Is insanity an excuse for murder?

Hello. doorART Mark in San Francisco (does your Mum call you that?), Kimberley in Philadelphia, Stephanie in Portland, Sean in China, and Josh in New York – thanks for signing up to the Daily Email.

Last year a British man called John Hogan went on holiday to Greece with his wife, his six-year-old son and his two-year-old daughter. Following a family row, he threw his son from a balcony and killed him. Then, holding his daughter, he threw himself off as well. He and his daughter survived.

This week he was cleared of murder and sent to a psychiatric unit. The judge said he ‘was incapable of murdering his son’ and his ‘responsibility was diminished’ because of his state of mind. It is the latest in a series of cases that have seen people acquitted of murder for this reason.

John Hogan’s ex-wife says it is as if her son ‘died for nothing’. But would it have been right to punish John Hogan in the same way as another with no psychological issues?

Are psychological problems an acceptable excuse for murder? Can they relieve someone of responsibility for their actions? Or are there some crimes where a punishment must be enforced?

These are the guests we have in today’s show: 

John Finnegan, whose brother was killed by someone with paranoid schizophrenia

John, served 25 years in jail for manslaughter. He blogs as jailhouselawyer.

Richard Charlton, chair of the Mental Health Lawyers Association in the UK

Professor Mamoun Fandy, Egyptian, Senior Fellow for Gulf Security, International Institute for Strategic Studies

Dr Mona, in Gaza, medical doctor and mother

96 Responses to “Is insanity an excuse for murder?”

  1. January 24, 2008 at 13:49

    I say no. It is no excuse for murder. There is no reason for it at all.

  2. 2 rosatkins
    January 24, 2008 at 14:11

    Hi Ros,

    Murder is murder regardless of how its committed and there is no excuse for getting a jail sentence. Once found guilty of murder that person must be given a punishment which suits the offence. Slowly we are losing track of reality in life. Life is not like a product you can buy again in shop. What of those repeat the same offence? The other day the media carried a story of man who buried his baby alive. Is this madness ? I doubt this is a planed and calculated move by an individual.

    Though I wish no one to go to jail but at the same its not alright to kill in the name of insanity. There is also good side of life for children to show them love and protect them from danger.

  3. 3 Racje
    January 24, 2008 at 14:11

    What do we think is accomplished by punishment?

    I do not know the details of the case; I am responding rather to the broad question of insanity as a reason for offering confinement and treatment rather than imprisonment. If a person is hallucinating a version of reality in which people can fly, fires envelop the building, and the only escape is over the balcony, then that person needs to be confined where his visions can’t possibly lead to harm to himself or others; he doesn’t necessarily need “punishment.”

  4. 4 rosatkins
    January 24, 2008 at 14:18

    from Chawezi:
    ROS, Hello and welcome to the show.

    What a coincedence it is? Though slightly different from what we were discussing with my workmates today during lunch hour; we had the same piece of story on our discussions.
    We were talking about murders. What brought us to this issue, there was a certain guy passing by within our office compound who was convicted of murder but is now a free man in a free world just like JOHN HOGAN. What makes the different is that the other guy is not insane like John Hogan. We were saying why do people have to kill people? From my comment to these guys I said just to the mere fact that I see a knife and someone stabbing you whereever on the body; its like such a thing is right away happening on my body. My body trembles with fear! But the main issue the other guys said people have different situations and circumstances that make them commit crimes.
    For Mr John Hogan, the decar of the case is fair and justice has been done to both parties. He is not a normal life or person like me here in Malawi who could have been slapped with life sentence in one of our maximum prisons. And all our leaders of this country (Malawi) are reluctant to sign the death sentence bill and this has been hanging in balance for so long.
    The judges examined the case of Mr John Hogan to come up with the ruling today. These judges are not medical doctors and so they had to rely on the state as a major witness, the wife of the murder, the pyschiatric personel to determine fairness in their ruling.
    Ofcourse, the Mr John Hogan issue today is like a scape-way to prison or to face life sentence but whatever it is the fact remains that Mr John Hogan is not a normal person. An insane person is insane in all degree and therefore, courts must deliver ruling in their favour. Its not like Iam advocating for such people to walk scot free – its their nature that brings to conclude that they need fair justice.
    Chawezi in Malawi

  5. 5 VictorK
    January 24, 2008 at 14:18

    There’s nothing to debate here. Insanity has always been a defence against murder in Common Law countries. To be guilty of murder one must have intended to kill someone, in legal parlance to have had the mens rea, or criminal mindedness. Someone who is genuinely insane cannot by definition have this state of mind, since that would require rationality, forethought, understanding the consequences of one’s actions, and perceiving your victim as another person (and not as some hallucinatory creature or thing).

    Of course, it doesn’t mean that an insane killer will be acquitted and left to waltz back into the community. They will usually be detained for life at a mental hospital, which I don’t think is much of a consolation prize.

    The story is mere tabloid forth.

  6. January 24, 2008 at 14:18

    Is insanity an excuse for murder for murder? Yes. But is it a defense? No. Having to go to the restroom is an “excuse” for speeding but it won’t and doesn’t get one out of a speeding ticket.

    First ask yourself this, “why do we imprison people for murder?” We imprison/ execute people for murder for two reasons. One is because they are a threat to the harmony of our society. Is an insane person a threat to the community? It has nothing to do with their personality, good deeds, or demeanor. The BTK serial killer was an outstanding, church going family guy. People loved him. But he was a threat to the health and life of the people around him! The second reason is that we desire to make an example of what is not acceptable in our culture. “Killing is not right. If you kill somebody here is what happens to you.”

    As members of a community we are tasked with having either no impact or positive impact on the whole. If we can not live our lives with out having a negative impact on other members, then we need to be punished justly by society. It is not the responsibility of the government to care for you if you can not function with out being a threat to the life, liberty, or happiness of other members. If a private non-governmental organization wants to care for somebody who poses a threat to life, then so be it. Otherwise, no matter what your excuse is, you should be removed from society.

    Murder by definition is an “insane act”. Likewise, every person who murders somebody is insane. In life we are all subject to unexpected catastrophes. All people have different “excuses” that lead to their demise. Some die in car accidents, some die of diseases, and some die of failing organs. So why not look at the “insane” murder and say, “Wow, that sucks man. Your disease just became fatal.”

    The benefit of this approach is that it will also serve as an example to other members who may be considering homicide as a course of action. “Insane” people make great examples actually. Their argument is that, “they are insane and do nut understand the impact of life and death.” This should include their own.

  7. 7 John
    January 24, 2008 at 14:36

    Hi Ros.
    As a young man i was easy going and it took a whole lot to make me angry. A provocation from a person i did not like caused me to loose my temper so much that i nearly broke his back by pushing him against a metal rail with brute force. A friend of mine saved him by releasing my grip. i did not remember anything between the provocation and my friend coming to stop me. It has never happened again.

    If it is proven that a person was not in control of himself at the time of the delicti, and he has had a normal stable personality before, then it must be investigated to see if he had diminished responsibility at the time. He or Her should be punished in any case, but the degree of punishment can be given according to medical evidence. In every case, and even if found to be of diminished responsibility, the person should be interned either in prison, or in a psychiatric unit.

    If a person is normally very aggressive, and is know to be so they should be FORCED to partake in therapies until cured.

    Sadly the tendency is for punishment to be lash, with references to a bad child/parent relationship being the cause of abnormality in all stages of life.
    First of all blame the parents, family background and if that does not work , then say sorry.

    The brain controls the body,and your mind. if the computer does not function, of course there will be problems with the machine.

