On March 3rd, the Court heard the case of the man the press has dubbed the “Craigslist killer.” In 2010, one’s fifteen minutes of fame (or infamy) tend to get meted out on Wikipedia; here are Michael John Anderson’s. Most people are familiar with the basic facts of the case: Anderson lured Katherine Olson to his house with a phony Craigslist ad for a baby sitter. Anderson wound up shooting Olson in the back. Afterward, in the jail, Anderson blabbed to other inmates that he shot Olson because he wanted to see what it felt like to kill. At trial, the defense contended that Anderson shot Olson on the spur of the moment to prevent her from running away. Unpersuaded, the jury convicted Anderson of premeditated murder.
Curious Arguments in a Curious Case
Most of the time allotted for the oral argument was spent on Anderson’s assertion that the pattern jury instruction on premeditation, CRIMJIG 11.02, provided an inadequate explanation of the law in the peculiar circumstances of his case. (Anderson’s counsel, Alan Margoles, was forced into this fussy phrasing; he was hemmed in by State v. Goodloe, which had upheld CRIMJIG 11.02 some four years previously.) Margoles’ argument revolved around this phrase from State v. Moore, 481 N.W.2d 355 (Minn. 1992): To establish premeditation, the state must prove that “after the defendant formed the intent to kill, some appreciable time passed during which the consideration, planning, preparation or determination required by Minn. Stat. § 609.18 prior to the commission of the act took place.” In comparison, CRIMJIG 11.02 states: “Premeditation means that the defendant considered, planned, prepared for, or determined to commit the act before the defendant committed it.”
Margoles read the Moore sentence as embodying, in essence, a how-to manual for the premeditation determination. The Moore formula for premeditation, he cautioned the Justices, “goes against all of our every day ways of thinking.” It bucks “common sense.” It requires, he said, four steps which unfold in counter-intuitive order. First you consider killing. Then you actually determine to kill. Then you think about it or premeditate. Then you act.
The Justices appeared not to know what to make of this argument. Their questions veered off into other directions.
Margoles continued to return to his point. First you form the intent to kill and then you think about it, he said. Premeditation does not take place before the intent to kill is formed; it takes place afterward.
Justice Magnuson finally bit. “It’s consider the act and then do it. That’s premeditation,” he said.
No, responded Margoles.
Justice Magnuson: “If I consider whether to kill you, then I kill you, I’ve premeditated, haven’t I? Under the law, under the statute?”
Margoles: “Only if you have made, formulated intent to kill before you’ve considered.”
“No,” replied Justice Magnuson. “I considered whether I would kill you and thought, yes, I will. And I did. That’s premeditation, isn’t it?”
Margoles: “No. That’s what I’m trying to get at. That’s what all of this is getting at.”
Justice Magnuson, in a tone of disbelief: “That’s not premeditation?”
Justice Magnuson: “I consider whether or not to kill you and I decide to kill you. That’s not premeditation?”
Margoles: “No, Your Honor.”
“Okay,” said a skeptical-sounding Justice Magnuson.
Anderson’s second contention was that was that he should have been permitted to present expert testimony about how his Asperger syndrome affected his physical capacities. Margoles argued that some explanation was necessary as Anderson sat woodenly throughout the lengthy trial, constricted and uncommunicative, and his presentation might have struck the jury as sinister. Also, at trial the defense sought to introduce expert testimony that Anderson’s Asperger snydrome rendered him unusually clumsy. Had this evidence been permitted, said Margoles, Anderson would have had the option of arguing a defense of accidental shooting to the jury.
Justice G. Barry Anderson asked Assistant Scott County Attorney Michael Groh whether expert testimony of this sort is ever admissible. Groh replied, in effect, that it did not matter since, “odds are,” cases involving the genuinely mentally ill “aren’t even going to get to trial.” He expressed his view that Rule 20.02 does a fine job of sparing mentally ill individuals from the harsh consequences of criminal liability. Oh, the fabled largesse of the M’Naughton rule.
Curiouser and curiouser.