March 15, 2008

Insanity: Murder, Madness, and the Law

From the internationally known forensic psychologist/attorney who co-authored the excellent case-study book "Minds on Trial" comes a scintillating new case-study book, described by one reviewer as "a mesmerizing compilation of the most notorious cases in which mental illness has been claimed to trump personal responsibility."

Here's the front flap of Charles Patrick Ewing's Insanity: Murder, Madness, and the Law:

The insanity defense is one of the oldest fixtures of the Anglo-American legal tradition. Though it is available to people charged with virtually any crime, and is often employed without controversy, homicide defendants who raise the insanity defense are often viewed by the public and even the legal system as trying to get away with murder. Often it seems that the legal result of an insanity defense is unpredictable, and is determined not by the defendant’s mental state, but by their lawyer’s and psychologist’s influence.

From the thousands of murder cases in which defendants have claimed insanity, Dr. Ewing has chosen ten of the most influential and widely varied. Some were successful in their insanity plea, while others were rejected. Some of the defendants remain household names years after the fact, like Jack Ruby, while others were never nationally publicized. Regardless of the circumstances, each case considered here was extremely controversial, hotly contested, and relied heavily on lengthy testimony by expert psychologists and psychiatrists. Several of them played a major role in shaping the criminal justice system as we know it today.

In this book, Ewing skillfully conveys the psychological and legal drama of each case, while providing important and fresh professional insights. For the legal or psychological professional, as well as the interested reader, Insanity will take you into the minds of some of the most incomprehensible murderers of our age.

The cases:

  • Jacob Rubenstein (aka Jack Ruby) of JFK fame
  • David “Son of Sam”Berkowitz
  • Andrea Yates, the Texas mom who drowned her five kids in the bathtub
  • Scott Panetti, the Texan whose competency-to-be-executed case I've blogged about (here and here)
  • John Wayne Gacy, serial killer of 30 or more boys and young men
  • Andrew Goldstein, who shoved a stranger in front of a New York City subway
  • Robert Torsney, a New York City police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager
  • Eric Michael Clark, a teenager who shot and killed a police officer during a traffic stop
  • Arthur Shawcross, who raped and strangled at least 11 women in upstate New York
  • Eric Smith, a 13-year-old who fatally beat a 4-year-old boy
In the mood for a little light bedtime reading?

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