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Free will, mental illness: Day 6 of Dabrett Black murder trial continues with neurologist testimony

Posted at 9:50 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 22:50:51-05

BRYAN, Texas — Monday was potentially the shortest day in court to be seen yet for the Dabrett Black homicide case, as the jury was dismissed by 2:30 p.m. after hearing from two of the defense’s witnesses.

Black’s defense lawyers opened day six of trial by calling a former battle buddy of Black’s, Army veteran Randy Newman of Cincinnati, to the stand. Newman testified as to witnessing Black’s decline in mental health over time, though he considered Black an outstanding soldier who saved lives.

Newman also noted from his own experience, that during this time in the Iraq War, soldiers were discouraged by their peers from seeking mental health treatment.

The question of Black’s mental state at the time of killing Texas State Trooper Damon Allen in November 2017 has been one of great debate throughout this trial, with Black’s defense team heavily dissecting the traumatic effects of three deployments and military culture. The defense has emphasized the notion that the post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and schizoaffective disorder Allen was diagnosed with, affected his capabilities to react reasonably.

The prosecution, conversely, has stood steadfast in their assertions that though Allen’s military service and mental health are relevant topics for sentencing, they bear no meaning on his guilt or innocence, as this case is not one of insanity.

Dr. Jeffrey David Lewine, a neurobiologist, testified over brain scans taken from Black in 2019. Lewine’s testimony included a PowerPoint with educational diagrams, images from Black’s tests, and graphs and charts comparing Black’s brain to a neurotypical person. These scans showed Black’s brain had experienced significant patterns of effect that matched his diagnoses of PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, and a TBI resulting in axonal damage and White Matter Hyper Intensities.

The prosecution continued to stress that Black’s defense is not one of insanity and that scientific experts can’t read what was on his mind the day he shot Allen. The prosecution questioned Lewine’s research, concerned that brain scan representations were colored to appear more extreme, though Lewine described the method of image development as a pre-set standard used worldwide.

The prosecution also was concerned about Lewine ignoring Black’s alcohol and drug abuse in the military, but Lewine stated that drug use prior to Black’s arrest would not have much effect on the brain scans performed two years later. Prosecutors also asked if Lewine was attempting to read the defendant’s mind from the time he killed Trooper Allen and asked him to discuss the concept of free will despite neurological deficits.

"In my opinion there is free, will but free will is filtered through the brain... anything that is free will has to be filtered through the brain and acted through the brain,” Lewine said, also noting he would not speculate as to what Black was thinking when he shot the officer in 2017.

The jury was released early, as the defense presented their case to include an additional expert witness, the defense giving what’s called an offer of proof: their response to the prosecution’s objection to the admissibility of evidence with this witness. The witness in question had been dismissed last Tuesday by the judge, deemed irrelevant and a distraction to the case. This witness, a sociologist studying military institutions, reviewed Black’s military service record and would have testified as to all of the incidents of combat Black saw, and the topic of re-acculturation into civilian life.

The trial will continue at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning in the Brazos County Courthouse, with the introduction of at least two more witnesses, according to a comment made to the judge by the defense.