Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Insanity Defense in the News

As you begin to think about the insanity plea (interactive 3), look at these recent stories in the news:

Insanity defense difficult to prove


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

San Francisco (California)
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Lashaun Harris had been hospitalized and prescribed drugs to quiet the voices inside her head.
Still, legal and mental health experts say it will be difficult to prove the 23-year-old mother was legally insane when she dropped her three young sons to their deaths in San Francisco Bay.
California is one of about 20 states that uses the strictest legal standard for assessing a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Under the rule, criminal defendants must show not only evidence of mental illness, but that they were incapable of determining right from wrong.
"Somebody may be very clearly psychotic and have a history of behaviors that establish the person was ... delusional, but that doesn't get you to insanity the way the law looks at it," said Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
Harris, scheduled to return to court Friday, will most likely face a hearing to determine if she is mentally competent to stand trial, and psychiatrists eventually will attempt to determine whether she was insane at the time.
Harris' lawyer, Teresa Caffese, refused comment last week on whether her client would claim insanity. Harris has pleaded not guilty to three counts of capital murder.
On Wednesday evening, authorities said Harris lifted the boys over the railing of a downtown pier, dropping them one by one into the chilly 53-degree water 10 feet below. Authorities said she told investigators that voices instructed her to do so.
The body of Taronta Greeley, 2, was recovered late Wednesday night about two miles from Pier 7. The other two boys-- Treyshun Harris, 6 and Joshoa Greeley, 16 months -- remained missing Sunday and were presumed dead.
Relatives say the former nurse's assistant, who gave birth to her first child at age 16, suffers from schizophrenia that surfaced within the past two years and recently worsened when she stopped taking her medication.
Harris' history as a struggling young, single mother may have exacerbated her condition, said Shari Lusskin, director of reproductive psychiatry at New York University Medical Center.
"She is a walking risk factor," Lusskin said.
Rare defense
Legal experts say insanity defenses are used only in about 2 percent of all felony cases, and acquittals remain relatively uncommon. Mothers have had mixed success arguing they were not responsible for their actions because of mental illness.
Christina Riggs was put to death in Arkansas five years ago after an unsuccessful insanity defense for smothering her son and daughter. Riggs, who was a nurse, had injected her son with potassium chloride, a chemical used in executions.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who in 2001 methodically drowned her five children in a bathtub. Despite an insanity plea based on postpartum psychosis, she was sentenced to life in prison.
In contrast, Deanna Laney, a Texas woman who beat her two young sons to death with rocks, was acquitted by reason of insanity earlier this year.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty for Harris.
Experts say the frequency of such cases points to the need for more aggressive monitoring of mentally ill mothers. In New York, for example, mothers can be ordered by a court to undergo treatment or take drugs to control their illness.
Even making it socially acceptable for mothers to talk about the difficulties of parenting could help prevent such tragic outcomes, said Santa Clara University law professor Michelle Oberman.
"Imagine the life of a 23-year-old with three children under the age of 7, something that by definition includes a lot of struggle even if you are mentally healthy, even if you finished school, even if you are employed," said Oberman, co-author of "Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of Moms From Susan Smith to the Prom Mom."
"It's ludicrous to think that a mother who is schizophrenic can parent a child, let alone three children on her own. It's a recipe for disaster," Oberman said.

In the United States, the NGRI plea is rarely used, and when it is used it is rarely won! An exception to this happened recently in Texas...

Jury acquits man of killing professor
Student found not guilty by reason of insanity

Saturday, October 22
, 2005
University of Texas
Crime, Law and Justice
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A college student who claimed he stabbed and slashed his piano professor more than 200 times because he thought she was a robot intent on killing him has been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
Jurors reached the verdict Thursday in the case of Jackson Ngai, a former student at the University of Texas, who could be committed to mental institutions indefinitely.
"If we can keep him locked up in a mental hospital for the rest of his life, that will be justice," prosecutor Corby Holcomb said.
Ngai's attorney has said Ngai believed music professor Danielle Martin was a robot or was controlled by a computer chip in her brain and was trying to kill him. On her body was a handwritten note that said, "Computer chip in brain."
Daneen Milam, a defense expert who said Ngai was insane, said the number of wounds on Martin's head, which left a deep hole in her skull, showed he was focused on something other than just killing Martin.
"He said he was getting a computer chip out," Milam testified. "He said that's what he was going to do. When he couldn't do it, he called the police to help him."
Ngai's attorney, Jim Erickson, did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office Friday.
Ngai, 24, had checked out of a mental health treatment center less than a day before Martin was killed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Welcome to my Blog!

