WOBURN – Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of John Odgren deliberated for about an hour before ending an emotion-filled day during which a Middlesex prosecutor demanded justice for victim James F. Alenson and the attorney for Odgren appealed for compassion for his troubled client.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty let the jurors close out their day around 5 p.m. having ordered them to start their closed-door conversations at 4 p.m. They did not reach a verdict and will resume Wednesday.
From the bench, Haggerty had outlined the possible verdicts -- not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of second-degree murder. The jury could also deadlock if they do not reach a unanimous verdict.
About three hours earlier today, a prosecutor said Alenson drew on a reservoir of courage in his final moments and helped foil Odgren's plan to commit a "perfect murder'' inside a Sudbury high school in 2007.
Alenson was a 15-year-old freshman when Odgren attacked him inside the second-floor bathroom of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, an attack that Odgren planned so he could leave the victim behind closed doors, giving him time to escape, Middlesex prosecutors allege.
Assistant District Attorney Daniel Bennett, delivering his closing argument in the trial, said the wounded Alenson heroically fought his way out into the hallway where both the attack and the attacker were discovered.
"There is something inside a human being that doesn't want to give up their life,'' Bennett told jurors. "It's in James Alenson. He wasn't a football player or a boxer – he was the person who was tough enough to keep fighting. He wasn't going to go down in that bathroom.''
While acknowledging that Odgren has mental health issues, Bennett urged jurors to convict Odgren of first-degree murder, arguing that he planned the killing in advance and carried it out with ruthless enthusiasm on an unsuspecting Alenson.
Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro appealed to jurors to find compassion for Odgren, who has been described by defense mental health experts as a near-genius whose mind was awash with paranoia and delusions when he attacked Alenson.
Shapiro said Odgren, who has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism, often wished he would never be bullied again because of his misunderstood disability
"What do you think he would wish for if someone asked him today?'' Shapiro said in his closing. "He'd wish for someone to understand him [and to understand] how terrifying and hopeless it is to live in his head. And he would ask for help."
Shapiro urged jurors to find Odgren not guilty by reason of insanity, a finding that would send the 19-year-old into a secure state mental health hospital for years, with his mental status reviewed periodically.
Shapiro, in comments that appeared to irk the judge, told jurors that finding Odgren insane would not lead to his immediate freedom.
"We do not know what triggered the delusions, but whatever it was was a product of his mental illness,'' Shapiro said.
Earlier, Shapiro had lashed out at Haggerty. With the jury out of the room, Shapiro told Haggerty he wanted to talk to jurors about what could happen to Odgren if they conclude he is not guilty by reason of insanity, as the defense has argued.
This is "a case where this young man's life is at stake,'' an impassioned Shapiro told the judge.
But Haggerty said Shapiro's request violated legal rules and told him to remain silent on the technicalities of the insanity defense during his closing argument.
"What you are permitted to argue is limited to the evidence in the case,'' she told him.
She also said the instructions she would provide to jurors after both sides delivered their closing arguments would be the proper way for jurors to learn about the legal concepts underlying the insanity defense.
Shapiro, who has been a practicing criminal defense attorney for about 35 years, called Haggerty's decision the most unfair ruling of his career.
Assistant District Attorney Marguerite Grant urged Haggerty to muzzle Shapiro on the issue, saying jurors should not hear about possible outcomes from Odgren's defense attorney.
The flare-up between the judge and Shapiro occurred before the prosecution's rebuttal witness, psychiatrist Dr. Alison Fife, completed her testimony.
Fife has told jurors she believes Odgren has mental health issues, but was not insane when he stabbed Alenson to death.
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