Before he testified in his own defense this afternoon, Michael Wilson told the judge, out of the jury’s view, that he could not very well swear an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” when he’s being forbidden to speak some of the truths he wanted to tell on the stand. So by not telling the whole truth, he told the judge, he’d be lying, and violating his oath.
Among those: that just three weeks before the incident that led to the charges for which he’s on trial, he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. That he was Baker Acted weeks before the incident. That he’s had mental health issues for much of his life. That he wasn’t in his right mind when he rigged up the entrance to his Palm Coast home at 110 White Hall Drive that would electrocute and possibly kill whoever tried to open the door two days after Christmas 2017.
Not “whoever,” the prosecution says: his wife, the intended target.
Wilson, 33, is facing an attempted first degree murder charge in one of the strangest Flagler cases in modern memory. The prosecution says he sought to kill his wife, Ashley, by electrocution, rigging up the entry door to their home so she’d be shocked to death once she grabbed the handle. (See the arrest report and narrative of the investigation.)
The two were having marital difficulties. Ashley allegedly had been garnishing his bank account to pay her child support obligations (she had three children from previous marriages). He was exchanging texts with other women. He suspected her of cheating on him. She suspected him of cheating on her. Her family had ordered him out of Palm Coast. For some reason he complied. They were not just talking divorce: Ashley had filed for divorce around that Christmas, though he didn’t yet know it when he allegedly tried to kill her, though he’d threatened to press charges on her for at least two accusations: allegedly stealing their daughter, and allegedly stealing his money.
The defense–he’s represented by Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally–before trial attempted to argue that Wilson was acting from “diminished capacity,” meaning that he wasn’t quite insane, but not in his right mind, either. Florida law does not recognize “diminished capacity.” It’s insanity or nothing. Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark preempted the insanity defense by filing a motion that in essence prevented that approach once the judge granted it: not only would the defense not be able to argue insanity, or diminished capacity. It would not be allowed to introduce or allude to so much as an Advil regarding Wilson’s health.
So when Wilson took the stand this afternoon, after his wife and in-laws had testified against him, after a cop had shown the jury the electrical contraption Wilson had rigged, after the medical examiner had described what a human body would experience when grabbing hold of a metal object coursing with household current, he had to stick to the facts of the case as framed by the prosecution. He could speak about his personal biography all he pleased. Just not the mental health part.
And for two hours, he answered his defense attorney’s questions with poise and directness that never gave the jury a hint that he had mental health issues. His defense by then had taken a different turn, or rather was forced to take the only turn it could take: that Wilson had rigged what he called a “contraption” not to kill his wife, but to protect himself against an intruder while he was at the house that Christmas.
It was never made clear why he became so worried about his safety, what intruder he was worried about, though he made many other details very clear, few of which helped his case.
He admitted, on the stand, to calling himself a “widow” on his Facebook page, and when Nunnally asked him why he’d describe his status in that term, he first said that “it’s Facebook,” meaning that everyone makes up stories there. But almost in the same breath, and granting Facebook’s “status” description defining moral authority, he said: “I think it sounds better if you put widowed instead of divorced, if you put divorced it’s an admission of a failed marriage.”
He admitted to making up going to “Compton High School” in California, and to having never been to California, and told Nunnally that no, he was not trying to portray himself as “a thug, or something.”
And he admitted, on the stand, to being a “bullshit” artist. It was a moment that crystallized the dangers of placing defendants on the stand, and that handed the prosecution a gift wrapped in the defendant’s own words.
It happened as Nunnally had traced the bizarre series of quick-paced events surrounding Wilson’s trip to the Palm Coast home, when he rigged the door. He and Ashley had separated weeks before, when he’d been ordered out of town, but they agreed to get together at her parents’ in Tennessee for the Christmas holidays. They were there together a few days before Christmas. They argued a lot, but they also got along. At some point he left. He didn’t tell her where he was going. He claims they were in constant text contact, but he never let on. He’d driven straight through back to Palm Coast.
He testified he did so because he wanted to gather his clothes and his tools from the house–even though at the time he thought he and Ashley were still working things out. When he got to the Palm Coast house, he noticed surveillance cameras that weren’t there before. He panicked. It’s not clear why. He said he figured the cameras would reveal his presence, but then he got scared that an intruder would find him. He rifled through drawers and other places for things he wanted to take–and somehow came across a gun kept above the kitchen range. He took the gun.
He “researched” the electrical contraption to block the door. He never explained why he sought to electrify the door, if his whole intention was to keep someone from coming in. He never explained why he thought rigging the door with the contraption was necessary, since by then he had a gun–a gun he said, in another damning aside, he would have used, if his intention was to kill his wife. He said that as he was rigging the contraption, it blew out the house’s circuits, and he abandoned it.
