Archive: November 2010

School hostage incident in WI and more on the “crazy” NY actor who killed his mother 11/30/10

First up tonight, a 15-year-old high school student in WI, toting a couple of loaded guns, took a classroom full of his fellow students and a teacher hostage for several hours yesterday.  He ultimately released all of the hostages (some media sources are reporting “unharmed” but that overlooks the psychological harm done) and fatally shot himself as cops entered the room.  It could’ve been a lot worse, so as school shootings go, this one is on the “good-outcome” end of the continuum.  It’s always sad when a kid feels bad enough about himself and whatever else was going on in his life to kill himself, so I have sympathy about that, but — and some people aren’t going to like this part — I also have to correct the people who are telling various media sources what a “wonderful kid” this was.  Of course I’m very sorry for the family’s loss, but he was not a “wonderful kid.”  Wonderful kids don’t take people hostage at gunpoint.  He may have had some wonderful qualities, and he was clearly troubled, but he also clearly had an extremely selfish and malicious side.  As I always say, there was evidence that the non-wonderful side was there before this happened, and nobody did anything.  He may not have had a criminal or disciplinary record at school, but before the media even released his name, students at his high school were discussing the fact that he did it on their Facebook pages, and I didn’t see the expressions of shock that you’d expect if all of his peers concurred that he was a “wonderful kid.”  There were signs.  Just wait and see.

Next up, the NY actor who killed his mother last week is talking to the media.  He says he did it because he became convinced that she was possessed by a demon.  If you find the interview online and read it, he sounds totally nuts.  BUT, if you refer back to my previous post on this, you’ll recall that that’s really not the issue.  The questions are whether he knew what he was doing (killing a human being who wasn’t posing an immediate threat to his own life) and if so, whether he knew it was wrong (under our law, i.e. that it was a crime to do it).  The answers to those questions appear to be yes and yes.  Here’s a quote:  “I didn’t want to kill her right away. I wanted to give her time to get right with God…I was slashing my mom, and I heard the police knocking on the door yelling, ‘Michael, open up, Michael, open up,’ but I knew they wouldn’t open the door and stop me because the spirits were protecting me…I just kept cutting her. No one could stop me. I was doing the work of God.”  See?  He’s probably nuts, but he’s not so nuts that he didn’t know what he was doing or that it was wrong under our law.  If he’s being truthful about what he believed, then he chose to obey some spiritual directive or law and commit a crime knowing that he’d be stopped and punished under our law if/when the cops caught up with him.  So, we can either send him on his way to meet God and find out first-hand whether God wants people to slash their mothers to death, or we can let him sit around and feel good about following his “higher law” in prison for the rest of his life, but he can never be trusted to be back on the streets with the rest of us again.

And before I go, just a brief note on Brian Mitchell (which is more than he deserves — he’s the “man” on trial for kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart over a nine-month period) — he supposedly “collapsed” in court today, which brought the trial to a halt while he was examined at a nearby hospital.  While that’s really irrelevant to the case, I’m not buying it for a minute.  Looks like more histrionics intended to garner sympathy.  He’ll get none from me!

Lawpsyc developments over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend 11/29/10

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  Here are some Lawpsyc developments arising over the holiday weekend, bad news first:

A NY college girl who went home for the holiday apparently was murdered and dumped in a wooded area by an ex-boyfriend with whom she had broken up while away at college earlier this semester.  The significant other is generally the first suspect to be ruled in or out in these cases, but the cops still did a nice job finding the body and closing the case so quickly (she was reported missing on the 19th, and they apparently have it solved as of today).

Three little boys, ages 5, 7, and 9, are missing in a bizarre Michigan case that looks more and more like the Melinda Duckett case from several years ago.  Remember her?  She apparently didn’t want her son’s father to have any visitation with their son, so she apparently kidnapped the child and either handed him off to someone never to be found or, more likely, killed him, then killed herself after going on television and getting caught by an interviewer (not mentioning any names here) apparently lying through her teeth about when she last saw the child and where.  So in this Michigan case, it’s another broken family; the mother had residential custody normally, but the kids were with the father.  Well, the kids never showed back up at their mother’s house, and the father showed up at a hospital, having apparently tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide.  The father reportedly says he gave the kids to a woman whom he met on an Internet dating site with instructions to deliver them, alive, back to their mother, whereupon he intended to kill himself.  Yeah, ok, but the cops are having a hard time finding anything to back up the guy’s story, like evidence that this Internet dating woman ever even existed.  Kind of reminds you of Casey Anthony’s story about “Zanny the nanny,” too (Anthony said that she gave her daughter to a nanny named Zanida, Zanny for short, whose very existence couldn’t be verified, and as we all know, the child turned up dead).  There’s still hope at this point, but with cases like Duckett and Anthony coming to mind, sadly, it’s not looking good for these poor kids.

