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The Insanity Defense – Part 2: Who Has The Defendant’s Best Interests at Heart — Court, Psychiatrist, Or Attorney?

In Part 1 we explored the practical role of psychiatrists in criminal trials. Now we turn to the ethical side of the psychiatrist-defendant relationship.

There is an ethical side to the “hired gun” situation. What happens if the psychiatrist agrees to evaluate and testify for the defendant, but after evaluating the defendant the psychiatrist forms the opinion that at the time of the crime the patient knew what he or she were doing and was in control? In the doctor’s opinion, then, the defendant was guilty, and responsible for his actions. Can the defendant now say that he doesn’t want this information to be used in court?

In reality the defense attorney’s and the psychiatrist’s questioning generally goes something like this. The defendant will make the first move. The defense attorney will call a psychiatrist they know, who may be someone good or not so good. They may even be part of the pool (hired guns) I referred to earlier. This doctor will be asked to examine the client who is facing criminal charges. The less knowledgeable psychiatrist might decide right at that moment either to evaluate the defendant or not. The more knowledgeable one will first ask what the defense wants the defendant examined for, and what is the exact psychiatric legal issue they want to have explored.

The inexperienced attorney may not be prepared for that kind of question, and may ask the doctor what they mean. The doctor may say that the defense attorney is raising the question as to whether or not, at the time of the alleged event, the defendant was criminally responsible, or was acting under “extreme emotional disturbance.” Extreme emotional disturbance (“EED”) generally is interpreted to mean the emotional state of an individual who 1) has no mental disease or defect that affects accountability; 2) is exposed to an extremely unusual and overwhelming stress; and 3) has an extreme emotional reaction to it, as a result of which there is a loss of self control, and reason is overborne by intense feelings, such as passion, anger, distress, grief, excessive agitation, or other similar emotions.  In short, if a person has had time to cool down and then act on their intentions to harm someone, this would not be EED.

The doctor wants to know if the defense is trying to inquire as to whether or not, when the police read the defendant his or her Miranda Rights, the defendant was competent to understand those rights, or competent to make the confession that was given.  A Miranda Right is a warning given by police to criminal suspects in police custody, or in a custodial situation, before asking guilt-seeking questions relating to the commission of a crime. An incriminating statement by a suspect will not constitute admissible evidence unless the suspect was advised of his or her “Miranda rights” and made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights.

Miranda warnings developed out of the Ernesto Miranda case (1962), in which a rape suspect was arrested and taken to the police station. After two hours of questioning, he signed a written confession and was subsequently found guilty. Miranda appealed his conviction on the grounds that prior to confessing, he had not been informed of his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination or his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Is the doctor concerned with whether the defendant is competent to stand trial at the moment? Is the doctor concerned with whether the defendant is competent to abide by the terms of bail and should be bailed out, or should remain in jail? Is the doctor concerned that at this time the defendant might be a danger to the community if released?

The Ehrlich case, for example, involved a mentally ill defendant in New York City. The defendant was found not responsible by reason of mental disease and defect after he killed his mother. He then cut off her head, placed it on her bed, and combed her hair so she would look neat when the police arrived. While he was in the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, members of his family complained that he was not being treated properly, and should be allowed to attend some education classes. The doctors allowed him to leave the locked ward, and he went to attend a class. As soon as he entered the class room and the attendants left, he walked out of the room and the hospital. While out, he threatened members of his family and others, and was out on the street for approximately nine days before he was rehospitalized.

The Ehrlich case and other like it are examples of the tremendous responsibility psychiatric medical professionals take on when they become involved in criminal psychiatric evaluations for the court system.

If there is a capital punishment issue (crimes that can result in a death penalty), the reason for the psychiatric examination may be to evaluate whether the defendant is competent to be executed. The common notion of the insanity defense is that there is a straightforward question of whether the defendant was responsible at the time of the crime. However, in fact there are many important issues at hand. The defendant could have been responsible at the time, and then became mentally ill because of the police arrest, and hence did not understand the Miranda warnings. The kernel of the issue is what was the mental state of the defendant at the time of the crime.

