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The Insanity of the Insanity Defense

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At the end of the Charles Bronson film, 10 to Midnight, a serial killer, who has just been apprehended, reverts to a variation of the same plea uttered by Andy Robinson's psychopath in Dirty Harry and Leo Gorcey's punk in Dead End: "society made me do it."

Like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Bronson, in his post-Death Wish vigilante mode, then shoots the killer dead.

No one expects such rough justice to be administered to mass murderers or serial criminals in real life. Yet they still plead insanity as their defense, even though most of us are unlikely to believe them. Surprisingly, some of these criminals have even begun apologizing, though their apologies tend to reek of opportunism and hopes of reduced sentences.

Phillip Garrido, who allegedly abducted Jaycee Dugard in 1991, when she was 11 years old, and fathered two children with her, wrote in a handwritten letter to CNN affiliate KCRA, "First off I want to apologize to every human being for what has taken place." He added, "People all over the world are hearing testimony that through the spirit of Christ a mental process took place ending a sexual problem believed to be impossible."

In invoking a "mental process," Garrido, who held Dugard captive for 18 years, was setting the stage for an insanity defense.

Similarly, attorneys for Brian David Mitchell, who in 2002 allegedly kidnapped and repeatedly raped Elizabeth Smart, then a 14 year old, argued before a state court that their client was mentally incompetent to stand trial. They won their case.

A federal court in Salt Lake City may not be so likely to accept such a defense.

Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, who reportedly spent years in mental hospitals and on psychotropic drugs, has admitted to her part in the abduction and has agreed to cooperate with the federal authorities, who have reduced her sentence from life to 15 years.

Like Garrido, Barzee has apologized to the victim.

Whether or not Barzee is truly remorseful for what she and her husband did to Elizabeth Smart, one can only hope that in her testimony she will dispel her husband's claims of mental incompetence and insanity. According to the L.A. Times, a forensic psychiatrist will cast doubt on Mitchell's claims of insanity.

Not only will such testimony help to salve the wounds of Smart, who was rescued in the Salt Lake City area in 2003, nine months after her kidnapping, it will also spare the mentally ill of the bad publicity to which we have all grown accustomed.

I have written on numerous occasions that the severely mentally ill, with no substance abuse problems, commit only 3 to 4% of violent crime. Furthermore, I have pointed to studies showing that when the mentally ill take their medication they are no more of a threat to anyone than those who are not mentally ill.

For all of the debate about political correctness regarding Islam, there was not much of an effort to shield the mentally ill in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, which took the lives of 12 soldiers and one civilian. Many wantonly referred to Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged killer, as "deranged" or "psychotic," something which could not have been more untrue.

Hasan knew exactly what he was doing, giving away his belongings and telling neighbors that he would not see them again. Such premeditation is not a feature of psychosis.

Despite Hasan's obvious premeditation, there has been considerable speculation that Hasan's attorneys will argue that he was insane in perpetrating the rampage. What other defense can Hasan possibly have? After all, a room full of witnesses saw him during his shooting spree.

Fortunately, no one is going to buy the insanity defense.

A lesson for all came on CNN's AC360 the week following the tragedy when Anderson Cooper, interviewing Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor of Charles Manson, commented that Manson, the mastermind behind the Tate/LaBianca murders, was "deranged."

Bugliosi immediately corrected Cooper, stating that Manson wasn't deranged, crazy or mentally ill at all. Bugliosi called Manson "evil" and "a con man." Con artistry is characteristic of many serial criminals like Brian Nichols, who claimed to be leading a slave rebellion during a shooting spree in an Atlanta courtroom, and Leeland Eisenberg, who claimed to be holding Hillary Clinton's campaign workers hostage in order to raise awareness about mental illness.

Both men, as I have written before, are charlatans, just like Manson and, in all likelihood, Brian David Mitchell and Phillip Garrido.

I am not arguing in favor of political correctness per se; I am arguing in favor of accuracy. If we keep referring to mass murderers and rapists as mentally ill, psychotic or any proxy for those words, we are not only harming a group of people who rarely commit violent crime; we are also making an egregious error since most violent criminals are not mentally ill or psychotic at all. They are evil and should be held responsible for their actions.