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Monday, June 02, 2014

Ind. Courts - The Purdue shooter's insantiy plea and how the insanity defense works in Indiana

This weekend the Lafayette Journal Courier published this useful, very long story by Ron Wilkins - some quotes:

Ever since the awful morning in January when Andrew Boldt was stabbed and shot to death in front of a classroom of Purdue University electrical engineering students, authorities have said nothing about a possible motive for the killing of the popular undergraduate teaching assistant. Nor have Purdue students or professors offered any potential reason.

Perhaps that may be because there was none.

The fellow teaching assistant accused of murder in the case, Cody Cousins, is laying the groundwork for an insanity defense, according to a legal notice filed last month by his public defender. Cousins will attempt to convince jurors that he was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his act because of a mental illness or mental defect.

If a jury decides that Cousins was insane at the time of Boldt's death on Jan. 21, Cousins could be found either not guilty due to mental illness or guilty but mentally ill. Either way, legal experts say, such a defense faces long odds in Indiana.

"It's rare (that the defense succeeds)," said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, "but there are cases when at the time of the act, they are not aware of the wrongfulness of the conduct."

"In the majority of the cases it fails," noted Dr. Don Olive, a clinical psychologist in Indianapolis who specializes in forensic psychology. * * *

The first hint that Cousins, 23, might raise the insanity defense occurred at a May 8 court hearing. Cousins, responding to a question from Tippecanoe Superior Court Judge Thomas Busch, said he was prescribed medicine to balance his moods after he arrived at Tippecanoe County Jail. He told the judge he was taking the drug — Depakote — for treatment of schizophrenia.

On May 21, Cousins' public defender, Lafayette attorney Kirk Freeman, filed formal notice of his intention to use the defense of mental disease or defect.

When the defense is formally raised, the court appoints mental health experts to evaluate the accused. The experts must determine if the defendant is competent to stand trial and then must reach a conclusion about the defendant's sanity at the time of the crime, said Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings.

Cummings said he's tried about 60 murder cases, and in about 10 of them, the insanity defense was raised. None was successful, he said. * * *

Under Indiana law, if a defendant is not competent to stand trial, he or she receives treatment until competency can be established and the trial can proceed, Cummings said.

A defendant can be deemed competent to stand trial but still be judged insane at the time of the crime, and vice versa.

When Olive, the Indianapolis forensic psychologist, is called upon to testify in a case, he said he reviews court documents and police reports and talks with witnesses to determine competency and a defendant's mental status at the time of the crime.

"You're basically trying to retrospectively get a view of a person's state of mind," Olive said. For instance, friends, family members or others might be able to identify behavior that might indicate the accused's mental state or mental health.

"I also would interview the person to get their perspective as to what happened and why it happened," Olive said. "In some cases, you can get a fairly clear sense that they appreciated the wrongfulness of their conduct."

The challenge of determining the defendant's state of mind at the time of the crime, however, becomes more difficult as time passes and the defendant adjusts to events after the crime, Olive explained.

If a defendant is hospitalized shortly after arrest, psychologists can begin documenting and evaluating the person's mental state close to the time of the alleged crime, Olive said. But that rarely happens, and it did not happen after Cousins was arrested Jan. 21.

The defense must prove that the defendant is insane or that the defendant did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the offense, said Fran Watson, a professor at the Indiana University McKinney Law School. But the burden is a "preponderance of the evidence," rather than the higher standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt." In other words, the defense must show that it was more likely than not that the defendant was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions because of a mental illness or defect. * * *

If jurors are not convinced by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's mental state was impaired, they could come back with a typical guilty or not guilty verdict. But if they are convinced that a mental illness, disease or defect was involved, they are left with two choices: Not responsible (not guilty) due to mental illness, or guilty but mentally ill.

"The 'guilty but mentally ill' really means guilty," said Landis, of the Indiana Public Defender Council. "The only difference is that they are supposed to receive appropriate mental treatment" while in prison.

Landis, however, questioned the effectiveness of that treatment at the Indiana Department of Correction.

Landis explained that those found guilty but mentally ill are treated just as any other offender. At the Indiana Department of Correction's diagnostic center, every offender receives psychological testing. But since the offender's mental health problem might not be a continuing state of mind, the affliction might not show up on Department of Correction testing, so the offender doesn't necessarily receive mental health treatment.

Indiana's insanity defense does not have many supporters among health care professionals, such as Olive, or defense advocates, such as Landis, who noted that the defense rarely brings justice to truly mentally ill defendants who find themselves locked away in prisons.

"I'm not a fan of GBMI (guilty but mentally ill)," Olive said, adding that the verdict doesn't get the offender needed treatment. * * *

It is not impossible, Landis said, to get a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

A delusional person, for example, might snap and think he is confronting a monster or some nightmarish manifestation, so he was acting out of fear, Landis said.

Such a not guilty verdict, however, does not mean the defendant simply walks out of court a free man, experts said.

Instead, the defendant is immediately detained to determine whether civil commitment to a mental institution is appropriate. The determining factor is whether the person is a danger to himself or others.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 2, 2014 09:13 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts