A vampire did it!
John was a 50 year old man born in South Africa, of Australian origin. On Christmas Eve about 1 AM while John was trying to sleep he heard his son Jason playing his electric piano and other electronic equipment being played loudly in the bedroom next to his. Because John and Jason’s rooms were next to each other, the music was clearly heard. Feeling very tired from working late into the night driving a taxi, and drinking a couple of beers when he returned home, he knocked on his son’s door to ask him to turn the volume down. Jason then walked over to John (Dad) with a baseball bat, and shouted at him to leave the room. John left the room and walked down the stairs to the basement, picked up a cigarette lighter from the tool box, and a container of gasoline (which he kept there for his taxi), and transferred some of the gas into a smaller container. He then walked backup the stairs carrying a cigarette lighter and a jar of gasoline.
His wife Sara headed to the second floor of their Bronx house a few minutes later after she heard the two arguing. She walked into her son’s bedroom and saw John with a lit lighter in one hand, and a container in the other hand. Jason had the bat raised in the air while John was threatening to use the lighter to the gas if Jason moved any closer to him. When Sara attempted to stop the argument by standing between the father and son, John (based on Sara and Jason’s statement) threw gasoline on her upper body saturating her clothing and set her on fire with his lighter, the liquid gas also reached the window curtains, and the flames from Sara’s burning shirt spread to the curtains.
Carol, Jason’s sister ran up the stairs to the second floor and into Jason’s bedroom after hearing her mother scream. Her Father then threw gasoline onto her body; John began jabbing his lit lighter at them without igniting Jason and Carol’s gasoline covered clothing, while the carpet and curtain were burning.
Jason wrapped a blanket around his mother putting out the flames on her body and placed her on his bed. John poured the remaining gasoline onto Jason, and tried to set him on fire again. John then ran out of the bedroom down the stairs wrapped in only a blanket, his arm and legs badly burnt, he ran up the block to a BP Gas Station.
Paco, a manager in the gas station watched John walk into his station wrapped in a blanket, without clothing. The John asked Paco to lend him money for the pay phone so that he could ask his brother to bring him clothing, and give him a ride out of the neighborhood. Paco noticed that John was bruised; he had marks covering his face and legs. Then Paco offered John his cell phone, and also provided him with a several articles of clothing that were hung on the back of the office door; a shirt, pants, and work boots found in the stations auto repair area. Paco also gave him three dollars; John then left the station without out waiting for his brother to arrive.
In an attempt to distance himself from the crime scene, John left the BP Station; and by that time the neighborhood fire department crew arrived at his house, and managed to distinguish the fire in the upstairs bedroom before it spread throughout the house. When the police arrived several minutes later they immediately questioned John’s daughter Carol and brother Jason (while her mother Sara was rushed to the burn center at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital). During the questioning of Jason and Carol by Police, they discovered that John had a brother named Andrew living in the neighborhood. They immediately followed-up with a telephone call to him. Andrew stated to police that he received a telephone call from John a few minutes earlier requesting he pick him up, but when he arrived at the BP Station John had already left the station, and he did not know where he was going to next.
While being questioned at the house by Police, Carol told Officer McDermott that she found a telephone book on the kitchen table with the name Delta written on the cover. Carol believed that John may have made plans to leave town by booking a plane reservation. Police officer Sanchez, McDermott’s partner immediately sent notification to JFK Airport Police with an ID of John.
Within a short time John was spotted in the Delta Terminal at JFK by Airport Police. Officers McDermott and Sanchez drove to JFK Airport to meet with authorities at the Delta domestic terminal. Once they arrived, they confirmed John’s ID as he was drinking a cup of coffee and pacing back and forth in front of Terminal Gate 13. John was then apprehended by airport authorities shortly before boarding flight #172 to Las Vegas. The only item John had in his pocked was his personal credit card, which he used to purchase an airline ticket and pay for his taxi fare to JFK. John’s burn injuries required him to be taken to a nearby burn center hospital, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the same hospital Sara had been rushed to several hours earlier. John was diagnosed with 2nd degree burns on his legs and arms. When Police asked why he was boarding the airplane, he stated that he needed a vacation.
