Lawyer says Ind. teen wrongly labeled 'psychopath'

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Posted: Nov 14, 2011 5:45 PM
Lawyer says Ind. teen wrongly labeled 'psychopath'

An Indiana judge who sentenced a teenager to life in prison without parole for strangling his 10-year-old brother gave too much credence to a psychologist's testimony that the boy could be a psychopath, his lawyer said Monday in arguing for a reduced sentence.

"So there was a thinking that `We need to give this juvenile a life sentence because we are afraid that he's a psychopath and if we don't give him a life sentence he might come out and kill again,'" defense lawyer Leanna Weissmann told the Indiana Supreme Court.

Andrew Conley, 19, was sentenced in October 2010 after pleading guilty on the day his trial was to begin. Psychologist James Daum testified during sentencing that Conley showed psychopathic characteristics, although he said he couldn't say for certain that Conley was a psychopath because he hadn't examined him.

Weismann claims Conley was mentally ill when he killed his brother, Conner Conley, while wrestling in 2009 and a more appropriate sentence would have been 55 years in prison. With Indiana's credit for time served, that would allow Conley to be released in as little as 25 years, when he is in his 40s.

Weissmann also said a comparison between Conley and the Showtime character Dexter, a serial killer, improperly pervaded the trial. Conley had told police he admired the character, and his girlfriend testified to that. Weissmann said the comments were taken out of context and Conley didn't mean he wanted to be a killer.

She said he was having trouble explaining his actions to police under repeated questioning and couldn't come up with the words.

"As a teenager, you're going to latch on to pop culture in order to explain your feelings. That's what teenagers do," she said. "This was a show he watched. He didn't say, `I want to be like Dexter because he kills people.'"

Three mental health experts who examined Conley concluded he was seriously mentally ill, but prosecutors maintain he was faking.

Deputy Attorney General Henry Flores Jr. said Conley told one doctor he suffered visual and auditory hallucinations but didn't tell the others. Conley told another doctor he put a bag over his brother's head while killing him because he couldn't bear to look, but he told police it was to keep blood off the floor. Flores said Conley told another doctor he never told anyone about his suicidal thoughts, but he told police he told his parents.

"So the record is riddled with inconsistencies," Flores said.

He said the trial judge had to consider a number of things when considering Conley's mental illness, including his ability to control his behavior. All three mental health professionals who examined him determined he was in control when he killed his brother.

Flores also said the sentence was appropriate given the details of the crime. Conley told investigators he choked his brother from behind until he passed out, then dragged him to the kitchen and covered his head with a bag. Then Conley choked his brother for another 20 minutes, crushing his larynx, dragged him downstairs and slammed his head on concrete repeatedly.

"He then put his brother in the trunk of his car and drove to his girlfriend's house. They watched a movie. He gave her a promise ring. She states he was the happiest he had been in all the time she's seen him," Flores said. "All this time, it's most likely (Conner) was still alive in the trunk of the car."

The Indiana Supreme Court heard the arguments on Conley's appeal at Indiana University-South Bend as part of its effort to move hearings around the state. Justice Robert Rucker was the only one of the five justices not present. The court does not have a deadline for making a decision.

Weissmann told the justices she could file additional arguments after the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether juveniles convicted in slayings in Alabama and Arkansas could be sentenced to life with no chance of parole. The nation's highest court agreed to hear those cases last week.

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Associated Press Charles Wilson in Indianapolis contributed to this report.