[Ppnews] State appeals court expands use of battered-women's syndrome
Political Prisoner News
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Mon Dec 18 08:53:50 EST 2006
State appeals court expands use of battered-women's syndrome
Defense could apply to being forced to murder, judges rule
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff
Writer Saturday, December 16, 2006
Battered-women's syndrome, typically invoked by
defendants charged with murdering abusive
partners, can also be used by a woman who argues
that her partner forced her to take part in a
murder, a state appeals court has ruled.
A 2-1 decision Thursday by the Fourth District
Court of Appeal in San Diego granted a new trial
to a woman serving a life sentence for a 1998
murder, and appeared to represent an expansion of
a defense that California courts first recognized in the early 1990s.
Battered-women's syndrome, renamed "intimate
partner battering'' by a sex-neutral state law
last year, offers a rationale for violent actions
committed by someone who has suffered sustained
domestic abuse. Defendants accused of murdering
their abusers have cited the syndrome to seek acquittals or reduced charges.
The appeals court said the same rationale could
apply to a defendant who said she was so
terrified of her partner that she followed his
orders to help him commit a murder.
The defendant in the case, Ny Nourn, was 18 when
her lover, Ronald Barker, killed David Stevens,
Nourn's boss at a dating service in San Diego
County. Barker was sentenced to life in prison
without parole. Nourn, convicted of aiding in the
murder, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
The court said Nourn had told police that she had
sex with Stevens the previous night and falsely
told Barker that Stevens had raped her. Barker
said he would kill Stevens and told Nourn to help him.
She said she feared she would be killed if she
refused, so she lured Stevens out of his
apartment by claiming she had car trouble. Once
Stevens was outside, Barker shot him in the head.
At Nourn's trial, her lawyer argued that she had
acted under Barker's control. But the lawyer
called no witnesses, explaining later that he was
unwilling to put Nourn on the stand because she
had told him she knew Stevens would be killed.
The appeals court said the attorney should have
called psychiatric witnesses who were prepared to
testify that Nourn, who came from an abusive
background, had been made submissive by Barker's threats and emotional abuse.
Such testimony, the court said, might have persuaded the jury that
Nourn had helped Barker under duress, or that she had not intended to
hurt Stevens. Without that evidence, the court said, she had no defense.
The ruling by Justice Alex McDonald drew a sharp
dissent from Justice Patricia Benke, who said it
was an unprecedented extension of the
battered-women's defense that could not have been
anticipated by Nourn's trial lawyer.
"I cannot join the majority's new defense of 'the
batterer made me do it,' " Benke said.
Nourn's appellate lawyer, Patricia Ulibarri, said
the ruling wasn't entirely unprecedented, because
the state Supreme Court had referred to the
possibility of such a defense in a 2004 case. She
said that Nourn may get a lesser conviction in a
retrial but that an outright acquittal seemed unlikely.
E-mail Bob Egelko at <mailto:begelko at sfchronicle.com>begelko at sfchronicle.com.
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