Day seven of Michael Tate's murder trial got off to a slow start on Tuesday because of the stabbing of a CU student by a man who, when previously charged with another stabbing, had been found not guilty by reason of insanity, the same plea Tate is using for his defense.
Judge Jane Tidball granted the defense's request to query the jury as to how many people had heard about the incident, but she refused another request by the defense to forbid the jury from any and all media reports, rather, the jurors were instructed to avoid any news reports about the CU incident and insanity pleas altogether, just as they had been ordered for the past six days to avoid any news reports about the Tate case.
Of the twelve jurors and two alternates seated, five of them had heard about the CU stabbing. But all five assured the judge that the news would not affect their ability to render a fair verdict in the Tate trial.
Then it was back to the defense's cross examination of the prosecution's final witness, Dr. David Johnson, a forensic psychiatrist who worked for the state’s mental institution in Pueblo and peformed an analysis of Michael Tate more than a year after the murder of Tate’s friend’s father, Steven Fitzgerald. At the time, Johnson determined Tate was sane at the time of the offense, although he previously acknowledged that the last time that he evaluated a juvenile for sanity was more than two decades ago.
After his testimony, when asked how one goes about constructing a professional opinion as to the sanity of someone during the comission of a crime if the sanity evaluation doesn’t occur until months or years later, Johnson called it the "$64 million question."
"It's a hard job," Johnson said, noting that you need to look at as much information as possible including witness and police reports, social services records, "the whole ball of wax." Johnson previously testified that he did not feel the need to request more information about Tate other than that which was given to him by the defense and prosecution: more than 9,000 pages of documentation.
Afterwards, it was the defense team’s turn to present its case, beginning with Heather Beck, a mental health worker who has had interactions with Tate at two different facilities dating back to 1998. Beck testified that Tate was a loner, an expressionless kid who never really seemed able to put any kind of plan into effect.
Tate’s body shook as he listened to Beck.
"Having worked with him I just saw him as a child that needed to be told what was going on and what he needed to do, whether it just be ‘we're eating breakfast now,’ I didn't see any ability (in Tate) to plan or to follow through with a plan," Beck said. "My opinion is that if Mr. Tate was told that stealing is wrong then he would know from that time - if he just stole something or was thinking of stealilng something, that he would know that was wrong but I don’t know if he could retain that information for a period of time without a prompt or a reminder. I would feel that most of the time he just didn't understand what we were doing, what we were talking about, what was going on."
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Next the defense called John Fitzgerald, brother of the victim Steven and uncle of Michael Fitzgerald, who is serving 62 years in prison for his role in the murder of his father with Tate. John Fitzgerald testified that his nephew Michael had threatened to kill Steven Fitzgerald as well as his mother and sister a year before the actual murder occurred.
As the day came to an end, the defense called Lana Holmes, who used to work for Jefferson County’s social services when Tate was in the county’s custody beginning in 1991. Before the judge allowed the jury to break for the evening recess, the jury got a taste of Tate’s history, of all that’s to come in the defense’s case, ranging from being abused in the custody of his birth mother- whom Tate has not seen since he was a tot- to ripping up the carpet in foster homes and urinating under it, to running wild in public, suicide attempts and the beginning of a list of dozens of moves that Tate would make between mental institutions, foster homes, group homes and juvenile detention facilities in his thirteen years of life leading up to the murder.
-- Luke Turf