Let’s take a moment to explore the psychiatric evaluation process and the amount of time spent on each patient. In America we have a multi-layered system which may unfortunately translate into “you get what you pay for.” If you are being defended by a public defender (Legal Aid Society), they have limited funds. It is generally believed in the medical community that most doctors will not spend less than 45 minutes at the very minimum on an insanity defense evaluation (described as a psychiatric hour). This is because psychiatrists providing insanity defense evaluations need sufficient time to properly gather information; it also helps the doctor to maintain credibility in court.

Because there are wide discrepancies in how psychiatric evaluations are done, many experts believe the best solution is to look for whether or not there was any other evidence, independent of the defendant’s or police testimony. This additional evidence may help reveal what the defendant’s mental state was at the time of the alleged crime. Were there eyewitnesses? Had the person had other psychiatric help prior to the incident? It is important to mention that this type of evaluation is not confidential once a defendant chooses an insanity defense in a criminal case.

Once the event has occurred, the alleged criminal has an interest in presenting a picture that is consistent with his own interests, so mental data is important. For example, most people would ask the defendant how he or she was feeling at the time of the alleged crime. The defendant would probably give a long, drawn-out story about how he was feeling, consistent with whatever position he or she wanted to defend.

Consider this ethical dilemma. Suppose the defense psychiatrist discovers that a patient is malingering (a medical and psychological term that refers to fabricating or exaggerating the symptoms of mental or physical disorders). Should the doctor get off the case, remain as the advocate for the defendant, or go to the prosecution with information on the defendant that could work to the prosecution’s advantage?

Can a defense psychiatrist who has conducted an evaluation go over to the prosecution? The way it normally works is that the prosecution might know whether or not the psychiatrist has visited a defendant in jail. If three psychiatrists visited a defendant in jail, and the names of only two are advanced by the defense to support the claim of “not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect,” it is reasonable for the prosecutor to assume that the third psychiatrist found something that is not going to be of use to the defense; otherwise his or her name would be advanced too. The prosecutor then moves to subpoena the third psychiatrist, whose name has not been advanced by the defense. Thus he can be used as the prosecution’s witness. The psychiatrist now can agree to aid the prosecution, as it is fair game if the judge allows his testimony to be entered into court as evidence.

Now let’s take the above situation a little further. Suppose a psychiatrist is hired by the court to conduct an evaluation. There are issues of advocacy (the pursuit of influencing outcomes), when the court psychiatrist can also be the treating psychiatrist. For example, while the court psychiatrist is doing an evaluation, he or she may also be doing a scientific probe; information thus gained does not hold the kind of doctor-patient relationship of loyalty towards the patient. The psychiatrist visits the patient and explains that though he may sound like a psychiatrist and look like a psychiatrist, in this capacity he is not the patient’s doctor. What discussions go on between them will not be bound by the oath of confidentially. It will be reported to the court. At this stage a sort of distancing is suppose to take place. Often, however, it turns out that the court psychiatrist may be working as an evaluator, but is also treating the patient. This brings up the issue of whether the doctor should be treating the patient both as an evaluator and as a treating doctor, because of the issue of conflicting loyalties.

Another interesting issue concerns separate case records. This is when you have a corrections unit (a facility handling adult probation and parole matters and sometimes juvenile aftercare supervision cases from the Department of Corrections), where there is a treating psychiatrist(s), and an evaluating psychiatrist(s) on the unit. In some situations the same case record may be used. This means that as a patient, the defendant has given varied amounts of information to their treating psychiatrist that he or she would not want given to the courts. Some units try to solve this problem by having one case record presented by the evaluating psychiatrist, which goes to the courts. The evaluating psychiatrist and the court cannot see the second case record, prepared by the treating psychiatrist, which only goes towards the patient’s treatment, to make sure that there is no conflict (fact sharing between records).

