A former Auckland University student has been convicted of murdering his wife and torching their United States home to destroy evidence.
After eight hours of deliberations over two days, a jury found Blazej Kot, 25, guilty of murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence. Kot, who was studying at Cornell University in New York, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
He could draw 25 years to life in prison for killing Caroline Coffey, a postdoctoral researcher at the Ivy League school. He will be sentenced on May 25.
The defence wanted the murder charge reduced to manslaughter, arguing Kot suffered from paranoia and other acute symptoms associated with Capgras delusion, a misidentification syndrome common in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
After a three-week trial, prosecutor Andrew McElwee dismissed Kot’s justification for killing his wife of eight months as a ludicrous attempt to elude blame for a premeditated murder carried out simply to end an unhappy relationship.
“The defence wants it to be fantastical,” McElwee said in closing arguments Monday. “The simplest explanation is true – the defendant was unhappy with his life.”
Defence psychiatrist Dr. Rory Houghtalen said Kot suffered from a personality disorder that made him fear he was being tested by unseen forces, leading him to believe he could only end the conspiracy by killing Coffey, whom he believed was a lookalike.
While Kot admitted killing her, prosecutors said his attempt to destroy physical evidence contradicted the notion he was propelled by an “extreme emotional disturbance.” Coffey, 28, was killed a few hundred yards from their apartment last June on a trail popular with bikers and joggers in Ithaca’s rural outskirts.
Soon afterward, Kot led police on a high-speed chase when a state park officer spotted him in a parked car with dried blood on his arms. During the eight kilometre chase, Kot critically wounded himself by cutting his throat with a knife.
Kot and Coffey met at Cornell and were married in Ithaca, New York State, in October 2008 but saved up for an “exotic location” wedding ceremony in Costa Rica last May.
By then, however, Kot had taken a leave of absence from his doctoral programme to work for a business start-up. His 60-to-80-hour work weeks and the couple’s mounting financial woes were contributing to an onset of depression, paranoia and other symptoms, the defence said.