The Measure of Madness

Inside the criminal mind

The Tiana Browne Trial Part II

A 15-year-old girl is arrested for killing her cousin.

A few days after Dr. Dudley completed his testimony, the Tiana Browne trial continued and Dr. Bardey was called to the stand. Ms. Browne was charged with murder in the second degree for the killing of her 16-year-old cousin, Shannon Braithwaite. Dr. Bardey, the forensic psychiatrist retained by the prosecution, told the jury about what he had learned from his interview of the defendant and a review of her records. He described Ms. Browne's troubled history and what she had told him about the sexual assaults and her emotional reactions to them. He testified that, in his opinion, Ms. Browne did not fulfill diagnostic criteria for PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).

The prosecutor's questions were not limited to Ms. Browne's mental state at the time of the offense. ADA Hale painted a picture of the teen as lacking remorse and purposeful in her actions. He elicited details about her behavior after the stabbing. I found that these questions were some of the most powerful. The jurors heard how the defendant took the victim's clothes, camera, and phone before she left the apartment through a window and called 911. Dr. Bardey concluded that her behavior after the instant offense was deliberate and organized.

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I had listened to the 911 call earlier in the trial. Everyone in the courtroom heard Ms. Browne, sounding distraught, while telling the operator that a man named Yusef had stabbed Ms. Braithwaite. I learned that the name Yusef had been found at the crime scene, spelled out in plastic letter magnets on the refrigerator door.

One of the most powerful parts of Dr. Bardey's testimony came when ADA Hale placed some pictures of the defendant on the courtroom overhead projector. The pictures were introduced as being taken with the victim's camera, hours after the crime. Dr. Bardey described Ms. Browne's as "well groomed" in these photos. In his opinion, she did not look upset; she looked "normal."

Dr. Bardey then testified about his assessment of the defendant's mental state at the time of the offense. He described how she reported "blacking out" after she began stabbing her cousin. In his opinion, she was not acting as if she were having a break with reality or a PTSD flashback. He concluded that she did not fulfill the legal criteria for a not responsible defense.

One morning, before closing arguments, without the jury present, the judge ruled on an interesting defense motion. I was not sure of the details but I understood that Mr. Rankin had requested that the judge allow the jury to consider whether Ms. Browne had acted in a state of extreme emotional disturbance, "for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be" (New York Penal Law). If the jury concluded that she had, in fact, acted under extreme emotional disturbance, Ms. Browne, would still be convicted of a crime, but the degree of the crime would be lessened. Instead of being convicted of murder, she would be convicted of manslaughter. The judge denied Mr. Rankin's request which meant that the jury could not consider a manslaughter verdict.

The trial was almost over. The courtroom was packed on the day of closing arguments. I thought both ADA Hale and Mr. Rankin gave compelling statements. Both emphasized the strengths of their cases and effectively pointed out the weaknesses in the other's. They had very different presentation styles. Mr. Rankin had a more intense and emotional style. Mr. Hale, in contrast, seemed more fact based and clinical. I was particularly impressed when I noticed that Mr. Hale did not rely on any notes.

The jury deliberated for several hours and I did not hear their verdict until the next day. They concluded that Ms. Browne was guilty of the murder of her cousin. I was not surprised by their decision. The insanity or not responsible defense was a long shot, especially for a defendant without an extensive psychiatric history.

Ms. Browne's sentencing date is scheduled for October. The sentence for murder in the second degree is 25 years to life. I wonder whether she will appeal her conviction. I also wonder what would have happened if the jury were permitted to consider the extreme emotional disturbance defense.

 

Cheryl Paradis, Psy.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Marymount Manhattan College.

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