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Jury to mull mental state of defendant

Cobey Lakemper

Cobey Lakemper

COVINGTON -- Everybody agrees Cobey Lakemper is guilty. Even Cobey Lakemper. The main question now before the jury is whether he was mentally ill at the time he robbed and shot a Comfort Inn motel clerk in August 2005.

After 10 days of testimony, Newton County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn charged the jury and handed the case over to the 10 women and two men, but not before both the prosecution and the defense made a last appeal.

Prosecutor Layla Zon waived her right to present her closing argument first, but reserved the right to make concluding arguments following Defense Attorney Joseph Vigneri's remarks. Vigneri is with the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender and is defending the 34-year-old Lakemper, who is facing the death penalty.

Lakemper is accused of shooting and robbing Wendy Cartledge Carter, who was working as a clerk at the Comfort Inn on Aug. 18, 2005. She died of her wounds 79 days later in an Atlanta hospital where she had remained since the shooting.

She was able to identify Lakemper as her assailant and he even left a note for law enforcement that read, "Heard you were coming. I already left. Cobey." He was arrested a week later in a bar in Tennessee.

Both attorneys primarily appealed to the jury to consider Lakemper's mental state when they came to count 1 of the indictment, the first of which is malice murder.

Vigneri admitted there was "no real disagreement as to the criminal acts and who committed them," and reminded the jury that Lakemper was on trial only for the offenses he committed in Newton County. His client has also been charged with killing an elderly North Carolina couple during a robbery 11 days before coming to Newton County.

After conceding his client's guilt, however, the attorney spoke for more than an hour, asking the jury to consider, "What was his mental state at the time he committed these crimes?"

He told the jury he wasn't excusing or justifying Lakemper's behavior or saying he was insane or hallucinating or that he should be let go.

"That's not what we're saying," he said, but explained that it was his position that there was no malice in his client's actions.

"His actions were not those of a person who maliciously intended to kill somebody," he said, describing Carter's wounds as "a single shot to a non-vital area."

The attorney maintained that "evidence has not shown at any point ... that he wanted to kill her," and argued that Carter suffered from other physical problems at the time she was shot.

He reminded the jury of testimony that told of an abusive childhood, family violence and a drunken father, all of which converged to create Lakemper's mental illness, he said. Then shortly before his crime spree in 2005, Lakemper's marriage and then a relationship with a girlfriend ended, and he lost custody of his son. These things "pushed him over the edge," Vigneri asserted.

"Mr. Lakemper most assuredly is guilty, but also he is most assuredly for a long time before been mentally ill," he said.

He told the jury that substance abuse was also a problem for Lakemper. "Is that any surprise?" he asked, adding that Lakemper was drinking by the time he was 6 and was an alcoholic at age 12.

He said Lakemper's young life constituted a "doggone good foundation for somebody to turn out mentally ill."

Zon began her remarks by telling the jury, "When people show you who they are, believe them," and she asserted that by observing Cobey Lakemper's behavior they could conclude that he was not mentally ill, but merely exhibiting anti-social behavior, with no regard for the rights of others, abusive, without remorse and manipulative.

She asserted that his actions were absolutely malicious, and that he shot Carter, as well as the North Carolina couple, because he did not want them calling authorities.

She said one of the legal requirements for an act to be considered malicious was for it to have been committed with "an abandoned and malignant heart, and I can't think of any better words to describe Cobey Wade Lakemper."

She reminded the jury of medical testimony that refuted the defense's claim that prior medical problems contributed to Carter's death.

"She died because of that gunshot wound ... any pre-existing condition would not have resulted in death but for the gunshot wound," she said, describing the pain and suffering of the victim before her death.

Zon reminded the jury that evidence showed Lakemper used his intellect to flee from his crimes, cutting phone lines, changing tags on his automobile and taking steps all along his way to avoid arrest. None of that shows a disordered thought process or impaired behavior as described by the defense, nor is there medical evidence that he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome or is bipolar, she said.

She reminded the jury of Lakemper's testimony, during which he said in August of 2005 he was like "a sick coyote" out on the street.

"Was he a sick coyote or a sly fox?' she asked.

She said there were no court records or investigations by child welfare agencies to support Lakemper's claims of an abusive young life, nor was there evidence of genetic mental illness. She pointed out that testimony showed his personal relationships were all marred by symptoms of anti-social behavior, and when he testified, "I wanted to be a better father," showed that he knew "what he should do but never mans up and does it."

Zon said there was no evidence to substantiate Lakemper's testimony that Carter was a drug dealer and that he got oral sex from her. She said he wanted to believe, "I didn't kill a hard-working mother of three. I killed a drug-dealing whore."

Zon pointed out that not only had the jury heard tapes of Lakemper saying he had no remorse, they could see from his behavior following his crimes that he was not distressed. In fact, when he was arrested, he was "in the Cotton Patch Bar, just sitting there chillin'," she said.

She closed by reminding the jury not to inject sympathy into their verdict. "The evidence shows he does not have a mental health problem. He's responsible," she said adding that the state wanted them to find Lakemper guilty on all counts, but the defense wanted them to find him guilty but mentally ill.