Court rejects unusual claim of emotional distress
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Court of Appeals has denied a request from a prisoner who wanted his attempted murder conviction overturned because he claimed he suffered emotional distress after he stabbed someone.
The unusual request was made by 25-year-old Cody Jesse Augustine, who argued that the act of stabbing a teenage boy in July 2008 triggered an adrenaline rush, along with fears that a friend who joined the assault using a medieval battle-ax could be hurt.
Augustine's attorney, Stephen Howard, said at a hearing last month that the jury in the 2011 trial didn't adequately consider the distress Augustine was under. Utah state prosecutor Karen Klucznik countered that it wouldn't have mattered, saying no jury would have bought the claim.
The court agreed with Klucznik. In a ruling issued Thursday, the court found Augustine's emotional distress was self-created, making the juror instructions irrelevant.
Emotional distress used in a legal defense cannot be self-imposed, according to the decision. It must come from a person being exposed to "extremely unusual and overwhelming stress," the court wrote.
The ruling came back quickly — just three weeks after the hearing. The Appeals Court usually takes at least twice that long to make a decision, Klucznik said. The speed of the decision, she said, "reflects the clarity in the law" regarding emotional distress.
"We are very pleased," Klucznik said. "This continues the pattern that the defendant does not get to cause his own distress."
Howard was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Augustine was convicted of attempted murder after stabbing Justin Ennis several times with a knife while his friend Scott Tyler Stapley attacked Ennis with the battle-ax, which he called a "toy." Ennis was 17 at the time. He survived and spent five days in a hospital.
Stapley, 26, also was convicted of attempted murder. He and Augustine each were sentenced to three years to life in prison.
Police said the two were Juggalos, a name for fans of the Insane Clown Posse rap group. Juggalos are considered a gang in Utah.
During the Feb. 14 hearing, Howard acknowledged that some of the stress was caused by Augustine's decision to attack the teenager. But he said there were other personal issues that contributed as well, including Augustine's belief that he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from his girlfriend.
Court documents show Augustine thought Ennis was the original source of the disease he thought he got from his girlfriend. He and Stapley lured Ennis outside by posing as the girl and sending text messages, the documents state.
Howard said proper jury instruction about the emotional distress claim might have led to a conviction on a lesser charge. He also argued a psychologist should have been allowed to tell jurors that Augustine's emotional distress was legitimate.
During the hearing last month, Utah Appeals Court Judges Stephen Roth and J. Frederic Voros Jr. questioned how that testimony would have added anything to the trial.