In crimes of passion, the most common scenario is that the murderer claims insanity as a defense in order to evade imprisonment after he or she brutally butchered his or her lover to death.
These murderers claim that they were not in their right minds when they committed the crime. Hence, prayed that they be acquitted on the ground of insanity. Some became successful in invoking the said defense while others were not and were convicted for the crime committed.
Ever wonder why this line of defense became overused if not abused?
Here in the Philippines one of the circumstances that affect the penalty to be imposed to the accused is the so-called Exempting Circumstances (Art. 12, RPC). There are at least seven (7) circumstances found under this list which, if present during the commission of the crime, the criminal is free from criminal liability (but technically not civilly).
Let us put it this way: it is said that a crime is committed either by means of deceit (dolo) or by means of fault (culpa). There is deceit when the act is performed with deliberate intent; and there is fault when the wrongful act results from imprudence, negligence, lack of foresight, or lack of skill (Art. 3, RPC).
For purposes of our discussion, we will focus in crimes committed by means of dolo. Dolo is composed of three (3) elements: (a) intelligence; (b) freedom; and (c) intent. The Exempting Circumstances are based on the absence of any of the elements of dolo. In other words, an insane person is free from criminal liability because of the absence of intelligence, except in the case of the insane when he acted during the lucid interval.
Article 12, 1 of the Revised Penal Code particularly provides that:
“ART. 12, Circumstances which exempt from criminal liability. –The following are exempt from criminal liability:
- An imbecile or an insane person, unless the latter acted during lucid interval.
When the imbecile or an insane person has committed an act which the law defines as a felony (delito), the court shall order his confinement in one of the hospitals or asylums established for persons thus afflicted, which he shall not be permitted to leave without first obtaining the permission of the same court.”
An insane person is one who suffers from a mental disorder in such a degree as to deprive him of reason. Generally, insanity is the result of a disease and this can be permanent or temporary. While an imbecile is always exempt from criminal liability, an insane may be held criminally liable if he acted during a lucid interval.
Now, listed below are ten (10) of the notorious insanity defense cases recorded. Let’s read their story and find out why the other differs from the rest.
Ten Notorious Insanity Defense Cases:
- ANTHONY and WILLIAM ESPOSITO (1941, Manhattan)
During the early years, the defense of insanity was so famous that most criminals who invoked this walk as a free man. But not all the time.
Brothers Anthony and William robbed a payroll truck and killed an office manager and a police officer in the process. The two were caught and were subjected to trial for the death of the civilian and an officer.
During the trial, the Esposito brother claimed insanity as defense and tried to live with it by displaying extreme behavior.
The brothers, for example, would bang their heads against the table until they bled, bark like dogs, drool, and cry uncontrollably.
However, despite such display of insanity, the court remained unconvinced and sentenced them to death by electric chair. The brothers then pursued a hunger strike for a total period of ten (10) months refusing any food. They were in a state of near-death when they were taken to the electric chair on March 12, 1942.
The case of the Esposito brothers served to correct the misconception that criminals who plead insanity defense often walks as free men.
9. DANIEL SICKLES (1859, New York)
Sickles was the very first man charged for murder who invoked the insanity defense.
Sickles, during that time, was a known politician and Civil War Union General. He was married to Teresa Bagioli, a 15 year old girl, while he was 33 years old. This same man chose not to present his wife to Queen Victoria and instead, hired the services of a prostitute and introduced the latter as the wife.
But the greatest scandal of his life came when he shot and killed in public Philip Barton, a famous lawyer, for the alleged affair of the latter to his wife.
During his trial, he claimed insanity because he was so enraged with his wife’s infidelity. The jury (composed of all male) acquitted him.
- STEVEN STEINBERG (1981, Arizona)
In 1981, Steven was charged for the murder of his wife Elena who sustained 21 stab wounds with the use of a kitchen knife. The irony of it all is that it was Steven who called the police and reported a burglary gone awry. During the investigation, the police did not find any sign of break in. The investigation turned to Steven which eventually led to the filing of the appropriate criminal case against him for the murder of his wife, Elena.
The case drew too much attention at that time, not only because it is a heinous crime, but because it was a case of homicidal somnambulism, or simply known as sleepwalking murder.
The jury later on acquitted him on the ground of temporary insanity. Taken from the legal argument, it was said that, “Steven was not in his normal state of mind when he committed the act. Sleep walking is a parasomnia manifested by automatism; as such, harmful actions committed while in this state cannot be blamed on the perpetrator.