    Come on you medical people, lets have some comments from you?.


  8. 8 Uzondu Esionye
    January 24, 2008 at 14:45

    Insanity is not an excuse for muder. infact, there are lot of people that are insane, but do not go as far as taking others lives. that should not be an excuse,or else muderers will run to insanity as a save haven after committing their acts.

  9. 9 steve
    January 24, 2008 at 14:58

    Lots of obviously non attorneys chiming in here. Murder generally in common law countries was “an unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought”. Then the question was “what is malice aforethought?”. Through the years it was figured out what could constitute this requirement. The insanity defense was created, and it varies on locality, but basically the people are so mentally ill, they don’t understand the consequences of their actions or know the difference between right and wrong. The problem these days is that so many people are narcissistic, and borden on being sociopathic. The good thing is that insanity defenses wouldn’t excuse the actions of sociopaths given they understand what their actions will bring. They are just so self absorbed they care about nothing but themselves and what they want. They aren’t insane, they are just evil.

    A good example of the insanity defense was for John Hinckley, who tried to kill Ronald Reagan. He did it apaprently to Impress Jodie Foster, so she would fall in love with him, by killing someone important. Let’s take away the whole her being a lesbian thing for a moment, and clearly, the guy was a nutjob even if she potentially liked guys. So he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was institutionalized. There are other cases that are borderline, and I wouldn’t want to be on the jury, such as the mothers that drown all of their kids. I think the latest spat of crimes, where parents have been killing their kids, then going to the press, is more about attention, so these are narcissist sociopaths taht will do anything for attention, so they wouldn’t be able to use the insanity defense.

  10. 10 Josh
    January 24, 2008 at 15:00

    “Punishment” in a legal since is a consequence meant as both a penalty and a deterrent. Mental disorders render one incapable of understanding the consequences of one’s own actions. How then can there be legal reprise?

    Morally, we must protect all parties involved. Those who suffer mental conditions need to be identified and treated in order to avoid situations where they may be a harm to themselves or others; and if necessary placed in a controlled environment.

  11. 11 Amy
    January 24, 2008 at 15:27

    I think that anyone who commits murder has mental problems and is insane to a certain degree. The person who takes the life of another should have their head examined, no matter what. To kill because you had a fight with your spouse or because you had a fight with a rival gang member – which person should be deemed “insane?” There are so many different variations of mental illness these days that it seems to me anyone could use insanity as the excuse for any crime committed.

  12. 12 Nengak
    January 24, 2008 at 15:28

    How can the ‘Insane’ be sane enough to spare him/herself of the ordeal of murder(dying), but not be sane enough to spare others? I say insanity is an excuse for murder IF, AND ONLY IF the insane is committing succide. In any other case it is not, and murderes should face the law insane or no. Besides, if a man hates the othe so much he wants him/her dead, I say he/she is insane. So all murderers are insane, but not all the in sane are murderers!

  13. 13 John D. Anthony
    January 24, 2008 at 15:53

    If a genetically caused chemical imbalance in the brain makes it impossible for a person to think rationally then he cannot be judged by the same standard as a rational person who had simply lost control of his emotions. It may not satisfy our desire for justice but that is part of the burden we bear as a civilized society.

    John in Salem

  14. January 24, 2008 at 16:06

    Is insanity an excuse for murder? I think the question is wrong because insanity is a legal defence to a charge of murder. It’s all Greek to me the law in Greece, however, under English law there is the option to lay the alternative charge of manslaughter which is what I was convicted of on the grounds of ‘diminished responsibility’. I received a life sentence with a tariff of 15 years, but actually served 25 years.

    It’s swings and roundabouts. Where as I received over the top for what I did, this chap, if he is released to come back to Britain in about a year, then it would appear, even allowing for his state of mind at the time of the offence, that he got off very lightly in deed.

  15. January 24, 2008 at 16:15


    What you experienced is even more reprehensible and less excusable then somebody who is clinically insane. During a fit of rage, endorphins are released into the bloodstream. This same thing happens when somebody takes drugs like cocaine. Neurochemicals such as dopamine or norepinephrine result in a “high” in which often cause a loss of conscious memory. The difference between us and other primates is that we are supposed to be evolved and civilized. That infers that we have the ability to restrain our primitive reaction to the presence of these chemicals in our bloodstream.

    So should a guy who murders people while on a PCP high get leniency because he was not in control of his actions? And before you talk about “choice” to get high verses not having a “choice” to get angry, there are plenty of studies to suggest that some people are mentally predisposed to being addicts. There are also studies that compare the compulsion to being violent directly to that of being addicted to drugs.

    So what does this have to do with punishing the insane? The question is where do you draw the line? Everybody who kills has some level of insanity. Scientifically the purpose of a species is to evolve to a more cohesive preocreating unit. Those who demonstrate an inability to control their actions poses a weak and undesirable gene. Really we should do what we can to remove any possibility of that weakness from our gene pool. A good article can be found here. http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/forensic_psychology/19720

  16. 16 rosatkins
    January 24, 2008 at 16:15

    Jason in the States
    It is my opinion that the insanity defense is as ridiculous as hate crime laws here in the US. The motivation for the crime and what crime was committed should be the only factors involved in sentencing. If a person is a different race or mentally/physically handycapped that should not matter.
    Treating any member of a society different from another is discrimination.
    Letting a crazy person go free gives them an unfair advantage in the court system. Why should crazy people get preferencial treatment?

  17. 17 Sathia
    January 24, 2008 at 16:18

    Dear Ros,

    Insanity is a defense for Murder according to “Mc Naughten Rules in English Criminal Law” as adopted by most legal systems world wide and even codified in their Penal Code. Diminished Responsibility is a temporary state of insanity which is also a defense to Murder according to Law as stated above. The burden of proving this defense is on the accused but on a balance of probabilities. If you are questioning this issue then you are going to the core principles of English Criminal Law itself. It is a tested and proven Law.
    It is also to be noted that motive which is actually not an ingredient to offence of Murder but the lack of the same will go towards the defense of insanity. Now on these
    facts I doubt that the father of that boy actually had motive to kill his son. Further all finding of facts has been done by the court therefore It would not be correct to access the facts just by what has been published on the media.


  18. 18 Andre Carrington
    January 24, 2008 at 16:18

    I believe that in some cases, insanity is a valid defense against a murder charge. However, I am firmly of the belief that an insanity defense requires a pre-existing, diagnosed case of some form of psychotic illness.

    Here in America, we use an index called the DSM-IV TR to categorize and identify mental illness. Relevant definitions of mental conditions that might constitute a valid “excuse” for murder include:

    1) Any psychotic disorder of sufficient intensity (http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/dsm4TRclassification.htm#Schizophrenia)

    2) Intermittent Explosive Disorder (http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/explosivedis.htm)

    Predefined diagnoses of these types of disorders may justify an insanity defense. However, trying to prove that someone was “temporarily insane” because they committed an uncharacteristically horrible act (such as throwing a baby from a balcony), when no prior history of mental illness was diagnosed would be a travesty of law – in my humble opinion.

    As a society, we must recognize that mental illness exists and, in certain specific cases, can make a person incapable to determining that an act is legally and morally wrong. To avoid abuse of this system, we need to ensure that the criteria for using an insanity defense is clear and provable to a degree accepted by psychiatrists and psychologists in general.

