I do not always agree with the laws surrounding someone who claims mental illness or insanity as a defense. It is not that I do not believe that mentally ill people commit crimes nor is it that I do not believe that someone can be insane and commit them, because I do. However, the rules surrounding those such defenses, in my opinion are skewed. Now, before I go any further I do not necessarily believe that the defendant in this case was mentally ill or insane. Maybe he was but I question his defense attorneys using this as a defense against the evidence found against his client.
In order to be successful with a defense of insanity or mentally ill, almost ALL states, including Iowa where this case took place, the defendant must prove that they did not know the difference between right and wrong. They also have to prove that they had no concept or understanding of what the consequences of their actions, to others, or themselves could be. In my opinion, the evidence in this case so points away from those standards to the point in which I question the effectiveness of the defense counsel. Of course not being a defense attorney myself I could sit here and arm chair lawyer all day on cases and how I would defend them differently, but that is not my job. And, to be fair, I am unsure just how the attorneys could have adequately defended their client.
On May 18, 2014 the police in Grimes, Iowa, near Des Moines, received a call in the early morning that a man had been shot. The man, Justin Michaels had been laying in bed next to his finance when it was said that someone came into the home and shot him in the head. He was shot a total of four times.
We've seen this a thousand times, right? It's always the girlfriend, or the wife, or the mistress. And the detectives in this case may have thought the same here if David Moffitt would not have crashed and totaled his car some thirty minutes after the crime and just five miles away.
It did not take long for investigators to link David Moffitt to the murder, or seemingly for him to confess. It is unclear if Moffitt was injured in the crash and it appears that it was a few days before everything was put together and processed in order to obtain an arrest, but it was only a few days.
Inside Moffitt's car they would find two magazines of ammunition that matched that found at the scene of the crime. But, they would find so much more also. They would find Moffitt in the possession of an apparent fake ID belonging to a man named Andrew Wegener. They would also find Wegener's name on a receipt for an Amazon Kindle that was found in the car and purchased just the month prior. The research did not say for certain if the gun, an assault style rifle, was found in the car, but it apparently would be at some point and it too would be linked to a man believed to have the name, Andrew Wegener. However, in court the man who sold the gun would say despite the name he was given the man he had actually sold the gun to was sitting at the defense table.
A search warrant for Moffitt's home was obtained and it was determined that the fake ID had been made on that computer. But, that was not all the computer showed. After forensic testing it would be discovered that in the weeks leading up to the murder of Justin Michaels the following websites or searches had been done on David Moffitt's computer:
- How to get away with murder
- Best Murdering Murder Guide You'll Ever Need
- Hiring a hitman
- Convicted crimes of passion in Polk County
- Love Triangle Murder
- How thick is the human skull?
- Fruit that resembles the human skull
- St. Anthony confession times
- Traffic Cameras in Grimes and
- What does hell look like?
It also appeared that Moffitt had searched the reaction times of the police for particular crimes.
Investigators quickly determined that David Moffitt had not only been a co-worker to the victim at Wells Fargo from August of 2013 until January of 2014. But, more importantly it was discovered that David Moffitt had dated Justin Michaels' finance, Angie Ver Huel for a few months the previous summer. According to the reports the relationship did not last long and according to Angie apparently from her perspective not very serious. She had all but broken up with Moffitt when she began dating Justin Michaels.
So where did Moffitt get the name Andrew Wegener? Was this a made up person to cover his tracks? Did Andrew Wegener really exist? The answer to that is yes. Andrew Wegner did in fact exist and he had dated Angie Ver Huel a few months prior to Moffitt meeting her.
To investigators the crime was clear. David Moffitt entered Justin Michaels' home in the middle of the night, shot him as he lay in bed, and planned to frame Andrew Wegener for the murder. One has to wonder how far the plan would have gotten if Moffitt would not have wrecked his car a short time later just down the road.
The defense argued with their guilty but mentally ill plea that there was evidence that upon the announcement of the engagement between Justin Michaels and Angie Ver Huel Moffitt's mental health, which they claim was always questionable, began a downward spiral. A co-worker from Wells Fargo would testify that prior to the engagement announcement, one that a big deal was made in the department in which both Moffitt and Justin Michaels worked, Moffitt had been a hard worker but that after the announcement his behavior had changed. The defense would claim, and possibly show evidence that in January of 2014, apparently not long after leaving Wells Fargo that Moffitt had confided to a therapist that he had thoughts of killing a person and was prescribed an anti psychotic drug. They would also say that while he stopped seeing the therapist he had “sporadically” continued to take the drug.
The prosecution would argue that the creation of the fake ID of Andrew Wegener and all of the purchases made in his name, in addition to the computer searches and evidence of notes found in his home showing that he had apparently been watching not just Justin Michaels but the behaviors of his neighbors, showed that Moffitt did not fit the mold for an insanity defense. They argued that the meticulous planning and all but stalking that Moffitt did, as well as an obvious plan to pin the crime on someone else showed that he did know that what he was doing was wrong, hence he was not willing to take the blame himself, as well as the consequences that it would have. I have to agree although it is unlikely that Moffitt would have considered that Angie Ver Huel would have likely been considered the first suspect, or, maybe he did and this revenge was about anger towards her.
The jury agreed with the prosecution and found Moffitt guilty in July of 2015 of not only 1st degree murder, but also 1st degree burglary. He was sentenced to the mandatory life without parole sentence.
Was Moffitt mentally ill or insane? That is possible although I do disagree with the defense, as they argued it was the anti-psychotic medication that had caused this. If he was in a therapists office prior to taking the medication claiming that he had thoughts of killing a person, then his issues had nothing to do with the medication. To add to this he had quit working at Wells Fargo prior to taking the medication, one he would only claim to take sporadically, and it was testified that his behavior had changed. The defense attorney was quick to say that he did not think that anti-psychotic medications do this to everyone but that they did have the potential. In my opinion it was simply a ploy to get his client off of the most serious of crimes since he was all but caught “red handed.”
I personally believe that someone can be mentally ill or insane and commit a crime and still know the difference between right and wrong. I think those cases are few and far between. I also believe that in those cases the person may or may not understand the consequences, but may not grasps what they would actually mean to them, or to others. I also believe that a person can fully know and understand the consequences but simply not care, and still be mentally ill (but not all qualify). However, in this case I do not believe that Moffitt would even qualify under my “rules” or ideas. In my opinion his downfall came from the obvious attempt to pin the crime, if he was caught on Andrew Wegener. This tells me that he not only knew what he was doing was wrong and knew there would be consequences but that he was not willing to suffer them and intended to pin them on an innocent man. Some could argue I am sure that this could have been done solely so that Angie Ver Huel did not know he was involved and hoping she would return to him but there was no evidence of that.