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Kehoe found guilty on all counts

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | NOVEMBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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GRUNDY CENTER, Iowa — A Grundy County jury deliberated fewer than two hours before finding Michelle Kehoe guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and child endangerment causing injury.

As a crowded courtroom waited for the jury to enter, Kehoe wiped her eyes with a tissue, hands trembling. Members of her family sat forward, hands clenched in front of them, heads bowed, sobbing.

As 1st District Judge Bruce Zager read the verdict, Michelle Kehoe’s husband, Eugene Kehoe, sat looking straight ahead — just as he had throughout the trial.

Michelle Kehoe sat crying as Zager polled the jury.

She was found guilty of killing her 2-year-old son Seth and trying to kill 7-year-old Sean by binding them with duct tape and cutting their necks on Oct. 26, 2008, near Littleton, Iowa. She then cut her own throat in a suicide attempt. The jury dismissed defense arguments that Kehoe wasn’t criminally responsible because of insanity.

First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

“Such great sadness,” said B.J. Franklin, the family’s victim’s advocate. “That’s how the family sums up the situation.”

Franklin delivered the statement on behalf of the Kehoe family, who have requested privacy.

The family said their priority has been, and will be, supporting Sean. Franklin said the family had not been aware of the extent of Michelle Kehoe’s mental illness and urged anyone with mental illness to seek help.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Andrew Prosser, who worked with Buchanan County prosecutor Al Vander Hart, said the case was difficult for all involved.

“I think the jury had a tough job to do,” Prosser said. “I think they did their duty.”

Kehoe’s attorney, public defender Andrea Dryer, had no comment.

Thursday opened with both parties’ closing arguments before the case was submitted to the jury.

Prosser began by reviewing evidence of what had happened, none of which Dryer disputed. She acknowledged Kehoe killed and attempted to kill her children. But Dryer argued Kehoe wasn’t criminally responsible.

“There is absolutely no reason for this other than that she’s sick,” Dryer said in her closing argument. “She believed it was the right thing to do.”

Multiple experts throughout the trial had testified about Michelle Kehoe’s long history of mental illness, including two suicide attempts.

But according to Iowa statute, mental illness alone doesn’t constitute legal insanity. The defense had to prove that because of her mental illness, Kehoe could not tell right from wrong.

In his rebuttal, Prosser didn’t deny Kehoe was mentally ill. But he successfully argued she knew right from wrong.

“Tragic personal histories do not provide legal exceptions for criminal behavior,” he said. “There is no doubt she understood her actions were wrong.”

Kehoe’s sentencing will be Dec. 15 at the Buchanan County Courthouse.


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