Trenton man to raise ‘diminished capacity’ defense in 2013 homicide case

A city man accused in the June 2013 stabbing death of his former girlfriend plans to raise a mental defense, claiming he was in a “diminished” state and unable to comprehend what he was doing at the time he allegedly took scissors and stabbed the woman in the neck more than a dozen times, his attorney said.

William Nobles

William Nobles

At a July court appearance, the defense attorney for William Nobles, 41, asked that her client undergo a psychological exam, paving the way for the mental defense.

Nobles’ attorney, Jenna Casper, confirmed that was the case at a Thursday status conference in Superior Court, saying Nobles was in a “diminished capacity” when he repeatedly plunged a pair of scissors into the neck of 54-year-old Celeste Pernell on June 1, 2013.

Pernell was found dead in the doorway of the Southard Street home she shared with Nobles. The scissors, which were used to stab her as many as 18 times, were found protruding from her neck, authorities said.

Nobles traveled to Camden following the murder and was found at a crisis center, where he reportedly admitted killing Pernell, prosecutors said.
Nobles’ mental defense could hinge on whether he can prove he was in a fugue state when he allegedly killed his former girlfriend.

In the eyes of the law, Nobles’ diminished capacity defense is different from an insanity plea in that he will claim he was in a temporary mental state that prevented him from forming the thought process necessary to prove he intentionally killed his former girlfriend. Insanity is a permanent state of mental illness that prevents a defendant from understanding his or her actions.

Legal experts note that diminished capacity is usually raised as a way for a defendant to argue for a charge other than murder. Nobles was offered a plea deal that calls for a mandatory 30-year sentence, prosecutors said.

Casper said her client has been examined by a doctor, who agreed he has mental health issues. Nobles was previously ruled competent to stand trial, prosecutors said.

Assistant Prosecutor Michelle Gasparian noted the curious timing of the mental defense, coming after the state said it had DNA evidence linking Nobles to the murder. She said the state plans to hire its own expert to confirm the defense’s findings.

She declined to be more specific about the DNA evidence, but said, in light of it, the case is no longer a “whodunit.” Nobles’ next scheduled appearance in court is March 9.

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