Jury begins deliberations in ALS insanity trial

A jury is deliberating in the insanity trial against a man accused of killing his wife and sister-in-law in Fitchburg eight months ago.

Attorneys completed their closing arguments in the case Wednesday afternoon, and jurors began deliberations at about 3 p.m.

Andrew Steele, 40, pleaded guilty to killing his wife Ashlee Steele, 39, and her sister, Kacee Tollefsbol, of Lake Elmo, Minnesota, at the Steeles’ home on Yarmouth Greenway Drive in Fitchburg on Aug. 22, 2014.

Steele pleaded guilty to their homicides, but his attorneys are arguing that the nervous system disease ALS damaged his brain, causing him not to be criminally responsible for his actions. Last month, he pleaded not guilty by mental disease or defect.

In court Wednesday, his defense attorneys slammed evidence presented by the prosecution in court, calling it “salacious and gratuitous,” and said the case is about the science of the brain.

“The best evidence available supports our position: that Andy lacked capacity to conform his actions to the law,” defense attorney Nicholas Gansner said.

Gansner said the case shows that Steele has an advanced neuro-degenerative disorder and that he was unable to control his conduct because of his disease.

Prosecutors took exception to the “tabloid” label in their closing arguments to jurors.

“This isn’t about textbooks or about tabloids, this is about the truth,” Assistant District Attorney Andrea Raymond said. “And sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.”

Raymond read what has been termed a suicide note that Steele had on his phone, as well as providing what she believes is the motive for the crimes.

“He wanted to go out like a rock star,” Raymond said. “He would die the way he wanted to, with two beautiful women.”

Steele announced in court late Wednesday that he would not take the stand in his own defense.