A difference of opinion between two psychologists who examined a Baton Rouge man accused in the 2010 home-invasion slaying of a single mother and wounding of her young daughter in Beauregard Town has thrown a monkey wrench into the state’s plans to seek the death penalty.
Gina Manguno-Mire, a New Orleans psychologist hired by the state to evaluate Aramis Jackson, did so in August and concluded in an Oct. 12 report that he is not intellectually disabled.
But California psychologist Ricardo Weinstein, who was hired by the defense, interviewed the 25-year-old Jackson in December and wrote in a February report that he believes Jackson is indeed intellectually disabled.
The issue is critical to East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors and Jackson’s court-appointed attorneys alike because the U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of the intellectually disabled.
Jackson, who is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 42-year-old Alexandra Engler and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of then-9-year-old Ariana Engler on Sept. 24, 2010, is scheduled to appear Nov. 9 before state District Judge Tony Marabella.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys involved in the case say there are a number of ways the case could play out from this point forward.
One possible scenario is that both sides could reach an agreement that would resolve the issue of intellectual disability.
Another option would be to let the matter of Jackson’s mental status ride and proceed to trial. If he was convicted, the jury would have to decide in the sentencing phase whether he is intellectually disabled.
A third option would involve Marabella holding a pretrial hearing and then issuing a finding as to whether Jackson is intellectually disabled.
If the judge were to rule in the defense’s favor and such a ruling withstood any appeal, the case would no longer be a capital murder case and Jackson would face an automatic sentence of life in prison if found guilty of first-degree murder.
If Marabella decided after a hearing that Jackson is not intellectually disabled and his decision survived any appeal, the case would continue as a capital case with the death penalty as a possible penalty in the event of a conviction.
Weinstein, who noted that Jackson attended up to the seventh grade in Baton Rouge, received special-education services and has fathered a child, concluded that his deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning are developmental in nature and were present prior to the age of 18 — factors that must be found to support a determination of intellectual disability.
“It is my opinion to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that Mr. Aramis Jackson fulfills the criteria for the diagnostic of Intellectual Developmental Disorder according to the Louisiana State statutory definition,” he wrote in February.
Jackson’s attorneys, David Price and Mario Guadamud, argue Jackson is therefore exempt from being sentenced to death if found guilty.
Manguno-Mire also found that Jackson has some significant intellectual limitations, but she said he is capable of taking care of his basic needs.
“Although his intellectual functioning was found to be significantly below average, the existing data do not suggest a diagnosis of intellectual disability,” she wrote in her report filed into the court report Oct. 13.
Manguno-Mire’s report revealed that Jackson was arrested for the first time at the age of 11 and that he was arrested nine times by the time he was 17.
He spent time at the Jetson Center for Youth on an aggravated second-degree battery charge, her report states.
In the Beauregard Town case, witnesses identified Jackson as the person they saw in the area shortly after the crime carrying a gun and a large flat-screen television believed stolen from the Engler home on Beauregard Street, police have said.
Ariana Engler survived despite being shot multiple times.