In Oregon, a teenage naturalized American citizen born in Somalia was arrested in a brilliantly executed (despite the non-cooperation of the City of Portland, which — amazingly after 9/11 but sadly like so many American cities these days — prioritizes political correctness over our nation’s security) FBI sting operation while attempting to detonate a car bomb at a public holiday lighting event.  The defendant reportedly has been talking about “violent jihad” since he was 15 years old, which just proves what I’ve often said — that an adolescent absolutely can premeditate an act of murder, knowing full well what he’s doing and that it’s wrong (“wrong” meaning that it’s a crime under our laws — doesn’t matter if he thinks it’s “right” under some parallel set of religious laws), which means an adolescent absolutely can, and often should, be held accountable for such acts at the adult level (which is not an issue in this case — the defendant is 19 years old, so there’s no question that he’ll be tried as an adult, which is lucky, because if Portland’s mayor had anything to say about it, he’d probably still be charged as a juvenile and invited to perform maintenance on city vehicles as his “community service”).

Now, the good news:  Better-behaved “Black Friday” shoppers this year; no tramplings to report this time around, which is much more respectful than we’ve seen in some recent years of the holiday that most Americans purportedly are out shopping to celebrate!

It’s not Natalee 11/23/10

The jaw bone found recently in Aruba is apparently NOT that of missing American Natalee Holloway.  Of course this raises a new question:  Who else died on or near the beach where the bone was found (if anyone, or could this have been a hoax from the start)?

In other news, an aspiring 31-year-old male actor is in custody in New York and is undergoing “psychiatric evaluation” after allegedly stabbing his 55-year-old mother to death with a samurai sword.  He reportedly was reciting Bible verses when the cops arrived on the scene.  Is he crazy?  Maybe.  But remember what would have to be the case in order for him to be “not guilty by reason of insanity.”  He’d have to be so crazy that he either 1) didn’t know what he was doing or 2) didn’t know that it was wrong.  Both of those get a little more complicated in practice.  What qualifies as “not knowing what he was doing”?  What if he thought he was stabbing his girlfriend, but it was dark in the room, and it was actually his mother?  In that case, he probably knew what he was doing sufficiently to be guilty (i.e. he knew he was stabbing a human being).  But what if he thought he was stabbing a demon that was trying to steal his soul, and it was actually his mother?  Ok, that’s sounding more like not knowing what he was doing.  What if he thought he was stabbing a pillow, and it was actually his mother?  Now that’s sounding like he didn’t know what he was doing.  Next, what qualifies as “knowing it was wrong”?  Well, first of all, by “wrong,” we mean “criminal.”  You don’t get to break the law just because you disagree with it.  For example, you don’t get to smoke crack as long as you think it’s “right” to smoke it.  And by “didn’t know,” we mean “couldn’t have known.”  You generally don’t get to claim that you didn’t know you were breaking the law because you just hadn’t read or been taught the law, nor do you get to claim that you didn’t know you were breaking the law because you made a choice to act on emotion rather than to stop and think about what you were doing.  Ok, so what qualifies as “knowing it was wrong”?  What if he knew he was stabbing a human being who wasn’t attacking him but believed that the person had wronged him somehow and that his religion permitted or even demanded that he kill her?  In that case, he probably knew that he was committing a crime under the secular law of the state/country, so he’s guilty under that law, even if he thought he was obeying some “higher law” (he can feel good about that in prison, which is right where he would belong — after all, who knows when he might decide to follow his “higher law” again?).  But what if he believed he was stabbing someone who was trying to kill him at the time?  Ok, if he actually believed it, that’s sounding more like not knowing that his act was criminal.  What if he thought he was stabbing a demon or a pillow, so he didn’t even really know what he was doing?  Now that’s sounding like not knowing that his act was criminal (not intentional murder anyway, but maybe still reckless homicide if he meant to be stabbing a pillow but knew he was doing it near a person who could be hit by the sword).  You can see how these cases can get both frustrating and fascinating for the folks who end up having to sort them out!

