In 2010, a North Carolina jury decided unanimously that Joeseph Mitchell was not guilty of murder and attempted murder due to the sleepwalking defense. However, they later admitted their hands were tied because the judge would not allow them to convict him of manslaughter instead of murder.
Mitchell strangled his four-year-old son to death and then attempted to kill his two older children while wearing a Halloween mask. Prosecutors argued that financial problems led Mitchell to desperate actions while the defense claimed it was precisely those problems paired with the sleep disorder that led to the tragic accident. Mitchell’s two older children (aged 13 and 14) testified they fought him off and that he seemed to recognize them at the time of the incident.
Despite the evidence, it took the jury just four hours to reach a not guilty verdict. When the verdict was read aloud in court, Christine Perolini — Mitchell’s ex-wife and the children’s mother — was so shocked that she cried “I failed. I couldn’t save him.” before hyperventilating so badly that she had to be wheeled out of the courtroom on a stretcher.
After four years in detainment, Mitchell walked free from jail on the last day of the trial; stating that one day he hoped to rebuild a relationship with his ex-wife and surviving children.
The jury went on to express their frustrations to the media after the case. The general opinion on the panel was that the prosecution had failed to prove the degree of malice and intent needed for a first-degree murder conviction and because the judge refused to consider trying Mitchell on any lesser charges, the jury was ultimately forced to settle for a not guilty verdict.