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Choisnet v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

July 11, 2014


Murder. Chatham Superior Court. Before Judge Freesemann.

Steven L. Sparger, for appellant.

Meg E. Heap , District Attorney, Shalena C. Jones , Isabel M. Pauley , Assistant District Attorneys, Samuel S. Olens , Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton , Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith , Senior Assistant Attorney General, Andrew G. Sims , Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.


Page 323

HUNSTEIN, Justice.

Appellant Fredrick Choisnet, Jr., was indicted and tried for murder and related charges in connection with the stabbing death of his elderly father. Choisnet pled not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming he suffered from mental illness that had rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong in relation to his crimes and caused him to suffer under the delusion that his father was [295 Ga. 569] planning to kill him and his mother. The jury found Choisnet guilty but mentally ill, and Choisnet now appeals, contending that the trial court's instructions to the jury were erroneous in several ways. Finding no error, we affirm.[1]

Page 324

Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, the evidence adduced at trial established as follows. On March 5, 2007, Choisnet stabbed his elderly father with multiple implements, including knives and carving forks, at the family's home. Choisnet's father died as the result of more than 200 sharp and blunt force injuries, which caused him to bleed to death; he had also sustained injuries consistent with manual strangulation. Choisnet admits to having committed the attack.

Choisnet has a long history of mental health problems. In 1973, at age 20, he was hospitalized at a psychiatric institution in Long Island, New York, and in the years since then, he has been treated for mental health problems on numerous occasions, including hospitalizations in 1993, 2000, 2004, and 2007. His diagnoses included bipolar disorder with psychotic features, major depression, schizophrenia, and alcohol dependency. The last of his hospitalizations occurred just six weeks before the murder, when Choisnet was involuntarily committed after expressing thoughts about killing his father and reporting feelings of paranoia and auditory hallucinations.

Choisnet's sister, Jheri Galbraith, spent time with Choisnet during the week prior to the murder and testified that she suspected he had stopped taking his medications based on his antisocial and inappropriate behavior. Evidence uncovered after the murder indicated that Choisnet had been secreting his medications in his bed linens rather than taking them as prescribed. Galbraith testified [295 Ga. 570] that, on the day before the murder, Choisnet was dressed oddly, his shirt on inside out with a belt cinched over it and his underwear on over his pants, and was acting strangely, dragging his dog around the house with a rope around its neck. After unsuccessfully trying to convince her brother to go to the hospital, Galbraith called 911, but the responding officers did not deem Choisnet a sufficient threat to justify taking him into custody.

In the aftermath of the attack, Choisnet called 911 and told the operator his father had attacked him with a knife. When police arrived at the home, Choisnet was " extremely erratic," told one of the officers that his father had tried to stab him, and also stated, " I think he may have killed my real father." When interviewed by police later that day at the hospital, Choisnet said that his father had attacked him with the phone; in this interview, Choisnet appeared lucid and gave no indication of delusional thinking. In another interview at the county jail, Choisnet stated that he thought his actions may have resulted from too high a dose of his medication. He also told the detective that he and his father had been in an argument and that his father had tried to attack him with a knife.

While in jail awaiting trial, Choisnet wrote several letters to Galbraith in which he spoke about pleading insanity, predicting he would have to serve three to five years on such a plea; made odd remarks about not having to worry about Father's Day and whether their mother was stabbing anyone; and maintained that their father intended to kill him and their mother. Choisnet also spoke at length about the idea of an insanity plea with a fellow inmate, who testified that Choisnet appeared to understand that what he had done was wrong but did not want to be held accountable for his actions.

At trial, Choisnet presented expert testimony from a clinical psychologist, Dr. Jane Weilenman, who had ...

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