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The Hartford Courant
June 04, 2014
By ALAINE GRIFFIN, firstname.lastname@example.org
MILFORD — Lawyers for Christopher Plaskon, the Jonathan Law High School teenager accused of fatally stabbing classmate Maren Sanchez, laid the groundwork Wednesday for a possible insanity defense for the 17-year-old.
During a brief appearance at Superior Court, Plaskon waived his right to a probable-cause hearing and pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder. Through his lawyers, Plaskon also requested a trial before a three-judge panel instead of a jury.
One of his attorneys, Richard T. Meehan Jr., later explained that forgoing a jury trial was a “tactical decision,” saying that judges have more experience than jurors in handling criminal cases involving a defendant with potential mental health issues.”I’m a firm believer that juries have a very difficult time with issues pertaining to mental health and the criminal justice system,” Meehan said after Wednesday’s hearing. “I think what happened in Santa Barbara recently, that would only make presenting this type of an issue to a jury that much more difficult. “Meehan was referring to the May 23 shooting rampage by Elliot Rodger, 22, in which six people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded in Isla Vista, Calif., near Santa Barbara. Rodger fired a bullet into his head after the killing spree. He outlined his criminal intentions in writings and on video.
“Judges have a better sense of this kind of thing and deal with the facts and the objective opinions of doctors better” than the average juror, Meehan said. Jury verdicts must be unanimous, Meehan added, but a verdict by judges may by 2-1.
Meehan said that although he and his colleague, Edward J. Gavin, were investigating possibly mounting an insanity defense for Plaskon, it was “premature” to say that it was the route they would pursue.
Meehan said that Plaskon is taking medication for anxiety but he did not elaborate on the teen’s mental health, calling him “a very sorrowful, sad youngster.”
Meehan said that although Plaskon is no longer under a suicide watch, he is being held in an infirmary at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire with round-the-clock supervision. He said that Plaskon is also taking anti-psychotic medication.
Plaskon’s parents and brothers attended Wednesday’s hearing, and an uncle stood with Plaskon at the defense table as Judge Frank A. Iannotti questioned Plaskon about his decisions to waive the hearing and to be tried before three judges.
Plaskon, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, responded, “Yes, your honor,” to Iannotti’s repeated questions.
His parents had not attended the previous hearings.
Plaskon is an accomplished athlete who ran track and played football during his first two years at Jonathan Law but had withdrawn from sports competition this year. He is the third of five sons in a family that is well-respected and involved in town, friends have said.
His mother, uncles and two older brothers are alumni of Jonathan Law, and his brothers were also noted athletes in the community.
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Plaskon Could Be Paroled After 13 Years In Prom Day Slaying — (Hartford Courant)
Alaine Griffin, Contact Reporter
March 7, 2016, 6:48 PM
A new juvenile justice law that calls for a review of long prison sentences for younger offenders could mean Plaskon, now 18, would be eligible for parole after serving 60 percent of his sentence, taking the 25-year sentence down to 15 years, his lawyer Edward J. Gavin said.
“And he has two years in,” Gavin said. “So he would be parole-eligible. It’s not a guarantee. That’s up to a parole board to go ahead and decide. But Christopher could potentially be released in 13 years.”
During a brief hearing Monday in Superior Court, Plaskon pleaded no contest to a charge of murder, meaning he did not admit guilt but agreed not to fight the charge.
Gavin said Plaskon and Sanchez, both 16-year-old juniors at the school at the time of the fatal stabbing, were friends and grew up together.
Some family members and friends of Sanchez seated in the gallery Monday wept as the prosecutor, Kevin D. Lawlor, recounted the horrific last moments of Sanchez’s life as she was brutally stabbed in a hallway at the high school on the morning of April 25, 2014, just hours before the junior prom. Court records said Plaskon told police after the stabbing, “I did it. Just arrest me.”
Sanchez was a bright and talented student whose popularity was reflected in the week of vigils, services and memorials that followed her death.
Lawlor told Judge John J. Ronan that Sanchez’s mother, Donna Cimarelli-Sanchez, said she wanted the case settled to save the family from any further trauma that a trial could cause.
“She told me that Maren was a kind and forgiving person and that she would have wanted this matter resolved, as well,” Lawlor said.
Previously, Plaskon had pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and requested a trial before a three-judge panel instead of a jury as part of an insanity defense his lawyers said they would mount.
