Managing Editor's Note: I have no idea what to think of this story. Is William Page formally diagnosed as autistic? Does he have Asperger's Syndrome? Is every criminal who seems odd or remote going to be called "autistic." Autism has been in a lot of very disturbing stories this week. Two mothers killed their sons. The college shooter in Alabama has a whiff of Asperger's floating around her descriptions. Will a perception of danger or criminality harm our loved ones with autism? It's a far cry from crowing about the gifts, that's for sure. But I simply do not know what to make of it. Do you?
From Pittsburgh Live: Autism diagnosis may take death off table for Braddock man
An Allegheny County judge is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against a Braddock man accused of abandoning his 23-month-old daughter to die in freezing temperatures.
A psychologist testified Friday that defendant William Page is autistic, a condition his lawyer argued precludes death as a possible punishment if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
"These are not the type of people to whom the death penalty should be applied," defense attorney Richard Narvin said. "Do we (execute) people who (start out) behind the rest of us? This is a developmental disorder."
The U.S. Supreme Court has barred imposing the death penalty in cases involving the mentally disabled and juveniles.
Experts said the courts have not ruled whether autism is included in that protected group.
"If the court rules against the defense, certainly they can still present (the autism) as a mitigating factor, should it reach the penalty phase. It's something the jury can weigh," said Duquesne University law professor Bruce Antkowiak, who is not connected to the case. "And if the court rules against (the defense), it's preserved for appeal."
Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman listened to arguments and testimony during a pretrial hearing. Jury selection, postponed this week because of the snow, likely will not begin until Feb. 22.
Page, 26, rocked back and forth in his chair throughout the three-hour hearing. Prosecutors accused him of wrapping Nyia Miangel Page in a blue blanket and taking her to an abandoned playground in Rankin early Feb. 3, 2007.
Her frozen body, clad only in a sweater, was found less than a half-mile from her home the next day. Tiny footsteps in the snow beside her body suggested she got up and wandered around before she died, police said.
Police said Page told them he abandoned his daughter outside because Nyia ripped off her diaper and refused to go back to sleep.
Dr. Lawrence Sutton, a psychologist, testified that evidence of Page's autism stretches back to his school and hospital records, but said that Page is not mentally disabled. Sutton met with Page twice in the Allegheny County Jail to evaluate him.
"What struck me initially is his lack of affect. He had very little emotion," Sutton said. "He was very matter-of-fact."
Sutton said records showed Page didn't have friends, walked on his tiptoes, separated food on his plate, washed his hands 15 to 20 times a day, and ripped tags off his clothes, among other things.
Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli argued Page is not autistic, and that even if he were, he should not be excluded from the death penalty.
"Neither the United States Supreme Court nor our state Legislature has made that extension," Tranquilli said.