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Experts: ‘Mental Assault’ Conviction Sets Dangerous Precedent

August 10, 1994

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Edward Elliott got away with killing his estranged wife. Letting his 6- year-old son find the body was his undoing.

Elliott became the first person convicted under a provision of Ohio’s assault law that protects those who suffer mental illness from a crime. In this case it was Elliott’s son, Eddie, who was traumatized.

The ″mental assault″ conviction sets a dangerous precedent, according to some legal experts.

The verdict might open a ″Pandora’s box and lead to charges for all kinds of real or imagined mental injuries,″ said Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington who helped redraft federal criminal laws in the 1970s and ’80s. ″There would be no stopping point.″

Assistant Prosecutor Dan Hogan said the mental illness provision of the law, on the books since 1988, was properly applied.

″If this case doesn’t fit it, then I don’t know what does,″ Hogan said. ″Just because it’s new or novel doesn’t mean that it’s not legally proper.″

Eddie has nightmares about his mother and reacts violently when he sees yellow tape similar to what police used to cordon off the crime scene, prosecutors said. They said the boy, now 12, will need counseling for years.

Elliott, 52, was convicted Aug. 1 and sentenced to 10 to 17 years in prison, including two years for child endangerment and perjury, for previously denying under oath that he killed his wife. His lawyer said he will appeal.

A jury deadlocked during Elliott’s 1989 murder trial, and a judge threw out the case.

Elliott later confessed in Montana that he killed his wife with an antique iron during an argument and left Eddie alone in the house, where he found his mother’s battered body on the kitchen floor. Elliott was brought back to Ohio to face trial on the assault charge.

In Ohio, felonious assault is defined as knowingly causing bodily harm, including mental illness or a condition that requires hospitalization or prolonged psychiatric treatment.

Stephen Safranek, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School, criticized the law, saying claims of mental distress could be made in most cases.

″If you’re robbed, they’re going to have distress. If someone is assaulted, they’ll tell you how that changes their basic everyday life,″ he said.

Mrs. Elliott’s father, Frank Klensch, said Eddie lives in constant fear of his father. He said his grandson knows he will be 19 when his father is eligible for parole. ″I think he was quite relieved,″ Klensch said.

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