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The Roanoke Times, (VA)
May 29, 1997
Author: PAUL DELLINGER, THE ROANOKE TIMES
A Montgomery County deputy grabbed the defendant and prevented any serious injury.
A man accused of murder who testified that he talks with angels tried to cut his throat with a disposable razor in court Wednesday just as jurors were about to deliberate his fate. But a Montgomery County deputy grabbed defendant Michael Knowles and stopped him from seriously injuring himself. Jurors later filed out and deliberated for about three hours before quitting for the day shortly before 6 p.m. They will resume at 8:45 a.m. today.
Knowles, 48, is charged in the shotgun slaying of his estranged wife, Angie Knowles, on March 20, 1996, at her home in Christiansburg. Knowles is also charged with the malicious wounding of his daughter Vanessa, 19, who said she tried to block the gun with her hand; attempted capital murder of Montgomery County Deputy Jeremy Williams, who was among police officers who responded to the shooting; breaking into the house with the intent to commit murder; and using a firearm in each of those incidents.
His gesture with the razor capped a day that featured his testimony about conversing with angels and returning home from Israel on Valentine’s Day 1996 to find that his wife and children had moved out of the family home.
His attorneys argued Wednesday that he is mentally ill and should be convicted of lesser charges, if anything at all. The defense made it clear in earlier jury questioning that they would attempt a defense based on Knowles’ psychiatric condition. After Circuit Judge Ray Grubbs instructed jurors, Knowles stood up and said he had a statement to make involving the future of the nation.
“Really, this is more serious than you can possibly imagine,” he said, bringing the razor up from his side. Deputy Keith Weaver grabbed Knowles by the arm and shoulder, forced his arm behind his back and marched him out through a door.
“I know this is a highly charged and emotional situation for many of you in the courtroom,” Grubbs said afterward, “but the court is going to enforce order.” Grubbs ruled that the incident would not result in a mistrial, because Knowles himself staged it. Knowles was handcuffed when he was returned to the courtroom for the jury dismissal. No injuries were obvious. Both of his attorneys told a reporter that they did not know where he got the razor. A woman escorted a sobbing Vanessa Knowles from the courtroom after the razor incident.
Earlier, Knowles testified that he had a religious conversion at age 16 and has conversed with angels at times since then. He said he had a dream about the woman who would be his wife before he met her, and recognized her in the balcony of Radio City Music Hall at a USO concert. “I proposed that night, and she accepted,” he testified.
Vanessa Knowles testified Tuesday, the first day of the trial, that the couple had a loveless marriage and had not shared a bedroom in 10 years. Angie Knowles usually slept on a couch in the living room, she said. But in testifying Wednesday, Michael Knowles said, “It didn’t seem that long. I thought it was just a year.” He said he thought his wife slept elsewhere simply because of their differences over whether to have a window open and lights and television on. “I bought her a sleeper sofa so that she would be more comfortable,” he said.
Knowles testified that an angel told him to make a trip to Israel early last year, and his wife encouraged him to do so. But when he returned on Feb. 14, 1996, he said, he found a note from his wife saying she and the children had moved out and that her attorney would be in touch with him.
Knowles admitted buying shells for the shotgun two weeks before the shooting. But he denied that he intended to shoot his wife during the confrontation at her house. He thought the gun was pointed between his wife and their daughter as they struggled with him. He pulled the trigger to make them let go of it, he said.
When he bought the shells, “I was thinking about shooting the car,” he testified. “I was thinking about shooting the golden retriever, because we all loved the golden retriever and Angie wasn’t taking me seriously about how I felt.” After his wife was shot, he said, he went outside and fired again, hoping to get police to kill him. He said he thought he fired into the air, but several police officers testified Tuesday that he seemed to be aiming at the deputy.
Knowles reportedly admitted killing his wife in a statement to police and in a letter to columnist Ann Landers published in February. But he said in testimony Wednesday that his letter, in which he was quoted as saying he killed his wife because she left him, was changed before it was published. “Those are not my words not all my words,” he said. “That’s why there’s a lawsuit against Ann Landers.” Knowles filed a suit against the columnist in federal court.
Dr. Carl McGraw, a clinical psychologist with the Virginia Highlands Health Association, testified that Knowles suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He examined Knowles for two hours in July 1996. “His profile was classic for this type of diagnosis,” McGraw said. “I’ve seen a lot of these people, and I think he’s a classic case.” Based on Knowles’ statement to police that he had taken anti-depressants and was drinking wine the morning he went to his wife’s home, McGraw testified, he would have been “psychotic and he wasn’t thinking well.”
Defense attorneys Max Jenkins and Robbie Jenkins argued that Knowles had a reduced capacity for knowing right from wrong and that the jury should convict him of lesser charges than he is facing. But Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Keith argued that Knowles killed his wife out of anger because she had left him and because the court was requiring him to pay $410 every two weeks to help support their four children.
Paul Dellinger can be reached at (540) 228-4752 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Record Number: 9705290061