The Tompkins County courtroom was tense Friday during the last day of testimony in the murder trial of Blazej J. Kot. The former Cornell Ph.D. student is charged with murdering his wife, Caroline Coffey, who was a Cornell post-doctoral student in the Veterinary School, and later setting fire to their apartment in an attempt to cover up the crime.
First, Kot’s lawyer, Joe Joch ’66, cross-examined Dr. Gary Horwitz, the prosecution’s psychiatrist, about Horwitz’s assertion that Kot was not mentally ill at the time of the crime –– an argument which has formed the crux of the defense’s case.
The defense is seeking to prove that Kot’s schizotypal personality disorder, combined with the rejection of one of his research paper’s and the anti-malarial chloroquine pills he took before, during and after his trip to Costa Rica –– where he and Coffey married in May –– are the reasons he killed Coffey so soon after their wedding. By proving these facts, the defense hopes to lessen the charges from murder to manslaughter.
Horwitz told the jury, “I don't think [Kot] was psychotic at the time.”
He maintained, instead, that Kot’s planning of the murder proves that he was of sound mind at the time and only wanted to be rid of Coffey due to his own personal problems.
To this, Joch raised his voice, “And you say this was a rational act? Seriously?”
Horwitz, however, did not budge, arguing that Kot was faking his mental illness and was implanted with false memories that were suggested by the defense’s psychicatrist Dr. Rory Houghtalen.
Later, Assistant District Attorney Andrew McElwee tried to prevent infectious disease expert Dr. Mark Shelly from taking the stand because one of Shelly’s reports had never been disclosed to the prosecution.
Judge John Rowley, however, overruled the objection and allowed the doctor to testify, handing a copy of the report to McElwee.
Shelly said that he has a policy of having his nurses screen patients’ psyches who are to be given chloroquine –– the medication that Kot allegedly was taking around the time of his marriage ceremony in May –– as it is in the same class as the drug mefloquine, which has been linked to murders and suicides in some users. The defense is using this connection between the drugs to further their assertion that Kot’s mental state may have partially or wholly been impacted by the medication.
The case will continue Monday with closing statements.