Cornell grad student's murder trial goes to jury
Mon, 19 Apr 2010 14:46:12 GMT —
A jury on Monday weighed the fate of a Cornell University doctoral student from New Zealand who maintains he slashed his wife's throat on a central New York nature trail while suffering from a mental disorder that made him think she'd been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.
After four hours of deliberation, the jury recessed until Tuesday morning.
A prosecutor dismissed Blazej Kot's justification for killing his wife of eight months, Caroline Coffey, as a ludicrous attempt to elude blame for a premeditated murder carried out simply to end an unhappy relationship.
"The simplest explanation is usually the true explanation," Assistant District Attorney Andrew McElwee said in closing arguments Monday. "The defense wants it to be fantastical. The simplest explanation is true - the defendant was unhappy with his life."
During the three-week trial, defense psychiatrist Dr. Gary Houghtalen asserted that Kot, 25, suffers from a schizophrenia-type personality disorder known as "Capgras delusion" that made him fear he was being tested by unseen forces, leading him to believe he could only end the conspiracy by killing Coffey.
"She no longer felt (to him) like the same person, so he thought that maybe she had been co-opted and used to control him," defense attorney Joe Joch said in an interview, adding that Capgras symptoms are found in 15 percent of schizophrenia patients.
"The absolute most salient point is this was a very, very happy couple who had just returned from a wonderful honeymoon in Costa Rica," Joch said. "This condition started to appear ... right at the time when an anti-malarial medication he received had reached its peak in his body. The timeline very clearly suggests that that had something to do with precipitating a psychosis."
Charged with murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence, Kot could get up to 25 years to life in prison if he's found guilty. The defense urged jurors to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter.
While Kot admits he killed Coffey, 28, a postdoctoral researcher at the Ivy League school, prosecutors say the notion that he was propelled by an "extreme emotional disturbance" is contradicted by his attempt to destroy physical evidence by setting fire to their home.
Coffey was killed June 2 a few hundred yards from the couple's apartment on a trail popular with bikers and joggers in Ithaca's rural outskirts. After setting the fire, authorities say Kot led police on a five-mile, high-speed chase when a state park officer spotted him in a parked car with dried blood on his arms. During the chase, Kot cut his throat with a knife, suffering critical wounds.
Born to Polish parents in Zaire, Kot was stricken with malaria as a child. He later moved with his family to New Zealand, attended the University of Auckland and came to Cornell on a student visa to pursue a doctorate in information science. As a teenager, he exhibited schizophrenia-type traits that left him wondering if he was being watched through electrical wall outlets, his lawyer said.
Typically shy with women, Kot blossomed socially at Cornell, where he and Coffey met. They were married in Ithaca in October 2008 but saved up for an "exotic location" wedding ceremony in Costa Rica last May.
By then, however, Kot had taken a leave of absence from his doctoral program to work for a business startup. His 60-to-80-hour work weeks and the couple's mounting financial woes were contributing to an onset of depression, paranoia and other acute symptoms, the defense said.