  19. 19 Lubna
    January 24, 2008 at 16:18

    Dearest Ros : Hi… How are you doing today my good friend ?! If someone has committed a crime on purpose, then he/she must be hold responsible for his/her actions…. But if that someone was proved by a panel of professional psychiatrists to be suffering from a severe mental illness that makes him/her irresponsible for his/her actions, then I do believe that the law must clear that someone from the crime he/she has committed ! With my love ! Your friend forever Lubna in Baghdad ! PS, the dean of the college of dentistry-Baghdad University Professor Dr.Munthir Muhrij was assassinated yesterday in Baghdad…. College of Dentistry lies only a few meters away from my college (College of Medicine-Baghdad University).

  20. 20 Daniel
    January 24, 2008 at 16:19

    How can the ‘Insane’ be sane enough to spare him/herself of the ordeal of murder(dying), but not be sane enough to spare others? I say insanity is an excuse for murder IF, AND ONLY IF the insane is committing succide. In any other case it is not, and murderers should face the law insane or no. Besides, if a man hates the othe so much he wants him/her dead, I say he/she is insane. So all murderers are insane, but not all the in sane are murderers!
    I find this line of reasoning very flawed. I am beginning to wonder if the judge, our laws and the insane have a thing or two in common.
    If we are talking about this tonight, why not call me up?

  21. 21 Pat in Canada
    January 24, 2008 at 16:20

    Good Morning Ros,

    I believe that this concern is prevalent throughout the world. Sadly the law and justice are totally different and have no relevance to each other “It’s all about the money”

    In Canada and Alberta in particular, an incident such as one member of an Asian gang killing another young man by burying an axe into the guy’s head, in West Edmonton Mall and in plain view of shoppers goes virtually unpunished. How can we talk about “temporary insanity” or “cultural differences” as being excuses for murder?
    Now if you steal or cheat a prominent individual out of $500.00 you will go to jail for 10 yrs.

    We seem to have lost our value of human life and the realization that all human lives, regardless of the social status of the individual, are precious.

    In the USA the annual murder rate(US GOV issued Figures for 2005) is 13.8 per 100.000 which equates to 43,000 murders per year. Of this total approx. 8% result in the perpetrator being brought to justice. Of those few who are put on trial how many are given a heavy sentence ????
    If the perpetrator is white and has killed a black then…… well I’ll let you work that one out.


    Pat Dowling
    Edmonton Canada

  22. 22 Lamii in Liberia
    January 24, 2008 at 16:21

    Dear Ros,

    This is quite a tricky issue, and there are many sides to the arguments for or against the insanity plea in murder cases.

    As a law student of the law faculty at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law here in Liberia, I have come across many cases in criminal law classes. During such class, it was always quite an argument when it came to who, when and to what extend punishment should be imposed on those that violated the social trust.

    Should people be punished whenever they break the law? Or should people be punished only if that punishment serves the greater societal good? These are respectively the retributivism and utilitarianism theories under the criminal law.

    The criminal law is quite clear that imbeciles are not the be subjected to the criminal justice system in the sense that they will be punished for crimes that they commit. This is so because for most crimes there must be a physical action and a mental state (mens rea). And both of these must be fulfilled for one to be adjudged guilty as charged. Since it is clear that mentally illed people cannot obviously meet this mental-state requirement, they cannot be justly punished by the criminal justice system.

    But the catch in all this is that in most cases, it is quite difficult to determine that someone is a danger to society because of his mental state. And even if that determination is made, there is a long process of confining that person to an asylum, which hardly exist in countries like Liberia.

    In as much as it would be cruelty to punish an insane person for the commission of a crime which he lacks the capacity to fully appreciate, government’s must create a situation that keeps such people from committing crime.

    Lamii Kpargoi

  23. 23 Brett
    January 24, 2008 at 16:36

    Insanity may be an ‘explanation’ for murder, but it does not excuse it. Murder is an insane act, plain and simple. Punishment should be adjusted accordingly perhaps for the mentally ill, but not at the expense of the public. If somoene is deemed insane in a murder trial, they should not be let off the hook in any way. They could/are still a threat to the public, how is aquitting an individual or lessening their sentance on the grounds of insanity going to help that person or the public?
    Time still needs to be served, if it is 50 years in a prison, or 50 years in a mental institution for inmates, then so be it. An easier ride? Perhaps, but the time is served, and hopefully if all goes well, a reformation will have taken place in that time and the person will no longer be a threat to anyone (that is a big ‘hopefully’, as the US prison system is notorious for its inmate reformation programs failing miserably).

    I do not believe in the death sentance so theres no argument I have for a pro capital punishment stance against a mentally ‘healthy’ individual and an ‘unhealthy’ one.

    Honestly, I would LOVE to be sympathetic towards the mental health and justice system issue, however, the system is more often manipulated for the benefit of individuals without mental illness in order to lessen a sentance than to actually help individuals. And until a justice system reform takes place that reduces or eliminates this manipulation, I cannot be a firm advocate of lessened or excused sentances in this regard.

    The bottom line is, one individual took anothers life. Do you think the murdered individual cares about the state of mind that the murder possesses?

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  24. 24 steve
    January 24, 2008 at 16:40

    Again, people aren’t thinking this through. All people that commit murder are crazy or insane? Sure, I’m sure most are evil and whatever, but let’s consider Jack Kevorkian here. He was convicted of 2nd degree murder for administering the drug to someone who died as a result. HE injected that person. He did it for the purpose of alleviating their suffering, but motive doesn’t matter to guilt. He intended to end that person’s life, and he was convicted of murder. Murder isn’t always the evil person hiding in the corner waiting to slit your throat as you walk by.

  25. January 24, 2008 at 17:06

    You could argue that anyone who commits a crime that is heinous in nature, that results in a serious injury or death of another person, is not completely competent or sane to begin with. That to have committed such an act they must have been affected in some way or suffering diminished capacity – no sane person could have done that. However, many people commit such crimes with malice aforethought, premeditated and deliberate acts against others. Do you consider that an individual who delights in torturing and killing is not responsible for their actions? Someone who kills many or just one is there a difference and do we apply different standards to the Harold Shipmans and John Hogans of the world?

    It is all to easy to state that due to varying circumstances they were suffering mental anguish which affected their perceptions and behaviours. However in a civilised society how can you make that distinction and allow such exceptions? A person can claim diminished capacity for a momentary lapse of reason, is that an excuse to murder a spouse or child? A person can state (and often does) that they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, does that make their actions acceptable and excusable? They certainly were aware that drugs can alter their behaviour, they certainly took them willingly and knowingly, then any outcomes of that drug taking which results is serious crime is their responsibility, no one else can be held accountable. In that case there is carte blanche for crime and as long as you are intoxicated you have your get out of jail free pass. Or for that matter, as long as you have suffered some stress in your life.

    I could say that for someone who has shown a history of mental illness – I mean chronic and diagnosed – could use that excuse. But how can someone who sees a loved one in bed with another, or a jealous ex who wants revenge on a former spouse, or even some stranger with an opportunity use this an excuse, premeditated or spur of the moment. We all experience stress at some time in our lives and many of us routinely, yet do not go on to commit serious crimes. As well-known and respected US psychologist Martin Seligman once noted, half the people who experience severe depression in their lives do not go on with bad behaviours or commit crime so why use this as an excuse. Poor impulse control is no excuse either. If everyone who had a bad day or caught their spouse cheating decided to murder their children would that be acceptable – of course not – so why are people willing to accept it when hearing media reports of certain court cases.

    We all must be held responsible for our actions good and especially bad. We all experience stress and it is the nature of stress reactions that perceptions can be skewed, but to rely on this to escape or diminish repercussions of criminal behaviour is unacceptable in a society that relies on the rule of law. Too much is made of this and too many use this excuse, is it a symptom of modern, western society that blame and consequence are no longer applicable? I find it inconceivable that in some criminal cases a person who defended themselves and killed another in a life threatening situation can do jail time while another can trot out the diminished capacity line and escape sanction altogether.