Finally today, it has been announced that certain Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, etc., don’t have to go through the new, more invasive, airport security procedures that I wrote about here recently.  Some are up in arms about that today, demanding that the government officials go through the same procedures as everyone else.  I say the people who are complaining about that are missing the better point, which is:  Finally!  The TSA is profiling (not racially, but based on a number of other known facts about people)!  They’ve developed some criteria (e.g. being appointed to the Cabinet or elected to Congress) which they believe make someone too small a risk to require invasive screening.  Right!  Now the criteria just need to be statistically and strategically expanded to include, for example, being a 90-year-old grandma, being a three-year-old kid, being someone like me, being someone like you… .  See?  Safe travels if you’ll be on the road or in the air this Thanksgiving

Violent weekend 11/22/10

It was a violent weekend, especially for three families, two in Florida and one in Massachusetts.  In a sad confirmation of what I said a week ago on the Joy Behar show (recapped here previously), a single mother and three of her four children were shot in Florida by the woman’s significant other (not the children’s father), who then turned the gun on himself.  The mother and the shooter are now dead, three children critical, and one child, a two-year-old, unharmed and in state custody.  Apparently the shooter acted out of some kind of sexual jealousy, but the details aren’t all clear yet.  Meanwhile, in the Boston area, a young mother, her boyfriend, her two-year-old child (named Amani for those of you who read my recent post about the names of kids involved in these tragedies and what the names may tell us about the parents), and two adult male acquaintances were shot, all fatally except for one of the acquaintances.  The apparent shooter is in custody, and the speed with which that occurred leads me to think it’s a similar incident to the previously-described Florida tragedy (a fairly-easily-identifiable significant other of the mother), just without the suicide component.  There’s also an accomplice in custody in this Boston incident, and if you’re a regular reader, you’ll find it discouraging and disgusting but not surprising that the alleged accomplice was arrested just last month, identified as a “career criminal,” charged with drug, theft, and weapons crimes, and then…released, whereupon he apparently assisted a shooter who killed four, possibly five, people.  I’m not sure what else to say about this “catch and release” policy that’s putting clearly-dangerous people back on the streets of America day after day.  It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to see that it’s insane.  Then back in Florida, a woman and her three children, two six-year-olds and a three-year-old, were found dead, apparently brutally murdered in the woman’s home.  Little information beyond that has been released so far, but given that such young children were killed, it won’t be surprising if it’s a similar story to the other two (i.e. driven by emotion rather than rationality — robbers, even rapists, whose reasons for entering homes are generally to take things from adults, usually don’t commit multiple brutal child murders while they’re there; it doesn’t make any sense for them to raise their stakes that way.  Sure, it could’ve been a psychopath who never knew the mother at all, but a “significant other” of hers is statistically more probable, and the cops’ tight-lipped approach to the investigation leads me to suspect that they’re not worried about a psychopath on the rampage; i.e. that they have someone in mind, someone with a known connection to this poor woman and her kids).

On a more positive note, the man charged with killing Congressional intern Chandra Levy has been convicted!  (You may recall, however, that he’s a perfect illustration of another insane public policy — letting people continue to enter the country at will whose identities and intentions we don’t know, and even more insane, catching people committing crimes, finding out that they entered the country illegally, and actually letting them stay here, not in jail, not in prison, but on the streets, again, almost inviting their criminal behavior to escalate.)

The judge in Chris Brown’s battery case (you may recall that he battered his former girlfriend, singer Rhianna) praised the singer at a status hearing for how well he’s complying with the conditions of his probation.  Whoopee!  Let’s really praise someone on probation, kind of like how we should praise alcoholics for having the “courage” to stop drinking.  Now I’m the one who’s going to throw up.  How about all of us who follow the law every day and don’t need to be on probation?  How about all of us who aren’t drinking ourselves and our loved ones into despair?  Where’s our praise?  (Not that we really need or want any of course.)

No word yet on whether a jaw bone found on a beach in Aruba is that of missing American Natalee Holloway.  There’s supposed to be an announcement of some kind on Tuesday though, so stay tuned.

Facebook-induced panic attacks 11/18/10

Doctors in Italy say that a young asthmatic patient in their care hyperventilated repeatedly because he looked at his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page and saw that she had newly-added male friends.  The doctors’ conclusion?  Facebook can cause asthma/panic attacks.  The Lawpsyc conclusion?  Repeatedly exposing oneself to any stimulus that a person finds profoundly stressful can cause uncomfortable psychological and physiological reactions, particularly when the person has pre-existing vulnerabilities to such reactions.  The Lawpsyc cure?  Ban Facebook?  No.  Send the guy to a psychologist for a series of graduated exposure and desensitization therapy sessions and/or to a psychiatrist for anti-anxiety medication?  No (maybe if exposure to the stimulus were necessary for normal living, but not in this guy’s case).  As if I even need to state it:  Stop blaming the stimulus, and tell the guy to STOP LOOKING at it.  There, cured, no charge.