Part 3 of this series will return to the hired gun issue: if the psychiatrist has been hired by the defense, should the psychiatrist say what the defense wants him to?

By: Peter Sabbagh

Hey there! NYCrimeStories is presenting an encore edition of “A Vampire Did It”, its second Twitter micro crime novel in its entirety on the Resource for Social Media blog.

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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 Report:

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.

NYCrimeStories is broadcasting its second forensic psychiatric crime story called – A vampire did it!

Resource for Social Media via NYCrimeStories is broadcasting its second forensic psychiatric crime story called – A vampire did it! It takes place in New York City. It’s on Twitter.

If you would like to read the story in its entirety, check back with Resource for Social Media later this month for an encore edition of, A vampire did it!

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NYCrime Stories latest micro-novel – A vampire did it!

NYCrimeStories NYCrimeStories NYCrimeStories second micro-novel is titled -A vampire did it! Read it on Twitter now, or in a couple of weeks on Resource for Social Media.


A psychological crime micro-novel by NYCity Crime Stories – Head Count

Ajay Kumar was born in Mumbai, India on August 1, 1961, and he is the oldest son in a family of four. He lived in India until the age of 10, when he and his father moved to NYC, leaving his mother and other members of his family behind. His father relocated America for employment purposes, living initially in the Bronx, and finally Brooklyn, where Ajay attended High School before enlisting in the US Army.

Ajay’s military records were marked by an increasing series of infractions leading to his not so honorable discharge 3 years later. His military record reflected infractions such as, selling Marijuana on base, disorderly conduct, threatening a superior officer, striking a superior officer, and resisting arrest. Despite three courts martial, and three punishments, he did not respond well to rehabilitation. A rehabilitation report did show that he reduced his misconduct, generally blamed other people and situations, and that he accepted little responsibility for his actions, believing instead that he was a victim.

Following his discharge from the military, Ajay worked as a mail room clerk for CBS TV located in midtown Manhattan, and lived with his father in Brooklyn. Ajay began his position at CBS in February, and in May was let go. His employment record noted that he came in late, and that he failed to deliver a $250.00 check which was later found in his desk at work. He held several jobs following his termination from CBS, one as a clerk at an express mail company, a phone solicitor for a financial services company, and in the evenings as a waiter at the Jackson Diner in Queens.

After working late one night, Ajay made a surprising discovery. It happened by accident when he paid a visit to his father’s apartment, he found his father Arun and David Hunter (a friend of Arun’s) nude, and watching TV together in the living room. Following this incident he and his father rarely spoke. Several months later, Arun returned to India to accept a lucrative engineering job offer with Infosys, a large information technology company located in Bangalore.Ajay then moved in with his Aunt Geeta and Uncle Sanjev in the predominantly Indian district known as Jackson Heights, Queens. Ajay’s Uncle Sanjev worked in Jackson Heights at the well known Indian restaurant, the Jackson Diner. Sanjev and Geeta looked after Ajay, since he had no other close relatives in American following his father’s return to India.

One day after Ajay returned home from work, Ajay’s Aunt Geeta informed him about his Father’s medical condition; Arun and his father’s boy friend David Hunter had been diagnosed with AIDS. Ajay’s Aunt Geeta also told him that she believed David Hunter was also having an affair with her husband Sanjev, and that she thought he could also have the HIV virus; Sanjev met David through Ajay’s father.

Following this news, Ajay became more introverted and insecure and began to immerse himself into the study and cultural practice of Hinduism, his religion of birth. He spent most of his free time at a Hindu Temple in Flushing, Queens, and followed Hinduisms cultural practices faithfully. He engaged in religious rituals on a daily basis, performed daily chores such as worshiping at the dawn after bathing (at his home made shrine, and lit a lamp and offered foodstuffs before the images of deities), recited from religious scripts, sang devotional hymns, meditated, chanted mantras, and recited scriptures. Ajay also believed in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, which will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world.