  26. 26 Marsha Adams
    January 24, 2008 at 17:15

    There are no “EXCUSES” for murder but the are reasons that a person who has committed a murder is not punished the same way as another person committing the same crime. Mental illness ( deminished capacity) is one of those reasons. Should the person with a mental illness be excused from any and all punsihment , “Absolutely not”. There are long tern placement hospitals for such individuals , ask John Hinkley. I agree they should not be released to walk the streets and that they should not be incarcerated with “murderers” who planned a bank robbery with a gun in hand and killed someone. The goal should be justice which should consider all sides of the situation.

  27. 27 John D. Anthony
    January 24, 2008 at 17:44

    After rereading Ros’ original post I noticed that he quoted the judge as saying that Hogan was “incapable of murdering his son” and that his responsibility was diminished because of his “state of mind”.
    This is very different from a genetically based insanity. In the U.S. it would fall under the status of a crime of passion which would usually result in a conviction of manslaughter and a lighter sentence. If this was the case then the blame for the verdict lies with the prosecutor for making a charge which required a higher standard, a “proof of intent”. Any competent attorney would have used temporary insanity as a defense and the judge would have had little choice in the verdict.
    I’m not sure of the differences in law between the U.S. and Britain, but we have laws for murder that now include a “guilty but insane” judgement where the convicted is often confined and treated until they are found sane and then has to serve their sentence.
    This is very relevant to me personally, as I live less than a mile from the Oregon State Prison for the Criminally Insane.
    And yes, I lock my doors at night.

    John in Salem

  28. 28 Paul
    January 24, 2008 at 17:49

    No way! We will get away with murder and say “It was insanity”. If you take a life, the law must punish you in whatever way fitting. A murder is a murder…

  29. 29 John D. Anthony
    January 24, 2008 at 17:49

    Oops. I meant to say I live near the Oregon State HOSPITAL for the Criminally Insane, although when you walk by a place with barred windows and high double fences topped with razor wire it’s hard not to think of it as a prison.

    John in Salem

  30. January 24, 2008 at 17:55

    now in indian criminal law too insanity is a loophole in murder cases and in most of the murders committed by the well to do in majority of cases with a high profile lawyer they bring before the court this insanity clause and in majority of cases they accused prove it and go scot free .the world over nowadays banking on this insanity aspects when accused of murder is on the rise and its rampantly misused . in our region there is a saying that you can murder anyone if you have a gangadharannambiar(one of the leading criminal lawyer of our district) by your side.and one sad aspect is that a human being is murdered and in that case rather than dissecting the evidence of murder usually when the insanity comes it takes the centrestage and the nurder takes a backseat?see a citizen of a state is murdered then even if he has done in insane state get him treated of insanity if proved and give the punishment for murder after he recovers from his insanity .orelse the criminal justice system will become a farce as happened in the above mentioned case of a father throwing the son in a water and killing one and attempting to kill himself with other child .
    another way to reform the criminal system is to go to the root cause of his psychiatry problem and get to the facts and who are all responsible both individual and institutional wise must all be called upon before the law and get corrected if this kind of injustices happens to the existing criminal system.
    or else world over we have to ask as one of my colleague asked in one of my LLM(HUMANRIGHTS )seminar to the professor of criminal law who is now the head of indian law institute delhi,when this kind of case and arguement came about WHETHER CRIMINAL LAW IS TO PUNISH THE CRIMINALS OR LET OFF THE CRIMINALS ?DIRECTOR KEPT MUM THAT DAYOF COURSE ..


  31. January 24, 2008 at 17:56

    Dear Ros,

    This is quite a tricky issue, and there are many sides to the arguments for or against the insanity plea in murder cases.

    As a law student of the law faculty at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law here in Liberia, I have come across many cases in criminal law classes. During such class, it was always quite an argument when it came to who, when and to what extend punishment should be imposed on those that violated the social trust.

    Should people be punished whenever they break the law? Or should people be punished only if that punishment serves the greater societal good? These are respectively the retributivism and utilitarianism theories under the criminal law.

    The criminal law is quite clear that imbeciles are not the be subjected to the criminal justice system in the sense that they will be punished for crimes that they commit. This is so because for most crimes there must be a physical action and a mental state (mens rea). And both of these must be fulfilled for one to be adjudged guilty as charged. Since it is clear that mentally illed people cannot obviously meet this mental-state requirement, they cannot be justly punished by the criminal justice system.

    But the catch in all this is that in most cases, it is quite difficult to determine that someone is a danger to society because of his mental state. And even if that determination is made, there is a long process of confining that person to an asylum, which hardly exist in countries like Liberia.

    In as much as it would be cruelty to punish an insane person for the commission of a crime which he lacks the capacity to fully appreciate, government’s must create a situation that keeps such people from committing crime.

    Lamii Kpargoi
    Initiative for Mobile Training of Community Radio (INFORMOTRAC)
    Liberia Media Center (LMC)
    Monrovia, Liberia

  32. January 24, 2008 at 18:00

    I have still believed that insanity was no excuse for murder. I believe that anyone who takes the life of another is insane – at least at the moment of committing the crime. But what can you expect? I am a conscientious objector as well.
    Amy Claague

  33. 33 Ahmad achakzai
    January 24, 2008 at 18:10

    I think no one would do so with any body, not to talk about ones own children, So, therefore, the person should not be made guilty and not given the punishment, as already he has been punished by having himself in state of so much anxiety.

  34. 34 Zita
    January 24, 2008 at 18:12

    Murder is a definition in the penal code. If any killing does not satisfy the criteria laid down it cannot be taken as murder. So the guidelines are clear enough.

  35. 35 Ahmad achakzai
    January 24, 2008 at 18:12

    I think no one would do so with any body, not to talk about ones own children, So, therefore, the person (john hogan) should not be made guilty and not given the punishment, as already he has been punished by having himself in state of so much anxiety.

  36. 36 Miguel in the U.S.A.
    January 24, 2008 at 18:13

    No Way. As example:
    A dog doesn’t have enough mental capacity to stop itself.
    Dogs can be trained not to bite.
    A dog IS NOT HUMAN.
    Yet when a dog bites someone, that dog gets killed (At least here in the U.S.
    A human on the other hand, even if mentally incapable, has more mental
    capability than a dog, even if that weren’t the case, humans doing harm to
    other humans, or animals for that matter deserve to be put to sleep
    just as well for the harm they do or might continue or will continue doing.

    There are those who don’t have control of their own brains even when not
    mentally challenged, take them out of the game as someone said before
    they do more harm.

  37. 37 Faisal Almohawes
    January 24, 2008 at 18:13

    No of course not because we are in an informed crime age.
    If it was suicide we beleive it is an execuse.However legal legislation must be fimed and stand against those who use science as a way of freedom

  38. 38 Kurt
    January 24, 2008 at 18:16

    Should we punish the mentally ill?

  39. 39 Anthony
    January 24, 2008 at 18:17

    I see no difference between one person killing someone for making an immoral decision because of the way they were brought up, and someone making an immoral decision because of a chemical imbalance. Either way these people are a strain on our gene pool, society, and a countries finances. Send them to God and let God decide their fate.

    -Anthony, LA, CA.

  40. 40 Orla
    January 24, 2008 at 18:19

    No insanity is not an excuse for murder, however a person who commits murder while insane should be allowed proper treatment in a psychiatric facility. Murder is defined as a pre-mediated act while manslaughter is an astonishingly terrible moment in time and must be given the atonement it deserves.

