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A West Jordan Juggalo who participated in a battle-ax attack on his girlfriend's ex-lover claims he was under "extreme emotional distress" during the crime, but state attorneys weren't buying that explanation Thursday morning.
During a hearing in the Utah Court of Appeals, defense attorney Stephen Howard argued that Cody Jesse Augustine, 25, should get a new trial. Augustine was convicted of first-degree felony attempted murder two years ago for repeatedly stabbing 17-year-old Justin Ennis with a knife outside the victim's Kearns home in 2008. Augustine was sentenced to three years to life in prison for the attack, which also involved his friend hitting Ennis with a four-bladed battle-ax.
Despite the graphic nature of the attack, Howard argued Thursday that Augustine was actually acting under extreme emotional distress. Augustine believed he had just contracted a sexually transmitted disease, Howard said, and was in physical pain, among other things.
According to Howard, a psychologist should have been allowed to testify about Augustine's emotional distress but was incorrectly barred from doing so by the trial judge.
Howard also argued that Augustine's original defense team didn't properly instruct the jury about extreme emotional distress. The omission made it unclear that emotional distress was an "affirmative defense" or something prosecutors must disprove and amounted to inadequate assistance of counsel, Howard said.
But Judge Fredric Voros wondered aloud if Augustine's arguments about his mental state would have changed the outcome of the trial, especially because Augustine admitted that his stress was due at least in part to the adrenaline he felt during the attack. Voros pointed out that the psychologist's testimony would have discussed Augustine's supposed STD, but that alone may not have been enough to change the outcome of the trial.
"Is that really enough to raise a reasonable doubt in this case?" Voros asked.
Howard countered that a jury should decide.
"It's up to the jury," he argued. "But they never got that chance. We don't know what the jury would have found."
Assistant Utah Attorney General Karen Klucznik argued that emotional distress can't be used as a defense if it's the result of committing a crime. She went on to say that being emotionally distressed means being overwhelmed and out of control. Augustine, on the other hand, spent two hours plotting the attack and luring Ennis outside, then stabbed him several times in the back while he tried to get away.
The point, Klucznik said, was that any extreme emotional distress Augustine experienced was the result of the attack and therefore shouldn't let him off the hook.
"You do not get to mastermind your own trigger," Klucznik added.
Prosecutors have previously described the incident as being like a "Hollywood slasher flick," and said Augustine planned to kill Ennis from the get-go. At the trial, Ennis removed his shirt to show jurors his scars. He suffered an 8-inch cut to his neck, a 10-1/2-inch cut in his left pectoral muscle and smaller cuts on his shoulder and hands. It required more than 300 stitches to close his 12 wounds, five of which were from being stabbed, and Ennis spent five days in the hospital.
The attack reportedly was prompted by Augustine's belief that he had contracted an STD from his girlfriend, who in turn said she got it after having sex with Ennis.
As a result, Augustine and his friend Scott Tyler Stapley went to Ennis' home on July 29, 2008. According to Augustine's trial testimony, his girlfriend lured Ennis from his home with an offer for sex. When Ennis came outside, Augustine and Stapley attacked him.
Stapley, 26, who wielded the battle-ax, was convicted in 2009 of attempted murder. A judge sentenced him to three years to life in prison.
Police described both of the men as Juggalos, fans of the Insane Clown Posse rap group. Juggalos and their female counterparts, Juggalettes, are classified as a gang by Utah law enforcement.
Howard said after the hearing that if the emotional distress defense had been properly raised during trial Augustine could have faced a lesser attempted manslaughter charge, rather than a first-degree felony attempted murder charge. Klucznik has asked the court to uphold Augustine's conviction.
The appeals court will issue a written decision at a future date.