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Trial of Lake Forest man accused of killing stepmother with ax ends in mistrial

The trial of a Lake Forest man accused of killing his stepmother with an ax in 2013 ended in a mistrial on Monday, Oct. 17, before a second phase of the trial could begin to determine whether he was sane at the time of the slaying.

An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for a little less than a day and a half before telling a judge it was hopelessly deadlocked as to whether Oscar Luis Morlett III, now 30 years old, was guilty of first-degree murder for the Aug. 9, 2013, killing of 66-year-old Jeanne Morlett.

Jurors told a judge that 11 of them believed Morlett is guilty of first-degree murder, according to the DA’s Office, while the 12th juror believed he is guilty of second-degree murder.

First-degree murder requires premeditation.

Morlett’s attorney contends that he is not guilty by reason of insanity — which means even if the jury had found him guilty of the killing, the panel would have had to return to a Newport Beach courtroom for the sanity phase to determined whether Morlett was in the midst of a psychotic episode when he killed his stepmother; if so, he would go to a mental-health facility rather than prison.

Experts assigned to evaluate Morlett offered differing diagnoses, with at least one determining he suffered from borderline personality disorder while another testified he is schizophrenic.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt told jurors that Morlett waited until his father and brother left the home, got a pickax from the yard and struck his stepmother at least 18 times in the master bedroom.

After spending years living with his mother, followed by a brief period living in his car, Morlett, then 21, had moved in with his father and his stepmother. The prosecutor said Morlett was soon angered by the stepmother’s plan to sell the home they were living in, at one point telling a neighbor that he wanted to kill her.

“He made the decision to kill her because he was angry at her for a variety of reasons, but primarily for the housing situation and the sale of the home,” Hunt told jurors.

Morlett initially told police that his stepmother had been killed by gardeners before eventually admitting to hitting her with the pickax. At one point in the police interview, the prosecutor said, Morlett told them he had been “trying to cut her vital organs and veins from inside. … I know what I did was wrong; it’s the worst thing you can do.”

Morlett’s attorney, Ed Beckett, countered his client was not capable of forming the intent required to commit a murder: “Mr. Morlett was in no state to carefully consider much of anything.”

Beckett noted that Morlett, following hospitalization, had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication, thought it was unclear if he had been taking it. Neighbors and family members said Morlett made random, seemingly disconnected comments, the defense attorney added.

Morlett later told police and doctors multiple contradictory and seemingly delusional reasons for attacking his stepmother, the defense attorney said, including that she wanted to die, or that his father had raped his stepmother and Morlett didn’t want her to tell on his father.

“It is not based on objective reality,” Beckett said.

Morlett’s trial was delayed over the years, as he was sent to a state hospital for treatment after a judge at one point determined he was not mentally competent to stand trial.

According to court records, a date for a retrial had not yet been set.

Source: Orange County Register

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