After living with Aunt Geeta for several months, Ajay was asked to leave her home because he and his Uncle Sanjev were arguing almost every night about his father, Arun’s gay live style choices. Ajay was very insecure about his own identity, and found his father’s life style choices difficult to accept. Without a place to stay, Ajay decided to sleep at a Manhattan homeless shelter, his low salary was not sufficient to pay the rent for an apartment, and he had no close friends to share an apartment with. Following several weeks at the shelter, Ajay became restless with the shelter’s lack of privacy, and asked David Hunter if he could stay for a short time with him at his apartment in Queens. David agreed, and Ajay relocated to David’s apartment on a Friday night. David, ED (David’s friend from the apartment building) and Sanjev were all at the apartment having dinner when Ajay arrived with his belongings. After dinner Ed left, and David and Sanjev remained in the apartment together watching Television. After several hours Ajay left David’s apartment, and drove into Manhattan to go bar hopping.

At approximately 11PM, Ajay was traveling Eastbound on 42nd Street when he ran a red light at the intersection of Seventh Avenue, then struck a car along its rear right side; several bystanders were injured. When the EMS team arrived, Ajay was still sitting in the car. The injured were quickly treated, although Ajay refused treatment and tossed a bottle of beer at the EMS specialist who attempted to examine him. When the police arrived he immediately was placed under arrest, and Ajay was handcuffed so that the EMS team could check him for injuries. Ajay was read his Miranda Rights and taken to the Midtown Manhattan Precinct. A breathalyzer was administered at the Precinct. Ajay was found to have a blood alcohol level of point 1.1 %. Ajay was then hand cuffed, and Officer Price requested his identification. Ajay handed his wallet and envelope containing some papers to Officer Price. Price began looking through Ajay’s papers to verify his name and address. He found several credit cards and forms of ID. One ID was David Hunter’s Merrill Lynch ID, and a credit Card with David’s name on it. Officer Price asked Ajay why he was carrying David Hunter’s identification cards. Ajay replied that “they are my friend’s cards; I was taking care of him while he was home sick.”

Later that night, Officer Price attempted to verify Ajay’s story regarding David Hunter’s ID and credit card. Price was unable to confirm his story, because Ajay stated he did not remember David Hunter’s exact address or phone number. Price then called the Merrill Lynch office in Manhattan and verified David’s employment. He spoke to a night security guard and was able to verify David’s employment by instructing the guard to look up his name in the company personnel directory; he was then told to call the Personnel Manager in the morning for any additional information. Officer Price began a routine computer check of Motor Vehicle Bureau records for stolen vehicles; the vehicle was not reported stolen.  Although the next day an updated MVB report confirmed that the taxi involved in the accident was listed as stolen. Price also looked up David Hunter’s telephone number with the police departments online research service, and called his apartment, but no one answered. At the police automobile impound center, pictures of the stolen vehicle were then taken by Officer Rodrigo’s, and the car was vouchered and impounded. Rodrigo also contacted the owner of the taxi and requested that he come down to identify the automobile.

Officer Price then called Ajay’s Aunt Geeta. Geeta firmly told Price that she did not want to get involved with Ajay; and said that he was asked to leave her home several weeks ago. Geeta gave Officer Price David Hunter’s phone number, stating that Ajay was staying with him, and that Ajay’s Uncle Sanjev and David are good friends. While Price was trying to confirm if Ajay was illegally in possession of David’s credit card, Ajay was fingerprinted and transported to the NYC Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Price was not able to contact David Hunter by telephone, so he called the local police precinct in David’s Neighborhood, and asked them to send a police car over to investigate David’s story. The car accident was now being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, and Officer Price made a statement regarding the case to the Assistant District Attorney in charge. Price also appeared at the Manhattan Grand Jury to testify regarding the facts of the case.

