Jury deliberating whether 'extreme emotional distress' led man to kill his wife

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10 2013 5:58 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A jury of eight men and women left the courtroom Thursday afternoon charged with making a crucial decision.

But whether or not Dennis Wayne Lambdin, 64, killed his wife isn't the real question they're facing. It isn't a question at all.

"We're not asking you to find him not guilty," defense attorney McCaye Christianson told the jury. "No one's saying she wasn't killed and no one's saying Dennis Lambdin wasn't the one who killed her."

The real question is whether Lambdin was suffering from extreme emotional distress to an extent that a reasonable person in a similar situation would lose control. Jurors are also debating whether that distress could explain why Lambdin hit his wife, Touch Choun, until she fell to the ground where he stabbed her and bludgeoned her with a ceramic ball, leading to a charge of murder, a first-degree felony.

"The bottom line is he did it," prosecutor Fred Burmester told jurors. "The physical evidence is in front of you. That physical evidence … doesn't lie."

Police responded to the couple's duplex near 7300 South and 2200 East on Aug. 17, 2009, after receiving a call from a third party on the East Coast reporting that Lambdin had sent an e-mail saying he had killed his wife and was planning to kill himself.

Police apparently found Choun's body on the kitchen floor. A rope was hanging from the rafters. Lambdin told police he was waiting until he was sure Choun was dead before killing himself.

During a previous hearing, Cottonwood Heights police officer Thomas Daugherty testified that he had responded to the home about a month before, after one of Lambdin's co-workers reported that he had missed work that morning after he apparently found out his wife was having an affair.

The officer reported that Lambdin was calm during that visit. Christianson said Lambdin's behavior the day he killed Choun was most telling, as he told Daugherty and almost everyone else he saw that day what he had done.

She showed a video of a police interview showing Lambdin screaming and sobbing. She said the couple had struggled during their near-decade of marriage, despite Lambdin's efforts to help his wife.

She and co-counsel Neal Hamilton allege that Choun was a heavy drinker, prone to gambling, who was unfaithful to her husband and claimed she was pregnant. When she asked for a divorce or separation, it became too much for him.

"This is a case about a man who snapped and did something really horrible," Christianson said, arguing that Lambdin's emotions made it a manslaughter case and not a murder case. "This is kind of like being given a hard math problem. Murder plus extreme emotional distress equals manslaughter. That's the math problem."

Prosecutors, though, pointed to emails Lambdin sent hours before he killed Choun in which he talked about killing her and said he was "glad I did it." Burmester said the couple argued about Choun's desire to leave the marriage the night of Aug. 16 and the argument continued when she returned home from work around 6:30 a.m.

He said it was clear Lambdin was responsible and that he intended to kill his wife, making it a murder case.

"This is not an extreme emotional reaction, this is a mean retaliatory act," Burmester said. "This is not extreme emotional distress, it's a reaction to her defying his will."

The jury deliberated for close to two hours Thursday before Judge Vernice Trease dismissed them in light of the winter storm. They are expected to return for deliberations Friday morning.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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