Bodies found 11/18/10

Remember the first case we discussed on Monday night’s Joy Behar, in which a kidnapped 13-year-old girl was found alive, but her mother, brother, and mother’s friend were still missing?  Sounds like the bodies of the missing three have been found, just miles away from the home where the initial assault apparently took place, just like I predicted unfortunately.  And guess who else’s remains may have been found?  Natalee Holloway.  A young female’s jaw bone was found by tourists on an Aruban beach, and Dutch authorities have requested dental records to confirm that it is Holloway’s.  Sounds like it is, and if so, Joran van der Sloot just lost the last bargaining chip he’ll ever have (Holloway’s whereabouts, not that it was likely to be very persuasive with the Peruvians, who have him jailed now for a murder in Peru), but there have been false alarms in this case before, so stay tuned.

Uproar over airport security 11/18/10

As we head into Thanksgiving week, some are all up in arms over new airport security measures requiring people to pass through body scanners that produce blurry images of their naked bodies through their clothing or be frisked by a TSA officer.  Ok, nobody (normal) enjoys that, but…  Some of the most vocal complainers are saying that we should never give up any individual freedom in exchange for security.  Well, giving up some individual freedom for security is the principal reason why people voluntarily form governments in the first place (I explained that in a post right here dated 10/9/08).  There’s a limit of course, a point at which the trade-off would no longer be worth it, but I don’t think we’re anywhere close to that yet, or even in danger of sliding in that direction much, because of these new security measures.  And those whose primary concern is freedom should also consider the freedom of the airline owners, usually shareholders represented by boards and executive officers, to require whatever measures they deem necessary to protect their passengers and property.  I mean, has anyone asked them if they object to the new measures?  If they own the planes, and they want passengers to go through the scanners or be frisked before stepping into their property, it seems that those who are concerned about freedom should respect that and take the train/bus or drive/bike/walk or stay home if they don’t like it.  So, while I don’t share some people’s moral objection to what’s happening in our airports (and I think it’s absurd how some are accusing TSA officers of enjoying the new procedures — I think real instances of that are few and far between), I do however, have a practical objection, one that I’ve made before.  I don’t think these new measures add any meaningful measure of security to what we were doing before (and the new machines do expose people to small doses of radiation, not that I think that’s a big deal, but if there’s no appreciable benefit…).  More important to me is what we’re still NOT doing.  We need to profile, not racially but behaviorally (behavior including travel to and from certain countries through which statistically high numbers of individuals who may be inclined to want to hurt the USA travel) and target our heightened screening measures rationally instead of randomly.  The Israelis face probably the highest terrorism threat of any country in the world, and they do that.  In fact, it’s been done to me there.  They questioned me at length and looked at everything I had with me, including squeezing some toothpaste out of my little travel tube, because I was a young American man traveling from Cyprus to Israel alone with minimal luggage, and they thought I was part of an undercover security detail for the CIA director who was on his way to Israel at the time also (they filled me in when I got to Israel about why I had drawn such heavy scrutiny in Cyprus — apparently it would’ve been a feather in their caps if they had blown a CIA agent’s cover).  They questioned me about where I was from, what I did for a living, etc., and I think they may even have done some verification on the Internet because they left me alone in a screening room for a while before returning and letting me get on the plane.  It was fine with me.  I’ve never felt safer on an airline flight.  We could save ourselves a lot of inconvenience and a lot of uproar by taking a lesson from them.

[In related news, the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in civilian court was convicted this week of conspiring to bomb U.S. embassies in Africa back in 1998– a conviction that will result in a sentence of 20 years to life in prison (which could be 8 years on the low end if he’s credited for time served awaiting trial) — however, he was acquitted of murder (280 charges, one for each person killed in the two completed bombings) because critical evidence against him could not be presented in civilian court (in this case, the evidence was excluded because it was obtained without giving the defendant the Constitutional protections guaranteed to people who are arrested for crimes here in the U.S.A., but in future cases, evidence that could compromise national security if revealed in civilian court will have to be withheld as well).  This week’s verdict, while not an acquittal (to listen to some, you’d think the guy was going to be released on the streets of New York), nevertheless supports the concern that I’ve expressed here previously about trying terrorism defendants in civilian court and indicates an urgent need for the Obama Administration to reconsider that policy.]

