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A woman who stabbed her 15-month-old daughter more than 40 times in 2001 had her murder conviction reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals in a unanimous Oct. 4 opinion. The court found that Norma McNeil’s constitutional right to remain silent was violated when prosecutors Kimberly Knowles and Rachel Carlson Lieber used it against her at trial. While experts from both sides agreed that McNeil was psychotic at the time of the murder, the major disagreement “was over the cause of the psychosis,” the ruling stated. The defense argued she suffered from a psychotic mental disorder, while prosecutors maintained that she was just high on PCP. The order for a new trial hinged on McNeil’s refusal to incriminate herself during questioning by police after being read her Miranda rights. At trial, D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan allowed witnesses to testify and a prosecutor to claim during closing arguments that McNeil’s silence meant she was lucid at the time of the killing, which improperly undermined her insanity defense. On appeal, Corrine Beckwith of the D.C. Public Defender Service represented McNeil. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District says it will move to retry McNeil, who had received a 33-year sentence.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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