Defense team argues woman accused in Sunny Valley murder is insane
A woman accused of murdering a man at a remote campsite in Sunny Valley last year told police she shot him with a 12-gauge shotgun because she thought he was going to kill her.
"Something just told me, 'You're going to die if you don't do something,' " Jacquelyn Novack told Oregon State Police Sgt. Andrew Kenyon in a videotaped April 2014 interview that was played in court Tuesday on the first day of her murder trial.
Detectives later found the remains of the victim, Mitchell Young, down an embankment along a Bureau of Land Management road off Placer Road in Sunny Valley using a map Novack drew for them. Novack told Kenyon she believed she killed Young Nov. 28, 2013.
"Are you absolutely positive about that?" Kenyon asked of the date.
"Ninety-five percent positive," Novack replied.
She said Young hadn't done anything to harm her, but gave her a "sideways look." She repeated several times that Young took the keys to her RV. Police asked why it was a big deal for him to have the keys if she had given him permission to drive the vehicle.
"He took my keys," she said. "That told me that he didn't have good intentions."
Novack, 40, has been charged with murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and tampering with evidence.
Her defense team is aiming for a "guilty except for insanity" finding, which would land her in a state mental hospital rather than prison.
Novack has waived her right to a jury trial, so there were no jurors in the courtroom — just Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hull, who will decide the verdict.
Novack and Young met when Novack visited the Grants Pass home of her ex-girlfriend, Angela Rehberger, where Young was living at the time. Rehberger testified Tuesday that the pair "developed some kind of relationship or connection," and that Young ended up leaving with Novack, which upset Rehberger at the time to the point where she threatened Young with a baseball bat when he left.
Deputy District Attorney Anne Marie Turner questioned Rehberger about Novack's drug use, and Rehberger said she had seen Novack smoke, snort and shoot methamphetamine.
In his cross examination, defense attorney Daniel Simcoe asked Rehberger, "You think Ms. Novack's crazy, don't you?"
"Define crazy," she replied.
"Didn't she have kind of crazy behavior sometimes?" he asked.
"She had some very bad mood swings sometimes," Rehberger said.
After leaving Rehberger's home, Young moved into Novack's RV and they spent some time in Merlin and elsewhere before setting up camp at the Sunny Valley site, where Young built a firepit.
The two took a trip to Roseburg, and when they headed back down south they were supposed to go to Grants Pass to meet up with a friend of Novack's, Simcoe said in his opening statement. He said something made Novack feel uneasy that day and she put the shotgun in the sleeping nook above the cab of the RV.
"She had a bad feeling about what was coming and what was going to happen to her," he said.
As Young drove them toward Grants Pass, she climbed in the sleeping space and fell asleep. She told police she was awakened by a bumpy road, and when she looked around she realized that instead of driving them to Grants Pass, Young was heading back up to the Sunny Valley campsite.
"She knew at that time that Mr. Young was taking her up to a remote logging road, and she knew he was going to get violent with her," Simcoe said.
Ken Healy, a longtime friend of Novack's who met her when they both lived in Utah, testified that she told him during a visit that she had killed Young.
"She saw her dead husband manifest himself in Mitchell," Healy said.
Healy said Novack told him that she shot Young twice through a blanket she was hiding under, and later burned his body. During Healy's visit, Novack was cleaning blood off the baseboards of her RV, Healy testified.
"Did you want to hear any of this?" Turner asked.
"No," Healy replied.
"Why?" the attorney asked.
"Because I didn't want to believe it," Healy said.
He also testified that the two smoked methamphetamine while he was there, taking photos of themselves exhaling to capture "evil faces" in the smoke.
Novack was arrested April 9, 2014, after police investigated reports that Young was missing and that Novack had told people she killed him.
Young's ex-girlfriend Katherine Loos, of Medford, with whom he has two young daughters, testified Tuesday that Young never got physical with her.
Rehberger also testified that Young wasn't violent, saying, "Mitchell Young was one of the sweetest, nicest, most nonviolent people I've ever met in my entire life. He's a great dad."
Reach reporter Melissa McRobbie at 541-474-3806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.