By Beth David, Editor
A second expert looking to testify in the case of Michelle Carter cited her age as a possible factor to explain her behavior. Ms. Carter has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the suicide death of Conrad Roy III, whose body was found in the cab of his pickup truck in July of 2014. He died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a gasoline-powered water pump. He was 18, Ms. Carter was just one month shy of her 18th birthday. Text messages and emails revealed that Ms. Carter encouraged him to kill himself.
On April 7, psychologist Frank DiCataldo, testified at a Daubert Hearing in front of Judge Lawrence Moniz to decide if his testimony would be allowed at the trial, which is set for the first week in June.
After running through Dr. DiCataldo’s credentials, defense attorney Cornelius (Cory) Madera III, sought to have the psychologist’s opinion on adolescent behavior, including new research on how adolescents are different than adults, admitted at trial in June.
The judge, however, had made it clear that he did not want experts speaking in generalities. Dr. DiCataldo did not interview Ms. Carter, but Mr. Madera said the testimony was relevant because it would show how Ms. Carter’s behavior was controlled by her age.
Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn argued that Dr. DiCataldo’s testimony would not comply with the judge’s insistence that it be specific to the case because he never met with Ms. Carter.
“He knows nothing of the facts of this case except she was 17 and 11 months at the time,” said Ms. Flynn.
The judge allowed Dr. DiCataldo to testify at the hearing and will decide if the testimony will be allowed at trial, along with a psychiatrist who testified on March 21.
At the 4/7 hearing, Dr. DiCataldo explained the difference between him, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. He said he wanted to testify about adolescent behavior, whereas the psychiatrist testified more about the physical and chemical development of the brain and its biology.
Adolescents have less self-control, and inhibition does not develop until later in adolescence and adulthood, he said. Adolescents do not “foresee or calculate consequences to their actions,” he said, but added, “it’s not that they can’t,” it’s just that they do not do it as well as adults.
He also said psychology does not have “bright lines,” and does not make a distinction between 17 and 18 years old.
Ms. Flynn, however, made a point to note that the law does.
“It is established that a juvenile can commit murder,” said Ms. Flynn.
She also noted that people generally agree that juveniles and adolescents are not as mature as adults, and it does not take an expert to ascertain that.
Dr. DiCataldo agreed that any teacher or coach may know that, “but they may not know the reason. An expert can help explain why.”
He noted that he was not saying that adolescents have no self control, just that it is less developed.
Ms. Flynn then asked if an eating disorder would mean a person had a lot of self control.
Previous court proceedings revealed that Ms. Carter was hospitalized for an eating disorder.
Dr. DiCataldo said he would not know because he had not treated individuals with eating disorders.
The “mere fact” that an adolescent has an immature brain, “does not mean an adolescent will commit a criminal act,” said Ms. Flynn, to which Dr. DiCataldo agreed. “By the same token, an adolescent who commits a crime doesn’t mean the adolescent has an immature brain.”
Dr. DiCataldo answered that every 17-year-old has a different set of capacities and maturity. He said the person would have to be tested.
“The average adolescent does not encourage her boyfriend to commit suicide,” said Ms. Flynn, adding that one who does is engaging in “deviant behavior,” meaning it is wrong to do that.
Dr. DiCataldo said he would have to know the specifics of the case.
“Exactly, you have none,” said Ms. Flynn.
Ms. Flynn then asked if he knew what year the human brain started to decline, perhaps at 45?
Some people would be sooner, he answered.
“So should we treat juveniles and elderly citizens the same,” asked Ms. Flynn.
She noted that adolescents are able to engage in complicated planning.
“Generally speaking, the adolescent would be less capable than an adult of understanding or appreciating all the ramifications,” said Dr. DiCataldo.
“You’re not saying that having an immature brain makes a teen incapable of committing homicide,” asked Ms. Flynn.
“I’m not saying that,” said Dr. DiCataldo.
Ms. Flynn told the court that the case law cited by the defense shows that the juvenile brain argument was used for sentencing, not establishing guilt.
“Age is not a mitigating factor,” said Ms. Flynn.
She told the judge she was “still unclear” on what Dr. DiCataldo’s opinion was.
“The fact that she was 17 is not in dispute,” said Ms. Flynn, adding that jurors do not need an expert to know that adolescents are immature.
The next court date is a Dwyer hearing on May 10, when the defense will try to get certain medical records of both Ms. Carter and Mr. Roy to be admissible at trial.
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