- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A lawyer for a man convicted in the stabbing death of a Greenbrier woman argued before the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday that the trial judge should have halted proceedings and ordered a new mental evaluation when her client experienced an apparent manic episode.

Ronald Britton Jr. was convicted of capital murder in Faulkner County of the 2010 stabbing death of Michelle Asher, 20. Lawyers said he cut her throat because he believed she had sexual relations with a black man. Britton, 38, of Beebe, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Attorney Janice Vaughn began by reading long passages from the trial transcript in which Britton rambled nonsensically while addressing the court, something she said should have raised concern that he was experiencing a manic episode.

Two experts found Britton mentally fit for trial, even though he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but Vaughn noted that the defense expert hedged when asked during trial whether Britton at that time was competent, saying he would need to speak to him.

“His (Britton‘s) behavior put everybody on notice but nobody did anything,” Vaughn said.

Assistant Attorney General Christian Harris argued that Britton seemed to have deliberately exhibited bizarre behavior, including trying to attack a witness who testified that Britton described details of how he killed Asher. Britton has said he had nothing to do with the slaying.

Harris said the judge assessed Britton’s language and demeanor and let the trial continue. After Britton tried to attack a witness, the judge ordered him to be fitted with an electric stun belt, handcuffed and shackled at the ankles. Vaughn said the jury should not have seen Britton in that state but Harris said Britton created the circumstances in which the restraints were necessary.

Vaughn said Britton’s medications changed after he underwent pre-trial evaluations and that he ultimately wasn’t competent to assist in his defense or understand the proceedings. But Harris said there was no evidence introduced to indicate that was the case.

“We disagree there is any proof he was experiencing a manic episode during the trial,” Harris said.

He also said a mentally ill defendant can be tried if he’s found to be able to understand what is happening, as was the case with Britton.

“Mental illness cannot by itself be a reason not to stand trial,” Harris said.

Britton had a long list of convictions on his record prior to the capital murder charge, including theft, aggravated assault, terroristic threatening, burglary, fraud and drug offenses.

The high court will rule later.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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