Then he drove back to Tennessee to hang out with his wife. He said he was “rushing” to make it back in time for dinner Christmas eve. Which he did.
He never told his wife he’d been to Florida. “I wanted to keep it from her,” he said. He’d gone to his own mother’s house to drop off his tools and other things he’d gathered in Florida, then driven to Ashley’s father’s house, “where we proceeded to have Christmas Eve celebration.” He said he inquired about the cameras and the gun to Ashley. She asked him if he’d been to the Palm Coast house. He said–on the stand–that he neither confirmed nor denied it. “I said, ‘did I?'” he testified saying to Ashley, putting the question in a Jon Lovitz tone that made his him seem more devious than clever. “I didn’t deny it but I didn’t say that I went, either.”
“All right, I didn’t want to use the word but were you bullshitting?” Nunnally asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
“You were going to see what she was going to say?”
“All right. Playing around?” Nunnally continued.
“Yeah, I wanted to see where she was at with it.” He said he was “weirded out” by the gun, not knowing who it belonged to, and had taken a picture of its serial number to “track down the owner.”
But the prosecutor could now say that Wilson was not just a tattoo artist (the job he prefers to his day jobs), and portraying Wilson as “bullshitting” is central to the prosecution’s case, because his elaborate capacities to do that, and to travel across state lines back and forth to rig what he did at the Palm Coast home and still be back in time for Christmas Eve dinner, only buttresses the prosecution’s charge that he was not only planning all along, but that his every action was pre-meditated.
The facts Wilson himself presented on the stand today were startling regardless of Wilson’s mental state.
He’d been straight-forward, clear-spoken, to the point. He did not digress, though he was comfortably descriptive in his answers, whether to describe digging conduits for cables or his relationships with his in-law, who was also his boss, and with whom he had the kind of falling out that added friction to his relationship with Ashley.
He said he suspected his wife of cheating on him: she’d gone on a cruise with her mother instead of with him, there was tension when she returned, a lack of intimacy, and a conversation between his wife and his mother that planted seeds of suspicion. He said he found dating applications on her phone.
It was on Nov. 30, less than a month before the alleged crime, that his in-law fired him and ordered to leave Palm Coast. It’s not clear why he complied. Wilson left his wife and Ubered to Jacksonville to stay with a friend until his father sent him a plane ticket to go back to Ohio, but he stayed in contact with his wife. “For the most part we got along and we were trying to work out things,” he said. “We were still talking about making things work.”
Even, he claimed, while he was in Palm Coast, rigging up the entry door against an “intruder.”
The day after Christmas they were driving back to Palm Coast in separate cars, at least until an argument split them up and he stopped following her. His wife claims she told him to make sure to use the front door to get in the house once back in Palm Coast. He testified today that “that’s not true.”
“I told her ‘don’t go through the front door, because I didn’t want Harper to get hurt,” he said. Harper is the couple’s daughter. “If I had the intention to try to kill my wife why would I have tipped her off and said, ‘don’t use the front door because you could get hurt?’ If I’m trying to kill somebody don’t you think that I would try to keep that a secret?”
He said that was a “warning” to his wife, going back to why he had “put the electrical device on the door to prevent entry, out of fear.”
“OK. So, it wasn’t intended for her,” Nunnally half-asked.
“No, ma’am.” he said. “She was the last person in my mind when I committed that,” he continued. “She was over 600 miles away. If I wanted to kill my wife, I had a gun, I had the time to do it, I was right next to her, sleeping with her, getting along with her, you know, why would I drive 600 miles away and hook up a contraption that may or may not kill somebody if I’m trying to kill my wife? I had access to kill her. You know, I had a gun. If I was that type of person and want someone dead, then obviously I had the means to kill her.”
“And–were you intending to kill her?” Nunnally asked.
“No. When I connected that to the door, there was no intent to harm anybody. It was to shock. To keep from entering the home. To protect myself.”
The claims were almost word for word those of Jonathan Canales, the man of similar age who was convicted last year of attempted murder after shooting his wife in their Daytona North home. She survived. But he claimed in his interview with a detective that if he’d intended to kill her, he would have finished the job using a gun more powerful than the .22 that injured her. A jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Wilson is not done testifying. Court adjourned at 5:30 today, two hours after he’d started. Nunnally was not done. And Clark, the assistant state prosecutor, had not yet had her turn at Wilson. Those parts resume after 1:30 p.m. Thursday, with closing arguments likely Friday morning, and a deliberations and a jury verdict that day.
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