Expert: Naples sailor on trial for attacking wife wasn’t insane
NAPLES, Italy — A Naples-based sailor diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder probably was not clinically insane on the night he allegedly choked his wife, a mental health expert for the defense testified Wednesday at the sailor’s general court-martial.
When Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Flanning returned to Naples after four months in Iraq, he exhibited signs of PTSD, including isolation, insomnia and anger problems, testified Army Dr. (Capt.) David Johnson, the division psychiatrist in Kitzingen, Germany, for the 1st Infantry Division.
Flanning, 34, allegedly choked his wife in June, four months after returning from an Iraq deployment. The master-at-arms and military dog handler stationed at Naval Support Activity Naples, he is charged with assault consummated by a battery and aggravated assault with means and force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm. If convicted, he faces a maximum punishment of 3½ years confinement.
When questioned, Johnson told prosecutor Lt. Richard Federico that Flanning did not suffer from a “severe mental disorder or defect,” a requirement for an insanity plea. Johnson also said he believes Flanning was able to tell the difference between right and wrong on the night of June 3.
His testimony was exactly what the defense expected. The psychiatrist made a clinical judgment; the jury is required to make a legal one, and can disagree with the assessment, said Guy Womack, Flanning’s civilian attorney.
The five-member jury must find Flanning guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and Womack said he believes the defense has introduced that doubt.
Johnson testified that PTSD can lead a person to “flip out.” He told the court that medical studies indicate about 50 percent of combat troops show some signs of PTSD and, of those, 15 percent to 20 percent are diagnosed with the disorder. He testified that there is a high rate of domestic violence linked to sufferers of the disorder.
The key testimony, Womack said, might have come from Flanning’s wife, Petty Officer 2nd Class Demetria Lomax-Flanning, who testified under cross-examination by the defense Tuesday that he returned from Iraq a different man. Flanning became withdrawn, angry and tense, wouldn’t eat, showed little interest in his job and started talking in his sleep.
Lomax-Flanning likened him to a “demon,” whom she didn’t recognize on the night he allegedly choked her into unconsciousness.
The charges against Flanning were brought by the Navy after his wife went to a hospital to be examined following the altercation. She was called as a witness for the prosecution.
“PTSD can be extreme, and can turn a nice person into a demon,” Womack said. “The jury can disagree with Dr. Johnson’s clinical standpoint … and I think there’s plenty of testimony and evidence for the members to say ‘I think he flipped.’”
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Thursday.