Closing arguments in trial set for today
Fernbach's mental health questioned
Wanda English Burnett
Fernbach Jr. capable of understanding right from wrong when he
shot two people in Batesville in April of 2009?
That was the question that was heard in the courtroom as the trial
continued last week for the Batesville man. The jury will not
only be deciding if Fernbach is guilty of shooting two people,
which prompted the State to file formal charges of Attempted Murder,
but they will also be determining if he (Fernbach) knew right
from wrong at the time of the shooting.
The trial began last Wednesday, January 12 after a lengthy process
of selecting the jury was held on Tuesday in Ripley County Circuit
Court. Fernbach has been charged with two counts of Attempted
Murder for shooting Phillip Cruser of Westport in the head and
Benjamin Dick of Sunman, in the hand, just outside the Day Nite
Food Store in Batesville on April 4, 2009.
The complicated trial has taken different turns as witnesses testified
for both the State and the Defense. As reported in The Versailles
Republican last week, Fernbachs wife at the time of the
shootings, testified saying her husband was depressed, paranoid,
anxious and scared. She said he was on a multitude of medications,
but seemed okay that particular day (the day of the shootings).
Ex-girlfriend and mother of Fernbachs child, Heather Garrett
testified about domestic violence she experienced at the hands
of the defendant. She said he chased her with an ax, broke a cops
nose, and at one point she thought he was going to break her neck.
She also testified that Fernbach was awarded visitation rights
with his child.
On Thursday, January 13 the State rested and Fernbachs defense
attorney Mark Jones began calling witnesses. The defendant never
made eye contact with the witnesses as they were called.
Fernbachs mother-in-law at the time of the shooting, Lynn
Mattox testified that Jimmy was never threatening to anyone.
She said if he used drugs, she wasnt aware of it. She also
acknowledged that the defendant knew to leave the house to smoke
cigarettes because he couldnt smoke inside on the day of
Jurors heard from Matt Sharpless, a neighbor of Fernbachs,
who testified that the defendant had always thought people were
out to get him.
Another witness, Fernbachs sister-in-law at the time of
the crime, Carol Holt, took the stand. She said she was comfortable
with leaving her four-year-old son overnight at the Fernbachs
home. She said he (Fernbach) sometimes took her son fishing. She
said she never saw him on drugs or showing violent tendencies.
A trip that seemed a turning point in Fernbachs life was
referred to by more than one witness at the trial. Holt also testified
that on a family trip to North Carolina Fernbach displayed paranoid
behavior and did not recover. She noticed no-trespassing signs
at his home the defendant had placed and said he barricaded the
doors saying someone was out to get him. She said she didnt
think he knew the wrongfulness of his actions on April 4, 2009.
Prosecutor Ric Hertel set the stage to discredit Holts theory
that Fernbach didnt know it was wrong to shoot two people.
Holt testified that the defendant would never put her son in harms
way. Hertel said Fernbach wouldnt because he knew that it
would be wrong to do that to a four-year-old. Holt didnt
change her opinion on Fernbachs mental state when the shootings
The jury reviewed a thick stack of mental health reports and were
then excused for the day.
Friday was a day jurors would hear from mental health professionals.
The law in Indiana says that a judge must appoint at least two
physicians with one being a psychiatrist in a case where the insanity
plea is raised. Judge Carl Taul was the judge in this case who
appointed the two physicians.
Philip Coons, an IU professor emeritus, testified that the defendant
knew right from wrong when he called police nine minutes after
the shootings, but was insane at the time he pulled the trigger.
It was also noted that he had not read a single prior psychiatric
record (that was about six inches thick) on the defendant who
he examined about 90 days after the shooting incident.
From testimony it was brought out that Dr. Coons had not seen
a patient since 1995.
Another mental health professional Dr. Kurzhals testified that
he examined Fernbach once. That examination lasted about three
hours and 45 minutes on August 9, 2009, more than 120 days after
the shooting occurred. He said the defendant had paranoid delusional
beliefs and was hearing voices at the time he examined him. He
said the defendant acknowledged that he purchased the gun illegally
because his wife would be upset with him spending the money on
Under cross-examination by the state, Dr. Kurzhals said he was
not aware of six separate diagnoses of polysubstance abuse by
the defendant. Neither doctor knew about the nine previous convictions
of crimes of violence committed by Fernbach.
During Fernbachs competency evaluations, the defendant made
the statement get me the best situation possible.
Dr. Kurzhals testified that there could be two different diagnoses
by two different doctors.
At the end of the doctors' testimonies, it was determined by the
judge that the trial would recess until Tuesday morning at 8:00
a.m. at which time the state and defense would present closing
(Editors note) Ongoing trial coverage will continue in The