COLUMBUS, Ohio – Attorneys for Charles A. McCoy Jr. (search) face one of the toughest courtroom challenges: They must paint a picture of a delusional man even as a jury looks over at a calm, collected and medicated defendant.
"It's going to be a horse race," said Andrew Haney, one of three attorneys for McCoy, a 29-year-old with a history of paranoid schizophrenia (search) who is charged in a deadly string of highway shootings around central Ohio between October 2003 and February 2004.
Jury selection in his trial began Friday and the trial is expected to last until mid-May. Panelists must decide if McCoy goes to prison, death row or to a mental hospital.
McCoy has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to aggravated murder and assault in 12 shootings — including the fatal shooting of 62-year-old Gail Knisley (search). He could face the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder.
Law professors say it will be hard to prove that firing his handgun toward houses, a school and moving vehicles meant that he intended to kill the people inside. That proof would be essential for the eight attempted murder charges and the possibility of a death sentence.
On the other side, McCoy's attorneys are using one of the most unpopular and least successful strategies in a jury trial. Many juries see the insanity defense as tantamount to confessing but trying to escape punishment.
It would take three separate unanimous votes for the jury to recommend a death sentence. They would have to convict McCoy of aggravated murder in the death of Knisley, who was being driven to a doctor's appointment; agree that the killing was part of a pattern of behavior trying to kill two or more people; and, after a sentencing phase, recommend execution.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ronald O'Brien said he has to prove only that McCoy intended the "natural and probable consequences" of firing at a moving vehicle with a person driving it. He compared it to firing into a crowded stadium knowing that someone could get hit.
Most of the defense's evidence will involve McCoy's 10-year history of paranoid schizophrenia, which causes delusions and inappropriate emotions.
The insanity plea is used in fewer than 1 percent of felony cases and rarely succeeds, said Thomas Hafemeister, director of legal studies at the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.