A former pharmacist convicted of murder may have a mental disorder that affected his judgment when he fatally shot a robber, his new attorney revealed Wednesday.
The attorney, Doug Friesen, said Jerome Jay Ersland may have Asperger's syndrome.
The syndrome is a kind of pervasive developmental disorder that is similar to high-functioning autism.
Ersland, 60, is serving a life term in prison for killing the wounded robber in 2009 inside the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City. His first-degree murder conviction last year renewed a public debate about his actions.
“When you're confronted with a very unusual, startling situation, the mind immediately goes into a fugue state ... where it is impossible ... to form any kind of conscious thoughts,” Friesen said of those with Asperger's syndrome.
He said if Ersland does have the disorder “it would have been impossible for him, during the time frame here, to form the necessary intent for a first-degree murder charge.”
Friesen is working on Ersland's appeal. He has until Aug. 8 to file a legal brief with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who prosecuted Ersland, said Wednesday evening the issue was explored by Ersland's trial attorneys.
At a news conference outside the pharmacy, Friesen told reporters he will contend in the appeal that Ersland did not get a fair trial because of mistakes by the trial attorneys.
Friesen specifically complained that lead trial attorney Irven Box never checked out the possibility “at all” that Ersland had Asperger's syndrome. The attorney told reporters that Box was told within a week of being hired there was a strong possibility Ersland had the disorder.
Ersland didn't testify
The new attorney also criticized Box for not letting Ersland testify in his own defense at the trial.
The attorney told reporters Ersland “has told me that he was told that he simply wasn't going to be allowed to testify, wasn't going to be allowed to tell his story and that was a decision made by trial counsel. Well, that's a decision that is always up to the client.”