Woman With Two Identities Absolved of Murder

She was featured on 60 Minutes on September 29, 1991 in a segment called "The Trials of Juanita".

New York Times, August 9, 1981.

When she first took the stand at her murder trial, Juanita Maxwell, who pyschiatrists say has a split personality, did not remember much about the beating death of 73-year-old Inez Kelly.

But after undergoing a startling transformation with the coaxing of a social worker, the soft-spoken Mrs. Maxwell became a giggling, boisterous "Wanda Weston" who was able to recall details of the crime and admitted beating the woman to death with a lamp in a dispute over a pen.

Defense lawyers contended that Mrs. Maxwell, a 25-year-old mother of two, could not be held responsible for her actions because of her pyschological problem, and on Thursday a judge ruled that she was not guilty by reason of insanity and committed her to a mental hospital.

Judge Hugh Starnes of the Lee County Circuit Court did not specifically rule on whether Mrs. Maxwell had a split personality, but he said he doubted whether a woman of limited intelligence, with less than a high school education, could have outwitted doctors through the battery of psychological tests that Mrs. Maxwell was given.

Sobs After Judge's Ruling

Mrs. Maxwell sobbed when the verdict was announced, embracing her husband and saying "I love you" over and over. On the witness stand, as Wanda Weston, she said she had tried to kill him.

Mrs. Maxwell, who worked as a maid at a Fort Myers hotel, was charged with murdering Mrs. Kelly in 1979 at the hotel, where the victim lived.

Mrs. Maxwell took the stand Wednesday and was questioned by Alan Klein, a clinical social worker who had her as a client at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.

He asked here whether she drank, smoked or used drugs. "No, sir," she replied in low tones each time, speaking with her head bowed. Mr. Klein asked her about the killing. She said she remembered little about it. Asks to Speak With Wanda

Then he asked to speak to Wanda. Mrs. Maxwell closed her eyes. About 10 seconds later, she looked up and began giggling loudly. She seemed glad to see Mr. Klein, identified herself as Wanda Weston and said she was a childhood friend of Mrs. Maxwell.

She told Mr. Klein that she drank and smoked, and said "every now and then I smoke a little weed," a slang term for marijuana. She said Juanita Maxwell lent Mrs. Kelly a pen and later went to get the pen back. Mrs. Kelly denied borrowing the pen and slammed the door, she said.

At that point, Wanda Weston surfaced, the defendant said, knocked on the door and went into Mrs. Kelly's room. "She told me to get out of her room. So I picked up the lamp and beat her with it." The defendant said she did not think death was harsh punishment for not returning the pen.

"People these days - you can't talk to them," she said. "You got to let them know where you're coming from." Mr. Klein then called Juanita Maxwell back. The woman bowed her head and closed her eyes. Seconds later, she raised her head. The smile had been replaced by a painful look, and Mrs. Maxwell rubbed her temples.

When doctors asked Mrs. Maxwell if she had committed the killing, she replied, "Well, they say I did, so I have to take their word for it."

Asked whether she knew Wanda, Mrs. Maxwell said, "Yeah, she causes me a lot of trouble."

Husband Urges Treatment

Outside the courtroom, her husband, Sammy, said he wanted his wife "to remain in the hospital until she's better." In the trial, Mr. Klein and Robert Wray, a psychiatrist, testified for the defense that Mrs. Maxwell had a split personality. She was ordered to remain in the state hospital until she successfully completed treatment and experts could convince a judge it was safe to release her.

John Dommerich, who prosecuted the case for the state, said he was not surprised by the verdict. He called the case the most unusual in his career and said he would not appeal.

Uploaded Thursday, September 14, 2006 11:34:11 AM Updated 08:29 6/8/2013

More articles about Juanita&:

A Crime Against Herself, Juanita&'s Bank Robbery
Wanda, the part of me that's a murderer
Juanita& want honest work, fighting discrimination
Juanita& in 2006, not integrated, married & doing well
The Other Women Detailed 1989 article about Juanita&'s life in the Orlando Sentinel.

You may also be interested in this article: Multiple Personality, Crime & Defense

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