Prosecution attacks insanity defense in Paso Robles stabbing trial

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comNovember 8, 2012 

A man who fatally stabbed a stranger in the Paso Robles Laundromat cannot use mental illness as an excuse, a prosecutor argued in court Thursday.

“Just because he’s hearing voices does not get him off the hook for that,” argued Deputy District Attorney Matt Kerrigan.

While Kerrigan conceded that John Woody Jr. was mentally ill, he said the defendant acted willfully, deliberately and with premeditation when he stabbed Martin McWilliams 30 times on March 6, 2011.

Defense attorney Ken Cirisan, however, countered that Woody’s well-documented history of mental illness backs his claim that Woody’s hallucinations drove him to murder.

“This has to do with Mr. Woody’s state of mind,” he told jurors.

With the closing arguments completed, jurors will now decide whether Woody is guilty of first-degree or second-degree murder. A weightier first-degree murder conviction requires the prosecution to show that Woody planned to commit the crime.

In a second phase of the trial, Cirisan will later attempt to prove that Woody was legally insane when he stabbed McWilliams.

McWilliams, 46, was watching television while doing his family’s laundry when Woody came in the front door of the Paso Robles Laundromat with a knife. Woody told an investigator that he said to McWilliams, “I got something for you.” He then drew a knife from his jacket and began stabbing McWilliams, who bled to death.

Woody also told police he didn’t want to be on the streets any more.

“All this time living on the streets, and I had nothing to lose and I had nothing to gain,” he said in an interview played for jurors.

That statement, Kerrigan said, showed motive.

“He’s thought this process out before he murders Mr. McWilliams,” Kerrigan said. “He is tired of living on the streets. Life has not quite worked out for him.”

While Woody did hear voices, he engaged in a series of deliberate actions, Kerrigan said, including staking out the laundry to make sure no one else was in it, fleeing the scene to avoid getting in trouble and calling a bank the next day in an effort to get money.

But, Cirisan argued, Woody’s actions prove he was disorganized and impulsive.

“It’s not rational and it’s not grounded in reality,” he said.

Woody, who was involuntarily committed several times due to mental illness before the murder, had been hallucinating the night of the murder, Cirisan said. When he began to search for the critical voices in his head, he stumbled upon the laundromat. While McWilliams was inside with his back turned toward Woody, the defendant said he heard McWilliams taunting him.

The wild nature of the stabbing itself — as portrayed on surveillance video — showed signs of mental illness, Cirisan said.

“To me it looked like a frenzy,” Cirisan said. “He was flailing ... it was horrendous.”

During the trial, both attorneys presented psychiatric witnesses. Cirisan’s experts suggested schizo-
affective disorder guided Woody. Kerrigan’s key witness said Woody’s crime was more a reflection of his antisocial personality disorder — which is not considered a mental illness.

More psychiatric testimony will be given during the insanity phase.

While insanity pleas are rare, they are occasionally successful. Earlier this year, a judge declared
21-year-old Andrew Downs not guilty by reason of insanity for the murder of two women in Santa Margarita on Christmas Day, 2010.

Jurors will begin deliberating this morning on Woody’s case.

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