  41. January 24, 2008 at 18:20

    I think this show today is rather silly. Most societies have an insanity defense, and rightfully so. Do you really think that your typical crazy person on the street, who thinks they are the President of the United States, who thinks dogs tell him to kill people, to liberate their souls, is the same as someone killing someone to get insurance proceeds?
    There are insanity defenses for a reason. A typical insanity defense is “be “insane” if “…at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, arising from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.” Though different jurisidictions have different standards. I don’t really believe in the temporary insanity thing, and much more contemplation should be given to that, and I’m sure the defense is not commonly sucucessfully used. Lets not forget that in other areas, we have mitigating factors, such as extreme emotional distress that can reduce Murder 2 to voluntary manslaughter, which normally happens if you catch your wife in bed with someone else and you immediately kill them.
    We don’t let them off, but we see how they aren’t as culpable as someone who killed in cold blood because of the extreme emotional distress from seeing the infidelity. Isn’t being enraged a psychological problem too?


  42. 42 Eileen
    January 24, 2008 at 18:21

    Those who have never experienced mental illness cannot imagine a state of mind where responsibility is totally absent due to psychosis. The person who commits a crime in this state often has no recollection of it, and cannot be held responsible for his actions. He would normally abhor such action, but his brain was not functioning normally at the time.

    The man in question who killed his son, is to be pitied as much as his wife. His punishment and hers too will continue as long as they live, in the form of regret and loss. He does not need an excessively long sentence, but needs psychiatric treatment as long as it takes to return to normality. Imprisoning him without psychiatric help would be cruel, but sadly not unusual, treatment.

    Many people in prison are there due to mental illness, and receive little or no treatment. More resources should be channeled for that.
    Eileen in Virginia

  43. January 24, 2008 at 18:22

    Those with a HISTORY of mental illness should absolutely NOT be treated in the same way for murder or any other crime… we have an epidemic of mental illness in the united states and funds are getting cut left and right. we are still in the dark ages here when it comes to helping and providing resources for the mentally ill. Just look at our homeless population – many of whom are also mentally ill and not getting the help they need. We have far too much money here to NOT be helping these individuals. Once again, the key here is those with a HISTORY, not just those using it as a quick out for committing a heinous crime.
    thanks for a great show!

    michelle kline
    S N A P d e s i g n

  44. January 24, 2008 at 18:23


    Recently in Ireland there has been a case of a Psychiatrist who killed her own daughter and was found not guilty of murder due to insanity. Currently she is being treated in the Central Mental Hospital. Since 2006 and the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act in Ireland, people can be acquited of murder by reason of insanity. However this has to be proven.


    Kieran, Ireland

  45. January 24, 2008 at 18:24

    Regardless of whether or not a person who kills was mentally ill at the time, society has a right to be protected from further violence from that person.

    Steven T. Ling, CPA, MBA

    Canton, OH, USA

  46. 46 Eric In Oakland California
    January 24, 2008 at 18:24

    In California we used to have a legal concept of “diminished capacity”, which tried to allow for the temporary state where someone does not have the ability to understand their crime. It was eliminated after Dan White successfully used this defense to escape a murder conviction for the killing of San Francisco Mayor Dan White and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Diminished capacity became known as the “Twinkie Defense” because of White’s claim that sugary snacks contributed to his diminished capacity. It was replaced with something more difficult to prove, “diminished actuality”, and the definitions of malice and premeditation were changed to make an “insanity” defense harder to prove.

    I feel that there are definite cases where people commit crimes due to mental illness that they would never commit if they were not ill. These cases must be accounted for in a fair legal system, but we also need to prevent abuses like Dan White’s that allow actual criminals to escape full punishment.

  47. 47 George
    January 24, 2008 at 18:24

    This man knew what he was doing-

    getting back at his wife by trying to kill his children and himself.


    Sure, but he knew what he was doing.

    A crime of passion.



    Insanity is used- a few years in an institution- and back into society.


    In a tiny southern Mexico Mayan village 30 years ago I heard this story of the village:

    A man came in to find his wife with someone and killed them.

    The local Guardia immediately took him out and shot him against a wall.

    Illegal? Probably,

    but all this was tidied up in the time it took them to grab him and march him to the wall.


    Maybe the only real justice in crimes of passion is when

    guilt is clear and justice immediate.

  48. January 24, 2008 at 18:24

    The funny thing about this, is even if the person is convicted of murder in Europe, how much jail will they actually serve? Not long ago, you had a show about a woman in the Red Army Faction who was released after serving 25 years for 5 murders she committed in the 1970s-1980s. She was completely unrepentent, and one of the people she murdered, she shot point blank, in the head, while he was already incapacitated from being shot previously. 5 murders, only 25 years served..


  49. January 24, 2008 at 18:25

    I think that if an insane man kills another person the only matter that should be discussed is where they will spend the rest of there life, in a prison or a mental ward.


    Michael Kline

  50. January 24, 2008 at 18:25

    Aren’t all people that commit murder a bit insane, albeit some may be temporary? People don’t act sane when committing murder. If I were to commit suicide, I would not be thinking normally, thus temporarily insane.

    Insanity is a poor excuse. Punish murderers. Consider why they murdered when administering the punishment.

    With that said, if someone murders in self defense (defence), that is a different case all together.


    Corvallis, OR, USA

  51. January 24, 2008 at 18:26

    I can honestly say I have never been so conflicted by any topic as I am by today’s program. I do feel that if someone kills in the name of religion, that the killers incarceration and rehabilitation should be paid for by the Church and not at the expense of taxpayers.

    Ken in Cleveland

  52. January 24, 2008 at 18:27

    Naturally, for this Hamas-manufactured crisis, I knew the manipulative mainstream media would jump to point the finger at Israel. Never mind resumption of Israeli shipments of industrial diesel fuel and humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip resumed today; the intensive news coverage of dismisses the terrorist group of Hamas of any responsibility for hardships & continue to ignore similar statements from Arabs themselves

    For instance, if the Gazan European hospital is low on fuel, that is the fault of Hamas, charged the Palestinian health ministry last month.

    The readiness of Western journalists to assign blame to Israel for Gaza’s hardships while ignoring information to the contrary – even from Arab sources – is not new. Last November, for example, the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger blamed Israel for a recurrence of the Gaza sewage disaster and ignored Palestinian evidence which pointed to Palestinian culpability. Whether the subject be human waste or fresh pita, it’s unconscionable that journalists allow Hamas spin to muffle opposing Arab voices.

    Joshua E. Corey
    New York, NY

  53. 53 Jeff
    January 24, 2008 at 18:29

    What is more important than whether or not justice, punishment, revenge, or any sort of retaliation toward the mentally ill is appropriate or not is the example that is made of the accused to society. I feel that the example we are currently setting is that if you plead insanity, you can get away with murder. I hope we can find a way to begin setting severe examples to society that clearly displays that pleading insanity in no way means that you can “get away with murder,” while still being merciful to the mentally afflicted.


  54. 54 Casandra in the USA
    January 24, 2008 at 18:32

    Insanity is not an excuse for murder but merely another circumstance. A person who commits murder under the influence of intermittent insanity is just as dangerous as a person who commits premeditated murder. Society should be protected from both.

  55. 55 nikkoli
    January 24, 2008 at 18:33

    I think insanity is a great excuse for murder. Now HENRY VIII can be remembered as udderly insane instead of just another adulterer.

