LATAH COUNTY, Idaho - The man who admitted to killing three people in a crime spree nearly three years ago, was back in a Latah County courtroom Wednesday in an attempt to withdraw his guilty plea.
In January 2015, John Lee killed his adoptive mother Terri Grzebielski, his landlord David Trail and Arby’s manager Belinda Niebuhr. Lee engaged in a car chase with police following that crime spree, eventually crashing his car in Washington where he was taken in to custody. Two months later, he pled guilty to three counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He now says he shouldn’t have.
In court Wednesday, the question was whether Lee was manipulative; doing whatever it takes to get what he wants? Or, was he so psychologically troubled at the time that he can’t make a decision?
The only witness for the defense took the stand first. Psychologist Rahn Minagawa, a psychologist from California who had only recently sat down to evaluate Lee and the case. He said the evidence was overwhelming that Lee was psychologically compromised when he pleaded guilty. He stated Lee's paranoid schizophrenia gave him an intense sensitivity to sound which can deprive a person of rational thought. He also suffered from delusions and said he believed spiders were moving a certain way to bother him.
Dr. Minagawa shared that Lee also underwent testing to ensure he was not exaggerating.
Two psychologists who evaluated Lee right before and after the plea was entered disagreed with the claims made by Dr. Minagawa. One stated h was supposed to hear Lee had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Another claim from Lee was that he'd been coerced in to pleading guilty by jail staff. In his request to change his plea he stated officers who were aware of his extreme sensitivity to sound tormented him by putting loud inmates in the cell next to him, a claim two jail house workers vehemently denied.
It was when the defendants two former attorneys testified though that any questions of competency were answered. Both spent hours with Lee and said they never doubted for a moment he wasn't of rational mind when he appeared in front of a judge to plead guilty.
His previous attorney Charles Koris said Lee was manipulative and when he approached Koris about changing his plea, Koris asked if there was any legal basis. Lee couldn't give him an answer.
The judge will possibly hand down his ruling in the next few days. KXLY 4 reached out to several relatives and friends of victims who declined to comment. The manager at Arby's where Belinda Niebuhr was murdered said it was one wound no one wished to reopen.
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