Crime

Psychologist says Avalos didn’t know killing three people was wrong

Lt. Joel Perez takes the stand during his nephew Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr.’s triple murder trial Thursday. Avalos Jr. is accused of murdering his wife Amber, his neighbor Denise Potter and pastor James “Tripp” Battle III.
Lt. Joel Perez takes the stand during his nephew Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr.’s triple murder trial Thursday. Avalos Jr. is accused of murdering his wife Amber, his neighbor Denise Potter and pastor James “Tripp” Battle III. Bradenton Herald

A psychologist testifying for the defense Thursday said that while Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. understood what he was doing when he killed his wife, neighbor and a local pastor on Dec. 4, 2014, he did not understand the consequences of his wrongdoing.

The prosecution called her conclusions into question, pointing out Avalos would kill one more victim than he had intended and that her conclusions were based on the limited information the defense had provided for her.

Avalos is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the killings of his wife Amber Avalos, 33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle III, 31. His attorneys are relying on an insanity defense.

He did not take the stand in his own defense, saying it was out of “respect of the families.”

The defense then rested its case.

If Avalos is convicted, the state will seek the death penalty.

On Friday morning, both sides will present their closing arguments to the 14 jurors, including two alternates. Jurors were instructed by Circuit Judge Diana Moreland to pack a bag, because should deliberations continue past the end of the business day on Friday, they will be sequestered.

Before resting its case, the defense called three medical experts to support claims that Avalos’ brain is abnormal and he was suffering from delusional disorder or paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the slayings.

“I do not believe he knew it was wrong based on the fact that he suffered a mental disorder,” Valorie McClaine said.

McClaine, a licensed psychologist, said she believes Avalos suffered a psychotic breakdown in the moments before he killed his wife.

Avalos had told her how he and his wife had been arguing and how he became enraged when she told him she was not afraid of him or of dying.

“Basically, I think he snapped and lost it,” McClaine said. “I don’t believe he knew he was wrong.”

Cross-examination

During cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown tried to break down those claims by recalling how Avalos had not been ready for law enforcement to come to his house after he killed his wife because he had plans to kill Battle.

“I think he appreciated what he was doing, but he didn’t appreciate the consequences,” McClaine said. “I do not believe he knew it was wrong because he suffered from a mental disorder.”

Brown also questioned McClaine about not having reviewed evidence in the case, including depositions of the only eyewitness, Joy Battle, Battle’s widow.

McClaine also testified she didn’t think that Avalos’ drinking or use of cocaine the day before the murders influenced his actions, when questioned by defense attorney Richard Watts. But Brown asked her about there never being a period of sobriety for Avalos in the months leading up murders.

“I think he struggled. I think you are correct,” she said.

Dr. Steven Cohen, a neurologist, testified there are abnormalities with Avalos’ brain, but under a prosecutor’s questioning, one doctor admitted the scans done of Avalos’ brain cannot be used to diagnose mental illness.

The prosecution, which rested its case against Avalos on Wednesday afternoon, had experts testify he was not mentally ill but that his history of drug abuse could explain his delusional and psychotic symptoms.

During the prosecution’s cross-examination of Cohen, Brown asked if a PET scan could be used to diagnose paranoid schizophrenia or delusional disorder.

No, Cohen said.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012

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