According to Steven, he could not remember the crime and was sleeping at that time, hence the murder while sleepwalking.
- ANDREW GOLDSTEIN (1999, New York)
Andrew was charged for the killing of a young writer, Kendra Webdale, by pushing her into the path of an approaching N Train in New York.
Andrew has a history of schizophrenia and claimed to hear voices. He believed that someone had dissected his brain. Not only that, but he also believed that his genitalia had enlarged from consuming contaminated food, and someone named Larry stole his feces and ate them with a knife and fork.
According to the prosecution, Andrew killed Kendra because she resembled Stephanie the stripper who frustrated him the most. He was said to be only using schizophrenia as a defense to evade conviction.
What makes this case controversial is that Andrew was sent to the hospital for a total of 13 times between 1997 and 1998. Each confinement was voluntary on his part and he even requested for permanent hospitalization. However, he was put on the waiting list of the hospital.
Andrew was convicted of second degree murder.
- JOHN HINCKLEY, JR. (1981, Connecticut)
John developed an obsession with Jodie Foster in her movie the “Taxi Driver”, where she played as a child prostitute and Robert Deniro plays Travis Bickle, who plots to assassinate the presidential candidate in the film.
John was able to watched the said film for at least 15 times and became infatuated with Foster. Soon thereafter, he began stalking the actress by relocating to New Haven, Connecticut, near Yale University where she was studying.
John signed for a Yale writing class and slipped her poems and messages through her door. He would call her persistently as well. The actress did not pay attention to his attempts and this frustrated him. He attempted to take his own life in front of her just to gain her attention. This did not work as well.
Then he planned to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. As the president left the Hilton Hotel, John shot him 6 times but only ended up wounding other people in the process. One of the bullets hit the president in the chest but he survived.
John was caught and charged for the assassin. He claimed insanity and was acquitted of all of his 13 charges of assault, murder and weapon counts.
Due to the high profile of the case, the public perceived the insanity defense of John as a loophole in the legal system which allowed a clearly guilty criminal to walk out free.
Thereafter, most states were pressured to reenact reforms of legislation regarding the use of the insanity defense.
- JONATHAN SCHMITZ (1994).
A TV program about same-sex crushes was about to be produced. They started haunting for individuals who would openly admit to having a crush on television. The team found Scott Amedure who had a crush to his friend Jonathan Schmitz.
The producers of the show invited Scott to appear in one of the episodes of the show, explaining to him that someone had a crush on him. The producers reasserted that Jonathan was fully aware that the show was about same sex crushes.
However, on the part of Jonathan, he was rather expecting to find his ex-girlfriend on stage. Instead, he found Scott who described his sexual fantasy involving Jonathan on the program.
Three days after, Scott left Jonathan a suggestive note. Upon finding the note, Jonathan purchased a shotgun, confronted Scott, and shot the latter twice in the chest resulting to his death.
Jonathan was charged for the crime. The defense used the “gay panic” defense or a state of temporary insanity caused by undesirable homosexual advances. The case became controversial because it is a little known psychosis and its validity is widely debated within jurisdictions.
However, Jonathan was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 to 50 years of jail term.
- LORENA BOBBIT (1993, Virginia)
We have met Lorena and John in our past topic, the “25 Horrendous Crimes of Passion”. The young couple were from Virginia. John had a history of mentally and sexually abusing Lorena throughout their marriage. Sometime in June 1993, John arrived home highly inebriated and proceeded to rape his wife, Lorena.
After the incident, Lorena went into the kitchen for a drink of water. Instead, she saw a carving knife on the counter. Such sight triggered for memories of years of domestic abuse that she experienced to her husband. She then walked back to their bedroom where her husband was deeply sleeping, but this time, carrying with her the carving knife.
She cut off almost half of his penis. With the severed penis in her hand, Lorena left their apartment and drove to a field where she threw it away.
But coming to her senses, Lorena made a call to 911 and reported the incident. A team went to the field to search for the genitalia and was able to recover it. John was taken to the hospital where he went surgery and his genitalia was reattached.
Lorena underwent trial for the crime committed and invoked insanity as a defense because of the domestic abuse she endured with her husband.But the sympathy of the jury went with her. She was later on acquitted due to temporary insanity. She was however ordered to go under psychiatric evaluation for 45 days and was released thereafter.
