April 11, 1989 |
Standing in the back of the tiny City Hall courtroom yesterday was Tanya Dacri's only supporter. Estranged from her parents, stripped of her year-old daughter, accused of drowning and butchering her 7-week-old son, Dacri has been split from the rest of her world for three months by jail-cell bars. All she has is her husband, Phillip, with whom she mouthed an "I love you" exchange across the crowded courtroom. Then she blew him a kiss. But Phillip Dacri wasn't enough for a Common Pleas judge to release the young mother on low bail.
November 21, 1996 |
The Pennsylvania Senate recently voted 40-8 to abolish the insanity defense - the legal principle that persons of unsound mind are not responsible for criminal actions. This week, the House Judiciary Committee will consider the matter. Twenty-one years ago, as a young attorney, I was charged with aggravated assault during an episode of acute mental illness. My plea agreement and resulting 2 1/2-year commitment to Norristown State Hospital were possible only because of the insanity defense.
April 18, 1991 |
Staring blankly ahead, mouth slightly open, Dr. Jean-Claude Hill listened to witnesses describe how a man who looked just like him opened fire on four insurance executives last week. "After he shot them, he walked very calmly, as if it were another day in the park, so to speak, very calmly . . . back to his car," said eyewitness Dan Gallagher of Chicago, who said he had been eating egg rolls on a park bench "on the 50-yard line" of the murder scene on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway April 8. After about an hour of testimony during a preliminary hearing yesterday, Hill, a 29-year-old native of Virginia, was held for trial in the slaying of Cigna executive Peter Foy III and the wounding of two of Foy's colleagues.
December 3, 1988 |
After an insanity defense was ruled out, Arthur Faulkner's lawyer said he had no opening statement to the jury, no witnesses. No case. Faulkner, facing two death penalties in a Lower Merion stabbing spree, was sunk, said defense lawyer Robert A. Selig. And his Montgomery County Court murder trial hadn't even begun. As Faulkner fidgeted in a courtroom yesterday, waiting for his trial to start, Judge Samuel W. Salus II ruled in a back room that Faulkner's insanity defense - his only defense for stabbing to death two women and seriously wounding his two bosses at the small archaeological firm where he worked - was too flimsy to mention to jurors.
March 20, 2002 |
After more than three weeks of testimony, it took a Texas jury less than four hours to convict Andrea Yates of capital murder in the drowning of her five children. That's barely enough time for a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and a bathroom break during deliberations. In retrospect, it appears the jurors considered Yates' mental illness in mitigation (it took the same jurors less than 40 minutes to decide to spare her life), but they were not about to accept it as a legal excuse.
May 15, 1987 |
A bedraggled Gary Michael Heidnik, saluting twice and answering only "yes, sir" to questions from a judge, pleaded not guilty yesterday to the host of charges against him. After the court proceeding, his attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., said he was convinced that Heidnik is "completely insane" and would argue at trial that Heidnik is insane. Heidnik, who is charged with murdering two women and raping and torturing four others who were kept chained in a basement dungeon in his house in the city's Franklinville section, entered his plea at a formal arraignment in City Hall.
September 6, 2005 |
When former Superior Court Judge Stephen W. Thompson goes on trial this week, he will not deny that he collected child pornography and traveled to Russia to have sex with an underage boy. Instead, Thompson, who sat on the bench in Camden County until his arrest in 2003, will argue that he was actually trying to recapture the "virility" he lost on a Vietnam battlefield 36 years ago. Thompson, 59, lost his right leg during hand-to-hand combat....
May 24, 1995 |
Although the insanity plea has become a staple of high-profile murder cases in the United States, few people may know that the plea has roots in the 18th century English court system. In fact, pleading insanity was not just done by murder suspects but by suspects accused of crimes ranging from burglary to forgery to stealing spoons or sheep, according to Joel Eigen, a sociology professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster whose book Witnessing Insanity: Madness and Mad- doctors in the English Court was published by Yale University Press last month.
April 15, 1988 |
Harrison "Marty" Graham's insanity defense appeared to wobble yesterday when his psychiatrist said the accused North Philadelphia serial murderer might have been sane during parts of his sex-strangling spree. Defense psychiatrist Timothy J. Michals, testifying about Graham's claim that he was insane when he killed the seven women whose rotting corpses were found in his fetid two-room apartment, said Graham wouldn't tell him about five of the seven slayings. But Michals acknowledged that Graham appeared to have known he was doing wrong when he stuffed one of those victims in a duffel bag and bound another in several wire-wrapped sheets.
February 26, 1997
With its verdict yesterday of guilty but mentally ill against multimillionaire John E. du Pont, a Delaware County jury exacted some measure of justice for the family of Olympic wrestler David Schultz, whom Du Pont gunned down last January. This was a difficult trial for the family. Mr. Schultz's mother, father and widow, who witnessed the killing herself, have had to relive events no family should experience once. As the ordeal drew to a close, father Phillip Schultz talked of seeing visions of his dead son - a miracle, in his mind; a manifestation, at the very least, of soul-wrenching grief.