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State v. Green

Citation. 643 S.W.2d 902; 1982 Tenn. Crim. App. 470.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Defendant, Steven Green (Defendant), shot and killed the victim, Officer Harry Wilcox (the victim). The Defendant was convicted by a jury of murder, but on appeal, his conviction was set aside due to the Defendant’s insanity at the time of the murder.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Where the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant’s sanity beyond a reasonable doubt, that burden can only be met through expert testimony, lay testimony when the proper foundation has been laid, or a showing of acts or statements of the defendant made at or near the time of the commission of the crime.


The Defendant first received psychiatric treatment at age seven, at which time he was diagnosed as paranoid. Throughout his teenage years he received psychiatric treatment sporadically. By age sixteen, the Defendant had developed into a loner. His behavior consisted of a refusal to attend school, remaining in bed all day and staying out all night. He did not talk to anyone, and when someone spoke to him, he either did not respond or laughed hysterically. Eventually, the Defendant left home and stayed with relatives, which is what brought him to Memphis, Tennessee. Anyone with regular contact with the Defendant found his behavior bizarre and dangerous. While the circumstances of the victim’s death are not recounted, the authorities were led to the Defendant by a plastic bag on the victim’s back containing a note addressed to FBI Agent Ray Hanrahan (Hanrahan). The note was mostly a meaningless string of words and phrases, including reference to an “ousiograph,” which the Defenda
nt had spoken to Hanrahan about a few weeks before the killing. According to the Defendant, an “ousiograph” is a device used to detect messages being sent to his brain. Initially, the Defendant was found incompetent to stand trial, but after treatment, he was declared competent and ordered to stand trial.


Is the prosecution’s introduction of only lay testimony sufficient to carry its burden of proving the Defendant’s sanity beyond a reasonable doubt?


No. The Defendant introduced substantial lay and expert witness testimony to prove his insanity at the time of the killing. By rebutting the Defendant’s expert testimony with no more than lay witnesses, the prosecution failed to meet its heavy burden of proving sanity.


While not a per se rule, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee seems to caution that a lack of expert testimony will substantially undermine the prosecution’s ability to prove sanity beyond a reasonable doubt.

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