A Suffolk jury decided Friday that a Center Moriches man with a documented history of psychosis knew what he was doing and knew that it was wrong when he slit his mother's throat in the home they shared.
Christopher Storm Harrison, 27, was found guilty in Riverhead of second-degree murder in the Nov. 17, 2017, killing of Joyce Skarka. As a result of the verdict, Harrison will spend as much as 25 years to life in prison, instead of being confined in a secure state psychiatric hospital.
The jury deliberated for six days and sent 28 notes to the judge asking to review witness testimony, evidence and the law on whether someone with a mental disease is responsible for a crime he commits. Harrison did not react to the verdict.
"That was a very thorough jury, and they had a lot to consider," Assistant District Attorney Frank Schroeder said. "That's what it means to deliberate. This was just a horrible tragedy. I'm very relieved that the victim's daughter doesn't have to go through this again."
There was no dispute in the trial that Harrison killed his mother or that he had a lengthy history of schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder with psychotic features. He had a history of hearing voices and delusions that he believed were real. The disagreement in the case was whether that mental illness drove him to sneak up on his mother and kill her while she ate sushi in the kitchen.
Harrison later told psychiatrists that he killed his mother because he came to believe she had enslaved him after she didn't put away some cans of food when he asked her to.
Schroeder argued that the fact that Harrison cleaned up the crime scene, lied to police about being attacked by his mother and remained calm when detectives questioned him showed that he was responsible for what he did.
Defense attorney Robert Del Col of Smithtown, on the other hand, said Harrison was off his antipsychotic medication and that his extreme belief about being enslaved was a psychotic delusion.
"I'm surprised," Del Col said of the verdict. "It's a very difficult defense to prove. This was a very complicated case, with complicated facts."
Jurors afterward said they worked together to figure the case out, but struggled to determine what was in Harrison's mind at the time of the killing.
"And to get there with so little evidence is the hardest part," said one juror, who did not give her name.
Suffolk County Court Judge Timothy Mazzei will sentence Harrison on July 22.
Despite the verdict, Del Col said he expected Harrison to do as well as possible in prison.
"I'm sure he'll get the treatment he needs, even in prison," Del Col said.