Mother breaks down in court as ex-husband cleared for strangling 4-year-old son to death while sleepwalking

A North Carolina father was acquitted of strangling to death his 4-year-old son and trying to kill his other two children after the defense successfully argued that the man’s ‘violent sleepwalking’ was to blame for the tragedy.

A jury on Wednesday decided unanimously that Joseph Anthony Mitchell is not guilty of murder and attempted murder after an expert witness said he was effectively unconscious at the time of his attacks four years ago.

Jurors had asked Superior Court Judge James Roberson if they could consider a lesser verdict of manslaughter, but the judge said it was all or nothing: murder, or not guilty.

Mitchell, 50, sobbed after the shocking verdict, but made no comment as he walked out of court a free man.

His ex-wife, Christine Perolini, was so stunned by the ruling that she hyperventilated and had to be wheeled out on a stretcher surrounded by her family.

Reacting to the verdict, the grieving mother exclaimed in court: ‘I failed. I couldn’t save him [Blake].’

Mitchell testified that he was in financial distress and had not been sleeping well around the time of 4-year-old Blake Mitchell’s death in September 2010.

Prosecutors said those financial difficulties drove Mitchell to strangle the toddler and try to kill the others. Mitchell’s 13-year-old and 10-year-old children testified in court that they fought him off.

But a defense expert said Mitchell’s stress and lack of sleep likely resulted in ‘non-REM parasomnia,’ a sleep disorder whose sufferers can perform random acts unconsciously. Because of this disorder, he was incapable of exercising criminal intent, the expert said.

A psychologist who testified for the prosecution after repeatedly interviewing Mitchell said he had no mental condition that would have left him unconscious during the attacks, and that he must have consciously planned them.

Mitchell’s trial lasted a month but it took the jury less than four hours to return a not guilty verdict.

Following Mitchell’s acquittal, some members of the jury panel spoke out saying that they did not believe the sleepwalking defense, but their hands were tied.

Speaking to the station WRAL, one juror said she was ‘embarrassed’ to be a part of this case and compared the experience to being ‘dragged into someone else’s nightmare.’

The woman said that she and her fellow jurors had no choice but to acquit Blake Mitchell’s killer of first-degree murder.

‘We would have definitely convicted him of manslaughter,’ the juror said. ‘We felt like our hands were tied.’

Referring of Mitchell, whom the prosecution painted as a serial liar and a man desperate to get out of a financial bind, another juror said: ‘I didn’t believe one word out of that man’s mouth.’

The general opinion on the jury panel was that the prosecution had to prove malice and intent to get a conviction on a first-degree murder charge, but they failed to do it.

During the month-long trial, defense attorney Jay Ferguson asked Judge James Roberts to allow the jury to consider an involuntary manslaughter conviction, but his request was denied.

More at The DailyMail

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