Murder suspect had IQ of 59, defense team says

Prosecutors also seek evaluation of Michael Whisnant
Jan. 16, 2014 @ 08:08 AM

An attorney for accused killer Michael Joseph Whisnant told a judge Wednesday that their client was evaluated by a forensic psychologist, Dr. John Warren III, who determined Whisnant had an IQ of only 59.

Victoria Jayne, who with Ted Cummings represents Whisnant in his capital murder case, asked Judge Thomas Edwards to schedule a mental retardation hearing to decide whether or not the death penalty applies. But the State countered by filing a motion to have its own independent evaluation conducted at Central Regional Hospital in Butner.

According to state statute, a defendant charged with capital murder with an IQ of 70 or below and deemed mentally retarded cannot be sentenced to death, and the State cannot seek the death penalty.

Judge Edwards allowed the State to coduct an independent evaluation, and set a hearing date for May 5.

Whisnant was charged with the April 5, 2013 murder of his girlfriend, Tammy Benge Cassels, 38, who was found by Lenoir police wrapped in a comforter in the home Whisnant shared with his mother, Patty Triplett, at 810 Wild Cherry St. A medical examiner found evidence of a savage beating resulting in "blunt force injuries" to the head, neck, chest, abdomen, back, shoulder, arms and legs. In all, the examinater found nearly 50 fresh cuts, scrapes and bruises all over Cassels' body, including skull fractures, as well as excess fluid and bleeding in her brain.

At the time of the killing, he was under house arrest because he had violated a condition of his being out of jail awaiting trial on the felony charge he faced for the beating of Cassels in 2011. Whisnant was accused at the time of breaking her jaw with a hammer on Aug. 21 of that year.