    Nikkoli in Portland

  56. 56 Sean
    January 24, 2008 at 18:35

    No, insanity is no excuse for murder. It may be a factor in explaining why the act happened, but it doesn’t excuse it. The offender must still be removed from society in order to protect others from being harmed. Mental illness should be a factor during the sentencing process, and proper treatment should of course be administered. If an individual’s free will is so hindered so as not to understand the difference between right and wrong, then the individual should still face lengthy hospitalization and treatment.

    What is the standard for determining that mentally ill offenders no longer present a threat to others? If insanity is used as a defense, that doesn’t excuse that the act was committed. How then can those who suffer from mental illness be reintegrated safely into society?

    Furthermore, it seems this is a complicated social health issue. Mental illness going so untreated is terrible. The revolving door of psychiatric hospitals leaves these individuals to cope with their illness on their own much of the time. How then can we ensure that they are treated before they harm somebody?

    Sean- Oregon, USA

  57. January 24, 2008 at 18:40

    Even if your guest were right that justice is about revenge, what would he say to the family of the woman he killed? I mean, her life is over because of his actions, her loved ones will never see her again, and he’s here, free, talking on the radio now while she’s dead and buried.
    Isn’t some revenge justified? I mean, after all you ended someone’s life, sitting in jail for a while is the least you could have done.


  58. January 24, 2008 at 18:41

    Insanity is a relevant defense. Take for instance people who harm themselves. A recent example; a man who cut off this hand and microwaved it claiming he saw the mark of the devil. So to those skeptics who don’t believe in the insanity defense I ask. Why is it believable to be insane and harm oneself but not others.

    Noah Yeshey
    Portland OR, USA

  59. 59 Kristina Smith
    January 24, 2008 at 18:41

    Talking about the US as a role model for mentally ill is the worst blasfemy I have ever heard! The US is one of the few countries that executes mentally ill if they have committed a capital offense.

  60. January 24, 2008 at 18:41

    I believe any murder committed by someone is done when they are not in their right mind. These criminals could be not in their right mind by the way they have lived there lives up to the moment they commit the murder. They could be drunken with anger, hate, or mentally ill. No matter what the reason, murderers are not sane and need help from society.

  61. 61 Jeff
    January 24, 2008 at 18:42

    if by ansanity you mean that one is not in touch with reality, the reality of right and wrong can be lost, and not every mentally ill person is aware that their brain is misleading them. Don’t forget that the brain will encourage any behavior it sees as correct.

  62. January 24, 2008 at 18:45

    John’s description of murder while mentally impaired sounds very similar to descriptions of those who kill in a rage. They “snap” so to speak, and spend the rest of their lives regretting it. Should they then be released once they show adequate remorse for their choice?

    Jennifer in the USA

  63. January 24, 2008 at 18:46

    The US is full of hypocrisy:
    How can they condemn a man for throwing a child off a balcony, but willingly allow thousands of children to die in the streets each year due to denied access to healthcare?

    Isn’t also murder to let someone die unnecessarily just because they don’t have enough money for insurance?

    -Bart Critser
    Davis, California

  64. January 24, 2008 at 18:46

    I believe that if you murder someone, insane or not, you should spend the rest of your life in prison. However, if you are found to be insane, I believe that the nature of the incarceration should be different than if you are not. I don’t believe in the death penalty in either case.

    Kim Olson

  65. January 24, 2008 at 18:47

    This is an amazing discussion, I am glad you’re hosting it.
    Tom D Ford

  66. 66 Kurt
    January 24, 2008 at 18:48

    The Lady in the US needs to remember those Postal Workers who ‘snapped’. One may also look at the number women with postpartum depression who have killed there children. Alot of thm after cannot believe they had done it. Mentally they are not right but should be treated for illness. A mental instituion is still a form of punishment. If a person is sent to jail who is mentally ill they may still be released on the basis that they have served there sentence. I person in a mental institution may not be released until they are better,

  67. January 24, 2008 at 18:48

    To say that here in the USA one can merely ask for mental health assistance and it shall be granted is entirely false. I am very involved with the mental health community here because of my very ill brother – had we not been there with time and money to advocate for him he would surely be dead. Only those with fincancial means are able to navigate the LACKING system we have here in the states. One need to look no further than the Va TEch murder to illustarte this point. Someone who is able to commit such horrible crimes is not stable to begin with – however, what if someone were to threaten someone you loved? Would you not “snap” and do whatever it took to protect them??
    Laura – Cleveland

  68. January 24, 2008 at 18:49

    Of course someone who murders is insane in some way. Religion is the reason this isn’t accepted, because religion teaches that some people are just bad and don’t follow the rules. Just because you accept that people may not be “Evil” doesn’t mean you forgive them or think their behavior is acceptable or that you don’t have to lock them up.

    The core of this relates to FREE WILL. Religion teaches that people have Free Will, when in reality they don’t. It is complex mechanism that people do what they do and they don’t do things for arbitrary reasons.

    Scott Millar

  69. 69 Thomas
    January 24, 2008 at 18:50

    I’m an attorney and have both defended and prosecuted crimes in which there were issues of accountability due to mental condition. Further, I have been both the victim and cause of harm due to mental issues (and as a result no longer practice law). Allow me a few observations.

    First, there are few absolutes, especially in this area of the law: every case is different. The differences are as varied as are people. Similarly, there can be few absolute rules. Any rule that focuses soley upon the result of a action (such as that suggested by one caller – a rule that requires life in prison for any killing regardless of mental capacity) ignores the individual circumstances of the alleged crime. Is a man who kills someone while driving drunk as culpable as one who passes out behind the wheel because of undiagnosed diabetes? Few would suggest that they are. Mental capacity is the simply one of many facts to be considered by an appropriate court. It is not a matter of “letting someone get away” with a crime. Rather, it is a matter of determining an appropriate result. It has been my experience, particularly with events reported in the media, that seldom know enough about the case to discuss it intelligently.

  70. January 24, 2008 at 18:50

    What needs to be assessed in the case of murder is how the killer inherently values life. The value of human life is often considered a self-evident entity, but in reality each person develops their own individual degree of value for human life.

    There are four basic categories:

    1 – no life is valuable (save the bounty for the assassin)

    2 – One values only one’s own life and other’s lives are expendable (in the case of narcissistic psychopathic condition, or US government and military

    3 – Some life is valuable (leaving the question of defining where to draw the line)

    4 – All life is valuable

    If it can be determined that a murderer doesn’t value human life, whether or not that is wrong or due to illness is irrelevant, that person will always pose a danger to society and should be dealt with accordingly. The death penalty, however, is a barbaric and archaic solution that should be abolished.

    -Bart Critser
    Davis, California

  71. January 24, 2008 at 18:50

    Your caller stated that people who are mentally ill should be EXPECTED TO SEEK OUT TREATMENT. This misses the point entirely. People who are TRULY insane cannot make such decisions.

    Additionally, there are social stigmas and legal issues with declaring insanity. We lose our rights the instant we check ourselves into an institution, and people forever doubt our ability to parent, work, and move about our daily lives.

    Teri Engelmann
    Cleveland Heights, OH
    Listening on WCPN

  72. 72 F. Jorgensen
    January 24, 2008 at 18:51

    Psychotic, mentally ill people also suffer from anosognosia (without disease knowledge). In other words, they are literally unaware of their disease and are usually upset and angry when outsiders try to treat them for an illness they honestly believe they do not have.

    These people, when driven to kill because of the orders they receive from the voices in their heads, just as often are instructed to commit suicide as to murder someone else. They are terribly hard to treat because they refuse to stay on medication for the disease they do not believe they have. They often are in jail for their actions where they are very unlikely to have access to any counciling for their clinical disorder.

