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Defense Will Argue Youth’s Intent In Suffocation Of His Sister, Friend

Jury selection begins Wednesday in the double-murder trial of a College Place teenager accused of tying up his sister and her best friend and then suffocating them with plastic bags

Attorneys for Daniel Betournay, 15, plan to argue that the teenager had “diminished capacity” at the time of the slayings, which would mean that he didn’t intend to kill the girls or premeditate the slayings, Prosecutor Joe Golden said Monday.

“It’s going to be a tough one for them to prove,” Golden said. “It’s usually used with intoxication to show that someone was too out of control to intend to kill.”

Betournay is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 14 deaths of his sister April and her friend Beth Garbe, both 14. Betournay confessed to police that he tied the two girls’ wrists and ankles with duct tape and then suffocated them by putting plastic bags over their heads.

He pleaded innocent by reason of insanity on Feb. 27. But one of his attorneys, John Ziegler, said during a pre-trial hearing last week that his office was unable to find admissible evidence that Betournay was legally insane when he killed the girls.

Defense attorneys will not argue that Betournay did not kill the girls, said Peter Stack, criminal defense investigator for the teenager’s attorneys. “It’s hard to argue with a confession,” Stack said.

In February, a judge ordered Betournay tried as an adult in Walla Walla County Superior Court. He faces up to 52 years in prison if convicted of both counts of first-degree murder.

Stack said the defense will try to convince the jury Betournay should be charged with manslaughter, which carries less time.

“Essentially what we’re looking at is, ‘What were his intentions at the time of the crime?’ Our premise is he did not intend to kill them, which would negate first degree murder,” Stack said.

“It’s not a matter of acquittal. He will do time. It’s simply a matter of how much.”

Stack declined to give more details on the defense’s strategy or the basis of the claim of diminished capacity.

But during a hearing in February to determine whether Betournay should be tried as an adult or a juvenile, a psychologist testified the teen scored an 88 on an intelligence test, which is in the average-low range.

Betournay’s achievement test scores ranged from a fifth-grade ability in spelling and arithmetic to a seventh-grade ability in reading, the psychologist testified.