Ga. hospital rapist may get new trial

Judge orders mental health evaluation. Expert will assess if man is delusional.

By Andria Simmons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

GWINNET COUNTY, Ga. — An HIV-positive man who was convicted of rape in 2010 could get a new trial if psychologists determine he was acting on a delusional compulsion when he sneaked into an unconscious woman's bed at a Gwinnett County mental hospital and had sex with her.

Last week, a Gwinnett judge granted funds of $2,000 for the new defense attorney handling Wesley Randall Hatfield's appeal to hire a medical expert. Hatfield was being treated for a long history of mental illness and was HIV-positive in 2007 when he allegedly forced himself on a female patient who became unconscious after being sedated for anxiety symptoms at SummitRidge mental hospital in Lawrenceville.

The woman didn't get pregnant or contract HIV. However, Hatfield was charged with a rarely used Georgia statute that makes it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for someone who knowingly has HIV to have sex with another person without prior disclosure.

Hatfield's lawyer argued that the woman knew he had HIV and that the sex was consensual, but a jury found Hatfield guilty in 2010 of rape and reckless conduct by a person with HIV. He was sentenced to life plus 10 years in prison.

After considering a subsequent appeal, the Appeals Court of Georgia sent the case back to the trial court to decide if Hatfield's case was damaged because the defense lawyer didn't obtain a professional opinion about whether Hatfield was delusional. Such a diagnosis could have allowed his lawyer to present a defense that Hatfield was not guilty by reason of insanity.

If a mental health professional makes that diagnosis now, Hatfield may be entitled to a new trial, said Maryann Blend, his newly appointed defense attorney.

Rob Greenwald, the initial defense attorney for Hatfield, on Tuesday said he disagreed with the court's ruling that he should have sought further evaluations for Hatfield.

Greenwald said he could not have argued to the jury that Hatfield and the victim had consensual sex while at the same time arguing Hatfield raped her because he was suffering from a delusion. Doing so would have damaged his credibility, Greenwald said.

The appeals court noted that Greenwald sought psychiatric evaluations for Hatfield four times to determine if he was mentally competent to stand trial. However, Greenwald never obtained an evaluation of Hatfield's mental state at the time he allegedly committed the crime. Such an evaluation would determine if Hatfield could differentiate right and wrong, or suffered from delusional compulsions that overpowered his will.

While preparing for trial, Greenwald asked Hatfield if he heard voices or thought that the victim had consented when in fact she had not, according to court records. Hatfield's answers satisfied Greenwald that an insanity defense wasn't viable.

However, the appeals court held that when a client has a history of psychiatric problems, a lawyer has to adequately investigate those problems and can't depend on his or her own evaluation of someone's sanity.

Copyright 2012 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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