High court rejects ‘warrior gene’ defense as unreliable

Crime

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The state Supreme Court upheld a murder conviction Friday against a man who claimed a “warrior gene” made him predisposed to impulsive acts of violence. In a unanimous decision, justices ruled that a lower court was justified in excluding evidence about a theory that lacks scientific reliability in the conviction of Anthony Blas Yepez by a jury for the death of an elderly Santa Fe man in 2012.

Defense attorneys say Yepez was incapable of forming the intent to deliberately kill, but expert testimony on the scientific claim was excluded in the pre-trial hearing phase.

Yepez was convicted in 2015 in the killing of his girlfriend’s step-grandfather during a domestic dispute. He is serving a 22-year sentence for second-degree murder with additional time for auto theft and tampering with evidence.

“We hold that evidence of mere genetic susceptibility to a given mental condition is not relevant on the issue of deliberate intent, at least in the absence of evidence that such susceptibility is so well understood and has such strong predictive value as to be clinically validated as an indicator of the mental condition,” said the opinion from former Justice Judith Nakamura, who heard oral arguments in the case before her recent retirement.

The high court rejected the defendant’s request for a new trial.

An appeals court previously ruled that the lower court abused its discretion in excluding scientific testimony, but that no harm was done because Yepez was acquitted of first-degree murder charges that require the state prove premeditation.

Yepez’s girlfriend, Jeannie Sandoval, was sentenced to nine years in prison for her role in the killing on a guilty plea.

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