Sunday, July 22, 2012

James Holmes, Colorado Theater Shooter Will Be Found Insane.

The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting that took place on April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart, before committing suicide. (Another 6 people were injured escaping from classroom windows.) The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.

Jared Lee Loughner is charged with the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011, that killed six people, including Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. The shooting also left 14 others injured, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. He has been indicted on 49 counts by federal grand juries in Arizona.  The mentally ill man charged in the Tucson shooting rampage isn't expected to go to trial in 2012 as he continues to be forcibly medicated to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.

Norwegian Prosecutors on Thursday, June 21st 2012, asked a court to send confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik to a mental institution instead of prison for his massacre of 77 people in a gun and shooting rampage.  If the court comes to the same conclusion when it issues its ruling, expected next month, it would mean that Breivik would avoid criminal responsibility for Norway's worst peacetime massacre.  The attacks at Norway's government headquarters and a youth summer camp would then not be considered acts of political terrorism, but the work of a blood-thirsty madman. "We request that he is transferred to compulsory psychiatric care," prosecutor Svein Holden told the court in closing arguments. Though there was conclusive evidence that Breivik was psychotic during the July 22 attacks, there were enough doubts about his sanity that he cannot be sentenced to prison under Norwegian law, Holden said.

James Holmes is in custody for allegedly killing 12 people and injuring 58 others when he opened fire in a packed midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora Colorado.  Dressed in full riot gear, Holmes allegedly entered from an emergency exit in the front right corner of the theater before releasing something that witnesses identify as tear gas or a smoke bomb. From there, he allegedly sprayed the sold-out theater with a storm of bullets, injuring and killing both adults and children.  Holmes, sporting hair dyed red, reportedly told arresting officers he was "The Joker" in apparent reference to a well known villain in the Batman series.

Someone Knew

Daniela Quintanilla pointed out that “Within the last 15 years, the United States has suffered 12 mass shootings that have claimed 262 people, including the Columbine tragedy, the Virginia Tech massacre, and the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona that wounded Congressman Gabrielle Giffords.” 

What is Schizophrenia

Four states, including Kansas, Montana, Idaho, Utah, do not allow the insanity defense. In other states, the standards for proving this defense vary widely.  In Colorado the state uses a modified version of the M'Naghten Rule with the Irresistible Impulse Test. The burden of proof is on the state.

According to FindLaw, "In response to criticisms of the M'Naghten Rule, some legal commentators began to suggest expanding the definition of insanity to include more than a cognitive element. Such a test would encompass not only whether defendants know right from wrong but also whether they could control their impulses to commit wrong-doing. 

The Irresistible Impulse Test was first adopted by the Alabama Supreme Court in the 1887 case of Parsons v. State. The Alabama court stated that even though the defendant could tell right from wrong, he was subject to "the duress of such mental disease [that] he had ... lost the power to choose between right and wrong" and that "his free agency was at the time destroyed," and thus, "the alleged crime was so connected with such mental disease, in the relation of cause and effect, as to have been the product of it solely." In so finding, the court assigned responsibility for the crime to the mental illness despite the defendant's ability to distinguish right from wrong.

The Irresistible Impulse Test gained acceptance in various states as an appendage to the M'Naghten Rule, under which right versus wrong was still considered a vital part of any definition of insanity. In some cases, the Irresistible Impulse Test was considered to be a variation on M'Naghten; in others, it was considered to be a separate test. 

Though the Irresistible Impulse Test was considered to be an important corrective on M'Naghten's cognitive bias, it still came under some criticism of its own. For example, it seemed to make the definition of insanity too broad, failing to take into account the impossibility of determining which acts were uncontrollable rather than merely uncontrolled, and also making it easier to fake insanity. The test was also criticized for being too narrow; like M'Naghten, the test seemed to exclude all but those totally unable to control their actions. Nevertheless, several states currently use this test along with the M'Naghten Rule to determine insanity, and the American Law Institute in its Model Penal Code definition of insanity adopted a modified version of it" (Findlaw).

In everyday language the insanity defense is one in which, due to mental disease or defect, the individual is either unable to conform his/her behavior to legal standards or is unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his/her act.  In order to effectively use the insanity defense, the subject and his/her attorney needs to bracket the criminal behavior; to show they were insane prior to and just after the act itself.  The assumption then is that they were also insane at the time they committed the offense.

Their are multiple possibilities for the brackets and it would appear at the time of his arrest, James Holmes began that process when he told officers he was the villain from the batman series.  What remains to be seen is what evidence, if any, has been uncovered for the initial bracket.*  There are several possibilities there including the circumstances around which he was leaving graduate school.  If, as I believe, the school counseled him out of the program due to their belief that he was mentally unstable and needed help, then that bracket exists.

I feel for the Aurora Police Chief, Daniel Oates, who appears to want so badly to get a conviction and for the victims and their families of this horrific act.  Until such time as we make mental health laws equally protective of society and the individual, I fear these horrific acts will continue.

* Initial brackets may now be known.  According to reports from Fox News, "James Holmes, the accused gunman in last Friday's midnight movie massacre in Colorado, mailed a notebook "full of details about how he was going to kill people" to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack, but the parcel sat unopened in a mailroom for as long as a week before its discovery Monday, a law enforcement source told
Police and FBI agents were called to the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus in Aurora on Monday morning after the psychiatrist, who is also a professor at the school, reported receiving a package believed to be from the suspect. Although that package turned out to be from someone else and harmless, a search of the Campus Services' mailroom turned up another package sent to the psychiatrist with Holmes’ name in the return address, the source told"


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