Bench trial begins for man charged with killing stepfather

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 3:02 PM EST
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ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WDBJ) - A bench trial for a former Marine accused of killing his stepfather in Franklin County began Thursday, February 17.

What was scheduled as a motions hearing for Michael Brown turned into the start of his trial when he waived his right to a jury trial.

Brown pleaded not guilty to all charges by reason of insanity.

Charges include first-degree murder, use of a firearm in commission of murder, breaking and entering, larceny of a firearm, use of a firearm during a felony and larceny of a credit card.

Michael Brown is accused of killing Rodney Brown in Hardy in 2019 and leading investigators on a two-and-a-half-week manhunt before he was arrested.

Witnesses Thursday included Dr. Eugene Simopoulos, a clinical and forensic psychologist, who had spent four hours with the suspect, finding him to be depressed, and saying he had no reason to doubt Brown had experienced trauma at the hands of the victim.

Simopoulos said he had found evidence to support Brown could be credibly classified as insane at the time of the offense, but admitted new evidence “significantly calls into question his conclusion” about Brown. That new evidence includes information about Brown holding a gun to his mother’s head the night of the killing, as well as his mother’s account of an incident a year before the killing.

The second witness was Dr. Sharon Kelley, JD, Ph.D., who had administered three tests over the course of 14 hours with Brown and found him to be depressed, and found that he met the criteria for disassociative amnesia and an insanity prognosis.

Throughout the hearing, the credibility of self-reporting was called into question. Both witnesses say much of the data collected in their examination of Brown came from his own accounts. The witnesses spent significant time explaining how that information was used to make their diagnoses.

Dr. Kelley noted Brown’s self-reported symptoms were measures against set, predetermined criteria that also evaluated the likelihood of exaggeration when describing symptoms. She found Brown’s overall response styles to the testing were consistent with that of someone suffering from a mental illness.

The court left the case open for both sides to continue to submit evidence. The deadline for that is Tuesday. The court will meet again Wednesday, February 23.

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