Husband now seeks insanity plea — (The Grand Rapids Press)

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The Grand Rapids Press

Saturday, July 29, 2006

By Theresa D. Mcclellan

GRAND RAPIDS — When Kenneth Sheldon III pled guilty in 2003 to stabbing his wife to death a week after she filed for divorce, did he get bad legal advice?

That’s what Kent County Circuit Judge Paul Sullivan will decide after Sheldon appeared in court Friday, asking to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

Sheldon, 45, doesn’t deny fatally stabbing his wife. He is arguing his malfunctioning liver may have made him do it. The combination of a rare liver disease (AIP) porphyria that leaves him with an enzyme deficiency, brain damage, and his use of the prescription drug Celexa created mood swings and psychotic behavior, argued his Detroit attorney, Robert Levi.

“He told his lawyer his doctors said he had the mind of a 16-year-old. Instead of a glib response that ‘even a 16-year-old knows better,’ his lawyer should have realized that for a man in his 40s to have the mind of a 16-year-old, there is something wrong,” Levi said.

Sheldon, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 25 to 75 year prison sentence, now argues his plea was involuntary because defense attorney Donald Pebley was ineffective in not pursuing the insanity plea based on his liver disease and a previous medical report showing Sheldon’s brain damage.

“In 1999, he and his wife were concerned about his violent outbursts and he went to Pine Rest Hospital where a neuropsychologist indicated he had brain damage in his frontal lobe,” Levi said.

Levi said Sheldon’s trial attorney failed to get a forensic psychiatric evaluation. Levi is asking for a free evaluation for his client.

But appellate attorney Timothy McMorrow called it “a pretty flimsy argument.”

“The defendant has made no showing that he ever told counsel anything more than that he had a physical disorder which may have something to do with the murder. The trial counsel is established in defense work and could have easily concluded upon hearing of the claimed disorder that the disorder would not have excused the criminal misconduct.”

If Sheldon’s plea is thrown out, prosecutors said they will try him again.

In court, the victim’s family hid their faces or grimaced when Levi read into the record details of the murder.

Sullivan said he would write his decision within two weeks.

Send e-mail to the author: tmcclellan@grpress.com