Judge Christopher Wilson is expected to rule early next week on whether a schizophrenic Hoopa man who shot and killed his sister is guilty of murder, and if so whether he was legally insane at the time.
Today Wilson heard nearly 90 minutes of closing arguments from Deputy District Attorney Candace Myers and defense attorney Russ Clanton, representing Antone Richard Aubrey IV on charges that could put him in either prison or a mental hospital for life.
While there’s no dispute that Aubrey shot 33-year-old Angel Louise Aubrey to death on Feb. 17, 2018, was the crime first-degree murder, as Myers argued, or not guilty, which Clanton said is a reasonable finding?
Lawyers spent relatively little time on the guilt aspect, as the main focus is Aubrey’s sanity or the lack thereof. But Myers argued Aubrey acted deliberately and with premeditation when he shot Angel Aubrey in the face with a sawed-off shotgun. Therefore, she said, he is guilty of first-degree murder.
Myers, citing eyewitness testimony, said the siblings were having a conversation when Antone’s tone changed and he said “You ain’t gonna talk shit about my daughter like that.”
Then, Myers said, Antone took off his jacket, pulled a sawed-off shotgun from the sleeve, broke the gun in half to make sure it was loaded and pointed it at his sister’s face. Angel tried to calm him down, saying he was her little brother and she loved him. He responded “I’ll show you what kind of little brother I am.”
Myers said Antone pointed the shotgun at his sister’s face long enough for two eyewitnesses — Sophie Blake and Moses Hurley — to get to a nearby house, tell the resident Antone had a gun “on Angel” and for the resident to call 911. During that call they heard a gunshot.
“The circumstances demonstrate a cold, deliberate and premeditated murder,” the prosecutor argued.
The 32-year-old Antone is schizophrenic and suffers from delusions and so-called “command hallucinations,” during which unseen entities order him to take certain actions. If Antone was experiencing delusions on the day of the killing, Myers said, they were based on his false belief that his family, including his sister, had been “disrespecting” him and his children for years. That, she said, simply provides a motive for the killing.
Clanton argued there was no way Antone could have known Angel would be among the people socializing and drinking behind the Hoopa gas station that day.
“There is no malice aforethought (which is required for a murder verdict) in this case,” he said. “There is no evidence of planning here on behalf of Mr. Aubrey.”
Clanton said there is also no evidence Antone had any of intention of speaking to his sister, “or for that matter planning to kill her.”
The two spoke after Antone was told Angel wanted to talk to him. He resisted at first, saying he wanted to finish his beer.
One witness heard the two laughing, yet “somehow or another there’s a tension between them that going to lead to homicide.”
Antone did take out a gun and did open and close it, Clanton acknowledged. But he argued the shooting “was spontaneous. It was the product of some internal stimuli to which Mr. Aubrey was reacting.”
People experiencing command hallucinations may appear to be acting normally, he said, but those with Aubrey’s illness “are reacting to an entirely different field of stimuli, and I think that’s what happened to Mr. Aubrey that day.”
Clanton asked the judge to consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter or even not guilty, because “it’s entirely possible … that he’s not conscious of his act.”
Three doctors, one psychiatrist and two psychologists, testified during the trial. Two out of three offered the opinion that Aubrey was legally insane when he killed his sister, meaning he was either incapable of understanding the nature and quality of his act or incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. The third doctor, Dr. Andrew Renouf, said that while Aubrey has severe mental illness he was not legally insane.
During her argument on the insanity issue, Myers discussed at length Antone Aubrey’s interview with sheriff’s detectives a few hours after the shooting. She said Aubrey vacillated about the events of the day, yet “was very cognizant areas of inquiry that could produce evidence against him and actively avoided speaking of those areas.”
He also was aware of his surroundings, complaining it was too warm in the interview room. He understood the interviewers were law enforcement officers, explained that handcuffs caused his hand to swell. He initially declined water to drink but remembered the offer an hour later and asked for some.
Illustrating his ability to distinguish between right and wrong, he said the word “fucking” and then apologized.
At first he denied killing his sister or even talking to her. Advised he had been seen, he seemed shocked.
“You saw me? You were there?”
Told he was on surveillance tape, he responded “the surveillance don’t go that far.”
At times, Aubrey would start to answer a question, then catch himself.
“He demonstrates an acute awareness of the circumstances and a consciousness of guilt,” Myers said.
When one of the detectives asked him “Who shot (Angel) then,” he replied that he was wrestling with someone at the time.
“I don’t have the friggin’ time to do stuff like that,” he said.
Myers said that was Aubrey’s weak attempt at an alibi, again showing consciousness of guilt.
Asked about the shotgun he’d been carrying, Aubrey replied “I ain’t saying anything about it. I ain’t stupid.”
Myers said it’s commonly believed that anyone who commits such a vicious act must not be in their right mind. But that does not rise to the level of legal insanity, which is a much higher standard.
In response, Clanton said Myers’s comments “reflect a societal view that I think is grossly in error in contemplating the vagaries of mental illness.”
It’s not necessary, he said, that a legally insane person display bizarre behavior and be “completely disassociated from reality.” He said those beliefs have been dispelled by modern psychiatry.
It’s false, Clanton said, that command hallucinations “are going to somehow adapt themselves to a rational timeline or are going to appear in a very syncopated rhythm or timeline. None of that is true.”
“The concept of a plea of insanity is a genuine concept that is recognized by the judicial system. It’s recognized by the clinical world who deal with forensic psychology and psychiatry.”
Lay people don’t understand the concept he said, “which is the reason we have experts here. The law directs us to rely on their opinion.”
Wilson is scheduled to issue his ruling on Tuesday, July 28.
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