Officers Schwartz and Murphy of the Jackson Height’s Queens Precinct were assigned to Ajay’s DWI case, and were busy investigating the ownership of the credit cards found on Ajay the night of his arrest. They also went over to David Hunter’s apartment in Jackson Heights the day following his arrest to confirm his story. The request to question David had been made by Manhattan Police Officer Price the night Ajay was arrested. There was also a second independently made call to the local Jackson Heights, Queens Precinct by Ed, a friend of Hunter’s; Ed was worried about David, because David had not answered his calls for the past 12 hours.

When Officers Schwartz and Murphy arrived at David Hunter’s apartment building, they found Ed waiting for them outside the front door of the lobby. Ed showed the two Officers to apartment 7A, David Hunter’s apartment. Officer Schwartz asked Murphy if he remembered to bring the search warrant, Murphy replied yes, and Schwartz knocked on David’s door, but there was no response. He then knocked on the door of Apt 7B; once in the apartment he walked onto the terrace of 7B, and climbed onto the terrace of 7A. Murphy slid the terrace door open (it was unlocked), and entered David Hunter’s apartment. Officer Murphy immediately spotted the arms of a man on the floor in the bedroom; Murphy investigated the bedroom while Schwartz walked into the living room after hearing a voice coming from a television. Once in the living room, he noticed a chair with a high back in front of the television; he walked closer to the chair to see if someone was sitting in it, and discovered a man that had been decapitated. He then glanced down to the victim’s waist and discovered that there were two heads sitting on the victims lap facing the TV set. Murphy entered the living room and slowly said “the man in the bedroom was decapitated,” Schwartz replied, “we need a head count.”

Later that day forensics established that the two heads found in David’s apartment belonged with the two torsos the apartment. David Hunter was confirmed beheaded sitting in a chair in front of a TV, and Sanjev was identified as the man beheaded in the bedroom. The apartment did not show signs of disarray or that there had been a struggle between the murderer and the victims, and no weapons were found except for a knife sharpener in the bedroom where Sanjev was lying.

When Officer Price returned to work the next day, he found a message on his desk from Assistant District Attorney Carmine of the Queens DA’s Office. The message said that Ajay (defendant) was wanted for questioning about a crime in Queens County. Later that day, Ajay was questioned about the double murder case in Queens. Ajay made taped statement to Detective Lewis, and Assistant District Attorney Carmine of the Queens DA’s Office. He said that he knew both victims, and that he chose to stay at David’s apartment rather than at a shelter in NYC. He also said that his Aunt asked him to leave her apartment, and that he believed David and Sanjev had AIDS. He also felt homosexuality was an abnormal act, and not in keeping with his religious and cultural beliefs.

Ajay then raised his voice and shouted “the two men attempted to seduce me with drugs and alcohol”; “they tried to seduce me that night and wanted to get me high, forcing me to smoke marijuana and drink vodka.” This apparently made Ajay angry enough to kill them both. He believed killing them would stop the sexual threats and his fear of possibly contracting AIDS. At the police interview, Ajay also made a statement on video tape that he wanted to stop his Uncle’s relationship with David, because Sanjev was married to his Aunt Geeta, and all three men including his Father had AIDS. When Detective Lewis asked Ajay how he murdered the two men, Ajay replied, “I took a knife and stabbed David Hunter in the side of the neck while he was sitting in a chair in front of the TV, and stabbed Sanjev in the heart while he was lying face up sleeping in David’s bedroom.” Lewis asked him what he did next, and Ajay replied that he began to dismember the two bodies with a kitchen knife, leaving one body in the bedroom and the other in the chair with each head on the lap of David’s torso. “I positioned the two heads facing the TV, the same way that David Hunter and my father were facing when I discovered them nude in my fathers apartment.” I then took David Hunter’s credit card and Merrill Lynch ID, ran out of the apartment through the terrace door to a 711 two blocks away. While outside the store I noticed a taxi with the engine running and the driver inside the store, I stole the car and drove into Manhattan.”

