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State v. Blansett

Supreme Court of Kansas

March 8, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
Lindsey Nicole Blansett, Appellant.


         1. Premeditation is not a "culpable mental state" that can be negated by the mental disease or defect defense under K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-5209.

         2. When a defendant encourages the jury to infer that the State's evidence is not credible because it failed to admit a certain piece of evidence, the State may refute the inference by informing the jury that the defense has the power to introduce evidence. But in so doing, a prosecutor cannot suggest that a defendant must disprove the State's case.

          Appeal from Sumner District Court; R. Scott McQuin, judge.

          Michelle A. Davis, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.

          Kerwin L. Spencer, county attorney, argued the cause, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, was with him on the briefs for appellee.


          STEGALL, J.

         While suffering from a psychotic episode, Lindsey Nicole Blansett stabbed her 10-year-old son, Caleb Blansett, to death. A jury convicted Blansett of first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated assault. On appeal, Blansett challenges the jury instructions concerning her mental disease or defect defense. She also alleges several instances of prosecutorial error and claims cumulative error merits reversal.

         At first, Blansett argued that premeditation is a culpable mental state that can be negated by the mental disease or defect defense. But while her case was pending, we decided State v. McLinn, 307 Kan. 307, 323, 409 P.3d 1 (2018), and rejected the same argument, holding that premeditation is not a "culpable mental state" under K.S.A. 2013 Supp. 21-5209. We later granted Blansett's request for supplemental briefing to discuss McLinn's impact and raise additional arguments. Now, Blansett argues the jury instructions prevented the jury from considering how the evidence of her mental disease or defect affected her ability to premeditate.

         We hold Blansett has failed to establish instructional error because we disagree with her characterization of the jury instructions. Also, we find one instance of prosecutorial error but hold it was harmless. As a result, there are not multiple errors to accumulate and cumulative error does not apply. For these reasons, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Just before midnight on December 14, 2014, the Sumner County 911 dispatcher received a call from Blansett. The first thing Blansett said was, "Hi, this is Nicole Blansett, I just stabbed my son. . . . I thought somebody was coming in to get us." The dispatcher asked Blansett where she had stabbed her son, and Blansett replied, "In the chest. . . . I thought somebody was coming in." After the dispatcher told her to hold on the line, Blansett exclaimed, "God, what did I fucking do? . . . I'm never gonna get out of jail . . . never. Oh God, you're gonna have to live with dad. Oh, God, why? Why?" and then began crying. When the dispatcher returned to the line, he asked Blansett if her son was breathing. Blansett said she could feel his heartbeat but just "barely."

         Officer Sara Owens was the first to arrive at Blansett's house in Wellington. Officer Owens would later testify: "When I walked into the house, I noticed that the house was completely dark, and I saw a white female that I identified as Nicole Blansett, and a young child, who ended up being Cadence Blansett. Nicole was kind of in a daze and Cadence was crying." Officer Owens "found Caleb laying on his back on the bed with blood covering his chest." Caleb had no pulse.

         Blansett told Officer Owens that "she had been frightened"; "she thought that something was going to happen"; "she felt like she heard something by the window"; and "her son's toy gun had fallen for no reason." Blansett talked "about having peoples' arms . . . chopped off, people being cut up, Caleb living like a dog, being in pain, and she didn't want her [] son to live like that." Blansett "thought she was saving him from all the years of pain. She didn't specify what kind of pain. Just somebody coming and getting him. Somebody hurting him."

         When the EMTs arrived, they found Caleb lying motionless in bed with multiple stab wounds to his left pectoral area. They pronounced Caleb dead at the scene. In the same room, investigators found a knife on the dresser and an 11-pound rock lying next to the bed.

         Detective Bobby Wilson interviewed Blansett at the scene of the crime. Blansett told Detective Wilson that she was having financial issues and was depressed. She explained that she had been trying to reconcile with her ex-husband Clint, and he wanted her "to go to mental health" on the following Monday. Blansett had agreed to do so in hopes of reconciling with Clint.

         Blansett told Detective Wilson that earlier in the evening she was tending to two puppies she had gotten the children as an early Christmas present. At some point, she took their large adult dog outside. When she came back inside, she took three knives out of a kitchen drawer and laid them on the counter. According to Blansett, she heard a noise and walked through house carrying one of the knives. Turns out, the noise was caused by a toy gun falling off the wall in Caleb's room.

         Blansett recalled that she returned to the kitchen, set the knife down, and went back to the dogs. But shortly after, she decided "that Caleb just needed to go to heaven, and he needed to go to heaven that night. She was going to ease his pain. And that's when she made a decision to end his life." Then Blansett went to Caleb's room and stabbed him while he was asleep. As Detective Wilson summarized, Blansett stabbed Caleb once, realized what she had started, and then decided to stab him a couple more times.

         Detective Wilson probed why Blansett killed her son. She commented that Caleb was "meek, a weak child." Blansett was hard to follow and "[n]ever gave an exact reason why." But she insisted that "[s]he needed to stop his pain. She needed to save him. And he needed to go to heaven."

