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Defendant has seizure when burns shown in trial

February 01, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Martinsburg woman who stands accused of dousing her boyfriend in rubbing alcohol and setting him ablaze had an apparent seizure in Berkeley County Circuit Court Tuesday as her victim showed his scarred upper body to the jury.

Winona L. Mimms started convulsing suddenly during Melvin D. McDaniel's testimony. Her attorney, Paul Taylor, stabilized her and lowered her to the floor while court officers hustled the jurors out of the courtroom and called 911.

At first Mimms, 42, ignored the urging of paramedics and her mother to go to the hospital.

"I want this over with. I want this over with," she said. "I've waited so long."

During a lunch break, however, Mimms changed her mind and was taken to Martinsburg City Hospital.

She returned several hours later to continue a trial that now almost certainly will last an extra day. Prosecutors originally had hoped to wrap up today.

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Taylor called for a mistrial, but Judge David Sanders denied the motion.

Taylor cited his client's illness. He said Mimms has had seizures for about 10 years, ever since undergoing surgery to correct a cerebral aneurysm. She last had a seizure about two weeks ago and had one during a status hearing in her case several months ago, he said.

"I'm not sure what impact this had on the jury, either," Taylor said in an interview.

During the testimony, the 11-man, one-woman jury listened to conflicting descriptions of what both sides essentially agree are the main facts.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Hassan Rasheed argued that McDaniel's burns were the result of malice.

Rasheed said McDaniel, 42, and Mimms started arguing on the morning of Dec. 13, 1998. She wanted him to leave her house, 658 Orchard Ave., where he had been staying for several weeks.

The argument escalated and Mimms doused McDaniel with rubbing alcohol from her bedroom dresser, Rasheed said.

"Mr. McDaniel was surprised. He thought this was bizarre," he said. "But he had no idea of the true malice in the defendant's heart."

Taylor presented a different interpretation, one of self-defense.

"Yep, that's what happened. But what you're going to need to determine is what her intent was," he said. "When she doused him with alcohol, he still didn't leave. So she did what she did."

Taylor called McDaniel a "bully" who refused to leave Mimms' house and blocked the door when she tried to leave.

McDaniel testified Tuesday that he met Mimms at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He said she asked him to move in with her in October 1998 and they developed a sexual relationship.

McDaniel, who now lives in Perryville, Md., said he and Mimms argued often. But he said he had no idea what was coming until Mimms pulled a lighter out of her jacket pocket and lit him on fire.

"I can't describe what it felt like," he said. "It felt like the whole house was on fire."

McDaniel testified that he spent 33 days at Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center and suffered second- and third-degree burns over about 40 percent of his body.

On cross-examination, however, McDaniel acknowledged that he refused to comply with Mimms' wishes to leave the house and prevented her from leaving. He also admitted that he threatened to kill her in October 1998 if she did not leave his belongings alone.

McDaniel testified that he pushed Mimms down on her bed on one occasion.

"What right did you have to physically restrain her?" Taylor asked.

Taylor tried to poke holes in McDaniel's testimony by pointing out inconsistencies with statements he made at Mimms' preliminary hearing. He seized on McDaniel's conflicting statements as to when he met Mimms, for instance. He testified on Tuesday that it was September but said at Mimms' preliminary hearing that it was November.

The two sides also sparred over previous attempts Mimms made to file a family protective action against McDaniel.

Taylor introduced evidence that Mimms had filed paperwork to get a protective order. But McDaniel testified that Mimms asked him to return to her home in October 1998 after visiting him at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he was being treated for depression.

The two had sex in his hospital room, McDaniel testified.

Rasheed introduced evidence showing that a request for a protective order was dismissed on Oct. 13 after Mimms failed to show up for the hearing.

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