Ajay’s received legal representation by Steve Sunstein, a Legal Aid appointed. Sunstein immediately notified the DA’s Office that Sanjev (Defendant) would be filing an Insanity Defense. Ajay wholeheartedly objected to using an insanity defense strategy and insisted that his actions at David’s apartment were in self-defense, and that he would not go to a mental hospital. Ajay also claimed that he did not recall some of the events that took place at David Hunter’s apartment, nor did he remember his tape recorded statement to the District Attorney.

Because of the extreme nature of the crime both attorneys agreed that Ajay should be examined by two mental health (as required in an insanity defense) specialists employed by the Queens County Correctional Facility.

Dr Albert, a Board Certified Psychiatrist was the first medial professional to examine Ajay. At the examination, Dr Albert found Ajay alert and cooperative. He also did not find signs of memory loss at the time of the examination, and believed that his memory was functioning normally. He asked Ajay if he knew what crime he was charged with, and he replied, “Murder 2, that is what my attorney told me.” He also did not appear to be hallucinating or delusional. Ajay did state that in the past he has heard voices. During the examination Ajay’s only apparent focus was on the legal issues of is case and is religion. He also requested a Ganish, the elephant-deity (lord of success and destroyer of evils, and obstacles). Following the examination, Dr Albert found Ajay fit to proceed (capable to stand trial), mentally competent at the time of the examination and crime, and ready to be tried in court for the alleged crimes.

The second evaluation of Ajay was by Dr Thakar, psychologist. It took place one day after Dr Albert’s examination. At the examination Ajay stated that he did not want to use the Insanity Defense, and that he was not crazy at the time of the crime. He was only defending himself at David Hunters apartment that night. “They tried to get me drunk and rape me,” he said to the psychologist. He also said that if he was found guilty, he did not want to be transferred to a mental hospital with all of the “crazy people”. “It was self-defense,” Ajay repeated, “I was physically held down and forced to take drugs, and drink alcohol by the two men that night, it was a life or death situation.” Ajay did not know what type of drugs he was allegedly forced to ingest, and reminded Dr Thakar that he did not remember making a police confession. On completion of Ajay’s examination,Dr Thakar found him to be manipulating and exploitative in his social relationships, and someone that needs to be at the center of attention. Dr Thakar also suggested that Ajay appears not to have suffered from a psychotic disorder. He may have abused drugs and possibly alcohol, but there was insufficient evidence to make this claim. At the conclusion of her evaluation she found Ajay fit to proceed to trial.

The trial venue for Ajay’s Murder trial was in Queens County, which is where the two murders took place. The car accident was a separate case in the jurisdiction of the Manhattan District Attorney.Queens County Assistant District Attorney, Mark Feldman requested Ajay to be examined by their (independent) Psychiatrist, Dr Berman. Dr Berman is known as a “hired gun”, or an independent examiner hired to support the DA’s position.

The normally ethical practice of psychiatry can sometimes be put into an ethical conflict when an independent psychiatric examiner is hired by the DA, or Defense Attorney to support a position in an insanity case. It is sometimes believed that the Prosecution will request a particular independent Doctor “hired gun”, to support their position in a legal case, and the defense will do the same. Once an independent “hired gun”, is asked to examine a Defendant, an experienced Doctor will ask the Defense or Prosecution what they want the patient examined for, and what the psychiatric legal issue is surrounding the case. A medical examiner with less experience as a “hired gun” will conduct this type of psychiatric examination, and make an evaluation shortly following the interview without initial strategic questioning to their client (DA or Defense Attorney) as to their motive. Ethically speaking, if a psychiatrist or psychologist hired to support an insanity defense discovers that following his or her examination a defendant is malingering (not really suffering from mental disease), is it their duty to continue to stay on the case? Or should they remove them self as a “hired gun” (advocate), of the case and possibly inform the other side.

