April 20, 2010

Impassioned Closing Arguments Conclude Kot Murder Trial; Jury Deliberations Begin

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After more than two weeks of testimony, the jury will soon decide whether Blazej Kot killed his wife in a frenzy of extreme emotional distress or, as the prosecution argues, he acted in cold blood. Each side gave its closing argument Monday, and a verdict is anticipated sometime this week.

In a speech filled with impassioned rhetoric, Kot’s lawyer, Joe Joch ’66, urged the jury to view the defendant as a victim of emotional turmoil.

“This was a frenzied killing,” Joch said. “Here’s this meek, shy, retreating computer nerd. Does he look like someone in the criminal justice system? It doesn’t compute.”

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Macke took a different approach, painstakingly reviewing the evidence against Kot in order to paint a picture of the defendant as a motivated killer whose mind was entirely intact.

“The defense wants this to be something sensational, something that scares you,” Macke said. “Sometimes murder is just murder.”

Macke argued that, as per Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is often the correct one. While Dr. Rory Houghtalen, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense, claimed that an extreme emotional disorder drove Kot to kill his wife, Macke proposed that Kot was simply unhappy with his life and believed that Coffey’s death would change things.

“Killing her would provide me with a reason or an excuse to stop this Ph.D. and change my life,” Kot said in a videotaped interview with Houghtalen.

Kot faces three charges: murder in the second degree, arson in the third degree and tampering with evidence. Macke emphasized that the charges of arson and evidence tampering are undisputed. An abundance of physical evidence supports the fact that Kot set his house on fire in an attempt to destroy his bloodstained clothes. The question remains whether the jury will take into account Kot’s alleged emotional disturbance and lessen the murder charge to first-degree manslaughter, which carries a more lenient sentence.

If a murderer is to be considered under the influence of an extreme emotional disorder, Macke said, three things need to be true. The murderer needs to have an EED in the first place, he needs to commit his crime under the influence of an EED and he needs to believe that his behavior has a reasonable explanation or excuse.

Although Kot did have mental issues, Macke said, they did not amount to an extreme emotional disorder.

“Psychosis does not equal an EED,” Macke said.

Macke also argued that Kot did not kill his wife impulsively. Although the defendant said he decided to kill Coffey on a Sunday night as they lay in bed, the murder did not occur until Tuesday. If he had killed her “the second that thought came to him,” Macke said, or even the next morning, then the idea that he was emotionally disturbed could be plausible. But the fact that he waited two days, until the timing was perfect, suggests that he planned out the crime, Macke said. Even on the night of the murder, when he and Coffey were jogging along the deserted Black Diamond Trail, Kot waited for the perfect moment to grab the pipe he would use to knock her unconscious.

“I saw the pipe on the ground and passed it once,” Kot said in a video. “I was feeling very nervous.”

This nervousness, Macke argued, shows that Kot’s deed was premeditated. If he had acted on the spur of the moment, he would not have felt this sense of nervous anticipation. In addition, Macke said, Kot did not justify his own behavior, as he would have done had he acted out of extreme emotional disturbance. To the contrary, he actively questioned his own motives.

“Holy shit, what was I thinking?” Kot said in a video interview.

The prosecution’s psychiatrist, Dr. Gary Horwitz, argued on Friday that Kot was faking mental illness. According to Horwitz, Dr. Houghtalen influenced Kot over the course of several interviews to describe psychotic symptoms that he had not initially indicated. To defense attorney Joch, however, Horwitz overlooked key evidence in his effort to find proof of Kot’s guilt.

“He pounced on Blazej like an unsuspecting sheep,” Joch said.

Joch used Kot’s words to emphasize the severity of his mental condition. When Houghtalen asked how he felt after his wife died, Kot said he didn’t feel sad. Instead, he used words like “suffocated,” “trapped” and “failure.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Joch said, “that’s a commercial — a TV commercial — for major depression.”

Joch’s reference to television points to the overwhelming role modern technology has played in the case. Both the defense and the prosecution relied extensively on video evidence, allowing the jury to hear the defendant’s words for themselves; the prosecution even included a screenshot of Coffey’s last Facebook status.

The defendant’s alleged paranoia that agents were spying on him through computers also reflects the media’s influence, Joch said. It’s impossible to think of Kot’s uncertainty about the nature of reality without recalling science fiction movies like The Matrix, Joch said. Horwitz even asked Kot whether he believed in a Matrix-like reality, implying that his delusions were inspired by the movie rather than an emotional disorder.

“Am I part of the Matrix?” Horwitz asked.

“I don’t think so,” Kot replied, “but you can never be sure.”

Joch pointed out that movies like The Matrix have become an unavoidable part of our mental landscape. Even if we don’t realize it, he said, this cultural knowledge can significantly influence our judgment.

“We all carry all kinds of baggage in our heads that can be called to the forefront at all kinds of times,” he said.

While the defense focused on Kot’s mental instability, Macke continually reminded the jury to consider what actually happened.

“They want you to take the focus off the crime and put it on the criminal,” Macke said. “The defendant’s actions speak louder than his words.”

Original Author: Elisabeth Rosen