Appeals Court denies heat-of-passion defense

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The Alaska Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a Fairbanks woman sentenced to 10 years in prison for trying to kill her former lover, rejecting her claim that she should have been allowed to use a ''heat-of-passion'' defense.

Jana Dandova, 52, was found guilty two years ago of attempted murder in the 1999 shooting of Craig Schumacher, with whom she had a son in 1993.

Dandova and Schumacher engaged in a bitter 1997 custody trial over the child, during which Dandova made allegations that Schumacher was a drug dealer and that he had unusual sexual habits to which the child had been exposed. Then-Superior Court Judge Ralph Beistline called evidence against Schumacher ''very weak'' and awarded joint custody.

Dandova fled with the child to Canada. About a year later, Canadian authorities located her and returned her son to Schumacher.

Dandova returned to Alaska to fight for custody and face trial on a charge of custodial interference.

A first trial on the interference charge resulted in a hung jury. Dandova was out on bail awaiting a retrial when, on Sept. 29, 1999, she fired multiple shots at Schumacher as he drove away from his lawyer's office.

Schumacher was struck by a bullet that passed through his shoulder and into his neck.

During her trial for attempted murder, Dandova sought to defend herself based on a ''heat-of-passion'' argument that she wasn't thinking straight because of Schumacher's provocative actions over a long period of time.

Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly ruled that Dandova was not entitled to use the defense because Schumacher had not done enough to anger her on the day of the crime. She was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison with 20 suspended.

In her appeal, Dandova argued that Pengilly needed to consider the full scope of Schumacher's behavior over a period of years.

In a split decision, the Court of Appeals concluded that while there were various events both on the day of the shooting and in earlier years that may have provoked Dandova's offense to a small degree, almost none of them were serious enough to hold up a heat-of-passion argument.

''A defendant cannot establish 'serious provocation' by relying on the cumulative effect of acts and events which, as a matter of law, do not qualify as 'provocations,''' reads the ruling.

Chief Judge Robert Coats dissented in the 2-1 ruling, arguing that the jury should have been allowed to reach its own conclusion.

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