RISING SUN, Ind. – A teenager who strangled his 10-year-old brother joked around with his mother the following morning, and later went into his father's bedroom with a knife and fought the urge to cut his throat, according to video testimony presented Friday at his sentencing hearing.
Shawn Conley testified that he woke up in bed to find his 17-year-old son, Andrew, standing over him with something shiny in his hand. He said he couldn't tell what it was, and the teen quickly put the object in his pocket.
In video played earlier in the hearing, an emotionless Andrew Conley described in detail how he strangled his brother Connor, dragged him to his car and stuffed him in the trunk. He also said he stood over his sleeping father with a knife and fought the urge to stab him.
"He was just standing there looking at me," his father told prosecutors and defense attorneys in testimony videotaped Sept. 9, saying the incident "kind of creeped me out a little bit."
Andrew Conley, now 18, unexpectedly pleaded guilty Monday to murdering his brother as his trial was about to begin. He faces 45 years to life in prison, but can't be put to death because he was 17 when the slaying occurred.
Prosecutors also played video testimony from the boys' mother, Bridget Conley, during the third day of his sentencing hearing in Rising Sun, the small Ohio River town where Conner Conley died on Nov. 28. Neither of his parents were in court Friday, but Bridget Conley said in her video testimony that she hadn't spoken with Andrew since his arrest and has moved out of state.
She said Andrew seemed "fine" when she arrived home from her overnight shift at a casino, and that he told her his younger brother was at his grandmother's house. The boy's body was actually lying covered with sticks and leaves in a park.
She said Andrew joked around the following morning and seemed calm, watching movies with her and eating popcorn.
Bridget Conley said she sought counseling for Andrew in the days before the murder because he had cut himself on the chest and claimed to have attempted suicide. She said she didn't believe the claim.
"My concerns were that he was pushing the envelope to get out of school," she said, noting that two weeks before the murder, she agreed to let him drop out of school so he could get his GED and join the National Guard.
Shortly before the murder, she said, he told her he wanted to return to school.
A psychologist who testified in court Friday for the defense said the self-cutting and attempted suicide were signs of a deep mental illness. Dr. Edward D. Connor, a clinical psychologist from Kentucky who examined Andrew for times, said the teen showed schizophrenic tendencies and was bipolar.
"He talked about hearing voices," Connor said.
Connor said the teen was likely dissociative when he held his brother in a chokehold until he passed out, then dragged him into the kitchen and strangled him. Dissociation is a psychiatric condition in which the mind seems to become disconnected from the body, he said.
Nonetheless, he said Andrew still knew at the time that what he was doing was wrong.
Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard pressed Connor about inconsistencies in what Andrew Conley told different doctors who examined him, questioning whether the teen could be faking.
But Connor said that while he believed Conley was exaggerating some of his symptoms, such as the voices, he still was seriously mentally ill.
"I felt like he was being honest about his experiences," he said.
Connor's testimony is expected to continue Monday, when the defense plans to call several psychologists to discuss Conley's mental state. Mental illness is one factor that the judge can weigh in determining whether to lighten the sentence.