Dr Berman’s examination of Ajay found that he was oriented to time and place, his statements were logical, goal oriented and relevant at the examination. Ajay also denied ever experiencing auditory or visual hallucinations, and no paranoid behavior was exhibited. Dr Berman determined that Ajay did harbor homicidal ideas towards the two victims’ found in the apartment beheaded, and appeared to have an antisocial personality. At the end of his examination Dr Berman concluded that Ajay was fit to proceed to trial.

During the trial several arrest related issues were contested, the first was if the arrest of Ajay (defendant) was technically proper. At trial, it was confirmed that Ajay was properly identified by several witnesses on the scene, and that he was in fact the person that ran the red light that caused the accident. The offer’s experience also came into question, and based on the officer’s extensive experience on the police force (10 years), witnesses, and follow-up breathalyzer test finding Ajay intoxicated at the time of arrest, Ajay was found responsible for the accident; and that there was sufficient information and evidence for probable cause to make his arrest.

The second issue raised by Ajay’s Attorney was if the tape recorded statement was properly taken. Ajay waived his right to have an attorney present, and the prosecution noted that there were moments during the confession when Ajay took charge of the interview, and offered additional information about the details of the crime, as if he was proud if the outcome. The prosecution further suggested that Ajay appeared to enjoy the fact that he was the center of attention during portions of the taped interview, which is evident by listening to the tape. Ajay also seemed to be without fear of the Assistant District Attorney Carmine, or detective during the confession process.

The third point argued at trial was that Ajay and his defense attorney did not request an expert independent medical witness to examine or appear on his behalf at trial, this was because of Ajay’s deep fear of being sent to a psychiatric institution. This defense (or lack of one) paved the way for Ajay to be tried for the double murder crime based on his argument of self-defense. Finally, three psychiatric evaluations found Ajay without a mental disease at the time of the crime.
At trial, Ajay agreed (against the wishes of his Attorney) to be questioned by Assistant District Attorney Carmine. One of the most damaging pieces of evidence used against Ajay was the taped confession following his arrest. He stated that after decapitating the two victims he carried the heads of David and Sanjev into the shower to clean them, and admired them as if they were trophies. He then returned to the living room and placed the victims’ heads on David Hunter’s lap facing the TV.

The jury was sequestered and deliberated over night. They returned the following day with a verdict, Ajay was found guilty on 2 counts of premeditated murder and criminal possession of a weapon. The confession statement, medical examinations, Ajay’s unwillingness to use an insanity defense as a  strategy, and the confirmation of the body identifications made it clear, beyond a reasonable doubt that Ajay was responsible for the crime.Ajay was sentenced to 25 years to life for the killing of David and Sanjev.

By: Peter Sabbagh

Micro-novel called NYCrimeStories is using Twitter. RFSM is broadcasting short forensic psychiatric crime stories that take place in New York City.

Hey there! Resource for Social Media has launched its micro-novel called NYCrimeStories using Twitter. RFSM is broadcasting short forensic psychiatric crime stories that take place in New York City. Join our twitter broadcast to follow interesting and exciting criminal law events as they unfold in the Big Apple.

Resource for Social Media is launching its micro-novel crime stories over Twitter –

Hey there! Resource for Social Media has launched its micro-novel called NYCrimeStories using Twitter. RFSM will broadcast short forensic psychiatric crime stories that take place in New York City. Join our twitter broadcast to follow interesting and exciting criminal law events as they unfold in the Big Apple.

What is the micro novel? Will writing and reading novels via hand held sms devise find a market worldwide? The press seems to be divided on this trend (excluding Japanese press), I think there is a good argument in favor of increasing popularity of content driven sms usage in the United States and globally. First, some facts about mobile and text “sms” usage around the world…read our blog post on the global popularity of the micro-novel.