State v. Nemeth

694 N.E. 2d 1332, 82 Ohio St. 3d 202 (1998)

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State v. Nemeth

Ohio Supreme Court
694 N.E. 2d 1332, 82 Ohio St. 3d 202 (1998)

Facts

Brian Nemeth (defendant) was 16 years old when he killed his mother, Suzanne Nemeth, by shooting her in the head and neck five times with a compound bow. Brian was charged and tried as an adult. According to Brian’s testimony at trial, his mother was an alcoholic who became angry and violent when she drank, abusing him physically and psychologically for years. Brian testified that on the night Suzanne was killed, she was yelling and cursing, and she struck him in the mouth with a full can of beer she threw at him. Brian ran and locked himself in his room, where he listened to his mother cursing, pounding on the door for hours, and threatening to bash his face as he sat sobbing and shaking. Suzanne had taken the phone out of Brian’s room, so he was not able to call anyone for assistance. Brian thought that his life was at risk. Around 4:00 a.m., Suzanne stopped trying to get into Brian’s room and walked away. Brian testified that his compound bow was in his room, and as everything came flooding back, he picked the bow like a robot, walked down the hall not knowing where he was walking, and started shooting when he saw his mother lying on the couch. Brian testified to remembering only the first shot, blacking out, and finding himself on the floor. Brian called the police twice, begging them to hurry, and he confessed what he had done and was cooperative with the paramedics. Suzanne’s blood-alcohol level was 0.20. Brian proffered the testimony of an expert on battered-child syndrome who would have testified regarding the psychological effects of prolonged child abuse on a child’s sense of danger to support Brian’s theory of self-defense and the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. The expert was a trained psychologist whose testimony was grounded in scientific information that had acquired general acceptance in psychiatric and legal communities. The testimony was relevant for several reasons, including assessing whether Brian truly believed he was at risk of imminent danger. Because killings without confrontation did not display the typical example of self-defense, the expert’s testimony would have helped the jury understand how Brian could have believed he was in danger, the helplessness battered children felt, and the nonreporting of abuse. The trial judge did not admit the expert’s testimony, and Brian was convicted of murder. Brian appealed, and an appellate court reversed and remanded for the trial court to conduct a new trial. The state appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Moyer, C.J.)

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