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Law

That Crazy Insanity Defense: A Journey Through Murder, Pain and Greed

By Askari Moyenda

Synopsis

This book chronicles the stories of psychotic serial killers and the court theatrics that allow severely disturbed citizens to be adjudicated in the same manner as those absent of severe mental illness. The Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski), Andrea Yates (drowned her five children during a psychotic episode) and Scott Panetti (whom sits on death row after killing his in-laws while actively psychotic and allowed to represent himself in a court of law while wearing a purple cowboy costume). Perhaps most dramatically, Jeffrey Dahmer's jail house killer (Christopher Scarver) details what its like spending eighteen years in isolation while dealing with a severe thought disorder. Christopher was placed in isolation for almost two decades after killing cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

On a balmy fall morning in Fredericksburg, Texas, Scott Panetti stewed around his small cabin that remarkably was more similar to a military bunker than a wooden backhouse. The property was advertised in the Fredericksburg Standard newspaper a mere ten days ago. He rambled incoherently to “Sarge” about his estranged wife’s sudden abandonment, despite being a protective and loving husband. “Sarge” demanded that Scott handle his business like any upstanding cowboy would; “protect your future,” Sarge seemed to whisper to Scott. “Damn skippy,” Scott shot back. With Sarge’s tacit approval, Scott shuffled over to his only bathroom and hastily shaved his head. He donned his camouflaged T-shirt, and laced up his military-style combat boots. He trudged over to his shed and sawed the barrel off his shotgun, grabbed his .30-06 rifle, his canteen, and got behind the wheel of his red Jeep Wagoneer, with the ever-present Sarge in tow. Panetti sped down the back streets through the small agricultural town toward 807 West Austin Street, Fredericksburg, Texas—the home of his estranged in-laws. In an apparent frantic state, Panetti grabbed his shotgun, got out of the Jeep, and marched with purpose to the back of the home where his wife, Sonya, slept with their three-year-old daughter. He peeped THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 10 through the partially exposed window, pausing for a moment as he recorded mental flashbacks that seemed to visually display their life together. Sonya appeared as pure as the first time their eyes met in the small diner four years earlier. Her long black hair was displaced on half of the white-patterned sheets, while the remaining half covered her small rectangular pillow. Panetti began to feel remorseful watching Sonya sleep in his favorite white tank top and black panties emblazoned with the word “Love” across her butt. For a split moment, Panetti’s irrational thoughts abated. “That family will destroy you, Scott,” Sarge yelled in no uncertain terms. Panetti tapped on the sliding glass window. Sonya woke, and as her eyes adjusted to the silhouette of the shotgun-toting Rambo that loomed outside her window, she screamed with terror. Perhaps expecting his future ex-wife to be more accommodating, Panetti used the butt of his weapon to smash the glass door while dislodging the white storm door from its casing. Hardly resembling the man Sonya had happily wed, he burst into the small modest home while Sonya ran out the front door. Panetti pursued Sonya and caught up with her in the front yard, where he violently smashed the butt of his weapon into her head. After regaining her senses, Sonya pleaded with him. “Please, Scott, please.” Blood trickled down the side of her face. While Panetti rambled incoherently, Sonya dashed through the front door and quickly locked it behind her. Enraged, Panetti shot the lock off the door and entered the home. Sonya’s father, Joe, awakened by the fracas, emerged from his bedroom wielding a samurai sword with his wife, Amanda, who was clutching Joe’s white oversized bathrobe, which he hastily placed over his aging body. While firmly holding on to Sonya’s arm, Panetti barked at her, “Who do you want to see die first, you or your parents?” 11 Introduction “Please, Scott, we can get through this,” the patriarch of the family said, treading lightly, never expecting Scott, whom he cared for as if he was his own son, to kill anyone. Without waiting for a response from his estranged wife and while their three-year-old daughter watched in confused horror, still holding her stuffed animal, Panetti pointed the sawed-off shotgun at his father-in-law’s chest and pulled the trigger. The five-feet-six-inch grandfather was propelled back against the kitchen wall, where his body slumped to the floor. Gasping for air, Joe looked at his beloved wife of more than forty years and resigned to fate after Panetti’s murderous rage ended with her shooting. The proud father slowly closed his eyes for the last time. With the elder Alvarado’s blood and guts splattered across the walls, floor, and ceiling, as well as on Sonya and their screaming child, Panetti grabbed Sonya by her wrist as she slipped on the blood-soaked floor and forced her outside and into the front seat of his Jeep Wagoneer. Then Panetti returned to his daughter, Birdie, where she stood, helplessly screaming at the sight of her grandparents lying motionless in an ever-widening pool of blood. Perhaps