Fire Martial O’Malley’s report discovered that there were two separate fires started in the house. The first fire began in the vapors of a flammable liquid at the top of the stairs on the second floor landing of John’s home, the fire then spread to Sara’s upper body, and from there to the curtains and walls of the second floor bedroom. Fire two originated in the center of the bedroom and spread to John’s body.
John received treatment at the burn center hospital for about one week, and then was transferred to the Bronx Criminal Psychiatric Hospital.
John’s case qualified for representation by Legal Aid Attorney David Butler, and Butler immediately suggested to John that he consider using the insanity defense. He explained to John that the legal system in South Africa had some differences to the American system of law. In South Africa, the legal system is made of laws from countries such as France, England and the Dutch, these countries were once former occupiers of South Africa. Also, the threshold of proving that you were insane (not responsible) at the time of a crime is the defendants responsibility (burden) to prove, as it is in America. Although South Africa has different laws regulating and determining criminal responsibility. And that both countries determine “criminal responsibility” through a series of psychiatric examinations. In America, a psychiatrist or psychologist may explore all or one of the following issues: the persons thinking, feeling, motives, and control at the time of the criminal act. Footnote: this standard is used in many States in America, and is known as the M’Naughten standard. John did not abject to this (strategy).
John’s Attorney, David Butler quickly scheduled John for a psychiatric examination. Once the DA received notice that John may be pleading “not responsible by reason of mental defect,” the District Attorney requested that the court approve the examination of John by one of their psychiatric examiners “hired guns” to counter John’s defense strategy. [Note: It is generally believed that the Prosecution will sometimes hire a specific (hired gun) doctor that will support their position in a legal case, and the defense will do the same.] Within a week the DA’s motion for a psychiatric examination was approved by the court. While Butler was waiting for the court appointed examination, he received notice from the District Attorney that John had been charged with Attempted Murder, Assault, Arson, and Reckless Endangerment.
What exactly is the insanity defense? First it must be found that the defendant actually committed the act. If he did not, then the defendant would not be guilty. Next, he must have a mental disease or defect at the time of the crimes, not at the time of trial. If so, then as a result of his mental disease he lacked substantial capacity to know or appreciate either the nature, or consequences of such criminal conduct, or that it was wrong. In NY they have a modified version of The Rule in M’Naughten case” (English law of 1843). The main important difference is that in New York the defendant must “lack substantial capacity to know or appreciate the nature, and consequences of his act or that it was wrong.
John was first examined by Dr. Cosgrove, a Certified Psychiatrist hired by David Butler, John’s Attorney. Dr. Cosgrove examined John on two occasions. The first examination took place shortly after his discharge from the burn center hospital following his transfer to the Bronx Psychiatric facility in NYC. John was found not to be oriented to what the mental health professionals call “time,” and he was said to be delusional in his thinking process, and considered not fit to stand trial. About four weeks later at the second evaluation and with the benefit of medication John became psychologically stable and oriented to time and place. Although he still had some delusional thoughts. John recalled the following events of the crime scene, “my wife was standing in the room between my son and me trying to take the baseball bat away from Jason, she then bumped into my arm holding the gasoline, and the gasoline spilled onto her shirt. The lit lighter then accidentally ignited the gasoline and we both got burned.” Dr Cosgrove then showed the statement John made to the District Attorney shortly following the accident (four weeks earlier). In the statement he said that he tried to ’cause the death of his wife Sara using the gasoline.” He replied “the District Attorney can write whatever they want to even if it is not true.”
John then told Dr Cosgrove that he believed his wife has a boyfriend, and that he has seen them together. John also believed that Sara and her boyfriend were involved in a plan to kill him, by injecting him with a needle while he was sleeping. The needle apparently contained some kind of sleep drug. When John asked his wife Sara about the injections and bruises on his arm Sara replied, “a vampire did it.” He also stated that the injections made him sleep until the following morning. These injections happened on numerous occasions, and after a while he was unable to go to work because he had trouble walking, seeing, and eating. “They were trying to poison me and kill me, my children and wife wanted the house and life insurance policy” he stated.
