Tag Archives: forensic psychology

Psychology Expert Witness Testifies in Alabama Child Sex Abuse Case

Defense attorneys for an Alabama man convicted of sexually abusing a child younger than 6 have presented a psychology expert witness during the sentencing hearing in an effort to avoid a conviction for life without parole.  With hopes of persuading the judge to place the convicted defendant to a program for sex offenders rather than prison, the expert argued the man’s personal history and mental state warranted a more lenient sentence.

Alabama Man Convicted of Child Sex Abuse

Emanuel Yarbrough, 34, was convicted in August for first-degree sodomy and first-degree sexual abuse for sex acts he perpetrated on a 5-year-old-girl.  A former missionary, Yarbrough argued throughout his defense that he did not clearly remember the act or recognize that he was having sex with a child.  Yarbrough argued that he did not engage in the sexual activity in the Alabama County where he was ultimately convicted, and told jurors that he couldn’t differentiate between the young girl and his wife. Yarbrough went on to state that the girl did not tempt him, and was confused during the times that he allegedly committed the acts.

Prosecutor Jayme Amberson wasted no time in pointing out inconsistencies in Yarbrough’s account, and reiterating to the jury that several witnesses – including the victim – testified that the sex acts happened frequently and in the county where Yarbrough stood trial.  Jurors needed just 25 minutes to return with a guilty verdict, setting up a sentencing hearing where Yarbrough’s attorneys turned to a psychology expert witness in an attempt at earning their client leniency.  Alabama law requires any defendant convicted of sexual abuse with a child under 6 to be sentenced to life without parole, but Yarbrough’s defense team is hoping that an expert analysis of his psychological state of mind will convince the judge that a sex offender program is the more appropriate punishment.

Convicted Sex Offender Turns to Psychology Expert Witness

During the sentencing hearing for Emanuel Yarbrough, his attorneys called forensic psychologist Frankie Preston to testify on the findings of a psychological survey he conducted on the defendant while he was in jail.  According to Preston, the tests he administered Yarbrough are designed to determine his degree of mental stability at the time of his crime.  During his expert testimony, Preston told the court, “Mr. Yarbrough endorsed experiencing symptoms that were indicative of five of those psychiatrically coined diagnoses — major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and somatization disorder.”

Preston went on to testify that the mental disorders Yarbrough suffered had their origins from his family history of abuse which featured similar crimes committed by his father and brother.  Further, in Preston’s expert opinion, Yarbrough likely exhibited the symptoms prior to his incarceration during the time when he committed his sexual crimes.  Tests also showed that Yarbrough was sexually attracted to adult females and older teenage girls, which is not considered abnormal according to Preston.

During cross examination, Preston suggested that Yarbrough may be eligible to complete a program that he runs for sex offenders which provides treatment before releasing them back into society.

Judge to Mull Prison or Sex Offender Treatment in Alabama Child Sex Abuse Case

Although the mandatory penalty for committing  sex offense against a child younger than 6 in Alabama is life in prison without possibility of parole, Emanuel Yarbrough’s attorneys have argued that the punishment is unconstitutionally harsh, and that their client is better suited for a treatment program operated by their forensic psychology expert witness.  During questioning about the programing, the expert Frankie Preston admitted that some offenders have re-offended afterwards, but that he and his staff engage in regular follow-ups to minimize post-treatment sex crimes.

The judge will weigh the nature of Yarbrough’s crimes against the psychological factors discussed by the defense expert witness to make a final sentencing decision in the coming days.

Psychiatry Expert Witness Testifies in Murder Trial

Last week a jury in Tioga County, New York convicted 63-year-old Douglas Every of manslaughter for the stabbing death of his 39-year-old roommate, Milton Jump.  Mr. Every did not deny his role in the incident, but attempted to bolster his self-defense argument by calling a psychiatric expert witness to testify that his mental state caused him to reasonably fear the victim would harm him.

New York Man Convicted of Manslaughter for Stabbing Roommate

Douglas Every and Milton Jump lived together in a home owned by the 63-year-old Every until the two got into a verbal altercation on October 23, 2013.  After the men had been drinking, they began an argument that ended with Every stabbing Jump in the heart.  Prosecutors charged Every with 2nd-degree murder, but the Defendant argued that he had acted in self-defense due to feeling intimidated by the younger Jump’s behavior during the argument.

After a two-week trial, jurors were unwilling to find Every guilty of the murder charge, forcing the prosecution to settle for the lessor option of manslaughter.   Although the jury ended up convicting Early for the stabbing death of his roommate, the decision to find him guilty on the lessor manslaughter charge suggests that the defense strategy to justify the assault had some impact on the outcome.  Critical to the defense was the testimony of a psychiatry expert witness who informed jurors that the Defendant suffered from heightened states of agitation that contributed to his violent and fatal reaction to the argument.

Psychiatry Expert Witness Testifies for Defense

Defense attorneys for Douglas Every called Dr. Thomas Lazzaro, a forensic psychologist with more than 30 years of experience, to testify that the Defendant experienced high anxiety and the early stages of dementia that contributed to his overreaction to verbal confrontation.  Dr. Lazzaro performed a psychiatric evaluation on the Defendant after his arrest, and testified to jurors that the accused experienced anxiety as a result of his dementia.  Lazzaro, who both sides agreed is an expert in psychology and human behavior, explained to the court that his evaluation with Every and his investigation of the incident led him to concluded that the Defendant could not control his perception of the escalating argument with Milton Jump.

Defense attorneys used Dr. Lazzaro’s expert testimony to argue that Every acted out of fear of a physical threat, even if an objective observer to the situation would determine that the threat did not warrant a violent response.  Self-defense justifies violent action if a defendant reasonably perceives a threat of imminent harm, and when a disrupted mental state alters how the defendant perceives confrontation jurors can take the altered perception into account.  If Douglas Every’s mental condition and high anxiety created in his mind a reasonable fear that his verbal altercation with Milton Jump would turn violent, then he may qualify for a self-defense justification to the crime.

Prosecutors responded to the effort by questioning Dr. Lazzaro’s motivation to testify (he received $3,000), and pointing out that despite the psychiatric evaluation, it was Every who escalated the argument to violence.

Jurors Don’t Grant Self-Defense Acquittal

Dr. Lazzaro’s evaluation of Douglas Every led to compelling testimony that the defendant was unable to process the threat of a verbal altercation with his roommate in a normal way, however, jurors were unwilling to grant full acquittal.  The 1st-degree manslaughter conviction is a step down from 2nd-degree murder, suggesting Dr. Lazzaro’s testimony had some effect, but jurors clearly felt that Every was accountable for his violent behavior and did not deserve to go unpunished.  Mr. Every has been remanded to the Tioga County jail for a January sentencing hearing that will likely reopen the issue Dr. Lazzaro testified to during the trial.  Every faces a maximum of 25-years for the 1st-degree manslaughter conviction.