr. Gene Gianladis, to testify as to his mental condition at the time he shot the decedent. Dr. Bergmann saw the defendant once approximately three months after the shooting incident. Bergmann testified that the defendant was suffering from a mental defect at the time of the offense which, while allowing him to appreciate the criminality of his conduct, caused him to lack substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. He described defendant's mental condition as a schizophrenic-like state with depression and paranoia related to poly-drug usage. According to Bergmann, a person suffering from such a mental condition was like a time-bomb and, under certain circumstances, could explode at anytime although he would react normally to most stimuli and in most social situations. Bergmann stated that the circumstances at the time of the shooting were such that the defendant suffered from a loss of control causing him to shoot Ehlers in response to Ehlers' sudden movements. Bergmann related that he had not read any of the police reports or statements made by the defendant after his arrest, nor had he interviewed anyone who was with the defendant on the day of the offense. He admitted that the diagnosis of a past condition was uncertain, and he could recall no study showing that such a condition could be determined accurately. He further testified that the defendant seemed frightened and was upset by sudden movements in his office during the examination, although he admitted that this behavior could have been induced by recent drug usage and that he had not conducted a blood test to explore this possibility.

Dr. Gianladis testified that he interviewed the defendant on two occasions several months after the incident and that he administered several tests. He described the defendant as having an affective disturbance in the form of depression as well as a cognitive disturbance in the form of transient and periodic paranoid thinking. He admitted that the defendant's impending trial could have affected some of the tests he conducted as well as the interviews. Gianladis stated that the defendant's reactions and general appearance during the interview could have indicated some condition other than depression such as overmedication, but that no blood tests had been taken to determine whether the defendant was under the influence of any drugs.

Dr. Joseph Shuman testified for the State as an expert witness. From his examination of the defendant and the facts assumed in the hypothetical question propounded to him, he diagnosed the defendant as having a paranoid personality; however, he concluded that the defendant had substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct and to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law at the time of the offense. According to Shuman, the defendant showed no evidence of organic brain disease, schizophrenia or psychosis during his interview. He did state that he would like to know more about the defendant's fear of automobiles, aircraft and antennas because these fears could be a sign of schizophrenia; however, he concluded that none of the additional facts posed to him during cross-examination altered his basic opinion. He further testified that many persons behaved as the defendant did in sobbing, crying and threatening suicide, but that this behavior does not mean such persons are psychotic.

During closing arguments to the jury, the prosecutor made several comments regarding the defense of insanity. He pointed out to the jury that the defendant was not in a mental hospital or shackled, and he referred to the condition of insanity as being "bonkers" and "goofy." The prosecutor remarked to the jury that if the defendant knew what he was doing he should be held responsible for his actions, and in several instances referred to the insanity defense as an excuse. No objections to any of these remarks were made by defense counsel at trial, nor were these alleged errors raised by the defendant in his post-trial motion. At one point during his argument, the prosecutor, commenting generally upon excuses, began to remark about the multiple killings committed by a sniper on ...

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