A murder trial in Ketchikan wrapped up Friday with closing arguments from the prosecution and defense. Following their statements, Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens handed the case over to the jury for deliberation.
A warning: This report is about a violent killing, and includes some graphic content.
Closing arguments in the murder trial of a Metlakatla man accused of killing his aunt centered on intent. Both sides agree that 30-year-old William Buxton killed Leona Meely early in the morning on Sept. 29 by stabbing her multiple times in the chest, slitting her throat and finally using a cast on his arm from a previous injury to pound a knife deep into her neck.
District Attorney Steve West said that all shows Buxton meant to kill his aunt, and he is guilty of first-degree murder.
But defense attorney Sam McQuerry said Buxton couldn’t have intended such an act, because of his mental state at the time of the killing.
The defense was not claiming insanity. Judge Trevor Stephens made that very clear when reading jury instructions, adding that Buxton also was not claiming self-defense or defense of others.
West went first in closing arguments, and gave a summary of what he said happened the morning of the murder, none of which the defense disputed. He said that Buxton went to his aunt’s room and woke her up, asking for cigarettes. Meely refused and that led to an argument. Buxton’s mother helped resolve the fight, and the three of them went and watched television for a while.
The two women then cooked some breakfast, which they all ate. Then Margie Buxton went back to the kitchen.
“She was at the stove when she heard a thump, she turned and looked around behind her, her sister was lying down on the ground, she was not moving,” he said. “She went over to her sister, and Mr. Buxton picked up a chair and was picking it up and getting ready to hit her with it. Marge Buxton grabbed it, there was a struggle, but she was able to get the chair from him. He then grabbed Ms. Meely…, pulled her into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and started stabbing her.”
West said Meely was stabbed six times in the chest area, with injuries to the heart, lungs and liver. He said the attack didn’t end there.
“He tried to cut her throat a couple times,” he said. “The two cuts to the side of the neck weren’t very deep. However, this last one, clearly shows an intent to kill. When he took that knife and put it in her, he was using his cast as a hammer to pound it in.”
West talked about what’s called “lesser included” charges, which are less serious crimes that the jury could consider if it didn’t agree on the first-degree murder charge. There were three of them: second-degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
While West wanted a guilty verdict on first-degree murder, defense attorney McQuerry asked for criminally negligent homicide. He argued that his client couldn’t have intended to kill his aunt.
He said, “The question is: ‘What was Mr. Buxton’s state of mind?’”
McQuerry reminded the jury of earlier testimony from various witnesses that he said indicates Buxton was unable to form a conscious objective. Those witnesses said Buxton was talking about shadows nobody else could see, that he was one of the four horsemen, and he was afraid of a “globe” in the hallway.
“Remember when Ms. Buxton testified? She stated that Mr. Buxton on that morning, right there in the kitchen, … was growling in a voice she had not heard before,” McQuerry said.
Because the state has the burden of proof, West was allowed to give a rebuttal argument after McQuerry’s statment. West said that intent can be formed by people with mental problems.
“The fact that he thought his aunt was a witch casting spells, doesn’t mean he didn’t know it was his aunt,” he said. “He knew it was his aunt. He intended to kill his aunt. He made statements to the police: ‘I stabbed her in the heart. I slit her throat’”
West said that through his closing arguments, McQuerry was aiming for an insanity defense for his client without actually claiming insanity.
UPDATE: After about five hours of deliberations Friday, the jury did not reach a verdict. They convened in court a little after 4:30 p.m., and were released for the weekend. Deliberations will resume Monday at 9 a.m.