Mother on trial for murdering son — (WCNC)

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WCNC

09:45 PM EDT on Monday, April 18, 2005

By LISA RANTALA / 6NEWS

GRANITE FALLS, NC — A jury could soon decide if a Caldwell County mother lives or dies.

Sheriff’s deputies said Janet Hall killed her son and tried to kill her daughter at their Granite Falls home last year. Her capital murder trial started Monday.

Hall did not speak as she went inside the Caldwell County courthouse.

Inside the courtroom, Hall is on trial for her life. Deputies arrested her last year after they said she shot and killed her 11-year-old son and then shot and nearly beat to death her 16-year old-daughter.

“I don’t think I would have been a good juror. I’m not partial to anyone hurting a child. I don’t care what the excuse is,” said excused juror Stephanie Helton.

The courts dismissed Helton from Hall’s jury pool.

Helton is a mother of three who said she didn’t buy the defense’s excuse that Hall’s Zoloft prescription made her insane.

“Looking at somebody that hurt a child, especially killing one and hurting another; they’re put on this earth as a gift from God, it’s not possible,” Helton said.

Witnesses said Hall acted distressed and confused at the time of the murder. Deputies said she left her Granite Falls home before they even arrived.

Now that she’s arrested and in court, Hall knows if jurors find her guilty she could pay for her son Eric Hall’s death with her own life.

Hall’s daughter recovered from her injuries and will graduate high school next month.

The courts dismissed two potential jurors Monday afternoon as they both had issues with the death penalty. Jury selection could last for the rest of the week.

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Court of Appeals of North Carolina,   STATE of North Carolina v. Janet Bell HALL.   No. COA07-9.

Decided: December 4, 2007

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Amy C. Kunstling, for the State. Appellate Defender Staples Hughes, by Assistant Appellate Defender Daniel Shatz, for defendant-appellant.Janet Hall (“defendant”) appeals from judgments entered after a jury found her to be guilty of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.   We find no error.

I. Background

A. State’s Evidence

Defendant lived in Granite Falls with her husband, James Hall (“Mr. Hall”), their sixteen-year-old daughter, Ashley (“Ashley”), and their eleven-year-old son, Eric (“Eric”).   On 26 February 2004, the children’s school was canceled due to snow.   At approximately 10:00 a.m., Ashley awoke after defendant started to beat her on the head with a baseball bat.   Defendant then shot Ashley twice:  once in the collar bone and once in the chest.   Eric came running down the hall towards Ashley’s room.   Defendant turned around and shot him in the abdomen and in the back of the neck.

Ashley struggled with defendant for control of the baseball bat and attempted to run away.   Ashley ran into the living room where defendant followed her and continued to hit her with the baseball bat.   Defendant shot at Ashley a third time, but missed.   Defendant kept asking Ashley “why [she] wouldn’t die, why [she] couldn’t go in peace like her brother did.”

Defendant entered the master bedroom and Ashley crawled down the hall into the bathroom.   Ashley got into the bathtub and filled it with hot water to stay warm.   Ashley remained in the bathtub for several hours until her father arrived home from work at approximately 3:15 p.m.

Mr. Hall entered the residence, walked through the living room, and into the master bedroom.   He discovered Eric lying on the floor dead.   Defendant was lying on the bed under the covers, with two plastic bags over her head.   Mr. Hall asked defendant what had happened.   Defendant did not respond.   Mr. Hall ripped the bags off of defendant’s head and repeatedly asked her what happened and where the telephone was located.   Defendant eventually told Mr. Hall where she had hidden the telephone, but asked him not to call 911 because she did not want to go to jail.   When Mr. Hall called 911, defendant left the house, entered her vehicle, and drove away.   After Mr. Hall called 911, he found Ashley “laying, bleeding, and dying” in the bathtub.   Mr. Hall picked Ashley up, brought her to the living room, laid her on the couch and covered her with a blanket.

Law enforcement officers arrived at the Hall residence shortly thereafter.   Officers observed blood present in the kitchen, on the living room carpet, and on the floor and walls of the hallway.   In the master bedroom, officers found a silver Phoenix Arms .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol on a dresser.   The safety on the pistol was turned off and two live rounds were present in the pistol’s magazine. Officers recovered three fired projectiles from inside the Hall residence.   Additionally, two fired projectiles were recovered from Ashley’s body and one from Eric’s body.   Testimony tended to show that a total of six projectiles were fired at the crime scene.

Caldwell County Sherrif’s Lieutenant Michael Longo (“Officer Longo”) arrived and found Ashley lying on the couch.   Ashley was pale, shaken, and very frightened.   Ashley told Officer Longo defendant had “flipped out” and “went crazy” and had committed these crimes.   Ashley described the attack to Officer Longo but could not remember all of the details.   Mr. Hall told officers at the scene he believed defendant had committed these crimes and described what he observed after he arrived home from work and entered the residence.

A half-mile down the road, defendant’s vehicle rear-ended Barry and Monica Shook’s vehicle.   Defendant fled the scene of the collision.   State Trooper Kevin Milligan (“Trooper Milligan”) responded to the call reporting the hit-and-run accident.   Trooper Milligan received a description of defendant’s car and its license plate number.   At approximately 8:30 p.m., Trooper Milligan spotted defendant’s vehicle and followed her.   Trooper Milligan requested back-up and attempted to stop defendant’s vehicle.

A high speed chase ensued.   Trooper Milligan and other officers pursued defendant at speeds exceeding 110 miles an hour.   The chase ended when defendant crashed head-on into oncoming traffic.   Trooper Milligan testified defendant appeared to be “extremely impaired” and was “unaware of what was going on around her.”