         After the on-site interview, Detective Wilson took Blansett to the Sumner County jail. Later that morning, Blansett asked to speak with Detective Wilson again, and over the course of three more interviews she discussed the killing and her mental process in more depth.

         At the outset, Blansett told Detective Wilson that she had hit Caleb with a rock before stabbing him. She first thought the rock would kill Caleb, and when it did not, she stabbed him. Detective Wilson asked if, after hitting Caleb with the rock, Blansett had to leave the room to get the knife. Blansett said "no." She also told Detective Wilson that Caleb woke up after she hit him with the rock. As Blansett stabbed Caleb, he yelled, "'Mommy, stop. Mommy, stop.'" Cadence also yelled at Blansett to stop. But Blansett kept stabbing and told Caleb that this was the only way he could get to heaven.

         When Detective Wilson asked Blansett why she killed Caleb, Blansett said, "I just lost my mind." In the days leading up to the crime, she had not been eating or sleeping well and her mind was racing "nonstop." That day, Blansett believed people were coming to hurt them. She explained, "I thought something bad was gonna happen to them, I thought something bad was gonna happen to me, and I thought that that was the only way that I could save them," and, "I felt like I was being closed in on." Blansett expressed that Caleb would struggle in life and she was doing the best thing for him.

         But Blansett also admitted that, as soon as she stabbed Caleb, she "knew it was wrong." Detective Wilson suggested that Blansett premeditated the killing when she retrieved the rock and the knife. Blansett denied this repeatedly and insisted that she did not plan the killing.

         The State charged Blansett with first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated assault. At trial, the State's case-in-chief consisted mainly of the testimony of investigators and forensic scientists. Detective Wilson testified for the State and detailed each of the interviews that he conducted with Blansett. Although each of the interviews had been recorded in some manner, only a recording of the third interview was introduced into evidence and played for the jury.

         The State also called Blansett's friend Ivan Scott to testify. He explained that the night before Caleb's death, Blansett and her kids stayed overnight at his house. He recalled that Blansett "was acting paranoid" that night and worried that someone was in the house.

         After the State rested its case, the defense called Dr. Jarrod Steffan, a psychologist, to testify. Dr. Steffan had interviewed and evaluated Blansett. He testified that about a month before Caleb's death, Blansett became "paranoid and suspicious, particularly of her mother and her stepfather." During that time, Blansett claimed she heard her son talking in his sleep like he was having a nightmare, saying "[s]omething to the effect of, 'Stop, Papa, stop.'" Blansett soon "formed the opinion" that her ex-husband was sexually abusing Caleb. Around that time, Blansett also came to believe that she had been sexually abused as a child, though it was unclear to Dr. Steffan whether this had occurred.

         According to Dr. Steffan, about a week before Caleb's death, Blansett had attended a church service "about God's wrath and salvation." At this service, the verse Genesis 9:11 stood out to Blansett. She became obsessed with those numbers, thinking about all the times they had come up in her life. She also read chapter 9, verse 11 from other books of the Bible. She then became "very paranoid about what was going on and wasn't sure whether the verses about the references to 911 were coming from God or from the devil. She had an overwhelming sense of fear of terror." She believed that events like September 11, 2001, were "God's way of, what she said, taking out people before really bad things happened. It was a way that God saves people. Brings them into heaven before they-they suffer a calamity essentially."

         As Dr. Steffan testified,

"[Blansett] became in the clinical sense what-what a psychologist and psychiatrist would say as-as being very preoccupied and perseverating on that. And those beliefs then morphed into what we call a delusional belief system wherein she was believing that the end times were coming, and she had the sense that-she had this pervasive fearfulness in her life, and she began to believe that Clint, his friends, or other people were going to come into her home, take her two kids, and kill her. And for different reasons she believed that her son wouldn't be able to withstand living with Clint; that Clint would be abusive toward him-toward Caleb; would eventually torture Caleb. . . . And so in her mind she believed that the right thing to do would be to do what God had done through other very bad events, like 9-11, that is, God-God used 9-11 to rescue some people or bring them into heaven so that they would not experience worse types . . . of events. The end times. And so she thought that she had to kill her son in order to prevent him from being taken, and tortured, and ultimately killed . . . by the son's father. But that belief didn't happen until moments before she killed her son. Up until that Sunday night, she had these different thoughts about religion, and the end times, and . . . she said that she was having visions of Caleb being tortured, beaten. I wasn't able to get the sense from her whether they were what we would call visual hallucinations where she was actually seeing things that no one could possibly see. That it was some severe disruption in her mind. Or if it was something that was like a vivid image that was going along with her different thoughts about what was happening. But she reported she was seeing those different things of her son being tortured."

         Dr. Steffan concluded that Blansett experienced a change in her mental function about one month before she killed her son, which worsened the week beforehand. He believed that Blansett's mood and sleep changes were consistent with someone who has bipolar disorder and is having a manic episode. As Dr. Steffan explained, during a manic ...

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