- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court yesterday ordered a judge to reconsider whether a woman convicted of killing her husband would have been acquitted if jurors had known about her multiple personality disorder at the beginning of the trial.

The unanimous ruling provides new hope for Janice L. Orndorff, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Goering Gustav Orndorff on the couple’s seventh wedding anniversary in 2000.

“I’m gratified that we still have arguments to pursue on behalf of Ms. Orndorff,” her attorney, Henry W. Asbill, said in a telephone interview.

Orndorff claims one of her alternative personalities — a “protector” named Jacob — shot her husband five times as he came at her with a knife and a baseball bat.

But Orndorff didn’t get the opportunity to raise an insanity defense. That’s because mental health specialists hired by Orndorff’s attorneys diagnosed her with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, after her conviction. The Prince William County jury was told about the diagnosis before sentencing Orndorff to 35 years in prison.

In denying Orndorff’s motion for a new trial, Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. improperly relied on the stiff sentence as an indication that Orndorff would fare no better before a different jury, the Supreme Court ruled.

“We conclude that the circuit court’s reliance on the jury’s sentencing decision was error because the court substituted in place of its own judgment the reaction of a jury that had already resolved crucial credibility issues against Orndorff in the guilt phase of the trial,” Justice Barbara Milano Keenan wrote.

The court also reversed a ruling by the trial court and the Virginia Court of Appeals that the defense failed to exercise “reasonable due diligence” in pursing a multiple personality diagnosis before the trial.

Prosecutors claimed that even before trial, Orndorff showed signs of the disorder, including a sometimes hysterical 911 call in which she asked to speak to her “mommy.” Doctors later determined that another of Orndorff’s alternative personalities is a 12-year-old girl.

The court said defense attorneys exercised due diligence by hiring the mental health specialists, who later said they could not diagnose Orndorff’s disorder until they witnessed the emergence of an alternative personality.

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