Cry me a river, Mitchell family 11/17/10

The insanity defense is in full swing in the trial of Brian Mitchell, the man who kidnapped and raped Elizabeth Smart, now 23, when she was just 14 years old.  So far, Mitchell’s relatives have testified about what a troubled child he was and how he got progressively weirder as he got older, using drugs along the way (and by the way, new research findings out this week add to the mountain of pre-existing confirmation that marijuana use in the teen years can stunt long-term cognitive development, i.e. prevent the brain from developing to its full potential).  Obviously, Mitchell’s parents are a couple of weirdos themselves, and Mitchell’s upbringing was clearly messed-up, but he also made a lot of extremely poor choices that were all his own, and the bottom line is:  None of it matters.  Cry me a river.  Lots of people had messed-up childhoods and didn’t go on to kidnap and rape anyone.  Was he insane when he kidnapped and raped Smart?  I don’t think so.  I think he was a con artist then and still is today (with his ridiculous hymn-singing in the courtroom).  But could he have been insane?  Sure, but guess what, it doesn’t matter.  Insanity, if it’s present at all, might explain why a person wanted to behave criminally (i.e. had a criminal idea/desire/impulse, and I say “might” because there are plenty of sociopathic-but-sane sources of criminal impulses, e.g. the desire for someone else’s money or possessions, the desire for sex with an unwilling partner, vengeance, etc., that mentally-ill people can still have).  Insanity, even when it’s present, usually does not explain why a person went ahead and actually perpetrated criminal behavior.  Acting on even an insane criminal impulse still usually involves conscious thought on the perpetrator’s part, a decision to “give in” to the impulse, usually with some bogus rationalization (like that they had it rough as kids, so now they’re entitled to something, or that a woman ignored/insulted/teased them, so now she deserves to be assaulted by them, or that they’re really not hurting the ten-year-old whom they’re molesting).  Yes, of course it’s easier for those of us who had good upbringings and don’t have any criminal impulses to then not commit crimes, but the law requires that everyone with even minimal ability to differentiate between criminal and legal behavior must make that distinction and must resist any criminal impulse, even a criminal impulse borne of mental illness, or be held accountable along with those who commit crimes for sociopathic-but-sane reasons like the ones that I listed above.  All that matters legally, then, is whether Mitchell knew what he was doing and that it was criminal at any time during the nine months when he was holding Smart against her will and sexually assaulting her, period (his hymn-singing in court since then, even if it weren’t just an act, doesn’t dictate what his mental status was during the crimes — current mental status is relevant to competency to stand trial, and he’s been adjudicated competent already, so in assessing the validity of his insanity defense now, we’re looking back at his mental status during the commission of the crimes).  I say he clearly did know what he was doing and that it was criminal, despite whatever childhood, mental, and substance-abuse problems he may have had, because he demonstrated consciousness of guilt repeatedly while the crimes were in progress — he tried to evade authorities; he lied to authorities when they did catch up with him; and he spouted “religious” proclamations about his identity as a savior and about Smart’s identity as his devinely-chosen “wife” only selectively (i.e. not in the presence of people who might’ve been inclined to drop a dime to authorities — if he really believed that he was a savior and that 14-year-old Smart was his rightful wife, he probably would’ve gone right ahead and proclaimed that to everyone, including the cops, before he was arrested and in need of a defense).  I say again, con artist.  Mentally-healthy con artist?  Probably not, but a conscious con artist nonetheless.  Now, just wait for the defense “experts” to try to tell you and the jury otherwise!

Joy Behar Monday 11/15/10

If you missed Joy Behar on Monday night, we talked about a strange case out of Ohio in which four people — a 13-year-old, her younger brother, their mother, and their mother’s friend — went missing, and a few days later, a SWAT team, apparently acting on a tip, rescued the girl alive (props to the cops) in the home of a 30-something male ex-con (surprise), but still no sign of the brother or the women.  Cops are dredging in a nearby body of water, and whenever that happens, it’s not good — obviously it means the cops think someone might be down there.  When asked about whether I thought there probably was a prior connection between the kidnapper/murderer (alleged) and the victim(s), I said yes, because psychopaths are usually cowards, meaning that they usually only have the balls to commit their psychopathic acts when they have the elements of surprise and/or overwhelming physical force on their side, so either by ambush in a dark, isolated place or by first gaining their victims’ trust.  The guy’s not talking of course, and police aren’t releasing any of what the girl’s been telling them yet.  This looks like it started in the girl’s family home as a home invasion, perhaps involving deceit rather than force initially (i.e. telling the person who answered the door some sob story to gain entry, then ambushing the occupant(s) — there was a lot of blood in the house), intended to end in a kidnapping of the girl for sexual reasons with the other three being “collateral damage” in the eyes of the perpetrator.  If he were caught by surprise by the presence of the other three people and killed them on the spur of the moment, then the bodies were probably dumped close by, perhaps using the mother’s vehicle (her SUV was found abandoned on the campus of a nearby college), and probably won’t take very long to find.

