BOSTON — The facts of the 2010 murder of a Groton teen were “so horrendous” a jury would have expected some sort of an insanity defense, the killer’s attorney told the state’s highest court on Tuesday.
Attorney Stephen Paul Maidman argued before the state’s highest court that Robert Gulla, of Shirley, deserves a new trial due to errors defense attorney John Galvin made during Gulla’s 2012 trial.
Gulla killed Allison Myrick, 19, on Jan. 23, 2010. He was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving life in prison without parole.
Standing before the state Supreme Judicial Court, Maidman argued that Gulla was denied his right to “a complete defense” because Galvin did not use the insanity defense of “a lack of criminal responsibility.”
Using that insanity defense, the defense must show that the defendant lacked the criminal responsibility by mental disease or defect to know right from wrong.
Gulla has a variety of mental-health issues, including Asperger’s Syndrome compounded by alcohol abuse, Maidman argued.
Maidman also argued that Middlesex Superior Court Judge Thomas Billings, the trial judge, erred because he failed to give the jury the option of convicting Gulla of manslaughter, which suggests mutual combat.
Gulla and Myrick, a freshman at Fitchburg State College, had been dating on and off for four months. Myrick ended the relationship and began dating someone else.
On the day of the murder, Myrick, who still had an active restraining order against Gulla due to his past assaults, went over to his house to talk to him. He flew into a rage after seeing her texting her new boyfriend.
Gulla pummeled Myrick with 11 blows to the face. He stabbed her three times in the head, five times in the abdomen and twice in the back. He cut her throat and shot her between the eyes with a pellet gun.
He extinguished his lit cigarette on her flesh, then tried to kill himself by cutting his wrist and shooting himself in the head with the pellet gun.
At trial, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Montgomery Brower testified that Gulla suffers from a borderline personality disorder. Stress, exacerbated by alcohol abuse, could have sent Gulla “out of control” on the day of Myrick’s murder.
At a subsequent hearing for a new trial, Galvin testified that he investigated a lack of criminal responsibility defense and spoke to three mental-health experts about it. None would testify that Gulla lacked criminal responsibility.
Maidman told the SJC that “the facts are so horrendous,” the jury would have been asking for an insanity defense.
Justice Barbara Lenk asked: How could Galvin could present an insanity defense without a medical expert?
Maidman argued that under the law, Galvin didn’t need a medical expert to testify. He admitted it is “certainly tough” not to have an expert, “but it was better than the defense that was presented.”
Justice Geraldine Hines countered an insanity defense is the most difficult defense to prove.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants referred to Billings’ decision, saying Galvin’s defense involved a “tactical decision” and “a judgment call that was far from manifestly unreasonable.”
Assistant District Attorney Jamie Michael Charles argued that Billings’ decision is correct.
“Galvin researched the laws of mental impairment,” Charles said. The lack of an expert who would testify to the lack of criminal responsibility would “drastically undercut his defense,” Charles said.
Mental-health expert Allison Fife, a prosecution witness, testified that Gulla has a personality disorder with traits of other mental illnesses and Asperger’s. Despite his awkwardness in social settings, Gulla is intelligent and high-functioning, she testified.
Fife testified that Gulla knew right from wrong and was capable of forming the intent to kill. Fife told the jury that Gulla’s behavior was not driven by mental illness, but “extraordinarily severe signs of rage.”
As for allowing the jury to consider a manslaughter conviction, Charles told the SJC that Gulla alleges Myrick bit him, suggesting mutual combat.
Charles said, “It is extremely speculative to infer the victim initiated this fight and that a bite, if it happened, triggered his violent acts.”
The SJC took the matter under advisement.
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