symbolically, Birdie’s stuffed animal dropped to the floor and gradually began to absorb the constant flow of blood. Panetti carried Birdie to the Jeep and placed her in the rear seat as she cried, “Abuelos, abuelos, abuelos.” Ignoring his daughter, Panetti raced down the dirt road that led to his rented bunker. For Sonya, the short ride was like a vivid terrifying nightmare. “Please, Scott,” she begged, “let me check on my parents.” Still highly agitated, Panetti responded, “I just shot your parents. No more Mommy and no more Daddy. Get that through your head.” “Are you going to kill us too?” “No.” The Jeep skidded to a stop next to the bunker, and Panetti forced his wife and daughter inside. THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 12 “Can me and Birdie change our clothes?” Sonya was desperate to rid herself and her daughter of the gruesome smell of human blood and internal organ tissue that covered them while still wearing her tank top and black panties. “Yes, but I want you to read the restraining order out loud.” Panetti gave her the papers, then set about reloading his shotgun. Sonya read the protective order that was served to Panetti seven days earlier. Panetti insisted that she read it again, then said, “I think I violated it.” The demonstrative Panetti subsided as he appeared to have regained some sensibilities. Perhaps he was beginning to understand the finality and magnitude of his actions. “What should we wear?” Sonya whimpered. “Whatever you want.” By this time, police had arrived, alerted by neighbors who had heard the shotgun blast at the Alvarado’s house. “Mr. Panetti, this is the sheriff department,” said the officer, mistakenly assuming it was Scott who answered the phone in his bunker. “This is Sonya,” trying to sound composed, although the cracking in her voice exposed her terror. “Are you hurt, Sonya?” “I’m okay and I have my daughter with me.” “Okay, Sonya, can we speak with Mr. Panetti?” Scott, however, refused to speak to the officers. Though his agitated state had decreased, it nonetheless was still apparent. “There isn’t anything to talk about, and if they come in here, I’m going to kill the lot of officers and myself. The Savior will save and use the buildup for another time,” Scott bellowed incoherently. Sonya tried to contain the tears that seem to reflexively roll down her cheeks so as to present a brave face for her daughter while Birdie sat in Scott’s bedroom staring at the wall; her ears still ringing from the shotgun blast. Sonya still held out hope that her parents were alive. 13 Introduction After a sixty-minute standoff and Scott’s sheer exhaustion, Sonya was able to escort Birdie out of the bunker and drive his Jeep to the throng of law enforcement officers that had gathered at the entrance of the shared property. Sonya cajoled Scott into believing that Birdie needed to get her favorite stuffed animal from the Alvarados’ home. Shortly thereafter, Panetti surrendered to the authorities. He was wearing his Sunday best shirt, tie, and suit combination. The self-portrait is consistent with schizophrenics that overemphasize the head, which is where their very existence is perpetually fought. THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 14 Adjudication “You don’t have no problem with the fact that a man was insane or been restored to sanity?” the accused murderer pressed the potential juror. “You think that’s possible?” “I do.” Scott Panetti continued his line of questioning. “And you don’t find it contradictory to your belief that a man can talk like a normal human being and defend himself in a court of law if he was insane?” The first potential juror during jury selection confirmed Panetti’s question, though he was clearly taken aback by the line of questioning and perhaps the court’s dynamics that allowed an apparently unstable and childlike, accused double murderer to query him from a position of authority. “I do think it’s possible,” he answered with a distinct Fredericksburg, Texas twang. Panetti continued with questions regarding the potential juror’s religious beliefs and subsequently seemed to get lost in rodeo nostalgia. “I was going to ask you, if you were going to go to a rodeo, would you go to see a good ride or to see a cowboy fall?” “I would rather see a good ride,” the potential juror replied as Panetti paced, mimicking the posture and demeanor of prosecuting attorneys while sporting a purple cowboy shirt with brown suede-like pants tucked into brown cowboy boots complete with dangling spurs. The audacious costume was draped on a six-feet-two-inch muscular frame that was better suited for a 1920s hoedown. His Stetson cowboy hat hung from a neck strap that positioned it on his upper shoulders and tended to bounce when he strolled about the courtroom. “You don’t want to see nobody get hurt?” “No.” With his next question directed to the first potential juror, the self-represented murder suspect shed his cloak of bravado. “Do you despise me?” 15 Introduction The question was a subtle, perhaps unconscious, way to acknowledge the sheer amount of devastation he’d perpetrated upon the very people he deeply loved. “Nah, sure don’t.” “How about what I’m charged with?” “Yes.” In his typical sophomoric manner, Panetti broached another looming issue. “Do you think it’s possible that I could get the death penalty?” The potential juror did not hedge his words. “I think it’s possible, yes.” “Do you think it’s