Mahn v. State

Decision Date16 April 1998
Docket NumberNo. 83423,83423
Citation714 So.2d 391
CourtFlorida Supreme Court
Parties23 Fla. L. Weekly S219 Jason James MAHN, Appellant/Cross-Appellee, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and W.C. McLain, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, and Barbara J. Yates, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.


We have on appeal the judgment and sentence of the trial court imposing the death penalty upon appellant Jason James Mahn. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. We affirm Mahn's first-degree murder convictions but vacate the sentences of death and remand with directions that the trial court impose a sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility of parole for twenty-five years for Debra Shanko's killing and conduct a new sentencing proceeding for Anthony Shanko's murder.


Jason Mahn was convicted of killing his father's live-in girlfriend and her son. Mahn was nineteen years old at the time of the killings. The record reflects that Mahn's parents divorced in 1974 in Wisconsin when he was less than one year old and he had no further contact with his father, Michael Mahn, until 1992 when Mahn turned eighteen and moved from Texas to Pensacola, Florida, in an attempt to form a relationship. Mahn stayed at his father's house, on and off, for four months during the next year, as he attempted to support himself, sharing the home with his father, his father's longtime girlfriend, Debra Shanko, and her fourteen-year-old son, Anthony Shanko. Mahn's attempt to reconcile with his father failed and culminated in the killings here. Mahn was charged and found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery and was acquitted of cruelty to animals and criminal mischief charges.

On April 1, 1993, after an extended absence, Mahn moved back into the home of his father. Michael had purchased a car for Mahn but the car had to be sold because Mahn could not pay the repair bills. The car was taken from Mahn and delivered to the new owner that day after Mahn got off work from a nearby restaurant. That night, Mahn's father left the house between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. to go to the Carousel Lounge. At that time, Mahn was in his room, Anthony was asleep, and Debra was exercising with weights in her bedroom.

Michael Mahn returned home at approximately 1 a.m. on April 2, 1993. He immediately noticed that Debra's car was gone, the garage door was open, and the front door of the house was unlocked and slightly open. Mr. Mahn entered the house, observed bloodstains on the floor and walls, and found Debra's body lying across the hallway. Mr. Mahn heard Anthony call out from the master bedroom "she's dead ... Mahn did it ... [c]all 911." When he got to the bedroom Mahn was subsequently arrested in Oklahoma and made two statements to the Oklahoma police. He confessed to the murders, explaining that he acted out of hate and frustration with his father. In one of the statements, he also indicated that he was on drugs at the time of the offenses. He told police that he walked into Anthony's bedroom around 11 p.m. and stabbed him with a knife he had obtained from the kitchen. When Anthony screamed, Debra came into his room and Mahn stabbed her also. He attempted to flee but could not find the keys to his father's car. Debra, who was still alive and had managed to return to her bed, told Mahn to take her car and leave. Mahn then fled in Debra's car, after breaking the car's window and taking with him $400 he found in her bank bag in a drawer.

Mr. Mahn found Anthony alive but severely injured from several stab wounds. Before being placed in an ambulance, Anthony told a police officer that Mahn was his assailant. Anthony was immediately prepared for surgery at the hospital, but he died of cardiac arrest. Anthony's autopsy revealed six stab wounds with one fatal blow to the chest. Debra had numerous stab wounds, five of which were potentially fatal. The medical examiner concluded that Debra "[e]ssentially bled to death."

During the penalty phase, Mahn testified in his own defense, describing the life of physical and mental abuse he endured beginning at an early age, and his drug abuse which continued up until the murders. He told the jury that he was coming off an LSD-induced high at the time of the murders and that he acted out of spite against his father. He said he loved Debra Shanko, considered her a friend, felt sorry for her death, and had positive feelings toward Anthony Shanko also.

Mahn's step-grandmother, Maxine Laue, testified in detail about Mahn's troubled early life and his unsettling formative experiences. She related that Mahn's father, Michael Mahn, deserted Mahn and his mother when Mahn was only three months old and never took any interest in him thereafter. She also testified that his mother, Roxanne Thortis, constantly abused him and always considered him a burden. Among other things, Mahn's mother openly used drugs in the house, physically abused her son, screamed at him constantly, and engaged in sexual relationships with a series of men in the home, sometimes openly in Mahn's presence.

Mahn's mother, Roxanne Thortis, gave even more vivid and detailed evidence of Mahn's abuse and deprived childhood as well as her role in the abuse. She testified that they lived in at least nine different places, and Mahn was in and out of at least seven different schools during his childhood. She said that Mahn was without a father figure throughout his life. Mahn's mother beat him repeatedly with a multitude of weapons, including a wooden spoon, a belt, and, on one occasion, a lead pipe. Thortis testified that through the numerous beatings he suffered, Mahn never raised a hand to her. In addition to vividly describing her own physical abuse of her son, she detailed how her numerous boyfriends beat Mahn, sometimes in tandem with her own beatings of him. Thortis's sister, Reanne, also testified about the many times she saw her sister beat Mahn, and confirmed that Mahn was always the passive victim in these violent episodes, never striking back at his abusive mother.

Three of Mahn's friends testified that he continually and excessively abused drugs and alcohol after his recent move to Florida. Steven Comb testified that Mahn drank alcohol heavily and together they frequently used numerous drugs, including cocaine at least ten times and LSD four or five times. Eddie Peterson testified that Mahn drank every day of the thirty-five to forty days Mahn lived with him immediately before the murders. David Keith Butler testified that Mahn used LSD on a regular basis, in addition to using crack cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana.

John Lewis Albritton was an attorney who represented Mahn on a 1992 robbery charge. He explained that Mahn was the driver of the vehicle used after Mahn's friend snatched a woman's purse in a Taco Bell parking lot. Albritton testified that the evidence did not indicate Mahn exerted any force against the robbery victim, and that although Mahn Dr. John Bingham, a mental health expert, testified that Mahn's personality and behavior were consistent with someone who has abused drugs, including LSD. Dr. Bingham opined that extensive use of various drugs over a period of time could impair a person's ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

agreed to rob someone that night, he said "no, lets not," when his friend indicated a willingness to physically attack the victim in the process.

Dr. Charles Thomas, a forensic psychologist, also evaluated Mahn and closely analyzed his October 1991 suicide attempt. Dr. Thomas testified that Mahn took approximately one-hundred aspirin and four Contac tablets, which he described as an "indication of [Mahn's] impulsive type of behavior, not really thinking of the consequences of what he's doing, just focusing on the activity at the moment of what he wants." He diagnosed Mahn as having an antisocial personality disorder, an extremely dysfunctional family background, and a resulting propensity toward criminal behavior. Dr. Thomas explained that the impulsive part of Mahn's personality and aggressiveness toward others is a behavior "common in family settings where there [are] no strong paternal figures or no values that the individual develops out of the family background." He concluded that Mahn was remorseful for his actions, was not psychotic, and had symptoms of a mental disorder. Finally, Dr. Thomas stated that he was unable to say whether those symptoms impaired Mahn's ability to do right and conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Dr. Thomas testified, however, that Mahn "knew what he was doing at the time of the offense and that he knew it was wrong." He also opined that Mahn "grossly exaggerated his symptoms."

The State's rebuttal expert witness, Dr. James Larson, a clinical psychologist, testified that Mahn did not have any type of mental disease or infirmity. He stated that Mahn denied using drugs or alcohol on the day of the murders and denied having delusions or hallucinations during the murders. Dr. Larson related that Mahn showed no signs of formal thought disorder and was in touch with reality. Dr. Larsen administered three psychological tests to Mahn which produced a "malingering" profile, i.e., "an individual who is trying to either greatly exaggerate his symptoms or completely make up a mental disorder." However, Dr. Larsen acknowledged that "no one test ... can answer that kind of question [about] malingering and the decision about malingering is really a professional judgment." Larson also acknowledged that Mahn's dysfunctional family background played a role in the murders.

After deliberation, the jury recommended life imprisonment for the murder of Debra Shanko and a death...

To continue reading

Request your trial
79 cases
  • Way v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • April 20, 2000
    ...been convicted of a felony involving the use of violence. See, e.g., Pooler v. State, 704 So.2d 1375, 1379 (Fla.1997); Mahn v. State, 714 So.2d 391, 399-400 (Fla.1998). Third, we find that the record supports the imposition of the aggravating circumstance that the murder was HAC. The trial ......
  • Morrison v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • March 21, 2002
    ...(holding that the intention of the killer to inflict pain on the victim is not a necessary element of the HAC aggravator); Mahn v. State, 714 So.2d 391, 399 (Fla.1998) (rejecting defendant's contention that HAC did not apply because he did not deliberately inflict pain). Accordingly, we fin......
  • Ramirez v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • July 8, 1999
    ...v. State, 701 So.2d 837, 843 (Fla.1997), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 118 S.Ct. 1537, 140 L.Ed.2d 686 (1998). Compare Mahn v. State, 714 So.2d 391, 400 (Fla.1998) (finding that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to consider defendant's age of twenty as a statutory mitigating f......
  • Metheny v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • July 24, 2000 long as both the act of violence or intimidation and the taking constitute a continuous series of acts or events. Mahn v. State, 714 So.2d 391, 396-97 (Fla. 1998) (citing Jones v. State, 652 So.2d 346, 349 (Fla.1995)) (other citations Lastly, in California, under the felony-murder rule, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT