Defense Begins Its Case in Thuesen Murder Trial

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After a day's delay, the defense began to make its case in the capital murder trial of John Thuesen Friday.

In their joint opening statement, Billy Carter and Michele Esparza told the eight women and six men sitting in the jury box that Thuesen may, in fact, have shot and killed Aggie siblings Travis and Rachel Joiner in their College Station home in March 2009, but that he didn't do so knowingly or intentionally.

"We think that this evidence will show that John Thuesen, though he killed Travis and Rachel Joiner, is not a capital murderer," Carter said. "We believe you will have a reasonable doubt about the mental state of John Thuesen, not to excuse his criminal responsibility, but perhaps to excuse his responsibility for a capital murder."

The picture painted by the defense was one of a person diagnosed with severe depression, dependency issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving in Iraq, that witnesses will testify that he was not the same person when he returned, and that previous failed relationships sank him into a deep, at times suicidal depression.

"He didn't want Rachel Joiner to die," Carter told the jury. "He loved her. He wanted to talk to her because she was an anchor for him, and he saw it slipping away."

Previously, the State of Texas painted the Austin County native, Blinn College student and combat veteran as a confused, jealous and angry boyfriend who had been asked by his girlfriend Rachel for space in their relationship. He also found out she had been spending time with an ex-boyfriend. That ex said the two had been studying for upcoming tests.

The defense contends the events brought back memories of a previous breakup which had led, in part, to his admission to a Veterans Affairs hospital for four days. Thuesen met Rachel just days after his dismissal, and he was deeply in love and didn't want to let her go, according to the defense.

"This is a tragic, sad, sad case that is the loss of three lives due to the despair and hopelessness of mental illness," Esparza told the jury.

A College Station police officer testified to responding to a suicide hotline call in August 2008 by Thuesen. An extremely depressed Thuesen was immediately referred to the DeBakey VA hospital in Houston as a result.

Thuesen's assigned psychiatrist was Dr. Ismael Carlo. He testified to being so overwhelmed by Thuesen's depression that he had to leave the room they were in at one point to compose himself.

Carlo testified that Thuesen had lost control of his drinking as a way of trying to cope with depression that spawned from a breakup, a lack of trust in women, money issues and school problems. After being prescribed anti-depressants and showing interest in future treatment, Carlo was convinced that Thuesen could be released.

The doctor was the subject of a lot of discussion and debate outside of the jury's presence, as he was only allowed to testify to his direct experience and 2008 diagnosis of Thuesen, not as an expert witness to discuss his opinions concerning the 2009 murders. A US attorney with Carlo said the federal government would not allow Carlo to act as an expert outside the four days Thuesen was in the hospital.

The defense contended they could not properly defend their client because of the restrictions. The jury was informed of the restricted testimony when the judge read a statement written by the US attorney and approved by both legal teams.

The VA counselor that began seeing Thuesen after his stay at DeBakey testified Friday as well. She saw Thuesen a total of five times from September to March. Theresa Cannon said she saw improvement in Thuesen from beginning to end. The defendant told her his new girlfriend (Rachel Joiner, though never mentioned by name to Cannon) was helping him with his depression.

Cannon and Thuesen's last meeting was on March 4, 2009. Thuesen confided that he had concerns about his relationship with Rachel, that he and Rachel weren't getting a lot of sleep because of tests they were studying for, and that they had been arguing more lately. Cannon attributed it to the stress of school, and the two agreed that Thuesen would accompany her to an upcoming wedding, but then they would take a break until Rachel was ready to see him again.

Two days later, Rachel and Travis Joiner were killed by Thuesen.

The first witness called Friday was College Station Police Officer Tom Jagielski, one of the first officers on the scene of the crime. He took Thuesen from the Joiners' home to the police station, recalling a stone-faced Thuesen.

The police car's video was also played for the jury, starting when Jagielski was dispatched, and including Thuesen in the backseat all the way to the police station. It shows Thuesen following police orders to come out of the Joiners' garage and lay down on the ground, where he stayed for minutes.

Once in the back of the squad car, Thuesen twice asked if Rachel was going to be OK. He was told by Jagielski that he thought she looked to be in "pretty good shape."

"No...she went pale and blue," Thuesen said from the car.

While he showed no emotion in the video, Jagielski did say Thuesen cried later at the jail.

Also testifying Friday was a member of Thuesen's platoon during his service in Iraq as a Marine. Staff Sergeant Ramiro Garcia, himself a PTSD sufferer, said no one could come back from their experiences as the same person. He said his platoon saw extensive combat.

"I know he does (have PTSD), because I do," Garcia said.

If found guilty of capital murder, Thuesen could face the death penalty.

For a recap of Thursday's proceedings, click here.