probable that I will get the death penalty?” “I don’t know without hearing the evidence.” The potential juror appeared to revel in the apparent power shift that could give him the authority to decide if Panetti would live in a locked facility or be sent to the state’s execution chamber. After Panetti discussed several disjointed subjects with very little relevance to deciding whether the potential juror would be favorable to his legal plight, Judge Ables prompted Panetti to conclude his examination of the man, as this was the first of many potential jurors. Panetti attempted to gather his fleeting thoughts. “Ever heard the expression,” he interjected, “justice is blind?” Now all too familiar with Panetti’s apparent flight of ideas, the juror acknowledged that he had heard the common expression. “Did you know if you’re blind, you might not be able to be a juror? Did you know that?” “I didn’t know that.” The potential juror did not recognize Panetti’s failure to interpret the expression abstractly instead of with a literal, concrete understanding—a common symptom of pubescent teens and schizophrenics. “You do now,” Panetti responded in a manner that resembled a proud child speaking to an unsuspecting parent. “Kind of crazy, isn’t it? Do you think that gets thrown around?” THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 16 “No, not really.” “Did you like to hit people when you played football?” “Oh, yeah.” “Controlled violence, huh?” Panetti continued. “Some would say that’s kind of crazy. I love the game too. Not hurting people, but on the field. Did you have real fond memories of playing the game?” The exchange mercifully ended with Panetti’s typical Southern civility, thanking the man for his service while assuring that the possible juror did not have any self-serving motivation for participating in the trial. Judge Ables dismissed the juror, then explained the process for making challenges for cause as well as for exercising peremptory strikes. The state declined to challenge the man for cause, but Panetti was a little unsure if he should strike him from the juror pool. He sought clarification. “These peremptory strikes have to be used individually on each juror? They can’t be saved and used at the end?” “Correct,” Judge Ables responded with the apparent patience of a preschool teacher. “It’s a one-on-one thing?” Panetti asked rhetorically. The judge confirmed. “That means if I reviewed several jurors tomorrow, and it looked like there was an influx of better than average, and if I was to play poker and gamble and strike a few people today on the subjects, that maybe tomorrow I wouldn’t strike nobody. And so it kind of turned out that after the cards went around the table that it would gradually end up by the time we picked twelve jurors that I used my—I think there’s seventeen?” Panetti’s coherent thought seemed to have retreated and had given way to loose associations as he disconnected from the subject of jury selection strategy and moved to an unrelated, though loosely associated, poker tactic. Panetti ultimately decided to strike the potential juror from the jury pool. 17 Introduction ***** Panetti’s attorneys chose to defend him by claiming insanity: he did not know what he was doing at the time. Shortly after being arrested, he admitted to the arresting officer, “I just went crazy.” Texas follows the M’Naghten form of the insanity defense—not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). The defense, therefore, focuses on whether the defendant comprehended right from wrong at the time the offense was committed. A defendant, for example, may plead insanity if the facts surrounding the event prevented the defendant from understanding that their actions were of a wrongful nature. The burden of proof would not be the state’s obligation, but instead Panetti would have to prove that he was, in fact, insane by Texas state law standards. Proving Panetti was a victim of a cruel, debilitating thought disorder that left him with a sense of impending doom would be elementary. Surely insanity must correlate with schizophrenia, since it’s the most debilitating, thought-contaminating mental illness known to humankind. If the most obvious mental disease isn’t insanity, perhaps insanity isn’t a mental illness at all. Prosecutors argued that despite his multiple hospitalizations—including an episode that involved Panetti burying all his living room furniture in his backyard because he believed Satan was holed up inside the furniture, while also taping the windows shut to prevent blood from oozing in—Panetti was, in fact, sane at the time of the killings. A Texas jury agreed with prosecutors, which paved the way for Panetti—a man who was receiving disability benefits because of his thought disorder, who had been dismissed from the US Navy based on psychosis, and who endured more than twenty mental hospitalizations—to defend himself after murdering his in-laws during one of his psychotic episodes. At stake here was Panetti’s very existence as the prosecution sought death. There would be no plea that would allow Panetti to THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 18 remain in prison for life or a more appropriate sentence involving a mental hospital. Moreover, Texas law prevents the Court from informing the jury what the fate of the accused would be if they returned a verdict of NGRI. Jurors may be under the impression that if Panetti were found to be NGRI, he would be released among the general population, a proposition perhaps too frightening to contemplate, though those who successfully utilize the defense, less than 2 percent, spend more time in correctional facilities than those who don’t. The state of Texas was adamant about prosecuting Panetti no differently from any other multiple-murder suspect despite his suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. ***** The next potential juror appeared more apprehensive and combative. After Panetti asked if the man believed in multiple personality disorder (commonly referred to by medical professionals today as dissociative identity disorder) and questioned if the soon-to-be-dismissed juror believed it existed. Panetti accused the citizen of filling out the paperwork haphazardly. “Sir,” he said, using his firm, authoritarian voice, “that’s pretty much grounds for cause.” The potential juror quizzically looked toward the bench for intervention, which never came. Instead, Panetti addressed the Court. “I don’t know why we don’t let this man leave right now, Your Honor, and save the Court a little time. He changed his mind on several questionnaires, eighty-two and eighty-three he marked yesterday, which is contrary to the laws of the state of Texas. And it seems like it was chalked off as a stroke of the pen.” After the judge instructed Panetti to continue with the protocol, the potential juror responded with a sigh of indignity. “I would, Your Honor, prefer to be questioned by a real attorney.” 19 Introduction “Well,” Panetti began as he tried to engage the obviously annoyed potential juror, “that’s contrary to the law, because I got the law to be asking you these uncomfortable questions. You will be sitting up in a panel of twelve jurors, sir, and, you know, to sort of haphazardly or to be passing time, I’m not up here to—you know, but—I mean, you got to understand…” His ramblings faded into incoherent mumbling. “What is this all about?” the confused potential juror asked. Before allowing the agitated potential juror to leave, Panetti admonished him. “Well, the reason I’m asking you all these—what you’re going to say, ‘This guy asked me a bunch of trick questions—it’s because of the way you filled out your application and the last questions. One of the major questions on the form, we should have turned you loose right in the beginning… but the DA questioned you. You changed your mind, and you changed your mind again, and it seems to me like you just sort of want to sit in the air-conditioning and be here, but enough. There is air-conditioning at the VA hospital too.” As the prospective juror looked around in vain for intervention, Panetti had one final question. “Do you despise me?” “No,” the juror stated unconvincingly. “I’ll just be glad when this is over…this questioning.” He then said that he wanted to stay on as a juror. Unsurprisingly, Panetti used one of his preemptory strikes to dismiss the potential juror. The process extended for almost two weeks, with Panetti at times losing interest and failing to ask any questions of relevance. On one occasion, for example, Judge Ables asked him if he had any questions. “No, Your Honor, the DA asked the questions I would have asked.” He seemed to be losing his ability to remain present. Juror after juror, one by one, paraded through the courtroom in the Court’s effort to fill the juror box while Panetti tended to alternate between being extremely motivated—as demonstrated by the first two prospective jurors—to being completely detached. During the latter stages of the process, Panetti simply decided on a coin toss as a method to secure a juror who literally held his life in the balance. THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 20 “Strike him, Your Honor,” he would say, after openly flipping a coin. Panetti appeared to decompensate at times, which was perhaps a sign that he was inconsistent with his medication regimen. He instructed one of the potential jurors, “Maybe now, to wind this up, acquit, innocence, yeah…as far as insanity talk, I can tell you what, I restore to Sandy, would flat be wacko…The death penalty doesn’t scare me, sure, but not much. Be killed, power line, when I was a kid. I’ve got my Injun beliefs as a shaman. I sent the buffalo horn to my sister. Adjustment, Jesus wrote. I was named He Who Doesn’t Cry because I didn’t cry when I should have. I must admit though in Gillespie County Jail, when I was in my little suicide box, there was an old boy committing suicide. I went through pretty much scuba diver’s tears, although I don’t scuba dive.” After almost two weeks of this painstaking process, the juror pool, including alternatives, was set. The guilt phase of the trial began on September 14, 1995—almost exactly three years after the September 8, 1992, double murders— with the accused representing himself while the state of Texas sought a death sentence. Ten minutes before the scheduled start of the trial, while the jury was still waiting to be called into the courtroom, Panetti approached Judge Ables. “Your Honor,” Panetti began, sounding irritated and fatigued, “I’m not prepared to present my case, or even to cross-examine the witnesses, in light of the situation of my mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia, my thought disorders, and the manic depression that has gone untreated.” Judge Ables allowed Panetti to continue, though looking extremely annoyed by