In other news, Zahra Baker’s father’s and stepmother’s mutual finger-pointing is sounding more and more like a he-did/she-did/we-did murder/cover-up story with complicity on the part of both parents.  And in the ongoing case of missing child Kyron Hormon, emails have been released wherein the stepmother writes about how much she resented Kyron and how she blamed him for problems that she apparently was having with Kyron’s father, who by the way now says she was a drunk while living with him and his children.  No, the emails don’t prove she killed the child, but they do provide a possible motive.  As I said on the show Monday night, though, here’s the lesson:  if you’re a single parent who didn’t do enough due diligence before bringing a significant other into your children’s lives and home, and now the significant other turns out to be a drunk, or violent, or hateful, that environment in itself is abusive, so if you don’t get that person out or get yourself and your kids out, you’re complicit in whatever damage is done to the kids, from just being in the environment or worse.  And sometimes just getting out doesn’t mean the danger automatically stops.  There was a tragic family murder/suicide in Pennsylvania over the weekend in which a woman’s estranged husband shot her, shot their three children (this guy was actually the biological father of the children, two of whom were named Trinity and Brianna for those who read my recent post about the names of children involved in these tragedies), and then shot himself.  The only survivor is the youngest child, a two-year-old (whose name I haven’t heard yet).

On a lighter note, a fake “study this” for you (well, the story’s not fake, but it’s about something fake):  A professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, where I got my Ph.D., has studied fake…orgasms…and while her finding that about half of all sexually-active women have probably faked orgasms may not be that surprising, she also found that…an estimated 25% of men have faked it as well…really, no lie.

Smart testimony 11/12/10

People have asked me about the effects on a person like Elizabeth Smart of testifying in the trial of her kidnapper and rapist. It’s different for every victim. While it can certainly have a traumatic effect, to varying degrees, for victims to have to tell rooms full of strangers about horrific things that were done to them during violent crimes, and particularly to have their versions of events challenged during cross-examination, for many victims, even child victims, it can have an even stronger empowering, restoring effect on their sense of control over their lives to participate in holding the perpetrators accountable

Case updates 11/12/10

News is still breaking, but is sounds like Zahra Baker’s body has been found in a shallow grave in a rural North Carolina area commonly used for the disposal of deer carcasses. The stepmother reportedly led cops to the location, and the father reportedly is talking with cops as well, again. This is one that I’d love to have been wrong about.

Also, as Elizabeth Smart has testified this week about her horrific months in the captivity of defendant Brian Mitchell and his wife/accomplice Wanda Barzee, Mitchell has continued his courtroom theatrics in support of his anticipated insanity defense. He’s been removed from the courtroom repeatedly for singing hymns. Funny thing though — when he’s put in a room by himself with no audience, he shuts up. You might say all that shows is that he’s sane now, but what about back when he committed the crimes against Smart? Well, if you’re a regular reader/viewer, you know all about “consciousness of guilt” — behavior that shows that the defendant knew he/she was doing something criminal, like lying about it, attempting to conceal evidence of it, and evading/obstructing law enforcement, all of which Mitchell reportedly did. Consciousness of guilt blows an insanity defense.

Verdict in Connecticut! 11/8/10

The first of two defendants to be tried in that horrific Connecticut home invasion/sexual assault/murder spree has been sentenced to death.  Steven Hayes smiled as the verdict was read; he supposedly has said he wants to die.  Ok, I guess now we’ll see.  Will he man up and take his lethal injection as soon as possible, or will he try to drag it out as long as possible with appeal after appeal because he’ll all of a sudden be suffering from “mental retardation,” “mental illness,”…?  What do you think?

P.S.  The 16-year-old runaway “Gothic/vampire-lifestyle” girl from Georgia (see my previous post) was found safe and taken into juvenile custody in Washington and is being sent back to her father and stepmother.

16-year-old’s “Gothic lifestyle”? What? 11/8/10

So there’s this missing-teenager story out of Atlanta:  16-year-old girl disappears, apparently voluntarily at first (i.e. a runaway), but now the parents fear that she got caught up in some foul play, a “vampire cult” specifically.  Huh?

Ok, I’m going to tell you what goes through my mind when one of these stories comes across the wires and I read it, but before I do, I want to acknowledge that I’m making assumptions that could be wrong, I’m judging people harshly who could have mitigating circumstances or even be completely innocent, etc.  Ok, but here’s how my horrible mind works anyway, because even if my initial thoughts don’t prove to be 100% right in this case, they’re right often enough to be worth some consideration I think.

