Court

Defendant's mother, two psychologists testify in Ryan Brahney trial

2012-10-04T03:05:00Z 2013-05-13T09:36:55Z Defendant's mother, two psychologists testify in Ryan Brahney trialSamantha House The Citizen Auburn Citizen
October 04, 2012 3:05 am  • 

AUBURN | Ryan Brahney is not shy about sharing his opinions. And when it comes to Bridget Bell's violent death, he believes she got what she deserved.

In a call made from the Cayuga County Jail the night after he fatally stabbed Bell 38 times with a butcher knife, Brahney told his mother, "If she wasn't bringing drug dealers around, she'd still be breathing air."

Submitted as evidence on the third day of Brahney's trial Wednesday morning in Cayuga County Court, District Attorney Jon Budelmann played the call for the court before resting the prosecution's case.

Brahney's voice echoed around the quiet courtroom, becoming almost inaudible as it increased in anger and volume.

"She's been playing games, having drug dealers in the house," Brahney said, telling his mother he previously found a bag of cocaine under his son's car seat.

When Betty Brahney told him he couldn't make those allegations, that she didn't want to hear about Bell's death, he didn't listen.

"I dragged her downstairs and murdered her," the defendant said. "I did what I had to."

Again asking her son not to tell her details, Betty Brahney started to cry.

"Ryan, what are you going to do?" she asked, her voice quavering. "You did this, you did this."

Brahney agreed.

"I knew what I was doing," he said.

In Brahney's case, the defense never denied that the 40-year-old defendant caused Bell's death. But Simon Moody argued Brahney was not guilty by reason of extreme emotional distress, arguing his client's psychological state prevented him from forming the intent for murder.

Norman Lesswing, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Brahney for the defense, testified that Brahney's anger simmered over time, eventually exploding into an uncontrollable rage that cost the 29-year-old mother her life.

Diagnosing the defendant with untreated bipolar disorder, Lesswing described Brahney as paranoid, vengeful, quick to anger and prone to ranting.

"He tends to be psychologically focused and fixated on a wrong he believes has been committed," Lesswing testified. "When he gets something in his mind, he can't stop, he can't let go."

From the time Brahney was 11, Betty Brahney said her son always had a problem with anger and following rules. And each time her son was incarcerated, Betty Brahney said his agitation grew.

"You can tell from his voice, it's from zero to the ceiling," she said.

In the months leading up the Bell's death, Lesswing said Brahney reported becoming increasingly concerned with the safety of Finn, his 3-year-old son, believing Bell exposed their son to risky environments.

"He described becoming increasingly angry in a way he couldn't control or manage," Lesswing said. "He experienced a simmering of stress and agitation ... which then reached a boil that erupted."

After watching Bell invite Wayne Lamb, a convicted drug dealer, into her home on Nov. 20, Brahney told Lesswing his anger started to swell, eventually growing beyond his control and rendering his memory hazy.

Brahney told Lesswing he broke into Bell's Olympia Terrace home on Nov. 21 intending to kick out Lamb.

After searching the upstairs without discovering Lamb, Brahney said he and Bell started fighting, claiming Bell followed him downstairs and pulled out a knife. Brahney told Lesswing he cut his hand when he took the knife from Bell before stabbing her — in Brahney's reported recollection — twice.

Lesswing said Brahney believed his actions were justified.

"He doesn't feel remorse because he did what he felt compelled to do," Lesswing said, "what was right in his view."

In the psychologist's opinion, Brahney's "extreme, uncontrolled, savage attack," among other symptoms, were in line with the legal standard of extreme emotional distress.

Michael Lynch, a psychiatrist who evaluated Brahney for the prosecution, disagreed, diagnosing the defendant with antisocial personality disorder, finding no evidence supporting Lesswing's bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Citing events spanning from Brahney's young adulthood to Bell's death, Lynch said Brahney repeatedly showed a "pervasive pattern of violating the rights of others," his impulsiveness, violence, aggression and lack of remorse.

"He had the classical hallmark of someone who's antisocial," Lynch said. "He breaks the law with impunity."

However, the psychiatrist said he could not find a justification — even within Brahney's moral compass — for Bell's death, arguing Brahney's psychological state did not constitute a case of extreme emotional distress.

To illustrate his point, Lynch read a statement Brahney made during their meeting regarding the night Brahney killed Bell, leaving a knife buried deep in her chest, right above her heart.

"I was raging in my mind," Brahney said.

Lynch agreed, pointing to the temper he said Brahney never learned to control.

"It was obviously a crime of passion," Lynch said, "of temper."

With both the prosecution's and defense's cases closed, both attorneys are scheduled to give their closing arguments at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Judge Thomas Leone said he also expected to announce his verdict following the closing arguments.

Brahney asked to waive his appearance at his trial twice on Wednesday, walking quickly out court, his eyebrows furrowed.

Staff writer Samantha House can be reached at 282-2282 or samantha.house@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at Citizen_House.

Copyright 2015 Auburn Citizen. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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