Testimony ends; divergent opinions emerge on Kehoe mental state — (WCF Courier)

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WCF Courier

By JOSH NELSON, josh.nelson@wcfcourier.com |

Posted: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 5:20 am

GRUNDY CENTER – Years before the knife and the pond, Michelle Kehoe began her struggle with mental illness.

Kehoe, 36, of Coralville, first attempted suicide a decade before she allegedly killed her son Seth, 2, and tried to kill another Sean, 7, at the Hook-N-Liner Pond near Littleton last year. The second attempt followed 11 months after that first one.

Kehoe’s mental illness was so severe that on Oct. 26, 2008, she lacked the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, said Dr. William Logan, a psychiatrist from Kansas City, Mo.

“That was so broke at that time that she couldn’t think rationally,” Logan told jurors Tuesday.

Kehoe is accused of cutting the throats of her two children. She also cut her own throat and spent several weeks in the hospital. She is on trial for first-degree murder, attempted murder and child endangerment resulting in serious injury.

Andrea Dryer, Kehoe’s attorney, said to Kehoe, the only option at the time seemed to be suicide.

“For Miss Kehoe, the world is a dark place that held no hope,” Dryer said during her opening statements.

Dryer said Kehoe wanted to kill her children because “she did not want to leave them behind to suffer.” Dryer is not contesting the facts of the case, but argued Kehoe’s mental illness meant she can’t be held criminally responsible.

“She didn’t have the mental capacity to tell the difference between right and wrong of the acts she is accused of,” Dryer said.

Logan examined Kehoe at the Buchanan County Jail for 4 1/2 hours on Jan. 30. He also consulted Kehoe’s lengthy medical history for his diagnosis.

“She had always been concerned about the stigma of mental illness,” he said. “She saw this as an imperfection in herself.”

Medical history

Kehoe’s early life was tumultuous. Both her parents were alcoholics who separated when she was young. She lived with her father until he died in a car accident. She then stayed with her mother and her stepfather.

Logan said Kehoe was sexually abused when she was young by her stepfather and his nephew. She later lived with her sister, though her aunt helped raise her.

In 1996, Logan said, Kehoe had her first major experience with depression. She was prescribed Paxil for her symptoms.

“She has been more or less under treatment since that episode,” he said.

In March 1998, she had her first suicide attempt. She drank Heet, an anti-freeze used in gas tanks, and inhaled carbon monoxide.

“What is significant about this is she didn’t reach out to anyone close,” Logan said. “She didn’t even let her husband know.”

She had a subsequent attempt in February 1999, when she went to a hotel and tried to cut her femoral artery in a bathtub. The wound clotted up and she sought treatment for her depression.

She had a series of up to 44 electro-shock therapy treatments and went back on medication, Logan told jurors.

Turning point

The next major event for her was in December 2007, when her van careened into the Iowa River. After the incident, Kehoe began suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Logan said there were questions about whether it was intentional.

“It had been presented very much as an accident at the time,” Logan said.

On cross-examination, Logan said in one report from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Kehoe told doctors it was a suicide attempt that no one noticed. The report was made after the Oct. 26, 2008 incident.

Logan said a person can still have post-traumatic stress even if the act was intentional.

In August 2008, Kehoe began planning her suicide. She hid her plans – and her emotions – from friends and family. The story of an unknown abductor was based in part on a photograph of her stepfather, Logan said.

Logan said on cross-examination that none of the reports from 2008 seemed to indicate suicidal thoughts, and that most of the information he got from Kehoe during the January interview.

That still didn’t indicate she was acting rationally, he said.

“I just haven’t known any normal people who set out to kill themselves and their kids,” Logan said.

There were some inconsistencies, Logan said. Chief among them was the amount of care put into Kehoe’s plan, including her telling the story of the abductor even after it was revealed to be false.

“The major thing that I think argues against her inability to tell right from wrong is the amount of planning involved,” he said.

Emotional photos

Earlier in the morning, prosecutors ended their case with emotional testimony about Seth Kehoe’s autopsy from the doctor who performed it.

Dr. Dennis Klein, the deputy state medical examiner, told jurors Seth died of sharp cut wounds to his neck. The two wounds on the left side of his neck cut through the interior jugular vein, which caused him to bleed to death.

The injury, however, didn’t cause the toddler to lose consciousness immediately.

“I don’t have any way of giving a number; however, I would suspect in a matter of minutes,” Klein said.

“As opposed to moments?” said Andrew Prosser, an assistant attorney general.

“Yes,” Klein said.

A large portion of the courtroom – including some jurors – didn’t look at the photographs displayed on a screen. Family members of Gene Kehoe, Michelle’s husband, and Michelle wept during the testimony. Michelle Kehoe also wiped tears away from her face.

Gene, who has been in the courtroom during the trial, was also present for that testimony.

Dryer also showed photographs of Kehoe’s injuries, which included a large cut that severed her trachea and two smaller cuts on either side of her neck. The injuries prevented her from talking for some time.

Testimony in the trial continues today. Kehoe’s proceedings were moved to Grundy County amid concerns about media coverage hindering her ability to get a fair trial.

Posted in Local on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 5:20 am