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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mass Murderers Are Evil, Not Insane

    In the summer of 2012, James Holmes' shooting rampage in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado marked the twenty-first mass murder involving six or more fatalities since Colorado's Columbine shootings in 1999. In the wake of these killing sprees, the worst being the 32 shot to death in 2007 at Virginia Tech, TV talking heads--psychiatrists, psychologists, and defense attorneys--tried to explain why someone would do such a thing. Surely a college kid like James Holmes who murdered twelve and injured 70 people in a movie theater must be insane. No person in his right mind would commit such a cruel, cold-blooded crime.

     People who called James Holmes insane were equating deviant behavior with crazy behavior. Horrible crimes that cannot be rationally explained, or understood by a normal person, are not necessarily committed by individuals who are psychotic, that is, out of touch with reality. The old law school example of psychotic, homicidal behavior is the man, who while strangling his wife, thinks he's squeezing an orange. Indeed, to be legally insane, the killer must be so mentally impaired that he's incapable of appreciating the criminal nature and quality of his actions. The popular term for this legal standard of insanity is called the right-wrong test.

     To avoid criminal culpability for a criminal homicide on the grounds of insanity, the defendant has the burden of proving (people are presumed sane), by a preponderance of the evidence, that he was so mentally ill he didn't know right from wrong. For defendants raising the insanity defense there is a problem: in reality, even in cases where the defendant at the time of his crime was suffering from some form of schizophrenia, the killer was still aware of the consequences of his act, and that it was wrong. In other words, there is no such thing as a mental sickness that produces a state of mind that meets the legal definition of mental illness. The paranoid schizophrenic who strangles his wife not only knows he is not squeezing an orange, he is aware is he killing his wife. And although the devil may have told him to do it, he knows it's wrong because the devil doesn't tell you to do good things.

     In mass murder shooting spree cases involving six or more victims, all of the killers, including James Holmes, carefully planned the attacks. Holmes had prepared for weeks before carrying out his military-style assault. This is not how seriously mentally ill people behave. James Holmes and the other killers, when they committed their mass murders, were sharply in touch with reality. They reveled in their crimes because they knew they were doing something so wrong it would shock the world. In essence, that is the motive for these atrocities, to shock and terrorize.

     James Holmes and his murderous counterparts are known as sociopaths. They are angry, sadistic, narcissists who have no empathy or feelings of guilt. While usually loners, they can be superficially charming, and are often, like James Holmes, extremely intelligent. They possess personality disorders that cannot be fixed through counseling or medication. They are probably born that way, but who knows? Because sociopaths don't walk around in baby-steps looking at the ceiling and talking to themselves, they are hard to spot. The world is full of jerks. How do you know if one is a sociopath? This is what makes these people so dangerous. Moreover, we seem to be developing into a nation of sociopaths.

     Because criminologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other helpists hate to admit there are people they can't rehabilitate, they don't buy into the notion that some people are just bad. But that's what they are, evil. And that's how the criminal justice system should deal with them. 

11 comments:

  1. I feel the utmost sympathy for all of the victims and their families of this horrible tragedy. But I also feel empathy for Holmes' parents. The hatred and contempt will be directed toward them at some point too. How would any parent feel if their son/daughter committed such a heinous crime? It must be devastating to them as well. Should they bear some of the guilt? Did they suspect something was wrong with their son, but lived in denial? If he is a true sociopath, then no amount of therapy or meds would help him. How do we know who is a sociopath and who isn't? What do we do with people like that?

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  2. Hello Mr Fisher- former CJ student of yours here- I watched with great interest Holmes' court appearance. The first word that came to my mind when observing his lethargic and odd behavior was "malingering". When I was at Edinboro I enjoyed studying cases like David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, and Bruno Hauptmann, and came away convinced they knew what they were doing regardless of any diagnosis made or speculated. While its true we are early in the details of this case but it seems quite planned and thought out- meticulously in fact- when you consider the booby traps in his apartment, intended not only to take out responders coming in the door, but also to draw responders away from the theater while he barged in to kill.
    Doug Widmer, Pittsburgh

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    1. I agree that Holmes is malingering as evidenced by externalized incentive to avoid the death penalty

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  3. Doug, it's nice hearing from you. I agree with your analysis. Thank you for the excellent comment.

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  4. RE "...there is no such thing as a mental sickness that produces a state of mind that meets the legal definition of mental illness..."

    Except that many people have been found not guilty by reason of insanity. Your assertion is therefore shown to be false. Such mental sicknesses do exist.

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  5. Just because a defendant is found guilty by reason of insanity by a jury doesn't mean that person was medically insane to the point of not knowing right from wrong. Juries occasionally apply the insanity defense in cases where, because the defendant was mentally lil, they do not that person to go to prison. This is why, in many states we have the guilty but mentally ill defense where defendants go to prison, but receive mental health care.

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  6. James Holmes is not a mystery. He's just another very embarrassing example of what happens when an entire society rewards its most violent males and treats its least violent males with contempt.

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  7. A paranoid schizophrenic is delusional and can suffer from hallucianations and be very cunning as well and can preplan events. They are one of the most dangerous because they can be violent.

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  8. I think it will turn out to be Bi-Polar or a variant of it. I don't believe James Holmes was 'malingering' in his first court appearance as there was a definite emotional response at one point. He looked like he was about to burst into tears.

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  9. For entertainment purposes only here are some possibilities since I have no first hand evidence or interaction with people who really know what went on:
    He is schizophrenic and actually listened to command voices. Somehow he fought the difficulty in planning when under severe psychosis to buy a gun, carefully set up a trap in his apartment and then sneak into a theatre. As a student with schizoaffective I highly doubt he could be as good of a student as he was with that level of psychosis. I think they need to bring an accommodations person into the court room.
    Here is the other scenario:
    He is a psychopath or fighting this personality disorder. He is highly intelligent and annoyed by idiots. In a moment of anger he starts making plans for revenge against the ignorant masses. He sets it up, tells his psychiatrist of his symptoms to look like he asked for help and carefully plans this out. He knows it is wrong, but also believes he can fake insanity. So he starts practicing how to look insane and suddenly he gets good at it.
    The government setup of the mentally ill:
    The government has successfully marked the mentally ill, between health care, free housing benefits and social security. The next phase of getting rid of them needs a boost, so they talk to a few kids about the idea. James Holmes sees the amount of money, agrees with the cause and is told he will basically get away with it. They tell him how to fake insanity, set him up with a doctor and give him the plans. He can feel the knots in his stomach, but the money is more than any career can give him in a lifetime. So what if society hates him, it is for a cause he agrees with; even if the information they gave him is all propaganda. Being a brain expert, he knows most of the mentally ill cannot be cured. He hates that people have to die, so he tells the doctor in a way that doesn't reveal the government's motives. Of course the police aren't getting involved, because they are paid off too. So the whole thing goes find without anyone suspecting a thing. Society starts fearing the mentally ill, so the whole thing is successful. James has some time to think in his jail cell and starts to feel a heavy weight on his conscious. What if the government is wrong? All those people, the looks on their faces, it just keeps playing over and over. He heard of PTSD, but after what happened to him in childhood he didn't think it would be this bad. Of course this theory could be Holmes imagining the government needs him to do this. I suppose if a person didn't fear or dismiss demand based delusions it could happen.

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    1. Malingering is possible to detect much more easily than insanity is proven to be a justified defense... I'd like to hear people like collaborate groups of Paul Ekman working with microexpressions weigh in based on the footage.

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