MAYVILLE – A Chautauqua County jury Monday convicted Jason Wells, 41, of a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter in the brutal beating death of his 81-year-old Fredonia neighbor, Ruth Fisk.
After more than seven hours of deliberation, the jury agreed with defense attorney Lyle Hajdu’s argument that Wells should be found guilty of the reduced charge under the extreme emotional defense, an affirmative defense.
Under that charge, the jury had to find that the defendant suffered from an extreme emotional issue while committing the crime. The defense’s mental health professional testified that he thought Wells was under those conditions at the time of the crime in February 2010.
District Attorney David Foley said he will seek the maximum sentence on the charge, which is 25 years plus an additional five years of post-release supervision.
“The good part about this is for the family it is a benefit to know that the jury agreed that he is responsible for the act,” Foley said. “It is still an intentional crime.”
The prosecutor added, “You have to respect the jury and the process.”
He went on to say that he thought the instruction on the law was confusing, which was evidenced by the number of times that the jury wanted instructions reread. Over the course of more than seven hours of deliberation, they asked for the definition to be read three times.
Two of the jurors agreed that the extreme emotional defense was very complicated, and several jurors had questions about the “mental defect” part of the law.
Juror Vince Joy, of Jamestown, said that the jurors were all in agreement that Wells had committed the crime. “We felt we had to analyze the behavior and listen to the expert witnesses,” he said.
David Smeltzer, another juror, agreed and said the panel was close to agreeing on emotional disturbance as a verdict Friday, but some of the jurors needed more information about the emotional issues. “When only one of the doctors said that he thought he was ‘faking’ and the other doctors thought he had a mental illness, it became an issue we had to discuss,” said Smeltzer, of Jamestown.
County Judge John T. Ward thanked the jurors for their service and told them that this was a very difficult trial due to the complex evidence presented.
He told them that they were called upon to view some very difficult evidence and hear difficult testimony in the trial, which lasted more than two weeks.
Hajdu was granted two weeks to submit any motions relating to the verdict, at which time the date for sentencing will be announce.
The jury’s options included a guilty or not guilty verdict on a charge of second-degree murder as well as not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease, in addition to the reduced charge due to extreme emotional disorder.
During the trial, it was revealed that Wells received monthly Social Security disability benefits because of mental health issues.
Much of the trial focused on his mental stability – with testimony for the defense making the case that the he is paranoid and schizophrenic.