Plaskon’s parents, David and Kathy Plaskon, told police their son suffered from mental health issues as a child and that he had received treatment for behavioral issues such as mood swings, depression, suicidal tendencies and self-mutilating behavior, court documents said.
David Plaskon told police that his son “had recently appeared to be bothered by the fact he was turned down by a female to attend the high school prom,” the documents said. However, the father said, they had no immediate safety concerns for their son’s mental health or well being and when he was dropped off at school on the day of the killing, the teen “appeared to be in good spirits,” according to court documents.
While in prison, Plaskon wrote a letter to his father telling him that “he hears voices” in his head and that is “the reason he did what he did,” documents said.
Plaskon, dressed in a bright yellow prison jumpsuit, his brown hair now longer and slicked back, spoke clearly while answering Ronan’s questions about his understanding of the plea deal. Gavin told the judge that Plaskon on Monday had taken a small dosage of Prozac, which is used to treat depression and anxiety, but that he was clear-headed and understood what was happening in court.
If he went to trial and was convicted, Plaskon faced 25 to 60 years in prison; if acquitted by reason of insanity, Gavin said, Plaskon would have been admitted to the state’s maximum-security psychiatric hospital for an undetermined amount of time.
“This was the middle ground that we worked out,” Gavin said.
For weeks, both sides negotiated a plea deal that included discussions about mental health evaluations of Plaskon, Plaskon’s age at the time of the slaying and the prospect of having the murder charge reduced to manslaughter.
Prosecutors insisted on keeping the murder charge.
I believe he should be punished severely and I believe he is being punished severely,” Lawlor said after the hearing. “He is pleading guilty to murder because I came out here on day one and I believe I stated that he was being charged with murder.”
Lawlor said in reaching a plea deal, he looked at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, which struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Lawlor said he also incorporated a state law passed by Connecticut legislators last year giving juveniles serving lengthy prison terms the chance for parole.
The legislation, passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, allows those serving a long prison term after being convicted as a juvenile a chance at parole after completing 60 percent of their sentence or 12 years, whichever is greater. To get there, the parole board must rule that the inmate is rehabilitated and does not pose a threat to the public.
“For a defendant who is 16 years old at the time of the crime, there’s been a concerted effort among those in the executive branch and the legislature to state that that should
be appropriately reflected in any potential sentence,” Lawlor said. “With the state Supreme Court’s guidance and the legislature’s guidance, I felt that getting the upper range of a murder conviction probably was not going to happen.”
Lawlor called the plea deal a fair compromise, adding, “I think in any fair compromise, neither side is completely happy.
“I don’t think the Plaskon family is happy with it and I certainly think that the Sanchez family, that if they had their way, there would be a stiffer punishment but this is the system that we’re working under,” he said. “I believe given all of the facts and circumstances of this case that it is an appropriate resolution based on the legal and moral factors that we’re using to make a decision like this.”
Anthony Bonadies, an attorney for Jose Sanchez, Maren Sanchez’s father, said the father needed time to digest news about the plea deal before he could comment.
Speaking publicly for the first time Monday about what police said was the motive for the killing — Sanchez rebuffing a prom invitation from Plaskon — Gavin said though they had discussed going to the prom together in the fall of 2013, the slaying the following April was not tied to the prom.
Physicians at two hospitals concluded that Plaskon suffered psychosis the day of the murder, and that it was not a case in which “somebody was making up that they were hearing voices,” Gavin said.
“It wasn’t a situation where he had asked her to the prom the day before and she said no and he was devastated and he lashed out at her,” Gavin said. “It was a function of him being psychotic. The individual that wound up being attacked was Maren Sanchez … but in reality, it could have been any one of those students.”
But prosecutors said they were prepared to present evidence pointing to the prom rejection as a motive. They planned to use testimony from Plaskon’s father, who had said his son was upset at being turned down for the prom; and testimony from a witness, who said Plaskon “had thoughts of hurting” Sanchez because he “wanted to be more than just friends” with her and “wanted to take her to the prom but she was involved with another male,” court records said.
The witness told police that Plaskon said “he wouldn’t mind if [Sanchez] was dead or hit by a bus,” and that although Plaskon never directly said he wanted to hurt Sanchez, “he implied it,” records said.