Prosecutors Seek To Examine Defendant In Murder Trial

April 03, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

A circuit court judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether prosecutorscan compel a North Laurel murder defendant to undergo psychiatric testing, which they hope will refute the woman's battered-spouse syndrome defense.

Beverly Seward, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 37-year-old Archie White last July 29 at the couple's town house in North Laurel.

In a Howard County Sun article Jan. 27, Seward said she shot White in self-defense after he beat her frequently over 10 years. At the time of the shooting, she said, she suffered from the psychological condition known as battered-spouse syndrome.

In the article, publicdefender Richard Bernhardt said he plans to use battered-spouse syndrome as a defense.

In arguments Tuesday, Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell said she, as prosecutor, is entitled to have her ownpsychiatrist examine Seward. A defense psychiatrist has already examined her.

"The state is the one that would be hogtied, so to speak, if it were not allowed to provide expert testimony" to refute Seward's claim that she suffered from battered-spouse syndrome.

Seward's trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 30 but was postponed by prosecutors until May 29 to determine whether expert testimony on battered-spouse syndrome will be allowed.

Yesterday, Bernhardt argued against allowing the prosecution its own psychological examination, saying itwould be a "dangerous precedent to set."

"This would be an interrogation. . . . There's no doubt that the psychiatrist would be an agent of the state," Bernhardt said.

As such, the evaluation would infringe on Seward's constitutional right to remain silent during questioning, Bernhardt said.

He also argued that while the state has a right to such an examination in certain cases, such as those involving an insanity defense, no such right exists here because the issue isself-defense.

Bernhardt also asked Sybert to allow him to monitorand videotape the evaluation if the judge grants the prosecution itspretrail motion.

O'Donnell opposed the idea, saying she wants theevaluation done "in accordance with (the psychiatrist's) professional dictates, and not those of the defense."

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