Psychiatrist testifies it's possible Durham father was sleepwalking during murder

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Joseph Mitchell claims he was sleepwalking when he killed his son. (WTVD)

Compelling testimony from a forensic psychiatrist may help a Durham father convince a jury he was sleepwalking when he suffocated his youngest child.

"Individuals who don't deal with their stress will deal with it during their sleep," explained Dr. George Corvin, adding that the defendant Joseph Mitchell didn't fit the profile of a man who would intentionally kill his family.

"It remains a remote possibility that he's lied to us about his memory of these events," said Corvin. "But, it's unlikely."

Mitchell, 50, testified that he has no memory of what happened that tragic night.

He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his youngest son Blake in September 2010. He's also accused of attempted murder for attacking his oldest son and daughter who were 10 and 13 at the time.

Corvin testified for several hours in the seventh day of the murder trial about a rare form of parasomnia that involves sleepwalking or night terrors.

Corvin explained that most men who would intentionally kill their family would target their wives first. He said they would also have a history of less violent behavior. The psychiatrist described Mitchell as a "conflict avoidant" whose eternal optimism about the outcome of his financial problems combined with severe sleep deprivation triggered a rare and violent parasomnia event.

Corvin said he'd only diagnosed a single case during his own lengthy career.

The expert witness also reviewed Mitchell's hospital records from the night of the attack. Mitchell was rushed to hospital after stabbing himself three times in the neck and torso. Corvin told the jury records indicate he was unconscious but not because of a loss of blood. He also appeared impervious to pain, another sign he was in an unconscious state.

"Given that these individuals aren't really awake, they don't register pain," Corvin told the jury.

Corvin discussed two potentially parasomnia events before the murder, including a time when Mitchell's second ex-wife said he reared back to hit her while they slept. His first ex-wife claimed Mitchell was in a sleepwalk state while holding a knife but he dropped it.

The prosecution is poised to offer its own expert witness during the rebuttal phase.

Under cross examination Wednesday, prosecutors took aim at Mitchell's credibility, highlighting lies he told his friends and family about his past. Mitchell claimed he attended the University of Hawaii and played collegiate sports there.

He admitted he made up the story for his wife because he was ashamed of his parents who abandoned him and his siblings.

"I tried to shield her from my past so that we could have a great future," Mitchell said.

Prosecutors revealed Mitchell also lied to the public and potential employers by posting his bogus education on his LinkedIn profile.

Mitchell also testified about the apprehension he felt about the birth of his third child. He said he worried about financial stability but later became excited about Blake's birth by offering to deliver the baby.

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