When I find interesting articles and information about psychology, I will share it with you on this blog! Welcome!

This is an interesting article about gorillas! These gorillas are using tools! Don't we claim that this is a distinctly human quality??

Read below:

Nut-cracking gorilla surprises scientists

Tuesday, October 18, 2005; Posted: 10:34 a.m. EDT (14:34 GMT)

A gorilla nicknamed Leah uses a stick to test the water's depth.

GOMA, Congo (AP) -- An infant gorilla in a Congo sanctuary is smashing palm nuts between two rocks to extract oil, surprising and intriguing scientists who say they have much to learn about what gorillas can do -- and about what that says about evolution.
It had been thought that the premeditated use of stones and sticks to accomplish a task like cracking nuts was restricted to humans and the smaller, more agile chimpanzees.
Then, in late September, keepers at a Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International sanctuary in this eastern Congo city saw 2 1/2-year-old female gorilla Itebero smashing palm nuts between rocks in the "hammer and anvil" technique, considered among the most complex tool use behaviors.
'Surprising finding'
"This is a surprising finding, given what we know about tool use in gorillas," Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund primatologist Patrick Mehlman said earlier this month at his Goma office.
Mehlman said that the finding indicates that complex tool use may not be a trait developed only by humans and chimpanzees, and could have its origins earlier in the evolutionary chain, among ancestors common to both humans and our closest relatives the great apes.
Gottfried Hohmann, an expert on primates at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, said Itebero's behavior "means that gorillas have a higher level of understanding of their environment than we thought."
Itebero has been living in the sanctuary for a year, ever since she was confiscated by local authorities from poachers who had been trying to sell her.
Nut-cracking was spontaneous
Mehlman said he believed Itebero, named for a place near where she was found, started cracking nuts spontaneously and had not been influenced by the time she has spent among humans.
Alecia Lilly, a primatologist in Rwanda who worked for over a decade with a colony of captive gorillas in South Carolina and has seen Itebero at work, said most learning among gorillas occurs through imitation. But Itebero, alone in her sanctuary with her keeper, had no instructor.
"Itebero is remarkably proficient at cracking nuts," Lilly said. "It takes most chimpanzees many years to reach similar levels of proficiency."
Itebero's actions led some scientists to believe that gorillas in the wild might exhibit complex tool use as well -- though no one has ever reported such behavior.
Other gorillas seen using tools
Earlier this year, researchers reported observing gorillas in the wild in the neighboring Republic of Congo's rain forests using simple tools, according to a team led by Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo.
In an e-mail message Monday from the Republic of Congo's Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Breuer said that in 10 years of observation, his team had seen only two instances of tool use among gorillas.
In one a stick was used to test the depth of a pond and in another a small tree trunk was used for support and as a bridge.
Breuer said it was difficult to compare the behaviors his team had seen in the wild with the more complex behavior exhibited by Itebero, who had had contact with humans.
But Breuer said Itebero's action "clearly shows that gorillas have the capability to use sophisticated tools even if they do not -- or rarely -- do so.
"Very often the use of tools is triggered by certain needs and it seems that gorillas have only little needs to use tools in the wild," Breuer said.
Declining gorilla population
In Goma, Mehlman said scientists have not observed gorillas in wild settings for as long as they have chimpanzees.
Breuer said more research was important, but "what we really need to do is to better protect the gorillas and chimps in Central Africa."
"Everybody is excited about such spectacular observations but we should hurry up with our efforts to guarantee them a future," Breuer added.
Scientists estimate that as few as 5,000 Grauer's gorillas, also called eastern lowland gorillas, may remain in the wild, although no comprehensive census of their population has been conducted since the end of Congo's civil war in 2002.
Conflict in Congo saw the decline of many wild species, as thousands of armed groups from Congo, Rwanda and Burundi ran amok in the forests and killed animals for food.