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Durham man charged with killing son to use 'sleepwalking defense'

Posted November 8, 2013

Joseph Mitchell and his son, Blake (Photo from Facebook)
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— A Durham County man accused of killing his 4-year-old son three years ago plans to argue that he was unconscious at the time of the crime.

Joseph Anthony Mitchell, 49, rejected a plea deal Friday and pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. His trial was set for March.

Blake Mitchell was suffocated on Sept. 22, 2010, in the family home at 17 Thistle Trace. Two other children in the home at the time, Devon Mitchell, 10, and Lexi Mitchell, 13, told investigators that they awoke to find their father trying to cover their mouths or faces, and they had to fend him off, according to court documents.

Joseph Mitchell was found with stab wounds and cuts that authorities said were self-inflicted.

Defense attorney Jay Ferguson has filed notice that Mitchell plans to argue the defense of automatism at trial and will have an expert witness provide testimony to support that claim.

Automatism implies a lack of voluntary action or an unconscious action. It's sometimes referred to as a "sleepwalking defense," where defendants argued they weren't guilty of a crime because they were sleepwalking and weren't aware they had done anything wrong.

Investigators have said the Mitchell family had suffered numerous financial setbacks, and their foreclosed home was close to being turned over to a bank at the time of Blake Mitchell's death. They also obtained evidence that Joseph Mitchell had had at least one affair, according to court documents.


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  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Nov 8, 2013

    scubagirl2 - "maybe, but I doubt it."


    Guess we'll see.

  • Rebelyell55 Nov 8, 2013

    There is a lawyer who is reaching and reaching.....I do wonder where he found this case history?

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Nov 8, 2013

    Has he a record of sleepwalking previously?

    If not, pfffttt on using that defense.

    That poor little boy!

  • sunshine1040 Nov 8, 2013

    And if that does not fly how about he took a sleeping pill prescribed for another family member. They do have some side effects but I do not think murder is one of them.

  • mep Nov 8, 2013

    I have never once intentionally killed my children while dreaming..... what kind of father dreams of doing such a thing... then actually does it while sleepwalking? Lets hope the jury has some sense.

  • HANS FOR PRESIDENT!!!!! JK Nov 8, 2013

    A. That's a crock

    B.If it isn't, how do you still go on without your child, especially since you killed him and was trying to kill the others. I think I'd do the other two a favor and find a tall cliff somewhere to make sure I didn't do them the same way next time I was "sleepwalking"

  • scubagirl2 Nov 8, 2013

    maybe, but I doubt it.

  • lsdhome Nov 8, 2013

    Sleepwalking? Phooey.