Judge rejects sleepwalking defense in domestic violence case

By Joe Beck

Marvin Lee Markley claimed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Wednesday that he was sleepwalking when he broke his girlfriend's nose and ribs, but his unusual defense wasn't enough to prevent him from being convicted of unlawful wounding and domestic assault and battery.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp found Markley, 50, guilty after a two-hour bench trial in which a clinical psychologist testified that several facts about the case appeared consistent with a diagnosis of sleepwalking.

Hupp praised defense attorney Charles Ramsey of Woodstock for making him think hard about sleepwalking as a plausible defense, something he greatly doubted before the trial.

“My first thought was, 'you've got to be kidding me,'” Hupp said.

Hupp cited Markley's two previous convictions for domestic assault and battery, one of which was committed against the same victim involved in Thursday's trial, as one of the reasons the sleepwalking defense fell short.

Online court records show that Markley was also convicted of second-degree murder in Warren County Circuit Court in May 1990, an offense for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Sleepwalking was the only issue Ramsey raised as a defense. He and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Louis Campola agreed on the facts surrounding Markley's arrest at his home at 318 Newman St. in Strasburg on Dec. 30.

The victim, Eleanor Racey, testified that she and Markley returned home late after a night of playing pool and drinking at a bar. After both had fallen asleep, she got up and went to the bathroom.

“All of sudden Marvin grabbed my hair and started pulling it out,” Racey testified. “I yelled at him to stop.”

Racey said Markley then punched her in the left eye. She testified she didn't remember much else over the next hour or two.

Racey wept and dabbed at her eyes with tissue paper as she described making her way to a neighbor's house wearing only socks and pants after the attack.

Racey said Markley later told her he had been sleepwalking when he attacked her.

“I never saw anyone sleepwalk,” Racey said. “His eyes were open.”

Strasburg officer Matthew Spiker testified that he and several other members of the department were dispatched to the neighbor's house at 2:42 a.m. where they called for an ambulance after seeing Racey's injuries.

“There was a large amount of blood coming from her left ear,” Spiker said. “Most of the hair on top of her head was pulled off.”

The police went to Markley's home where they found him in a bedroom fully clothed in jeans and a T-shirt.

Spiker said several officers stood within about 10 feet of Markley's bed, identifying themselves and yelling repeatedly at him to wake up, Spiker said. When Markley did not respond, they moved in to handcuff him, but Markley kept one of his arms tensed up and under his body, Spiker said. Markley did not relax his arm until one of the officers warned him he would be Tased if he continued to resist.

Spiker said he saw spattered blood on Markley's jeans, and the defendant “had extremely slurred speech and bloodshot eyes.”

Markley grew belligerent and combative by the time he reached the jail, Spiker said.

“He was cursing the entire time,” Spiker said. “We were not able to get fingerprints from him.”

David Rawls, a clinical psychologist called as a witness by Ramsey, said he conducted an evaluation on Markley and concluded there were several factors present that could have led to a sleepwalking episode on the night Markley attacked Racey.

Rawls said stress, long work hours, a lack of sleep and alcohol consumption, all prominent parts of Markley's lifestyle, have been linked to sleepwalking.

Rawls also said there was no evidence of any friction between Racey and Markley, an opinion he reached based on comments both had made to him.

“There was no disagreement,” Rawls testified. “They were getting along just fine. Then this just happens.”

Sleepwalking, Rawls added, “seemed to fit, and it would be the best explanation I would have for what happened.”

Rawls and Racey both testified that Markley had told them that he has been experiencing occasional sleepwalking episodes for much of his life. Racey testified that he blamed sleepwalking for an incident in which he got up in the middle of the night and urinated in a laundry basket.

In convicting Markley, Hupp cited several factors for rejecting the sleepwalking defense.

Hupp said Ramsey did not present any evidence verifying a history of sleepwalking, and Rawls's testimony depended heavily on information provided by the defendant.

Hupp also said Spiker's testimony that Markley did not respond to police until one of them threatened to Tase him “speaks volumes” about the credibility of the defendant's claim to have been sleeping when officers encountered him in his bedroom.

“He knew who was there,” Hupp said of Markley. “He knew what was going on it seems to me.”

In an interview afterward, Campola praised Spiker for “a great job testifying.”

Campola also said the case shows his office places a high priority on prosecuting domestic violence crimes.

“I hope it brings some peace to the victim,” Campola said of Markley's convictions. “She's still suffering.”

A sentencing hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 28.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com