MAYVILLE - Jurors took control of Jason Wells' future early Friday afternoon in Chautauqua County Court as they began their deliberations on whether he is innocent, guilty or not responsible for murdering Ruth Fisk.
The jury, after seven hours of closed-door discussion, had not reached a consensus and requested to be recessed, which Judge John Ward granted. Deliberations will thus continue Monday at 10 a.m.
One thing is clear, however: It appears the jury agrees Wells is, in part, guilty for his actions, though the degree of guilt seems to be dividing the group of six men and six women.
The Post-Journal obtained a copy of the step-by-step verdict sheet jurors are using to guide their decision. The instructions note the jury must consider, in order, if Wells is not guilty (Wells did not kill Fisk); not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect (Wells was insane when he murdered Fisk and thus was not aware that he was killing a person, nor could he understand the wrongfulness of it); guilty of first-degree manslaughter (Wells had an extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the murder and thus understood he was killing a person, but was not able to understand the wrongfulness); and guilty of second-degree murder as charged in Wells' indictment (Wells intentionally killed Fisk).
As the jurors follow these "steps," if they agree on one of them, they must not consider verdicts following the one they agree upon.
Around 5:50 p.m., the jury asked Ward to reiterate the definition of the extreme emotional disturbance defense, meaning the jurors were considering the third of the four steps, and had ruled out the previous two verdicts of not guilty and not responsible by reason of insanity. This leaves guilt of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder as the jurors' only remaining options as they debate the extreme emotional disturbance defense.
Ward gave instructions to the jury on the applicable law in Wells' case, including the following definition of the extreme emotional disturbance defense.
"(Wells would be guilty of first-degree manslaughter if) the defendant acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be," Ward explained, reading from the New York State Penal Law.
Wells, a former resident of Fredonia's One Temple Square apartment complex, allegedly stabbed and beat Fisk, 81, a retired nurse and fellow One Temple Square resident and friend, to death on Feb. 4, 2010. He was 37 at the time and faces second-degree murder, a crime punishable by 25 years to life behind bars.
CLOSING STATEMENTS DELIVERED
As part of wrapping up case proceedings on Friday before deliberations, District Attorney David Foley and defense attorney Lyle Hajdu delivered closing statements, both grappling over Wells' state of mind at the time he killed Fisk.
Hajdu went first, stressing Wells is a deeply disturbed paranoid schizophrenic and that paranoid delusions (Fisk being an "evil" woman who molested and killed children) drove his client to kill Fisk.
"He was befriended by Ruth Fisk, who saw something special in Jason. I think maybe she thought she could fix him," Hajdu stated. "When you become close to a paranoid schizophrenic, you become the object of their delusions."
Hajdu added on the videotape of the killing, Wells told Fisk, "Well honey, I kind of felt your shove in my (expletive) when I was in the eighth grade." It was at that point, Hajdu argued, that Wells' rage began heightening.
"The voices talked to him one time too many, and a drunk, paranoid schizophrenic wasn't going to hear it anymore," Hajdu asserted.
He also pointed out that his client spent two years in a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed by multiple doctors as a paranoid schizophrenic; the doctors then changed his medication to get his affliction under control.
"(The prosecution) argues Jason faked all his delusions," Hajdu said. "If that were so, then Jason had to trick a lot of people and the doctors must be incompetent."
Foley followed Hajdu's closing statement and asserted Wells intentionally killed Fisk in a fit of rage to get back at the mother he loved for trying to pull out of his life due to a heart attack, then made up his delusions afterward.
"Just because someone has mental issues doesn't mean they are absolved from their actions," he pointed out.
Foley added there was no concrete record of Wells' delusions regarding Fisk before the murder, but the defendant made up and expanded upon those so-called delusions in an "astonishing" manner after he was caught red-handed by police.
According to the DA, Wells was also responsive to multiple people's conversations (which were coherent), including his final one with Fisk, just prior to the killing, never talking about his delusions or babbling on about embodiment or sodomy.
"He admitted to his mother he was annoyed by Ruth calling all the time ... and changed his number so she couldn't call," Foley stressed. "He wanted a relationship with his mother, not with Ruth (who Wells' mother said he should spend more time with)."
Foley added after the killing, Wells tried cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of evidence and even told police, "You won't find any DNA under my fingernails because I used bleach to clean up."
He also initially denied he had killed Fisk and simply told police he found her in the parking lot of One Temple Square, according to Foley, who added a drunk Wells was desperate to get his camera working so he could tape himself slaying Fisk, just like he taped himself killing his ex-girlfriend's kitten after she left him.
DELIBERATIONS: DAY ONE
After Ward gave instructions on the applicable law, the group of six men and six women entered the jury room around 12:50 p.m. to begin deliberations.
Several requests for information came out of the room throughout the afternoon and early evening, including reiterations of the applicable law (including two times reading the legal definition of the extreme emotional disturbance defense and once for the insanity defense) and permission to access Wells' two written statements to Fredonia Police immediately after the killing.
Jurors also re-watched the videotape of the killing and asked the court reporter to dictate testimony given by One Temple Square Maintenance Supervisor John Burse, who stated Wells sat down on the couch after he was discovered with Fisk's body and either said, "Am I in trouble?" or "I'm in a lot of trouble."
Ward denied allowing the jury to view Wells' medical records prior to the killing, explaining they were only part of an exhibit and had not been entered into evidence.
"It was stipulated by both attorneys that the experts could use these records to give their professional opinions on the case," Ward told the 12 jurors. "You can request any testimony by those experts to be read back to you."
Around 5 p.m., jurors received their dinner: pizza from Andriaccio's Restaurant in Mayville.
At about 6:45 p.m., Ward brought the jury back into the courtroom to ask if it would be worthwhile to continue deliberations that day. One juror answered him by saying, "I think we may be close."
An hour later, the jury requested the court recess until Monday.
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