[Ppnews] State appeals court expands use of battered-women's syndrome

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
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.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/12/16/ BAGI9N0SA81.DTL

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

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