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Mental state at issue in stabbing trial

Mental state at issue in stabbing trial

The attorney for a Gloversville woman accused of trying to stab a taxi driver to death last year did

The attorney for a Gloversville woman accused of trying to stab a taxi driver to death last year did not dispute Monday that she stabbed him.

Her attorney instead tried to make the case in closing arguments that she was “dangerously mentally ill” at the time of the attack and should face possible involuntary commitment, rather than prison time.

The prosecutor countered by arguing the woman knew what she was doing was wrong, that she controlled the situation and made moves before and after that showed she was criminally responsible for what happened.

Desere D. Shaw, now 19, is standing trial at the Schenectady County Courthouse on attempted murder, first-degree assault and other charges.

If convicted, she would face up to 25 years in state prison. If found not guilty by reason of mental illness, she would face hearings to determine if she should be committed.

She is accused of stabbing cab driver Derek Leach on Feb. 7, 2013, in the area of Eastern Avenue and Nott Terrace.

Leach, a driver for Glove City Transportation in Gloversville, picked up Shaw at the Johnstown Price Chopper that night and dropped her off on Nott Terrace, near the Schaffer Heights Apartments in Schenectady, authorities have said.

The injured Leach sought help at the Schenectady County Public Library, police said. Police followed a trail of blood back to Eastern and Nott, leading them to believe that was where Leach was stabbed.

When Leach arrived at the library, staff called 911 and he was eventually taken to Albany Medical Center by a MedFlight helicopter.

He has since recovered, but still has a scar on his face and lingering effects, including numbness.

His taxi was found after the stabbing with its engine running at the corner of Windsor Terrace and Prospect Street.

Shaw’s mental health was the focus of much of the trial.

Experts on both sides testified, coming to opposite conclusions as to her criminal responsibility.

Defense attorney Michael Braccini has also used her medical history dating back to 2009.

She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. She has been on medication to control her disorder, but was off her medication at the time.

Braccini called his client “the face of mental illness.”

Shaw told one doctor that she heard voices that night telling her to attack the cab driver before the driver attacked her.

“She was in a psychotic state that interfered with her capacity to understand the nature of what she was doing,” Braccini told the jury. “She was under the impression that she was defending herself. She was commanded to attack the person in self-defense.”

Braccini also referenced his client’s “bizarre behavior” in the courtroom.

After Braccini’s closing, Judge Karen Drago sent the jury from the courtroom to question Braccini about Shaw’s behavior during the closing.

Drago took over the trial Monday after presiding Judge Michael Coccoma fell ill.

During Braccini’s closing, Drago said she saw Shaw eat two tissues at the defense table. Braccini said that is the behavior she has exhibited throughout the trial. She has also eaten candy wrappers and paper cups, Braccini said.

It is part of her illness, he added.

Drago had the tissues removed from the defense table.

At other times Monday, Shaw could be seen during breaks sticking her tongue out, staring at the wall and picking at her wrist.

Prosecutor Michael DeMatteo questioned the defense contention.

He cited the expert testimony for the prosecution. The prosecution’s expert had more upon which to base his opinion, DeMatteo said.

If Shaw did hear voices that night, she has shown that they do not control her, he said.

She has chosen multiple times not to follow the commands of others, DeMatteo said.

“Having a mental illness, in and of itself, is not a defense and it’s not an excuse,” DeMatteo told the jury.

To be found not guilty due to mental illness, the illness has to interfere with her ability to appreciate the nature and consequences of her conduct, DeMatteo told the jury

DeMatteo argued it did not rise to that level.

He also argued that Shaw was simply upset that night because she had been suspended from her job at a fast food restaurant and she took that out on the cab driver.

She also controlled the situation by directing the cab driver to a specific spot in Schenectady, a city he was unfamiliar with.

She then stabbed him from the back seat, cut his face and plunged the knife into his arm and side, DeMatteo said.

She fled with the taxi and later disposed of the knife and later told police conflicting stories about what happened, he said.

Deliberations are expected to begin today.

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