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There is No True Justice in the Colorado Shooting Case

In a rare display of common sense and insight, Fox’s Megyn Kelly clearly offered some facts and questioned misperceptions about mental illness as it applies to heinous acts like the killings in Colorado. Over the weekend she repeatedly asked two legal analysts about whether the killer was mentally ill and whether the killer could fake mental illness in order to set up an insanity plea at his trial or as a way to lessen punishment during the penalty phase, providing he is convicted (Remember, despite the overwhelming evidence, he is innocent until proven guilty.). Both guests were steadfast in saying he is definitely not mentally ill and an insanity defense was pure poppycock.

A woman waves her arms in a strait-jacket while in an urban square.

True madness is rarely clear or obvious (Photo: Dima Bushkov / Flickr)

It is hard to believe, and virtually unheard of, that people who kill in such numbers are not mentally ill to some degree. People, even mentally ills ones, don’t usually commit mass murder for the thrill or “fun” of it. Something drives them to it like the terrible demons in an ill wretch’s mind.

The short answer to the, “could it be a fake” question is yes. Clearly the gunman is very intelligent, the act carefully planned, and he had some expectation of his survival. The guests believed that since there appeared to be rationality to the planning and execution of the shootings the shooter must unquestionably be faking insanity. There is no such sureness in cases like this.

The Appearance of Rationality Not the Same as Being Rational

My grandmother and mother were both schizophrenic and my sister is bipolar. I’ve had years of up close and personal experience with the severely mentally ill and the doctors who treat them. The first thing I can tell you is the appearance of rationality is not the same as being rational.

Despite the widely held notion that mental illness is a simple off/on switch – you are either psychotic or sane – nothing could be further from the truth. Street corner screechers notwithstanding, many severely mentally ill victims are not always continuously psychotic. It is not unusual for them to slip in and out of psychotic periods.

Even in the grip of full psychotic episodes, they may appear perfectly rational depending on how that plays with their delusions and self-protective needs. This is one thing that makes it so difficult to get them help or successfully complete therapy.

I watched my own mother testify at a commitment hearing and she sounded perfectly rational, down to the anger you’d expect from an “innocent” person being locked up. Even after years of exposure to her psychosis it was difficult for me not to question her “real” state. Had it not been for family and expert medical testimony, along with a judge personally familiar with mental illness, she probably would have walked without even a temporary hold. She was that convincing.

Psychotic patients, particularly schizophrenics, are famous for creatively palming medicines and fooling mental health professionals and family they are ready for release. In fact, it is one of the characteristics of the disease. They are equally self-protective and creative liars in other ways that benefit them. I watched my grandmother do this almost her entire life. My mother was in and out of hospitals nearly a dozen times by the time I was a teenager for similar reasons.

There is a reason the mentally ill are so damnably difficult to diagnose and treat – trying to deal with the irrational in a rational way using rational rules and logic is nearly impossible. The complexities of psychosis often cause those exposed to it to question their own sanity or for professionals to make spot on diagnoses very difficult.

For medically untrained lawyers to so self-assuredly confirm sane fakery is impossible with the scant evidence we have and both dangerous and disingenuous with respect to the legal process. However, their gross misunderstanding of the mentally ill is far from rare.

With the wealth of trial evidence, his lawyers will almost undoubtedly offer an insanity defense. They have few other choices. In fact, they may even offer a guilty plea straightaway and concentrate on what they can do in the penalty phase.

No Immuity From Prosecution or Penalty

The bottom line is this is a tragedy no matter the reason. More than likely it has nothing to do with gun control, gaming, TV watching, a bad upbringing, or any number of other reasons a person may act out. It is probably the work of a sick or unnaturally clever man who would have committed the crime regardless of how difficult it can be made.

But even an ill person should not be immune from prosecution or penalty and I know of no one who would suggest that. The question is what mitigating factors about his condition should a jury consider? Should he get some long period of treatment, either in a medical facility or prison, with an eye toward parole far down the road? Or possibly a life sentence coupled with some kind of treatment. Or, does he deserve a capital decision that does not take his mental illness into account at all?

Despite the hurried and scattered public outcry and the seemingly open and shut nature of the case, it will be impossible for justice to ever balance. Families will suffer mightily no matter the outcome. Society will suffer because of the enormity of the crime and the various backlashes that will follow. And finally, the perpetrator will receive stiff retribution for an act he may have had little or no control over.

No one will win the verdict in this case and there is no use pretending, like Fox’s legal analysts, otherwise.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture & humor

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