- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri man convicted of killing an elderly couple during a break-in and sentenced to die deserves a new trial because he wasn’t able to mount a proper defense for various reasons, including his debilitating anxiety, his attorney argued Wednesday before the state Supreme Court.

During his murder trial in the 2010 slayings of Johnnie and Coleen Wilson at their rural home in Lebanon, Jesse Driskill didn’t have access to his anxiety medication and he had to leave the courtroom at times to avoid having a panic attack in front of the jury, said his lawyer, Rosemary Percival.

“If he had not absented himself, he would have had another panic attack,” she told the judges.

Driskill, 34, was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the couple’s deaths. Authorities say the couple had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary and came home late to find Driskill burglarizing their isolated home in rural Missouri. Both were shot and Coleen Wilson, 76, was also raped before their attacker tried to burn their bodies.

Driskill also was convicted of rape and several other charges, for which he received seven consecutive life sentences. He is seeking a new trial.

Driskill has a history of mental illness and has had panic attacks since his teenage years, Percival told the court. During his trial, he had one breakdown in court and, according to a bailiff, Driskill cried, vomited and punched the wall of his cell afterward, Percival said.

She said Driskill left the courtroom to avoid prejudicing jurors against him by having a panic attack in front of them, but he didn’t willingly waive his right to be present in court and to testify in his own defense. She said the state Department of Corrections refused him anti-anxiety medication, which one doctor said was necessary for him to sit in during proceedings.

She also said the Laclede County District Court incorrectly denied Driskill a competency hearing or evaluation to review whether or not he was mentally sound enough to stand trial, despite somewhat conflicting opinions of his mental state from doctors.

State attorney Shaun Mackelprang told the court that doctors only said Driskill was mentally unsound during panic attacks and was otherwise rational, and that the judge granted breaks to give him time to calm down when his anxiety worsened. Mackelprang said Driskill also was able to watch the proceedings live on video from another room and to text or call his attorney, and that together, this was enough to accommodate his mental illness.

The court did not indicate when it might rule on the appeal.

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Follow Summer Ballentine on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/esballentine

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