Monday, November 23, 2009

Death penalty won't be sought in Illinois murder trial of man with Asperger's

From the News-Courier:

CENTRALIA, Ill. — The trial of an autistic Southern Illinois man in the rape and stabbing death of a Centralia first-grade teacher can go forward now that the prosecution has agreed state law does not allow the death penalty.

Neil Barrall, 29, of Centralia, faces two counts of first-degree murder for the October 2007 slaying of Rita Michelle Caveletto.

Prosecutors in Marion County allege Barrall ran over Caveletto with his vehicle while she was jogging along Schwartz Road in rural Walnut Hill, then sexually assaulted her, repeatedly kicked her in the head and stabbed her multiple times with a knife in the chest and neck.

Barrall suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. The case had been on hold awaiting a decision by the Appellate Court on the judge's decision that found Barrall is fit to stand trial with special assistance.

Barrall's attorney has argued that he is unfit to stand trial because of mental disease. Prosecutors now say that state law prohibits the imposition of the death penalty with a finding that Barrall has Asperger's syndrome and must be provided special assistance at trial.

On April 27, the judge ruled Barrall "is fit to stand trial with special provisions and assistance provided him" by statute. The order stated, "That special assistance should include appointment of a qualified person trained in dealing with persons diagnosed with Asperger's (syndrome) to assist the defendant as needed at trial."

Earlier this week, Barrall's attorney, Matt Vaughn of Fairfield, dropped his appeal of the judge's original ruling. He then filed a motion in Circuit Court asking the judge to bar the death penalty, citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings that prohibit the death penalty for mentally retarded individuals.

Marion County State's Attorney Matt Wilzbach says that with the appeal off the table, state law will require the possibility of the death penalty to be removed. It is expected the decision to bar the death penalty will be issued during a conference call on Dec. 3.