Attorney sets stage for insanity defense in Wells’ murder trial - The Buffalo News

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Attorney sets stage for insanity defense in Wells’ murder trial

MAYVILLE – Though Jason Wells admitted to police that he killed Ruth Fisk, he was insane – incapable of understanding his actions at the time of the slaying in February 2010, the defendant’s attorney said Wednesday.

During courtroom proceedings in the case, prosecutors introduced more than 50 pieces of evidence, including the area rug wrapped around the victim, which was unrolled in front of jurors.

Members of the Chautauqua County Forensic Investigation Team described items collected from Wells and from his apartment in Fredonia, where the crime was believed to have taken place. Among the items were Wells’ bloodstained clothing, carpet pieces, towels and photographs of the scene.

Other items included a knife blade and handle, the victim’s purse and a large chair. There also was a pair of bloodstained glasses in a plastic bag.

Retired Sgt. David Arnone of the investigative team described the apartment and scene shortly after Wells, 37, now charged with second-degree murder, was taken into custody.

District Attorney David Foley presented photos of the crime scene, where bloody carpet, towels and blood-soaked clothing were found.

Arnone told jurors that some of the bloody carpet was collected from behind the couch in the apartment, some from the bedroom floor and some from the living room.

Wells was expressionless as the evidence was presented.

His defense lawyer, Lyle Hajdu of Lakewood, did not cross-examine Arnone.

Several family member of Fisk – who had befriended Wells, a resident of the One Temple Square apartment above the victim’s – were on hand for the day’s proceedings.

However, they said they will not be in the court when video recordings are played for the jury.

Foley told jurors Tuesday they would see a video of actions that led to the death of Fisk, 81, who died of “multiple blunt-force and sharp-force trauma, as well as strangulation.”

Hajdu, in his opening statement, set the stage for an insanity defense, conceding there is no dispute that Wells committed the crime. He also noted Wells spent nearly two years in a state psychiatric facility before being returned to stand trial.

Chautauqua County’s public defender, Nathaniel Barone, who was on hand for the trial, noted after the day’s proceedings that the defense is pursuing a two-pronged strategy – a not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity or being found guilty only of manslaughter, that the defendant was extremely overcome by his emotions and not responsible for his actions.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Wells faces 25 years to life.

A manslaughter conviction could mean up to 25 years.

“It would be somewhat of a compromise for the jury,” said Barone, “but the extreme emotional defense is probably an easier defense to understand.” 

Barone said the jury will be asked to consider both as options at trial’s end, and added, “It is very difficult in New York State to get an insanity plea recognized.”

Meanwhile, it is unclear if Wells will take the stand in his own defense.

The trial is expected to last until next Wednesday or Thursday.

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