Panetti’s attempt to delay a trial that, to date, had already cost the county millions of dollars. “I wish I could say it was simply a shower, a shave, a night of sleep, and a decent meal would help me. I’m not looking for a long delay, 21 Introduction but I’m going to definitely need a couple of days to get the medicine, to see my doctor, and to prepare my case.” Still wearing his cowboy gear, Panetti looked completely disheveled. One of the two shirts he alternated wearing seemed unpressed, and he clearly needed to shave. The prosecution team looked on with apparent disdain, as the team had adamantly opposed Panetti’s self-representation. Panetti continued, “I need to see my psychiatrist to be prepared to cross-examine, to think clearly. I, in no way, want to turn this case over to someone who is probably no more competent than I.” Judge Ables, clearly aware of the inconvenience delaying a trial of this magnitude would cause and the obvious lack of judicial economy, advised Panetti that the trial would begin in approximately ten minutes, but also indicated that Panetti would not likely have to present his case for several days since the prosecution would present their case first. Judge Ables had the jury sworn, provided preliminary instructions, and asked Panetti if he was ready for trial. “No, Your Honor, I’m not prepared.” The judge, nevertheless, proceeded, at which point the state read the indictment against Panetti. “Not guilty by reason of insanity,” Panetti replied. The state gave a brief opening statement emphasizing the overwhelming evidence, including Panetti’s confession, among other undisputable facts. Panetti’s ever-present Stetson bounced about his shoulders while he paced the courtroom, as two burly Texas Rangers, one assigned to each side, shadowed his movements. He rambled as one would expect of a paranoid schizophrenic, medicated or otherwise. He gave his statement in a stream of consciousness fashion, appearing to orate unfiltered thoughts independent of relevance. Before being cut short by the judge, Panetti rambled about his appearance while failing to acknowledge his costume; his Sarge Ironhorse personality that was essentially responsible for the murders; his long THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 22 undiagnosed mental illness; alcohol abuse; questions regarding the accuracy of the state’s charges; an alternate theory of the hostage situation involving Sonya and his young daughter; the term “insanity,” which Panetti suggested meant “not in sound mind;” his religious rebirth as “the born-again April fool;” how he depended “on the Lord to do for him what the medicine wasn’t doing;” and demons as “a demon affects mental stability” among other things. After the state finished the direct testimony of their first witness, the initial responder to the murder scene, Panetti made an attempt at discrediting him without any success. The state’s star witness was called next to provide her testimony: Sonya Alvarado. Naturally, Panetti’s ex-wife, the only reliable witness to the murders, provided extensive testimony. The fact that Panetti was now going to cross-examine the woman he was accused of attempting to murder, after killing her parents, likely cemented his death sentence. Perhaps more disturbing, however, is the fact that Sonya had to relive the experience she desperately tried to forget for three excruciating years. As a result of Panetti’s thought disorder, it was likely he never fully understood the quandary presented before him. Panetti began the exchange by suggesting that Sonya lied during direct examination. “Sonya, for the benefit of the jury, I’m going to have to ask you some questions, because if I was to call you in a couple of days, there would be doubt that I may not have questioned you, so there’s some pretty much spontaneous, uncomfortable questions I’m going to have to ask, so the jury knows the truth. I know this is going to be difficult for you, as it would be for me, and half of the questions I was going to ask you that I thought about I didn’t write down, and it doesn’t make any sense. So I’m just going to do like I did in the beginning and this morning—that is, just no strategy, no guts, just honesty. And, Sonya, you’re not being honest.” Shortly after Panetti’s accusations, the trial took on an even more bizarre turn, if that was possible. 23 Introduction Panetti addressed Sonya personally. “You look lovely, and I know I don’t, but…” At this point, the prosecution objected to the obviously inappropriate line of questioning. Panetti seemed to have lost sight of the circumstances, typical with those who have severe thought disorders. He badgered Sonya, and at several points during the exchange, he revisited the murder in painful detail. At one point, he barked to jurors that it was Sarge Ironhorse who committed the heinous crime. “Sarge woke up,” Panetti said. “Cut off Scott’s hair. Sarge suited up. Shells, canteen, pouch, .30-06, tropical hat, tropical top, bunkhouse, fast, haircut fast, suited up fast, boom, ready fast, fast, haircut, web gear, top, brush, hat, boots, out the door, in the Jeep driving, wife, the bridge. “Why is it taking so long? In front of Joe and Amanda’s house… Sarge, everything fast. Everything slow. Tapped on the window, shattered window. Sonya screams, runs, follow her. She runs out the front, knife, Birdie, Birdie. Where’s Birdie? Pick her up, she’s in bed… Scott, what? Scott, what did