To spare him the death penalty, Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr.’s defense attorneys said they will rely on claims he was emotionally or mentally disturbed and under extreme duress if he is convicted of killing his wife, neighbor and local pastor.
Defense attorney Andrew Crawford told Circuit Judge Diana Moreland on Thursday morning that as part of Avalos’ intended insanity defense, he planned to rely on mental health claims during the penalty phase should a jury convict him of three counts of first-degree murder in an effort to keep him off death row.
If convicted, Avalos, 36, will face either the death penalty or an automatic life.
The case is set to go to trial beginning May 8, as all involved wait to see how the Florida Supreme Court will rule on a pending appeal the defense filed earlier this month seeking to stop the state from seeking the death penalty.
On Dec. 4, 2014, detectives say Avalos hung his wife, Amber Avalos, 33, from a cord in the laundry room of their Northwest Bradenton home, beat her and then shot her dead. He then shot and killed his neighbor Denise Potter, 46, who had been visiting their home at the time.
Afterward, investigators say Avalos dropped off his then 4-year-old son off at day care, drove to the Walmart Supercenter on State Road 64 East, left his vehicle and took a taxi to Bayshore Baptist Church, 6502 14th St. W., where he shot and killed the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, 31, according to investigators and witnesses.
Avalos was arrested Dec. 6, 2014, after a 51-hour manhunt led by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and a public plea from his father begging him to turn himself in for the sake of his six children. After his arrest, Avalos is reported to have given detectives a detailed confession.
The statement of particulars filed Wednesday regarding Avalos’ mental health also states that he was too impaired to recognize his actions were illegal or to alter his behavior to stop himself from breaking the law.
Paranoid schizophrenia, delusional disorder and mild neurocognitive disorder, as well as an abnormal PET scan of the brain and reduced cognitive emotional and personality controls based on abnormal brain functioning, are also listed as factors that will be used by the defense should Avalos be found guilty of the slayings.