Defendant was transported to Catawba Memorial Hospital.   Defendant was subsequently arrested and transported to Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office.   Defendant was charged with and tried capitally for the murder of Eric and for the attempted murder of Ashley.

At trial, Ashley testified defendant had threatened to kill her on two prior occasions.   Approximately a year and a half prior to 26 February 2004, defendant told Ashley to follow her outside into the yard.   Defendant fired her gun in the air and told Ashley if “she didn’t act better” defendant was going to shoot her.   A second incident occurred approximately one year prior to 26 February 2004.   While Ashley was standing in the kitchen after dinner, defendant came up behind her, put a knife to her throat, and told Ashley if she did not act better “[defendant] wouldn’t think twice about doing it.”   Ashley testified she was scared after both threats.   Defendant had hurt her before and Ashley believed defendant would probably do it again.

SBI Special Agent Shane Green (“Agent Green”) testified that based on the number of fired projectiles found at the crime scene and the number of live rounds remaining in the pistol’s magazine, defendant had to reload her pistol while committing these crimes.   Agent Green also testified that reloading the pistol’s magazine could take up to twenty-five seconds.

B. Defendant’s Evidence

Defendant’s evidence tended to show the relationship between defendant and Eric was loving, while her relationship with Ashley was more complex.   Defendant disapproved of Ashley’s friends and became highly upset when she discovered Ashley had intentionally cut herself.   Defendant sought therapy for Ashley, who refused to attend.   Ashley acknowledged that she had previously lied to DSS, falsely alleging her father had abused her so she could leave the house.   Ashley believed her parents were overly restrictive.   Mr. Hall had broken up physical fights between defendant and Ashley on more than one occasion.   Despite these conflicts, defendant was described as “an excellent mother who loved her daughter” by family acquaintances.

Defendant produced evidence of a long history of depression.   Defendant first sought treatment in 1996, after her father’s death.   In 1998, Dr. Guttler, defendant’s family physician, prescribed Zoloft to treat defendant’s depression.   Dr. Guttler prescribed a different medication when Zoloft reportedly made defendant “jittery.”   Defendant continued to suffer from depression and experienced suicidal thoughts.   In November 1998, defendant was admitted to the psychiatric unit at Frye Memorial Hospital to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.   Defendant stayed in the hospital for a day and a half. Defendant was treated in the hospital and post-release by Dr. Kim.   Upon Dr. Kim’s retirement, defendant’s care was turned over to Dr. Synn.

In November 2003, defendant experienced complications with her medication, including tremors, anxiety, insomnia, and depression.   During this time, Dr. Synn significantly changed defendant’s medication.   In February 2004, defendant complained she was again depressed.   During the month of February 2004, Dr. Synn adjusted and changed defendant’s medication a total of four times, the last time being on 25 February 2004, the day before the crimes were committed.

Defendant retained two mental health experts, Dr. James Bellard (“Dr. Bellard”) and Dr. John Warren (“Dr. Warren”), to examine her and to testify to their opinion of her mental state at the time the crimes were committed.   Dr. Bellard qualified as an expert in forensic psychiatry and testified defendant suffered from depression with psychotic features and from substance induced mood disorder on 26 February 2004.   Dr. Bellard testified defendant developed a delusion that she had to die and her children could not live without her.   Dr. Bellard opined defendant did not know the nature and quality of her actions, could not tell right from wrong, and was unable to form the specific intent to kill.

Dr. Warren, a clinical psychologist, examined defendant in jail on 2 March 2004.   Dr. Warren testified that on 26 February 2006, defendant suffered from major depression with psychotic features and from substance induced mood disorder.   Dr. Warren also opined that defendant did not know the nature and quality of her acts and could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct.   Dr. Warren opined defendant was unable to form a specific intent to kill due to her delusional beliefs.   Dr. Warren stated the “medication effects on this woman worsened and were [the] proximate cause of the episode that she had on February 26th 2004.”

Dr. Nicole Wolfe (“Dr. Wolfe”), a forensic psychiatrist at Dorothea Dix Hospital, examined defendant at the request of the State. Dr. Wolfe agreed with Dr. Bellard’s and Dr. Warren’s diagnoses.   Dr. Wolfe opined that defendant was so severely depressed and her mind was so clouded by medication, that she could not appreciate the difference between right and wrong and was unable to form the specific intent to kill.

Dr. Richard Kapit (“Dr. Kapit”) testified as a non-examining expert in psychiatry and adverse drug reactions. Dr. Kapit testified that Zoloft, a medication defendant had taken, could “flip a person into a ․ manic state [ ] where they can become psychotic, [experience] false beliefs, and be very rash, impulsive and dangerous․  There is an increased risk of mania causing suicide and homicide.” Dr. Kapit conceded that reports of homicidal reactions from the drug “were extremely rare.”

On 18 April 2005, defendant was tried capitally in Caldwell County Superior Court. On 19 May 2005, the jury found defendant to be guilty of the attempted murder of Ashley and guilty of first-degree murder of Eric under the felony murder rule.   On 24 May 2005, following a capital sentencing hearing, the jury recommended life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.   The trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment without parole for the conviction of first-degree murder and imposed a consecutive sentence of a minimum of 155 and a maximum of 195 months imprisonment for defendant’s conviction of attempted first-degree murder.   Defendant appeals…

 

Defendant received a fair trial, free from the prejudicial errors she preserved, assigned, and argued.   Under plain error review, the absence of all or any of the alleged plain errors would not have had a probable impact on the jury’s finding that defendant was guilty.   We find no error.

TYSON, Judge.   Judges MCCULLOUGH and STROUD concur.