    And, when more lucid, usually remember very little of what transpired during their psychotic episode. That said, claiming mental illness for a murder would be unusual if the perpitrator were truly mentally ill (anosognosia, remember?). If the mental illness were previously known, the act could be a result of the illness. If not, There would be reason to question it.

  73. 73 Jeffrey wyndham
    January 24, 2008 at 18:58

    Loss of control in throes of anger, rage, frustration, humiliation, or other negative stimulus should not be viewed as legal ‘insanity’. The whole point of imposing the penalty of law is to cause us all to control our impulses. The man who loses his temper – even to the point that any bystader would call ‘madness’ – and kills is not ‘sick’ in any clinical or legal sense. He is weak of character. Those who are weak in self-control and rational behavior often become criminals. Their emotional condition is not a part of the legal equation.

    There are mental and neurological diseases, such as scizopphrenia, bi-polar disorder, etc that I think should cause a legal diminishment of responsibilty. However these are plainly distinguished from the momentary loss of control in a person without any such syndrome.

  74. 74 Robert
    January 24, 2008 at 19:16

    In Fiji we have just had a case of a women who threw her two young children into a river. They died. She was clearly insane at the moment of her wilful action. She can not be punished as a murderer.


  75. January 24, 2008 at 19:16

    In some instances, what would constitute murder really isn’t that bad, and it only depends on the definition of the term. Example, Jack Kevorkian was convicted of murder for administering lethal doses of drugs to a patient to end that patient’s suffering. But since he intended on ending that person’s life, despite the good intentions, he committed murder. “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” However, if that took place in the netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, it wouldn’t have been considered an “unlawful killing” because doctors are allowed to end people’s lives, and thus the elements of murder will not have been satisfied. Same exact act, but different results in different locations.


  76. January 24, 2008 at 19:17

    Not instead of, but in addition to, normal judicial review.

    wil ferguson
    traverse city, michigan, usa

  77. January 24, 2008 at 19:17

    Ros, I stand corrected, thanks to the patrticipants for sharing their stories and opinions.

    Tom D Ford
    Bend, OR

  78. January 24, 2008 at 19:18

    alright, one more “stab” at this.

    IN the US it is not only possible, it happens. A guy rapes and kills your mother. the killer gets sent so a hospital on an insanity plea. Then that same year, your state passes a bill to increase your property tax by .1 percent to pay for funding of mental health services. You happen to be a property holder. You are now paying for the meals and treatment of the guy who killed and raped your mother. Tell me where the justice is in that?

    PS Andrea Yates who bludgeoned and drowned her children is free to have more children if she wants. She was insane, but she is better now.

  79. January 24, 2008 at 19:18

    Your guest kind of made me laugh when he said that Egypt “administered”
    gaza from 1948-1967, and then the occupation began in 1967. Sorry sir, but Egypt occupied Gaza, it didn’t administer it. Egypt took the land from the Palestinians, didn’t give them independence, and didn’t want the land back in the 1979 peace treaty. But for the actions of the arab states in 1948, there would be a 60 year old Palestinian state today.
    Instead, they attacked Israel, and occupied the territories themselves until Israel won it from them.


  80. January 24, 2008 at 19:18

    As long as the countries in the middle east follow pressure from the US they will continue to be puppets of the Bush and future administrations. Egypt stands to profit from an open border and economic growth would help Gaza. If the people can get their lives financially stable then they have no need to support militants, who will be cast out once they have nothing to offer.

    Hamas is not helping Gaza, but neither is anyone else, and as long as no one is helping, the people will be willing to turn to extreme measures.

    The US needs to mind its own business and stop supporting the failed idea that is Israel. If they haven’t managed to make peace after this long, then it should be clear that they have no intentions of peace and no respect for their neighboring countries.

    Bart Critser
    Davis, California

  81. 81 steve
    January 24, 2008 at 19:28

    Bart, “failed Idea that is Israel”??? They seem to be doing a lot better than the arab nations. Because you don’t like Israel doesn’t change the reality. Grow up you whining crybabies. The arabs couldn’t defeat Israel on the battlefield, and your incessant whining about how horrible the Israelis are will not accomplish anything. Get the jihadis to end your dream of destroying israel, and there will be peace. Understand?

  82. 82 Thomas Murray
    January 24, 2008 at 22:06

    Hey Buds,

    In the U.S. the current controversy is whether or not it’s constitutional to execute persons with low I.Q.’s. The courts are still working on that one.

    U.S. courts regard insanity as an illness — the sufferer no more able to dodge the affliction than he could the flu — but a “not guilty by reason of insanity” still involves some stiff psychiatric regimen in an institution. John Hinckley, Pres. Ronald Reagan’s would be assassin in 1981 (in which he also severely wounded Reagan’s press secretary James Brady), was found “not guilty” by reason of insanity. A few years ago, he won supervized release from his hospital, though I don’t know what his status is now.

    The question of the constitutionality of execution in the U.S. was recently brought to the Supreme Court by 2 Kentucky prisoners who argue that the death penalty violates the “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibition in Amendment VIII of the Constitution. The tone of the Justices’ questions tends to indicate that they’ll probably render judgement against the prisoners, and reaffirm the death penalty.

    As to whether the U.S. should keep the death penalty, I would argue that the death penalty has NO PLACE in any civilized society. But the United States is NOT a civilized society. The United States is many civilized societies — not all of them agreeing as to what constitutes acceptable civilized behavior. So if the law, and its punishments, mean anything to us, it imposes consistency. Without it, we would fly all apart.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I understand there are a number of criterions determining insanity, as well as a number of gradations involving culpability. For example, a case in which a person kills another in a fit of passion is argued as “temporary insanity,” and, if guilty, the defendant will expect prison time, but not for life. On the other hand, an aggravated murder, one involving premeditation and/or extreme acts of depravity, will often be tried as a “death qualfied” case in most states.

    But the insanity defense? Most lawyers I know here are dead against throwing it out. It sometimes makes for strange justice, but given the effort U.S. law strives to stay aligned with the European model of law, it is what it is.

    Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

  83. 83 Waleed
    January 24, 2008 at 22:13

    Yes insanity is an excuse for murder and this guy knew what he was doing. A mother lost hr boy and the result is a broken family. These cases does make you think when and where would justice takes place? in the day of judgement!

  84. 84 George
    January 24, 2008 at 22:33


    Saudi leads this administration by a nose ring, even though we have mutual interest, recently the Bush administration is more puppet than puppeteer.

    Hamaz is not only not helping Gaza, it exists for one reason, to destroy Israel.
    Hamaz wants the people of Gaza to suffer as much as possible to that end.
    While Hamaz hates Israel, they are enemies of the people of Gaza in the truest since.

    Israel has acted with vigor when attacked to survive and done so successfully.
    What a bizarre notion to claim a nation attacked again and again is at fault for not making peace, and even more bizarre to then conclude they have no intentions of making peace.
    They have been attacked, and defended themselves, not the other way around.

    If you wish to find fault, look to the sources of the attacks.

  85. January 24, 2008 at 22:50

    Unless it is extremely serious, Insanity should NEVER be used as an excuse for murder.

  86. 86 Emile Barre
    January 24, 2008 at 22:56

    On a mad planet, insanity is a relative not absolute term.

  87. 87 Joe
    January 24, 2008 at 23:07

    When the Tao is out of the universe, there is goodness
    When goodness is gone, there is kindness
    When kindness is gone, there is mercy
    When mercy is gone, there is justice

    Where are we?