Following the second interview/examination Dr. Cosgrove determined that John was mentally fit for trial, and had the mental ability to reason and think strategically about his legal case. His diagnosis suggested that he suffered from schizophrenia, the chronic type.
The second psychiatrist that examined John was Dr. King, a certified psychiatrist hired by the District Attorney. Dr King examined John on two occasions, the first, shortly following his transfer from the hospital to the criminal psychiatric facility, and a second time six weeks later. After the first examination Dr King believed that the patient had delusions about his wife, her boyfriend, and the possibility of being drugged.
At the second examination, he found John fully alert, clean, and neatly dressed. He was oriented to time and place, reciting the time, date and who the president was, his birth date and his current location. He also understood the charges against him, reciting the most serious being, Attempted Murder. In his own defense John stated that he did not want to plead guilty, he wanted to stand by his new story that the fire was an accident. He was fully aware that he could plead the insanity defense, and made the conscious/strategic decision not to. At the time of the second examination, he was found not to remember clearly his arrest at the airport, and his attempt to board a plane to Los Vegas. He remembered the house fire as “the accident that happened after his son chased him out of the house with a baseball bat.” When asked why he was flying to Los Vegas he said, “I was going to get some rest and to get away from my wife and her boyfriend who was trying to kill me.”
Dr. King ended the examination by finding him currently without any impairment of is ability to perceive, recall, and relate, and having no difficulty understanding the various defense alternatives and the pressure of a trial.
Dr King found John fit to proceed, and ruled out the possibly of having schizophrenia and paranoia, and suggested a possible personality disorder, but was currently able to understand the charges against him.
Shortly after John’s case had been scheduled for trial, John was concerned about his insanity defense strategy, both medical examiners found him currently fit for trial even though the two medical examiners initially found him delusional shortly after setting fire to his wife and home. For John to be excused of all criminal charges against him, the jury would have to find that the fire in his home, and the burns his wife received were a result of John’s lack of substantial capacity to know or appreciate the nature and consequences of his act.
The prosecutor tries his/her case to win, if they think that a defendant has been wrongly indicted on weak or speculative evidence, rather than loosing the case and creating bad press for his office, affecting the DA’s yearly win statistics, he may dismiss or offer a plea bargain (deal).
Just after the incident at John’s home in the Bronx, John was said to be delusional in his thinking process and considered not fit to stand trial by two psychiatrists’. It was only after approximately six weeks of hospitalization that included drug treatment (medication) that he was “made” ready to stand trial for his criminal acts. Did this mean that he was actually not responsible for his behavior on Christmas Eve? Could the DA convince and prove to the jury that John was able to decide right from wrong at the time of the criminal acts, or that his actions were premeditated?
The DA chose to offer John a plea bargain, in the eyes of the DA, and the political pressure that its office is under to show successful prosecution results (statistics), the plea looks better than an acquittal to the public, or a finding of not guilty by reason of mental defect. The deal was for John to plead guilty to Attempted Murder, and in return he would receive a sentence of 6 to 15 years in prison. John and his attorney considered his defense, and the following issues they would have to prove to the Jury, 1) his original statement to the Assistant District Attorney that he tried to cause the death of is wife Sara, 2) the witnesses (his daughter and son) at his house at the time of the crime, 3) fleeing the crime scene, 4) attempt to leave the state by plane, 5) John’s ability to prove that Sara and her boyfriend were injecting him on a regular basis with a toxic life threatening drug (which could actually work in his favor at a jury trial proving his insanity, or against him showing reason to revenge Sara), and 6) John’s psychiatric reports that found him delusional at the time of the crime, but fit approximately six weeks later, which is how he would have to present himself to a trial jury.
John’s attorney David Butler advised John to accept the DA’s plea bargain offer, and John Agreed. John received a sentence of 6 to 15 years in prison.