Erie Times News
Nicole Arbaugh, the woman accused of stabbing her boyfriend to death, has been repeatedly hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and suffered abuse in past relationships.
Her lawyer wants to know whether that history can be used to defend Arbaugh from charges of murder.
Gene Placidi, Arbaugh's court-appointed lawyer, has filed a motion in Erie County Court seeking a psychiatric evaluation of Arbaugh, who is accused of killing her boyfriend, Christopher Wickham, in December.
Judge Shad Connelly approved the motion, which was not opposed by the prosecutors in the case, Assistant District Attorneys Mark Richmond and Brian Krowicki.
Arbaugh, 33, faces charges of homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and possession of the instrument of a crime in Wickham's death on Dec. 15.
Police were summoned to Arbaugh's apartment at 821 East Ave. at about 4 a.m., where they found Wickham, 40, lying dead of one stab wound to the chest.
Arbaugh met with police at about 1 p.m. the same day and told them she had stabbed Wickham with a steak knife. She said she had thrown the knife away in a kitchen garbage can, police said.
Wickham, who was right-handed, was found holding a steak knife in his left hand, police have said.
Placidi said Arbaugh was treated twice in California and twice in Erie for mental health problems including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
At trial, Placidi plans to argue that Arbaugh acted in self- defense. If she suffers from mental illness, that could help jurors decide what her state of mind was at the time of the crime, especially the level of her fear, Placidi said.
In addition, Placidi said Arbaugh's history of being abused might help show his client committed voluntary manslaughter, a killing committed in response to an intense provocation, rather than murder, a more serious crime.
Placidi said his investigation of the case so far has turned up evidence that Arbaugh suffered abuse at the "hands of former partners," which might have caused her to develop what is known as battered women's syndrome.
Placidi did not specify who abused Arbaugh and did not say that it was Wickham.
If an expert finds Arbaugh suffered from battered women's syndrome, that could aid her defense.
Battered women's syndrome is a pattern of symptoms exhibited by women who have suffered long-term abuse by a partner.
The case is scheduled for trial on Aug. 2.
Lisa Thompson can be reached at 870-1802 or by e-mail.