The Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the 2013 conviction of a Keizer man who pleaded guilty to murdering his wife.
Peter Zielinski, 46, was convicted of killing Lisa Zielinski, 38, at their Keizer home in 2011.
Before he was scheduled to go to trial, Zielinski abruptly changed his plea from not guilty to guilty. The plea was conditional, giving him the right to appeal. Marion County Judge Dale Penn sentenced Zielinski to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
In an opinion issued Wednesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the trial court erred in excluding expert testimony of Zielinski's anxiety disorder diagnosis, which his attorneys claimed supported an extreme emotional disturbance defense.
The opinion detailed testimony the trial court had excluded:
Zielinski told a court-appointed psychologist that his wife had asked for a divorce. After going through her email and text messages, Zielinski discovered she was having an affair with a co-worker. He told the psychologist this made him feel "physically ill" and that he "literally wanted to die."
The day before he killed his wife, Zielinski said he grabbed his gun and pointed it at his head but stopped himself because he didn't want his young daughter to find his body.
According to court records, he told Lisa Zielinski he loved her when she came home late that night. She acted dismayed. The next day, she shook her head in disgust when he tried to hug her.
He told the psychologist he felt "weak and spineless." He went to the bathroom to get a drink of water but instead went to his closet and grabbed his gun.
He said he looked at Lisa Zielinski, raised the gun and pulled the trigger.
Zielinski then put the gun down and got dressed. He dropped his daughter off at her carpool then drove to the police station to get help for his wife. Police found her dead on the bathroom floor.
Zielinski told his psychologist he felt like he was stuck in a dream during the shooting. He said he kept telling himself "no, don't do this" but he couldn't stop.
His psychologist diagnosed him with adjustment disorder, anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse and narcissistic personality traits.
During trial court proceedings, prosecutors fought to include evidence of marital turmoil and physical abuse preceding the shooting. Included was an incident where Zielinski kicked his pregnant wife in the back when she refused to have sex with him and telling her, "You think you are going to leave me. You're not going to leave me. I'll kill you before you leave me."
He also allegedly accused her of having affairs years before her actual affair. Lisa Zielinski contacted police repeatedly with reports of abuse before her death.
The judge ruled that most of this evidence was permissable.
Prosecutors filed a motion to limit the psychologists' testimonies and to exclude testimony about Zielinski's anxiety, where it stemmed from, how it could affect his thinking and whether he was at heightened risk of extreme emotional defense.
The trial court granted the state's motion. Following the ruling, Zielinski pleaded guilty.
During the sentencing, Lisa Zielinski's family voiced their disgust over Zielinski's possessiveness and cruelty.
"You are an unspeakable monster," Rhonda Tupper, Lisa's mother, said. "You turned the world of a 5-year-old upside down and you took from me my beautiful daughter who was also my best friend. May you have a long time to reflect on your actions. As her family, we despise you."
Judge Penn sentenced Zielinski to life in prison with the possibility of parole, but he said, he would've imposed a harsher sentence if the law allowed him.
In its opinion, the appeals court said Penn wrongfully excluded the expert testimony about Zielinski's anxiety disorder.
The case will return to Marion County Court for further proceedings.
The Associated Press contributed to this article
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