"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lawyers debate sanity defence in Colorado movie theatre massacre trial

James E. Holmes
Harrowing accounts from survivors have dominated the 1st week of Colorado's cinema massacre trial, and, amid the tears, a much more detailed picture of gunman James Holmes has emerged.

A judge sealed much of the key evidence in the mass-shooting case but both the defence and prosecutors sought to fill in the gaps regarding Holmes' character.

Holmes' public defenders and the prosecutors seeking the death penalty for the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student painted starkly different pictures of the accused in the Arapahoe County District Court located in Denver.

Attorneys presented previously unreleased entries from a notebook Holmes' sent his psychiatrist, as well as videos of the southern California native undergoing sanity exams, and reportedly trying to injure himself in his jail cell.

In his opening statement, Arapahoe County District attorney George Brauchler depicted Holmes as a craven killer of superior intellect who planned and carried out the massacre because of his "longstanding hatred of mankind".

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of 1st-degree murder and attempted murder after killing 12 people and wounding 70 at a midnight screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises in Denver on July 20, 2012.

In court, Mr Brauchler revealed 2 court-appointed forensic psychiatrists deemed that Holmes was sane at the time.

In 1 video shown to jurors, Holmes told a psychiatrist the wounded victims were "collateral damage".

"I only count the fatalities," he said.

Mr Brauchler also disclosed that when Holmes dyed his hair red, it had nothing to do with the bizarre appearance of the Joker, a reference to the Batman films.

Holmes coloured his hair and bought black contact lenses to make himself stand out, the prosecutor said.

And he posted selfies of his new appearance on adult dating sites.

Mr Brauchler also divulged Holmes had a girlfriend, the "1st love of his life" and his "1st sexual experience", but said they split up a few weeks before the rampage.

"I don't see a future with you," she wrote in an online chat with the defendant, which the prosecutor read to the court.

Mr Brauchler also read mundane emails Holmes sent to his parents, discussing everyday topics, including the weather, a funny movie and opening a savings account all while steadily amassing an arsenal of firearms, ammunition and bomb-making materials.

'Nobody noticed. Why? Because he was getting straight As'

Defence lawyers laid out their diagnosis for why he launched the attack.

Attorney Daniel King said both the defendants' grandfathers and an aunt suffered from serious mental illness, and as an 11-year-old Holmes tried to take his own life.

"Nobody noticed," Mr King said.

"Why? Because he was getting straight As."

The public defender showed his own videos, including one of a naked Holmes running headlong into his jail cell wall, and another of him standing on his bed before toppling back and slamming his head on the floor.

"It sounded like Mr Brauchler was suggesting that Mr Holmes might have done this for notoriety," Mr King told jurors.

"Look at the video, and you tell me if you would do this for notoriety."

Mr King said Holmes thought the killings would somehow boost his self-worth, or "human capital".

"He still believes this stuff today, despite the fact that he's been medicated for over 2 years," Mr King said.

The attorney rejected the state's argument the defendant's detailed preparations proved he was sane.

"That's the crucible of insanity, not planning," Mr King said.

Holmes was expressionless in court, wearing a pale blue shirt and glasses, and tethered to the floor beneath his attorneys' desk.

Gesturing at his client, Mr King told jurors Holmes' "aloof or distracted" demeanour was caused by the drugs he was given, which Mr King said treated but did not cure his schizophrenia.

Holmes suffers delusions to this day, Mr King said.

"He thought President Obama was communicating with him through the television," he said.

After his arrest, Holmes was moved to a "rubber room", the public defender added, where he was observed eating lunch meat between 2 flattened plastic foam cups, licking walls, sucking his thumb, and often "crying and ranting".

Testimony is set to resume on Monday.

Source: ABC news, May 3, 2015 (wr)

A shocking number of mentally ill Americans end up in prison instead of treatment

The U.S. has 10 times more mentally ill in its prisons than in psychiatric hospitals.

In New York, a man with schizophrenia spent 13 years of a 15-year prison sentence in solitary confinement. In a Minnesota county jail, a man with schizophrenia stabbed out both of his eyes with a pencil in his cell. A study of 132 suicide attempts in a county jail in Washington found that 77 % of them had a "chronic psychiatric problem," compared with 15 % among the rest of the jail population.

In a country where the mentally ill are often incarcerated instead of treated, these kinds of incidents are far too common. According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, which includes the anecdotes above, American prisons and jails housed an estimated 356,268 inmates with several mental illness in 2012 - on par with the population of Anchorage, Alaska, or Trenton, New Jersey. That figure is more than 10 times the number of mentally ill patients in state psychiatric hospitals in the same year - about 35,000 people.

In a speech yesterday, Hillary Clinton urged the U.S. to reduce its prison population. "It's a stark fact that the United Stations has less than 5 percent of the world's population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world's total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows," she said.

A heart-breaking truth is that part of this increase is due to a widespread failure to treat mental illness. After public psychiatric hospitals in the early 20th century came to be criticized for inhumane and disturbing treatments, beginning in the 1950s there was a movement to deinstitutionalize mental health and treat patients in more community-based treatment centers. At their highest peak in 1955, state mental hospitals held 558,922 patients. Today, they hold about 35,000 patients, and that number continues to fall.

For various reasons, these community treatment plans proved inadequate, leaving many of the mentally ill homeless or in jail. According to the Department of Justice, about 15 % of state prisoners and 24 % of jail inmates report symptoms meet the criteria for a psychotic disorder.

In its survey of individual states, the Treatment Advocacy Center found that in 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail held more people with serious mental illness than the largest state psychiatric hospital (see map below). The only exceptions were Kansas, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. "Indeed, the Polk County Jail in Iowa, the Cook County Jail in Illinois, and the Shelby County Jail in Tennessee each have more seriously mentally ill inmates than all the remaining state psychiatric hospitals in that state combined," the report says.

Unsurprisingly, many prisons are poorly equipped to properly deal with mental illness. Inmates with mental illnesses are more likely than other to be held in solitary confinement, and many are raped, commit suicide, or hurt themselves.

The movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill began from a place of humanity, but it hasn't ended there, at least not yet. The Treatment Advocacy Center report questions how much we've really learned about treating the mentally ill in the last 200 years, pointing out that people with mental illness were routinely confined in prisons and jails from 1770 to 1820. "Because this practice was regarded as inhumane and problematic, until 1970, such persons were routinely confined in hospitals. Since 1970, we have returned to the earlier practice of routinely confining such persons in prisons and jails."

Source: Washington Post, May 3, 2015 (wr)

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