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Florida jury rejects insanity defense in murder trial

A Florida jury deliberated for about five hours before finding a 26-year-old man guilty of murdering a 21-year-old woman in 2017. During the weeklong trial, forensic experts told the jury that the woman died after being stabbed 21 times in the West Palm Beach home she shared with the man. Following the verdict, the judge sentenced the man to life in prison in accordance with Florida's strict mandatory sentencing laws.

The man's attorneys mounted a defense based on insanity. Doctors testified that the man suffered from parasomnia and was sleepwalking when the victim died, and his mother told the jury that she had witnessed several such episodes. The man's attorney also pointed out that police had not been able to establish a motive for the crime and stressed that his client had no history of violence and was close friends with the victim.

The police officers investigating the killing and the district attorneys prosecuting the case did not believe the man's sleepwalking story. A forensic psychiatrist called to cast doubt on the insanity defense told the jury that the man must have been awake when he stabbed the woman because the actions he took were too complex for a sleepwalker.

While claims of insanity may be a legitimate defense to criminal charges, they are generally looked upon with great suspicion by juries and are rarely successful. Experienced Orlando, Florida, murder and violent charges attorneys could be reluctant to mount such a defense unless their clients had a history of mental illness or expert witnesses that the jury would likely find compelling were prepared to support the claim.

Source: WNEP, "Bradford County Man Guilty of Roommate Murder in Florida", Chelsea Strub, May 8, 2019

Source: The Florida Times-Union, "Jury finds Florida man guilty in alleged sleepwalking homicide", Hannah Winston, May 10, 2019

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