Court tosses conviction in ‘portal to hell’ stabbing attack
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey appeals court ordered a new trial Wednesday for a man convicted of stabbing three people in a backyard in 2011 in an attack he said stemmed from a search for a “portal to hell.”
The three-judge panel wrote that Morgan Mesz’s conviction should be reversed because the trial judge didn’t instruct jurors on a video prosecutors played of Mesz’s interview with a state psychiatric expert.
Mesz brutally attacked two women in Elizabeth early on the morning of Jan. 7, 2011 after they heard him making a commotion inside a backyard shed. After attacking them with a tomahawk and knife, Mesz assaulted neighbor Hernan Agudelo, who had heard the altercation and grabbed a baseball bat from his car.
The women testified at Mesz’s trial and said he told them he was looking for “the portal to hell” in their yard. Mesz claimed he had become addicted to synthetic marijuana and had experienced a substance-induced psychosis that made him incapable of understanding his actions.
Mesz was sentenced to consecutive 16-year sentences for attempted murder, plus a four-year term on an aggravated assault charge.
He claimed numerous legal violations on appeal, most of which were rejected by the appeals court. But the panel agreed that the videotape shouldn’t have been played for the jury without an instruction by the judge on how it should be treated as evidence.
Mesz’s statements on the tape should have been considered solely as a basis for the psychiatric expert’s opinion, not as direct evidence to support the prosecution’s theory and rebut Mesz’s own defense, the appeals court wrote.
“If playing the tape had a purpose other than to prejudice the jury against defendant, we fail to see it,” the court wrote.
The court ordered the trial judge to hold a hearing on the admissibility of the videotape before proceeding with a retrial.