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Wife: 'Mind-boggling' that Durham County man could have killed son

Posted March 2, 2015
Updated March 4, 2015

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— Hours after her 4-year-old son died, a Durham County woman told authorities that she found it "mind-boggling" that her husband could be involved in the boy's death.

Joseph Anthony Mitchell, 50, is charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the Sept. 22, 2010, death of his son Blake and attacks on his older children, Alexis, who was 13 at the time, and Devon, who was 10, their home.

Jurors on Monday watched a portion of a videotaped interview by Durham County Sheriff's Office investigators with Christine Mitchell, Joseph Mitchell's wife, and her father, Pete Perolini.

"It's confusing me all to hell," Perolini told the two deputies.

"He saved so many lives," a distraught Christine Mitchell said, noting that her husband previously worked as a paramedic.

She noted that Joseph Mitchell had been unemployed for about two years at the time of the attack but that he had a lead on a new job after a promising interview.

"We were working it out," she said of the family's financial difficulties. "We always said we have each other."

Defense attorney Jay Ferguson played the video as part of their cross-examination of Perolini, who testified that the family was "tight with money" because of financial difficulties. Years earlier, he cashed in some of his retirement savings to help purchase the house, which included an apartment off the garage where he lived.

"I believed they were just carrying the house," he said, "just paying bills."

Yet, Perolini said his son-in-law was a devoted family man who never argued with his wife.

Mitchell's defense is built around the notion that he was under so much stress and had so little sleep for weeks that he had a "parasomnia event" and wasn't aware of his actions that night. Therefore, they contend, he shouldn't be held responsible for the attacks.

Prosecutors dispute the so-called "sleepwalking defense," saying Mitchell was completely aware of his actions that night and that the financial difficulties might have triggered the attacks because the family's home was in foreclosure and was about to be turned over to a bank.

Two representatives of BB&T and a real estate agent testified Tuesday afternoon that the bank foreclosed on the home in June 2010 and that Joseph Mitchell had agreed to surrender the keys in exchange for $500 by Sept. 22, 2010, to avoid eviction proceedings. They said they didn't know if Christine Mitchell was aware of the proposal.

In a separate interview with investigators that Ferguson read into evidence on Monday, Christine Mitchell said her husband was "trying to protect me" from the family's financial burdens. As a result, she said, he hadn't slept well for months.

"I though he was just having a breakdown," she said of the night of the attacks.

Sgt. Len Roberts of the Durham County Sheriff's Office testified Monday that Alexis told him that she woke up that night to find her father's hands on her throat but that he went away when she elbowed him and bit him. She said she thought it was a dream until she heard her brothers' cry out, Roberts said.

Devon told Roberts a similar story, adding that Joseph Mitchell returned two more times to try again to smother him but that he repeatedly fought him off. On his third time in the bedroom, Joseph Mitchell flicked the light on and off, and Devon saw he was wearing his mother's yellow jacket, Roberts testified.

The children said they thought Blake was simply asleep, so they carried him into their mother's room, where she began CPR, according to Roberts.

After attacking the children, Joseph Mitchell went into a home office and stabbed himself three times in the chest and slit his throat, and deputies had to break through the door to get to him, according to testimony.


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  • Fred Garner Mar 2, 2015
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    Lethal injection...

  • Peter Panda Mar 2, 2015
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    What a shock-- a spouse and/or parent is shocked their spouse/child is a murderer