July 6, 2008

In the mood for some light reading?

Seduced by Madness chronicles Susan Polk case

I just finished a true crime account by journalist Carol Pogash of the Susan Polk murder trial in Contra Costa County, California. Working in that county, I followed the case closely and knew many of those involved. So I was interested to see Pogash's take. I found Seduced by Madness to be a fair and accurate account of a bizarre and mesmerizing case.

Especially riveting is Pogash's rendition of the four-month trial. As many of you may recall, Susan Polk fired attorney after attorney and ended up representing herself. On center stage, the intelligent but delusional defendant demonstrated a stunning ability to "take any set of facts and mold a story where she was both victim and hero." It is painful to read about her brutal cross-examination of two of her three sons.

It is intriguing to think about how last month's U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Illinois v. Edwards (see my posts here) might have changed the outcome of her trial. Would she have been allowed to represent herself? I doubt it. Perhaps that will be grounds for appeal of her second-degree murder conviction?

From the point of view of forensic psychology, the depictions of the expert testimony are especially interesting. First, there was the cagey forensic pathologist who disappeared in the middle of the trial when the judge insisted he produce his files. Then, there was the seasoned forensic psychologist that the defendant was a battered woman who suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. She based her testimony mainly on statements made by the prevarication-prone defendant, and did not conduct any formal psychological testing.

My lengthier Amazon review of Seduced by Madness is here.


Cathy said...

While you were following Susan Polk's case, did you also happen to follow Scott Dyleski's case? He was the teen arrested and convicted for murdering Ms. Polk's attorney, Dan Horowitz's wife.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Hi Cathy,

I followed it, but did not blog about it. Tragic case. Dan Horowitz is a friend.

Thanks for reading,