So these parents — well, first off, they’re not really the “parents;” they’re the father and stepmother.  So what?  Well, that tells me there’s been some chaos in this family before this.  The girl’s been through a divorce apparently (yes, I know, the bio-mother could be dead; it’s possible, but not statistically likely), and as I’ve said repeatedly, that ups the chances of all kinds of bad outcomes for kids.  Just look at the last names of the kids and parents in the cases that I cover and see how often everybody has the same last name; it’s rare.  Then there’s the fact that the girl apparently lived primarily with the father and not the mother, which is unusual and usually means that there was some particularly-chaotic chaos at the time the mother and father split (yes, again, I know, the bio-mother could be dead; it’s possible, but not statistically likely).  Then there’s the stepmother, whose very presence means that after the girl went through some severe chaos in the past (whether it be her bio-mother’s passing, nuttiness, etc.), the father apparently thought it’d be a good idea to focus on his own dating and remarriage, making this girl feel, accurately, like a third-wheel instead of the rightful focus of her father’s attention (ok, if the mother died when the girl was an infant, and the father was trying to secure a mother figure for her, I might’ve supported that, but if the bio-mother left the scene much beyond that, I’d generally, with rare exceptions, say he had enough to focus on just mitigating the damage done thereby and that he didn’t have time to focus much on his needs until the girl was off to college), and he probably (yes, maybe not in this case, but statistically) then went on to make a new kid or two with the new woman, thereby making this girl feel even more like an outsider in her own home.  That means that after the girl went through the chaos of no longer having her biological parents under the same roof with her (and probably/maybe having to shuttle back and forth between their two houses at least sometimes), she also had to adjust to the chaos of living with at least one stranger whose status in the household was above hers (the stepparent/stepchild relationship is one of the toughest to negotiate successfully in all of the human condition, especially when it begins when the child’s still a dependent minor).

So then you listen to the father and stepmother talk about this girl, and you’d think she were 26 instead of 16 and had been out from under their roof for a good eight years.  They talk about how she lived a “Gothic lifestyle” that supposedly worried them on many levels (the friends with whom she surrounded herself and the activities in which they engaged outside of school), as if they weren’t anywhere in the vicinity and had no power to involve themselves in trying to influence it for the better.  Once again, I could be wrong, and if I am, I apologize to these people, but what I’m saying holds true in enough cases to be worth saying, and it knows no demographic bounds (e.g. it holds true at all socioeconomic levels, sometimes most egregiously at the higher socioeconomic levels where there’s nothing resembling an excuse for paying less than full attention to a child’s needs).  It looks to me like these people quite possibly were more concerned about priorities other than this girl and may have been ignorantly oblivious at best or even willfully neglectful at worst of their parental responsibilities…until she went missing, at which point they became “parents of the year” in front of the TV cameras.

Of course I hope the girl turns up ok because that’s the most important thing, but honest to God, if your kid’s been through chaos, mitigating that chaos, helping that child still grow up as healthy as possible in every way, is job #1 for you for the foreseeable future.  And with any major decision you then make while that child’s still a minor, like whether to bring another person into his/her life, the best interests of that child need to be the deciding factor.  And if that child starts dressing in all black and painting her eyelids black and talking about cutting herself/drinking blood/doing drugs/etc. and hanging out with other kids who do the same, that’s a parental emergency requiring immediate parental and professional intervention, not a “lifestyle” choice, at age 16!  “Gothic lifestyle”?  “Vampire cult”??  Where the hell were these “parents” when all that was going on?  Before she disappeared??  Hmmmmmm???

Ok, that’s what I think when I see a story like this come across the wires (and of course I’ll continue to watch closely for corroborating or contradictory information as the story develops and gladly report both).  I’m horrible, I know (no need to write and tell me so).