you see Sarge do? Fall. Sonya, Joe, Amanda, kitchen. Joe bayonet, not attacking. Sarge not afraid, not threatened. Sarge not angry, not mad. Sarge, boom, boom. “Sarge, boom, boom, boom. Sarge, boom, boom. Sarge is gone. No more Sarge. Sonya and Birdie. Birdie and Sonya. Joe, Amanda lying kitchen here, there, blood. No. Leave. Scott, remember exactly what Scott did. Shot the lock, walked in the kitchen. Sonya, where is Birdie? Sonya here, Joe, Bayonet, door, Amanda. Boom, boom, boom, blood. Demons, ha, ha, ha, oh, Lord, oh you…” “Mr. Panetti, let’s stop,” Judge Ables mercifully demanded as many jurors seemed to express shock and apparent fear. “You puppet,” Panetti uncharacteristically shot back. “Mr. Panetti, we’re going to take a five-minute recess.” “Your Honor…” Panetti said, attempting to change the judge’s mind. “Ladies and gentlemen, you can leave the courtroom.” “Your Honor…” Again, Panetti attempted to interject. THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 24 “We are going to take a recess, Mr. Panetti,” said Judge Ables forcefully. At which point the jury left the courtroom. “Your Honor, Scott was fixing to tell what Sarge did, Your Honor.” “All right, we’re going to take a very brief recess, five minutes. And then, Mr. Panetti, you can finish up whatever testimony you have.” The witness list provided to the Court by Scott Panetti included Jesus, JFK, the pope, and others who were ill suited to provide a favorable testimony. 25 Introduction Judge Ables had sensed an intervention was necessary to perhaps redirect Panetti’s apparent emotional slippage. While interviewing the court stenographer for this project, she recounted, “You could tell he was faking.” The doubt regarding the seriousness of Scott’s mental illness seems to echo the sentiment of the overwhelming amount of Texans despite the fact that he suffered over twenty hospitalizations based on psychosis. Her statement was made in excess of twenty years from the trial, suggesting she still does not understand the basics of severe mental illness. We have to do a better job of integrating biology into teaching how human behavior works. When the visibly shaken jury returned, Panetti continued to revisit the killings in graphic detail, as if he was watching a movie, as attorney, Scott Monroe, would later describe. ***** The jury—one that Scott Panetti had helped to choose—took two hours before returning with a predictable verdict. The guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion since evidence that related to the insanity defense—a proposition that is difficult for the most seasoned attorneys, let alone someone without any legal litigation experience suffering from a severe thought disorder—was never presented. The following day the sentencing phase took place. The sentencing stage allowed the jury to use mitigating circumstances to decide his sentencing. Convicted murderers trying to avoid execution routinely present evidence that would help explain what led to the murderer becoming a killer. For example, the murderer endured a childhood of extreme sexual abuse at the hands of an alcoholic parent. The attorneys generally seek testimony from anyone in the convicted murderer’s history that would help explain where the murderer went wrong while providing some context for his murderous conduct. THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 26 The obvious mitigating circumstance for Scott Panetti would be his mental illness, which was well documented. In fact, during the jury trial that decided Panetti was fit to proceed with the guilt phase of the trial and determined that he possessed the capacity to understand and participate in defending himself against the charges, Panetti’s attorneys presented multiple doctors who testified to his incapacitated state due to a severe thought disorder. Here, Panetti failed to present any evidence in support of his insanity defense. Instead, he presented his standby attorney, Scott Monroe, despite his inability to offer the jurors anything relevant to his murderous conduct. Again, the outcome was a foregone conclusion: Scott Panetti was sentenced to die, despite a thought disorder that was displayed throughout the trial. The importance of Texas’ legislation that prevents the jury from knowing the fate of the accused if they return an NGRI verdict can’t be overstated. If, for example, the jury had known that Panetti’s NGRI would lead to a lifetime treatment inside a staterun correctional mental hospital, perhaps the death sentence would have been dismissed in favor of NGRI. Intent and Capacity Scott Panetti’s vignette illustrates the criminal justice system’s approach to dealing with mental illness. Panetti was initially diagnosed with a severe thought disorder while in his early twenties; and despite his obvious state of psychosis, which forced him to respond to delusional ideas of reference, the court authorized him to represent himself in his capital murder case. Courts generally offer trial-seasoned public defenders to represent those facing the death penalty for obvious reasons. Outside the fact that the judge allowed him to wreak havoc and fear inside a state-sponsored court of law, making a mockery of the entire judicial system, Scott Panetti’s case is not an anomaly. 