  88. January 24, 2008 at 23:44

    I find it really surprising that so many people feel so incredibly strong about this gentleman “getting what he deserves”. Mental illness alters a person’s reality and regardless of whether it is temporary or not, a person is still not capable of making completely logical decisions either because they do not realize that what they are doing is wrong, the person does not know what he or she is doing, or because they feel that they are being compelled to do it by a irresistible force. The crime is not intentional and thus should not be treated as such.

    I hardly think that being found clinically insane is a light sentence. When a person is found to be clinically insane or to have experienced situational insanity they are not simply going to be released, they have to go through intense psychiatric evaluation that isn’t pleasant. Since this man committed murder the stipulations that he is going to be under are going to be life-long. Medication possibly seclusion.

    It would seem to me also beneficial to ponder the question of what did this man have to gain from all this? Let’s say we do not believe in temporary insanity… I could see killing the kids so that he would be able to run away start a new life…ect. But attempting to end his life, what is he to gain from that??

  89. 90 Alma Cristina
    January 25, 2008 at 09:32

    Insanity is not an excuse for any crime. Punishment is not the answer either. But then again, I find that our definitions for many terms are sadly wanting. ANY serious crime bespeaks a certain level of mental derangement, abnormal thinking and behavior. Is a fully sane person capable of murdering any one, let alone his own child? Sane societies have always placed or viewed ‘crimes of passion’ in a separate category. Jealousy, fear, anger, extreme stress can render us momentarily incapable of sane or valid judgement, true. But crimes of passion remain crimes and the mental state sourcing them remains NOT an acceptable rationale for murder! In Spain and Latin countries, for example, people guilty of crimes of passion are likely to receive lighter sentences, but the deed remains a crime and the doer does not get off scotfree. Conversely, people guilty of serious crimes are put in prison to protect society, right! and as punishment–the aim or purpose of which I fail to understand since it often creates hardened criminals. It would serve society far better IF we had institutions aiming to heal the trauma, hurts, injuries that lead to antisocial behavior in the first place. Not punishment but healing is what is needed, personal and social. For the same reasons, Peace has already failed when war is declared. Healing has failed when the criminal goes to prison. We are unwilling to acknowledge these as failures because we are at a loss to deal with prevention or cure. The purpose and aim of the social entity is not the healing or well being of its individual members but of itself. Law aims to prevent chaos, keep society functional, and its members relatively safe–in that order of priorities. However, the larger a given population, the more difficult it is to keep the social organism functional and ensure the safety of its members. So…, welcome to 21st century run-away population and devolving social chaos!

  90. 91 David by email
    January 25, 2008 at 10:57

    when listening to your programme last night of worldhaveyoursay, i found that a brains insanity level when commiting a murder to be an excuse used by lawyers, mental doctors and their client in order to win a case..i have seen such an excuse used to escape charges put to a convict especially if he or she is a celebrity,american celebrities in particular.

    david in uthiru,kenya

  91. 92 rosatkins
    January 25, 2008 at 12:43

    From Lee Roy Sanders
    No insanity is not a excuse for murder but it can be a reason. Insanity can engulf a group or even the majority of a nation. It is wrong for a human being to kill another human being unless there is no other recourse to save ones life.

  92. 93 Donner from California
    January 25, 2008 at 16:05

    (Ben here from the WHYS team: Donner from California was on the programme. She talked about her aspergers and schizophrenic son who killed himself because he was worried he would harm somebody. I asked her to write down her thoughts afterwards. I’ve copied them below)

    The chap in Greece might have gotten off because he came from a good social background and was able to manipulate the system from outside, using money, social experience and so on. John the jailhouse lawyer, the axe-murderer, did not have the benefit of such riches and so was incarcerated. We have emailed each other more than once since last night and it sounds as if he might be his own worst enemy…and yet how is it that I spent 40 minutes on the phone last night with a BBC presenter, an attorney, the relative of the victim of a violent crime and an axe-murderer, and I feel the most empathy for the latter?

    Perhaps because if my son had not had the so-called benefit of a wealthy life-style, he might not have decided to take his own life when he realized he could no longer control himself. He could have easily been as deprived as John the jailhouse lawyer and sucked some poor innocent into his own madness, instead of—despite his emotional disconnect because of autism and his mental disconnect because of schizophrenia—taking his own life in order to do no harm to others.

    Don’t try to codify mental illness, we are not yet civilized enough to do that. Remove violent people to where they can cause no harm—as my son removed himself by taking his own life—but don’t call it law and don’t call it justice, at least not yet.

    All the best, Donner from California

  93. 94 jus' passin' thru'
    January 27, 2008 at 02:01

    John Hirst (Jailhouse lawyer) is nothing more than a con artist who has manipulated the system to obtain release from prison.

    He claimed to be suffering from diminished responsibility at the time that he struck an elderly defenceless lady seven times in the head with an axe.

    At no time has he expressed any remorse or shown any repentance for his foul deed.

    He even complains that the 25 years that he served were excessive.

    Kindly spare a thought for his victims, the remaining family of the axed lady.

    The psychobabble in many of the previous postings confirms to me that society is more interested in the feelings of the offender than those of the victim.

    How would YOU feel if YOUR Mother had been his victim?

    Shame on you for giving that creep a moment of your time.

  94. 95 Dennis in the U.S.A.
    May 21, 2008 at 05:19


    Dennis~Madrid, U.S.A.

  95. November 12, 2008 at 02:50

    The only good argument ever put forth for the rights of the mentally ill in these so-called cases is this one: they should receive an abstention from the death penalty and be placed in a different type of jail or institution for life.

    Since psychopathy and sociopathy are technically mental illnesses, if a lawyer can use psychosis as an excuse then logically the two others can be used as excuses. I do not care if they study it. They cannot guarantee in psychiatry or psychology that they will not reoffend. It is guesswork at best. No lawyer, judge or psychiatric panel can guarantee a person will not reoffend. Considering the brutal nature of the crime, it doesn’t make sense to take the risk.

    Society and the rights of potential victims as well as the rights of the victims and his family do not seem to matter here. It is all about perpetrator rights, as if that is more important a cause than anything. It doesn’t surprise me that here in ‘bleeding-heart leftist’ Canada that human rights activists waste their time on this, demanding the release of these people.

    De-institutionalization is a failure. These people live on the streets eating garbage and stealing, selling drugs and getting into prostitution. Mental illness in severe, untreated form is not compatible with the social mainstream. They suffer on the streets. De-institutionalization is a failure. It has subjected them to drug addiction, poverty, street life, discrimination, crime, assault, harassment, death from overdose, exposure, malnutrition and HIV. In an institution, none of this happened.

    Social work teachers at the local college used to claim there was massive neglect, addiction and abuse in the system. To this date, they have never produced one shred of evidence to support this claim and only one ever worked in a mental hospital and witnessed the effects of de-institutionalization himself and yet justifies it based on political ideology and sympathy, two things that should have nothing to do with the legal system or social services. At this point, I favour handing social services over to independent agencies, community-based organizations and non-profit charities instead of large, left-wing socialist ‘human rights’ people.

    There is a connection between severe untreated psychosis and crime. It could be connected to this type of crime. Insanity is hard to define at best. So is psychosis. Better to put them in jail or institutionalization them permanently. Special-interest human rights causes for these people are a failure except for the prevention of crimes against these people or efforts to secure treatment and care for them. It has gone far beyond that.

    Perhaps some of these people should be made to take a tour of Vancouver’s East Side, various jails and institutions. They need to meet with psychiatrists, crime experts, lawmakers and members of the media. And then perhaps they will come to realize that they are in error and do not know anything about law, criminology, correctional facilities and psychology.

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