“I just see him and I just kinda reached out and I pull the trigger and shot him and, I don’t know, it just – I panicked, I guess,” Cheever subsequently testified, according to a trial transcript.
Cheever pleaded “voluntary intoxication” in an effort to defeat the capital murder charge. His defense psychiatrist, at trial, called Cheever “a sad but typical case of progressive methamphetamine use.” A government-hired psychiatrist, who examined Cheever for five and a half hours at the jail, countered that Cheever appeared capable of rational thought and willful choices.
“He made a decision not to try to flee, not to try to run. He made a decision to keep himself where he kept himself, as opposed to another part of the house,” Dr. Michael Welner testified, adding that Cheever “made a decision to shoot again. And then when he stopped shooting, he made a decision to stop shooting.”
The Kansas Supreme Court unanimously overturned Cheever’s murder conviction, reasoning that the testimony by the government psychiatrist who had examined the workings of Cheever’s mind violated the defendant’s rights against self-incrimination.
On Wednesday, seemingly tipping his hand, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. likened the opportunity to rebut psychiatric testimony with the well accepted ability to rebut ballistics evidence.
“It seems to me unfair to say the defendant’s expert has access to that ballistics evidence but the state does not,” Roberts said.
Justice Clarence Thomas, as is his custom, stayed silent and was the only justice not to ask questions during the oral argument. A decision is expected in the case by June, when the court’s current term ends.