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UPTON TRIAL: Attorneys Debate Extent of Defendant's Mental Illness

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -

The murder trial of Almond Upton officially got underway Friday in Broome County Court. The Florida man is charged with first degree murder in the death of New York State Trooper Christopher Skinner. 

The trial immediately got off to an emotional start as attorneys delivered their opening statements Friday morning. Ultimately, jurors will be tasked with deciding whether or not 62-year-old Upton's mental illness prevented him from knowing right from wrong when he intentionally ran down Skinner on the highway while the trooper was conducting a traffic stop.

Special prosecutor Benjamin Bergman says there's no doubt Upton had mental health struggles -- but told the jury Upton was fully aware of the wrongfulness and consequence of his actions.

The prosecution began its opening statements by describing the traumatic injuries Skinner suffered at the hands of Upton -- and explained how forensics will show that Upton intentionally floored the gas, and plowed into Skinner at 93 miles an hour -- never making any attempt to hit the brakes. Bergman also brought up statements Upton made to police during his interview, after the crime -- statements like "I wanted to kill him" and "My weapon was my truck."

Bergman recounted how Upton claimed to be Jesus Christ, and claimed Jesus and the devil made him strike Skinner. Bergman alleges that Upton over exaggerated the symptoms of his illness.

Chief assistant public defender Mike Baker disagrees -- telling jurors Upton was completely out of touch with reality at the time of Skinner's death.

Baker says Upton's long battle with mental illness began years before that fateful day in May 2014. He promised the jury testimony about his client's history of erratic behavior, violent threats and an obsession with demons. Baker also outlined Upton's bizarre actions after the shooting -- describing how Upton stripped down naked and ate deer feces. He urged the jury to keep an open mind to the severity of Upton's illness -- asking jurors "Who in their right mind would do this?"

On Friday afternoon, New York State Police Investigator Travis Webster, who is a crash reconstruction expert, took the stand. His testimony included evidence and photos collected from the crime scene -- some images included the deceased body of Skinner.

The trial will resume at 10 a.m. Monday.