Homicidal Behavior and Sleep Apnea: a Case Report and Medicolegal Discussion

Eric A. Nofzinger, Robert M. Wettstein
1995 Sleep  
This case report documents the use of sleep apnea as a criminal defense for a man who fatally shot his wife during his usual sleeping hours. The defendant, who had severe sleep apnea as determined by a clinical evaluation and a polysomnographic study, admitted to shooting his wife but claimed that he was asleep at the time. Two physicians testified for the defense that the sleep apnea was of sufficient severity that the defendant may have had a confusional arousal related to the sleep apnea in
more » ... the sleep apnea in which he could have shot his wife accidentally. Another physician, testifying for the prosecution, found no evidence to support this defense after a review of the patient's history and polysomnographic records and a review of relevant literature which may have linked sleep apnea with sleep-related violence. In this case, there was substantial apparent motive for the murder, including a past history of spousal and child abuse and a note written by the victim around the time of the shooting describing her intention to take the children and leave the suspect. The jury rejected the sleep apnea defense, handing down a first-degree murder verdict. In the discussion, we briefly review medicolegal issues related to the case as well as prospective guidelines for the medicolegal assessment offuture cases.
doi:10.1093/sleep/18.9.776 fatcat:3srodwgzp5canoey2lka4ylzey