27 Introduction The courts have adjudicated the mentally ill by using the same model that is designed to punish those who intentionally challenge the civility of a functioning society, a system that is built on the necessary element of intent when one of society’s members commits a homicide. Intent then becomes the means to proportionately adjudicate a citizen’s death. If the intent, for example, were to merely drive home after too much happy hour consumption, then the subsequent homicide created by driving while intoxicated becomes manslaughter instead of first-degree murder. If, on the other hand, a homicide is committed by a cheating spouse to gain insurance money, then the homicide becomes first-degree murder since the intent was to kill for financial gain. The next step of the legal equation is capacity: does the individual have the necessary capacity to form intent? Capacity is essentially determined by one’s ability to cognitively and comprehensively understand the actions in question. The legal and legislated community has determined that the age of sexual consent is twelve, which means an eleven-year-old does not have the capacity to form the intent necessary to consent to sexual activity. As a society, we apparently have agreed that anyone under the age of twelve is incapable of forming the necessary intent to consent to sexual activity because they don’t have the cognitive or emotional fortitude to make an informed decision regarding sexual behavior. Similarly, we have essentially agreed that anyone under twelve can’t form the necessary intent to commit homicide. The courts subsequently mitigates (uses factors that reduce their responsibility—age, in this case) the punishment as the brain of a child has not sufficiently developed to abstractly understand the underlying consequences of their actions. If a twelve-year-old intentionally shot and killed someone, the mitigating factors would be the age, the availability of the gun, and perhaps the issue of supervision. (Ethnicity is always relevant, though seldom acknowledged consciously.) As a result, a twelve-year-old would be remanded to a juvenile detention center THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 28 as opposed to a twenty-to-life sentence, which may be the sentence, absent the mitigating circumstances. The legal rubric offered above derives from legal and presumably medical scholars with good intentions. In fact, there is very little controversy regarding this legal model. Most legal experts agree with the concept. It seems to be fair while remaining true to the Constitution. As Scott Panetti’s case exemplifies, however, the issue of intent and capacity has been replaced with a legal web of semantics when prosecuting murder suspects suffering from mental illness. Society’s need to seek revenge, masked as justice, has created an environment in which the judicial and legal community has ignored the logical and rational use of intent and capacity while replacing it with legislation absent of any legal or medical continuity. Terms such as “capacity” have been replaced with legislative terms such as “right or wrong” and/or an “appreciation of right or wrong,” further extending terms such as “irresistible impulse” or an “understanding of society’s morals” regarding the conduct in question. These labels do not correlate with any medical models or medical symptoms that would validate the sufficient capacity to be able to form the necessary element of intent. Scott Panetti, as an example, does not need to merely demonstrate an incapacitated state, but he essentially must demonstrate that he is incapable of understanding right from wrong or some variation of being able to internalize the difference between the two. This mandate makes the insanity defense toothless when applied to cases involving homicide, particularly those that involve mass killings. A two-year-old can distinguish between right and wrong, though no one is suggesting that a two-year-old has the capacity to form the intent necessary to commit murder. Perhaps more egregious is the fact that “right or wrong” can’t be established within a vacuum. It must be contextual. If your God is telling you to engage in a particular behavior and you are absolutely certain the message is from your Savior, is it wrong to submit? If that question 29 Introduction can only be answered by determining what the message from above was demanding, then the legal rubric of “right and wrong” is reduced to semantics designed to obscure the ultimate question of capacity. If God is insisting that you kill your neighbor to save him from Satan, the courts will invariably insist that you knew it was wrong to listen to God. If, however, God is commanding you to demonstrate your faith by donating 10 percent of your income to the church, then it’s natural to abide by God. Attempting to determine when it’s appropriate to respond to God’s commands becomes a legal exercise in futility. If a person is responding to messages outside of her head, it is a clear symptom of a serious thought disorder independent of the perceived source or the content of the message. Delusions of reference that are guided by a religious theme, most often some variation of God or Jesus, are the number one reported delusion in the United States. The type of delusions that manifest is directly tied to the sufferer’s environment. If the sufferer’s family of origin is dogmatically religious, invariably the delusion will be dominated by religious references. If the sufferer is raised in a home that incorporates guns and violence into their family lives, the delusions