- JEFFREY DAHMER (1991)
Jeffrey was a notorious serial killer and sex offender with a long list of offenses involving sex, cannibalism, necrophilia, and dismemberment. His behavior can be attributed with his weird activities of his childhood. Criminal instinct was seen as of his early years. Since he was a child, he had shown symptoms of withdrawal and avoidance of any social interactions. He would collect dead animals, then dissect, dissolve, or mutilate them in various ways.
He committed the first murder in 1978 when he bludgeoned to death a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks because the latter wanted to leave. Jeff was forced to kill him because he doesn’t want him to leave. At this instance, it can be inferred that Jeff was a homosexual.
In September 1978, he picked up Steven Tuomi at a gay bar and killed him out of impulse, claiming no memory of event later in trial. In 1988, he was also arrested for giving drugs and sexual fondling a 13 year old boy, Somsack Sinthasomphone. As a registered sex offender, he would then proceed to commit 15 more murders, storing the corpses in vats. It was said that he would sometimes cut off the genitalia of his male victims, make a sandwich out of it, and eat it in public. Dahmer kept trophies of his victims such as human skulls and genitalia in the closet and “saving” biceps and the human heart in the freezer for later consumption. This happened up to the year 1991 when Tracy Edwarts, a would-be victim overpowered Dahmer, ran through the streets and waved for the police car.
In the trial, Dahmer pled not guilty by reason of insanity. The plea was subsequently rejected and Dahmer was convicted of all 15 murder charges and sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences. The case was seen by many as the death of the insanity plea. They contended that if a deranged criminal like Dahmer is rejected on the insanity plea, then no other criminal would qualify for the defense.
- JOHN WAYNE GACY (1970, Chicago)
Gacy was a prolific serial killer in the 1970s in the US. He gained notoriety as the Killer Clown for dressing up as “Pogo the Clown” and performing at parties and events. He later raped and killed 33 young boys and men in Chicago. But the number could have gotten higher if all his killings were well accounted for. He claimed that he lost count of how many of his victims he had buried in a crawl space which he dug, and had thrown 5 of them into the Des Plaines River because it had run out of room. The discovery of his murders and subsequent arrest shook the community as he was known for his active involvement with local projects and his volunteer work as the said clown, even meeting the First Lady Rosalynn Carter who personally thanked him for his efforts. Many of his victims were lured into his home and then murdered by means of asphyxiation by a tourniquet, not strangulation. This meant that they were cut off from most, but not all of the oxygen supply; resulting in the victims convulsing for an hour or two before the eventual death.
He pled not guilty by reason of insanity, and was able to produce psychiatric experts who would testify for his case. This was rejected by the prosecution team due to the extensive measures Gacy took in avoiding detection, including ordering his own construction company’s employees to dig the crawl space which he claimed to be a drainage trench. Also, his defense team actually attempted to argue that all of the 33 murders were due to accidental erotic asphyxiation, a claim which was quickly refuted by the county coroner.
Gacy was found guilty of each murder and was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
- ED GEIN (1957, Wisconsin)
“They smelled too bad,” was a quote from Ed who claimed that he would never have intercourse with any of the dead bodies he dug out of their graves. What he did take interest in however, was skinning the corpses and wearing them.
On other occasions, he would collect various body parts and using them as decorative items at his homestead in Wisconsin. For example a suit made of human skin, a belt made out of female nipples, a lampshade made out of a human face, a refrigerator filled with human organs, vulvas in a shoebox, and many others including noses, skulls, heads, and a pair of lips on a drawstring. This grave robber was perversely fascinated with the deceased mother and the intimacy of female body parts.
In 1957, he was arrested and tried for the murder of Bernice Worden, although he confessed to killing at least two others but was not charged due to cost issues according to the judges in his case.
Gein pleaded not guilty under reason of insanity and was deemed legally insane.
After a 11 year stint in the hospital for the criminally insane, he was tried in 1968 and was found guilty of first degree murder. Gein served a life sentence in a mental hospital until his death.
Creepy isn’t it? Out of the ten (10) how many do you think were really insane and how many were just pretending in order to evade imprisonment?
But what should bother us the most is the uncertainty that the man sitting beside us on the train, the man who handed us the morning newspaper, or the barista who handed us our brewed coffee before heading to the office could be a dangerous lunatic out in the open…undetected.
Sources: Article 12, Revised Penal Code
Article 3, Revised Penal Code
listverse.com (10 Most Notorious Insanity Defense Cases)
Photo credit: http://www.crimeindelhi.com