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State v. McClain

Decided: May 23, 1991.


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County.

O'Brien, Scalera and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Keefe, J.A.D.


Defendant Melvina McClain was convicted of the purposeful and knowing murder of Louis Glenn (count one); possession of a firearm, a handgun, with purpose to use it unlawfully (count two); and unlawful possession of a weapon (count three). Count two was merged into count one for the purpose of sentencing and defendant was sentenced to a 30 year prison term without parole on that count. On count three, she was sentenced to a concurrent five year term. A VCCB penalty was also imposed.

On appeal, defendant contends that: 1) the trial judge erred in that he failed to instruct the jury that the State had the

burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant did not kill in the heat of passion or while acting under reasonable provocation; 2) the judge erred when he reinstructed the jury, in response to their request, on aggravated assault and reasonable provocation; 3) the trial judge erred when he instructed the jury concerning the inference that could be drawn where the homicide is committed with a deadly weapon; 4) the trial judge's instruction on diminished capacity was incomplete; 5) the trial judge erred when his instructions to the jury concerning their function reduced the State's burden of proof and; 6) the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on the count charging her with possession of a firearm with purpose to use it unlawfully. We find no error in any of the issues presented by defendant and affirm.

Defendant, a parking violations officer with the Trenton Police Department, had a long-term intimate relationship with the victim, Louis Glenn, also a Trenton police officer. The relationship began in 1977 and ended on October 11, 1986 in a bar when defendant shot Glenn three times at close range with a handgun she had concealed in a sock.

The relationship was not always a happy one. The discord was resulted from Glenn's tendency to have affairs with other women. In fact, Glenn had apparently fathered a child with another woman. His conduct would cause breaks in the relationship for a period of time, the last disruption being a five or six week period in the spring of 1986. However, defendant would eventually resume the relationship on Glenn's representation that the other women did not matter to him.

According to defendant, Glenn had physically assaulted her twice during the relationship, once in 1977 and the second time three or four years prior to his death. Defendant also understood Glenn to imply, on several occasions, that he would harm her if she ever elected to terminate the relationship.

However, during the week preceding Glenn's death, he did not physically assault defendant nor did he verbally threaten

her. In fact, defendant perceived Glenn's conduct as being detached. He broke two dinner dates which he had made with her that week and ignored her when she entered the bar earlier in the afternoon and wanted to talk to him concerning his conduct during the week and his activities with other women.

Defendant testified that she left the bar after being ignored by defendant and went to her home which was only a short distance away. Shortly thereafter she telephoned Glenn at the bar and spoke with him for about ten minutes. During the conversation Glenn told her he was his own man and would do whatever he wanted to do and he never intended to marry her or anyone. He hung up on her and defendant became hysterical, crying uncontrollably, but claims not to have become angry.

Witnesses testified that defendant re-entered the bar and as Glenn got up from a bar stool and called out her name, defendant shot him three times with a handgun hidden in a sock. After shooting Glenn, defendant was heard to say she shot him because she was "tired of him cheating on me" or "because I was tired of him f/--ing over me." A similar statement was given to the police once she was placed in custody.

For her part, defendant's memory of the shooting was "cloudy." She only vaguely remembered taking her gun from the closet and walking down the street toward the bar.

Psychiatric testimony was presented at trial by both the defense and the prosecution. Dr. Marcia Kleinman, who has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology and specializes in treating battered women, testified for the defense. She concluded that, as a result of a long history of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of different men beginning from the age of 13, defendant did not act with the mental state necessary to constitute murder and was unaware of what she was doing at the time. Kleinman characterized defendant's behavior in each of her relationships with men as "passive and dependent, . . . [v]ery consistent with someone who's been a battered woman."

She defined the battered woman syndrome as "a woman 18 years of age or older, who's been in a relationship with a man, in an intimate relationship in which there has been either repeated physical or psychological abuse. It doesn't have to be both. Where there has been control over her behavior, actions." The battered woman syndrome can exist whether or not the parties are married.

Although Glenn had not physically assaulted defendant for several years before the incident, Kleinman was of the view that there were a series of psychological humiliations. There does not have to be ongoing physical abuse in order to constitute a battered woman. In Kleinman's view, it was this ongoing psychological abuse that triggered defendant's mental "breakdown" and led to the killing of Glenn. In her opinion Glenn's killing was committed in a "disassociated," almost "robotic" state during which defendant was "behaving in ways and doing things, but was not really aware in a sense, conscious of what she was doing." Defendant's disassociated state was reflected in the "glazed" look in defendant's eyes portrayed in a photograph taken shortly after the shooting. Her sorrow was inconsistent with "a woman who would have intended to or who wanted to cause harm." Thus, according to Kleinman, "[t]hese results suggest that it is extremely unlikely that Miss McClain premeditated a plan to kill Mr. Glenn."

In rebuttal, the State presented Dr. Daniel Greenfield, a board certified psychiatrist, who testified that, despite her dependent personality disorder and having been subjected to moderate to severe levels of stress, defendant was aware of her conduct at the relevant periods of time. He rejected any notion that defendant suffered from a disassociative disorder during the killing, because she described her actions and did not seem to be in a "fugue state" when she killed or shortly thereafter. It was also his opinion that her behavior, such as putting a gun in a sock to conceal it, would not occur ...

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