of reference will almost certainly involve guns and violence. (See Sandy Hook murderer, Adam Lanza.) To be clear, delusions are a false belief system that can’t be challenged regardless of the evidence presented to the sufferer. As a result, the sufferer is forced to integrate those destructive thoughts into their being as they are just as real as childhood memories. The pervasiveness of the thoughts are impossible to ignore, and the sufferer cannot even recognize them as injurious. The criminal justice system tends to reduce human behavior into absolutes, with very little room for exceptions. As a result, the legal scheme tends to view life-and-death matters in black-and-white terms. “Did the defendant know right from wrong?” The fact that the sufferer—or even the fact that they are a sufferer—is essentially incapable of directing their behavior falls on suspicious ears. Judges and attorneys routinely argue that the accused knew what they were doing THAT CRAZY INSANITY DEFENSE 30 at the time of the murder(s). Again, making a conscious effort to carry out a murder has absolutely nothing to do with capacity. The courtroom actors—attorneys, judges, and expert witnesses—operate under the misguided perception that if a person were truly psychotic, which apparently is enough to make a claim for incapacitation, the person would not know what they were doing. I presume that the court believes a psychotic person would carry out the crime in a trancelike state. In addition, prosecutors insist that, after committing the crime, a psychotic individual wouldn’t be able to plan an escape. We as a society have a penchant for viewing the world through our personal experiences that impedes our ability to (1) experience compassion or empathy and (2) accept a different perspective or mental dynamic. As a consequence, we are prone to victim blaming, which provides a false sense of security since what happens to others is a result of something they did wrong. Imagine, just for a moment, that you are an eighteen-year-old college-bound student waking one morning and you can’t seem to understand why your mom looks as if she has a two-inch hole through her skull. You can literally see through her skull to the opposite wall in your room. You then try to expel the uncomfortable sight, but it persists throughout the day. In fact, as each day passes, the fracture of the skull becomes wider and more convoluted. Your mom begins to take on a grotesque form, and thoughts begin to invade your consciousness. The obsessive thoughts include auditory hallucinations (voices that are perceived to originate outside of the individual’s head) insisting in no uncertain terms that your mom has been abducted by aliens and now she is an alien possessed with powers that will soon destroy the planet. You then become fearful, which prevents you from sleeping through the night. As a result of terrifying thoughts and images, you begin to barricade yourself in your room at night. Moreover, you begin to isolate yourself and avoid showering as water tends to leave you vulnerable 31 Introduction to your mother’s powers. You then lose your ability to concentrate or think outside of this delusional state. Your mother seeks medical attention for you, and they claim that you are a paranoid schizophrenic, which all sounds like some background noise. The stethoscope is clearly a device that transports my thoughts back to the alien world, you think. The doctor must be a coordinated officer helping my mom destroy humankind. Although you agree to take the medicine prescribed, you secretly dispose of it when the alien (your mother) is no longer paying attention. Voices become so loud at night that it’s impossible to sleep. Worse, the voices begin to demand that you save humanity before it’s too late. Kill her before she kills you, the voices repeat incessantly. ***** The ending to this tragic story is played out in courtrooms throughout the United States. In this book, we will explore the legal origin of the insanity reference while analyzing the medical connection. In addition, we will guide you through the legal strategies involved in the defense while leading you through an archaic legal system that now uses prisons as housings centers for the mentally ill. As we will see in the case of Christopher Scarver, a prisoner with a history of mental illness involving periods of psychosis spent nearly two decades in isolation after killing cannibalistic serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, the process is daunting for psychotics. Christopher’s court-appointed attorneys attempted to use the so-called insanity defense, but ultimately encouraged Christopher to accept a guilty plea. He provides a powerful firsthand account of the debilitating impact prolonged isolation has on prisoners suffering from mental illness. Finally, we will conclude with an examination of the death penalty and the impact it has on those suffering from severe mental disorders.

About the author

Dr. Askari Moyenda has been an active psychology researcher and professor for more than a decade. His love for psychology is only matched by his passion for law. The professor has combined his doctorate level education in psychology and law to create a book that address the need to reform. view profile

Published on July 27, 2019

Published by

60000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Law

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