Original article no longer available
5/14/2003 4:39:39 PM
Reporter: Teresa Woodard
AARON SKEEN IN COURT It was a two minute court appearance Wednesday afternoon for Aaron Skeen, the man accused of raping, kidnapping, and killing 25 year old Sandy Jeffers. Skeen said nothing, but after the appearance, his attorney hinted at a possible defense: mental illness.
Blount County General Sessions Judge William Brewer never addressed Aaron Skeen. Instead, he asked his court-appointed attorney, David Boyd, if his client was aware of what was going on.
“Mr. Boyd, you’ve advised Mr. Skeen that the purpose of today is to set a preliminary hearing?” the judge asked.
The 20 year old Skeen was in and out of the courtroom in moments. The judge simply set June 5 as the date for his next hearing.
When things were over, Boyd spoke with reporters.
“Obviously if the state’s case is anywhere near what they’ve talked about in print media and on television, then I believe it’s obvious to anyone that my client has got some problems, problems in a mental capacity,” Boyd said. “If he did what the state alleges, then I don’t think it takes a psychologist or psychiatrist to say my client, Aaron Skeen, 20 years old, has got some serious mental problems.”
Boyd says Skeen has been taking depression medication, prescribed by a psychologist. While he’s in the Blount County jail, in lockdown and isolation 23 hours a day, he’s off his medication. Boyd says he’ll file a motion to ask that Skeen be allowed to take his prescription again.
He says his client’s alleged websites, which mention suicidal thoughts and songs about rape, illustrate that Skeen has problems.
“My client’s depressed, he’s upset. He’s in a state of shock about what’s going on. He doesn’t fully, in my opinion, understand what’s next,” Boyd said. “He’s having a hard time comprehending it. He’s scared, frankly.”
About the arrest warrants, which say Skeen admitted to breaking in, raping, and kidnapping Jeffers, his attorney says he’s not sure the alleged confession can be used in court. He says Aaron Skeen may not have understood what he was saying could be used against him.
Judge Brewer appointed Boyd to handle Skeen’s case. The public defender’s office would normally be used, but the judge said they have a conflict of interest. Boyd says the “key witness” has been a client of the public defender’s office before.
The Blount County District Attorney’s office did not comment on the case.
To view complete transcript click here
AARON LEE SKEEN v. STATE OF TENNESSEE — (COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TENNESSEE AT KNOXVILLE)
Assigned on Briefs April 25, 2006
Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, Petitioner, Aaron Lee Skeen, pled guilty and was convicted of one count of first degree murder, one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, three counts of aggravated rape, four counts of aggravated burglary, and three counts of forgery. The sentences for each conviction were ordered to be served consecutively for an effective sentence of life without parole plus 124 years.
I. Post-Conviction Hearing
At the post-conviction hearing, Mack Garner testified that he was the Public Defender in Maryville, Tennessee and that he was appointed to represent Petitioner at trial. Mr. Garner took over the case from David Boyd at the Circuit Court level. Trial counsel conducted his own discovery and received an “incredible amount of evidence and documentation” from the State. He made a copy of the State’s evidence for Petitioner so that Petitioner could review the evidence that would be introduced against him at trial. After reviewing the discovery independently, trial counsel met with Petitioner to discuss the facts and to make sure he and Petitioner “were agreed on all of what the facts were before [they] started talking about their legal consequences.”
The review of the evidence and these discussions took place over a period of approximately three weeks. In addition to the discovery materials, the State also extended a plea offer of life without parole. The plea offer was available for a limited period of time. Trial counsel recalled that he was surprised that the State was not seeking the death penalty.
He was aware that Petitioner’s mental health was a possible area of defense. Trial counsel requested that the State leave the plea agreement open as an option pending a psychological evaluation, but the State insisted that Petitioner decide whether he was going to have an evaluation before the next court hearing. Trial counsel thought that in the amount of time it would take the court to process Petitioner’s case and approve an expert psychiatrist, the State would likely submit a death penalty notice. He decided to conduct an independent investigation of Petitioner’s mental health, to the extent possible, in the approximate forty-five days preceding the State’s deadline for filing a death penalty notice.
Trial counsel was aware that Petitioner began taking the anti-depressant, Lexapro, approximately one month prior to the crime. Petitioner mentioned no specific problems with the drug, but said that he had some trouble with the drug and raised the issue of using the drug’s side effects as a possible mental defense. Trial counsel researched Lexapro and its potential side effects by obtaining literature from the pharmaceutical manufacturing company and referring to the Physician’s Desk Reference. His assistant researched the internet for articles related to the side effects of Lexapro. Trial counsel also consulted with a general medical practitioner as to whether use or abuse of the drug could result in legal insanity. He did not have time to locate an official expert qualified in the field of antidepressants who could attest to the possible effects of Lexapro.
…trial counsel was effectively representing Petitioner when he chose not to seek a court-ordered psychological evaluation. Petitioner has failed to demonstrate prejudice because he offered no proof that he had been subject to a psychological evaluation which revealed that he was suffering from a mental defect at the time of the crime. Consequently, he has not shown that had a psychological evaluation been conducted, the outcome of his case would have been different because he would not have entered a guilty plea and would have insisted on going to trial rather than accepting the plea agreement.