February 14, 2002
Gunman Says Sound of New Jersey Made Him Snap
GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas jury on Wednesday found Thomas Mitchell guilty of aggravated assault for shooting his girlfriend because he thought she was about to say the words "New Jersey."
His attorney unsuccessfully sought his exoneration on grounds that certain words set off an uncontrollable rage in Mitchell, who has a history of mental illness.
Words that triggered a bad reaction in Mitchell included "New Jersey," "Wisconsin," "Snickers" and "Mars," lawyer Maria Mercado told the court.
Throughout the three-day trial, Mitchell, 54, covered his ears when he thought the words were going to be spoken.
Witnesses used flashcards with the words written out instead of saying them in court.
"When he has one of these episodes, he isn't focused," lawyer Mercado said.
Prosecutors contended that Mitchell was troubled, but not crazy.
He was convicted for shooting girlfriend Barbara Jenkins three times on March 19, 1999, when he believed she was about to utter the phrase "New Jersey." She survived the attack, but died from unrelated causes just before the trial.
In a statement, Mitchell told police: "I had seen that word at my mom's house and then Barbara said what she said (and) I just snapped."
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