SALEM — Lawyers for Tanicia Goodwin, the Salem woman accused of trying to kill her two children and set their apartment on fire nearly two years ago, plan to argue to a jury that she was mentally ill and not criminally responsible at the time.
But while they have filed that notice with the court after having the 28-year-old woman evaluated, they aren’t ready to share those evaluations with prosecutors or the court, even in support of a motion to toss out evidence that is based, in part, on Goodwin’s mental state at the time.
That had prosecutor Melissa Woodard expressing concern yesterday that what a judge called a “tactical” decision by defense lawyer Denise Regan could eventually trigger a motion for a new trial.
The argument came yesterday before the start of a hearing on the defense’s motion to toss out nearly all of the evidence in the case, including statements Goodwin made to police; her clothing, which was soaked in lighter fluid; and swabs of lighter fluid and blood that were taken from her body. The defense argues that Goodwin was not mentally competent at the time and was not immediately read her Miranda rights.
But it is the issue of Goodwin’s mental state that will become central to her trial, scheduled for later this year.
Because Goodwin will rely on an “insanity” defense, prosecutors will at some point be entitled to conduct their own evaluation of her.
Woodard said yesterday that Regan should be required to call her forensic psychiatric expert as a witness during the proceedings. Regan does not want to do that because it could help prosecutors prepare a rebuttal.
Woodard said that future attorneys handling an appeal in the case could point to Regan’s decision not to introduce evidence that could support her argument that Goodwin was so distraught at the time she was interviewed by police that she could not rationally waive her right to speak to officers.
Instead, Regan is asking Lawrence Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins to make “reasonable inferences” based on the testimony of officers who interacted with Goodwin, as well as from viewing a video of Goodwin taken in the Salem Police Department’s interview room.
Wilkins, however, called the prosecution’s concern “valid.”
“As a layperson, I can’t evaluate a defendant’s mental health,” he said.
Sgt. James Page, the first of at least eight witnesses, testified that he did not initially read Goodwin her rights because, for some period of time, he did not consider her a suspect. Instead, he feared that she was one of three victims of an assailant who might still be at large.
As he pressed her for information about who had attacked the children, slashing their throats and hers, she said “sorry” repeatedly and told him she had to protect her babies.
At one point, as he described the injuries to the children, a boy who was 8 at the time and a girl who was 3, he paused for a moment to compose himself, his voice breaking as he recalled seeing the boy’s trachea exposed by the wound.
It was only after the boy was asked by a firefighter if his mother had attacked him, and he nodded, that police began viewing Goodwin as a suspect, he said.
Page said he read Goodwin her rights shortly after that. At that point, she told him she did not wish to speak to him.
The hearing is expected to resume next week.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.