Friday night’s Nancy Grace 11/7/10

If you missed Friday night’s Nancy Grace, we talked about the latest developments in the Zahra Baker disappearance.  With both “parents” (father and stepmother) now pointing fingers at each other, it’s looking more and more to me like a case of two abusive parents, one of whom went too far and killed the child, and both of whom then tried to cover it up.  It’s tough to imagine at this point that they don’t both have complicity in abuse of the child and in a cover-up of the child’s death, even if just one of them struck the blow that killed the child.  In such a case, mutual finger-pointing actually can help the cops get to the bottom of each person’s role in it and convict each person accordingly.  Zahra’s biological mother was on with us from Australia, and while she’s now coming across like an aggrieved victim whose daughter was snatched away to the U.S. by an abusive ex, she certainly seems like a…I’ll be extra-charitable here because the woman’s obviously suffering…”troubled” individual as well (without even seeing her, all you really have to do is think about what kind of woman would’ve ever hooked up with Zahra’s father).  So, it looks like little Zahra really didn’t have much of a chance from day one of growing up in a healthy environment.  As I said on the show, there are millions of kids in the U.S.A. who are, sadly, growing up surrounded by “troubled” adults, and we as a society don’t get chances to intervene in many of their lives, but I think this case may again point out (along with the Dugard case and others) the heavy price that children pay when we do get a chance to intervene and blow it.  We need to get to the bottom of that (as do the Australians on their end), but we’re hearing now that child protective services had been alerted to abuse and neglect of Zahra and that someone may even have visited at least one of Zahra’s last two homes, both of which have been disgusting environments.  I think that most child protective services workers are good, compassionate people who try to do right by children in very difficult situations, but I also think they’re extremely underfunded and understaffed, which is part of the reason why I’m always saying that we really need to look at what it is that we want our government to be doing and not doing for us.  I mean, if our government, at the national and local levels, can’t protect our children from physical violence, what do you think it’s doing that’s really more important than that?  At some point, we’ve got to figure out what our priorities are as a society, fund those priorities fully (not in a half-assed way like we do with child protective services), and simultaneously realize that we can’t fund everything by going into limitless debt, which means we have to make some tough choices, do without some government services, and expect people to secure the lower-level priorities for themselves (and/or for one another privately).

[As an aside, to me, those choices really aren’t that tough, because if you incentivize and expect every adult to do everything that he/she can possibly do for him/herself and for his/her children in terms of providing social services like health care, so that you’re left only trying to figure out what to do for the truly incapable individuals among us, which thankfully are relatively few, problems like getting people covered by health insurance become far smaller and far more manageable, as opposed to when you try to come up with ways to give everyone everything, including giving unnecessary stuff to people and/or giving necessary stuff to people who could get it on their own if forced to do so.  As someone with considerable expertise in all fields relevant here — human behavior, governance, and economics — I can tell you with some certainty that that’s where we’re going to end up, either by wising up or by going belly-up:  a society in which every adult member is expected to do everything possible to meet his/her basic needs and the basic needs of his/her children him/herself and get any needed assistance privately before turning to his/her fellow citizens in the form of a government that has more than enough on its plate just protecting us from threats, external and internal, and maintaining the physical and financial infrastructures in which the vast majority of us, thankfully, can be at least productive enough to meet our own basic needs and the basic needs of our children.]

Case updates 11/4/10

Two quick case updates:

1) The child’s prosthetic leg found in North Carolina has been confirmed to belong to missing Zahra Baker.  Additionally ominous, a bone has been discovered by searchers looking for Zahra.  It’s not clear yet whether the bone is Zahra’s, but tests are underway to determine that.  It would seem a little unusual to find a single bone without the rest of the body in close proximity, but it’s possible — back when Caylee Anthony’s remains were located, there was concern that animals may have taken some pieces of bone and tissue away from that scene.  And guess what else, surprise, surprise — it looks like future defendant #1 may now be pointing a finger back at future defendant #2 (where have you heard that sort of dynamic predicted between these two?) — the stepmother is reportedly now saying that it’s actually the father who knows what happened to Zahra.

2) The trial of Elizabeth Smart’s (alleged) kidnapper and rapist is set to begin today, finally!  As I’ve said many times, I think this creep has been faking incompetency to stand trial for nearly nine years now, staging ridiculous stunts like singing in the courtroom.  I’ve evaluated defendants’ competency to stand trial, and behavior like that is far more typical of the ones who are faking than the ones who are seriously crazy.  Thankfully, the court apparently has stopped buying the act, so justice might finally be done for Elizabeth and her family (the defendant’s wife/accomplice has already been convicted).

President Obama’s post-election presser 11/4/10

I have to comment on President Obama’s Wednesday post-election press conference for those of you who recall my analysis of his personality shortly after he was elected President.  In that press conference, he said voters had erroneously perceived that their government was getting bigger and more intrusive when, in reality, it was just responding to temporary crises.  I think he was trying to convey that he “got the message” of Tuesday’s election — that people are uncomfortable with the expansion of the government’s role in their lives and the accompanying deficits/debt on his watch — but what he actually conveyed was a rather elitist disdain for “average” Americans’ thoughts about how they should be governed (a subtle trait that I observed in him two years ago).  In my opinion, as both a psychologist and MBA, the voter psychology that produced Tuesday’s election results has validity, and it actually explains in large part why unemployment remains relatively high despite the Obama Administration’s unprecedented deficit spending intended to “create jobs.”  It’s this simple — employers are hesitant to hire workers when it’s tough to predict how much it will cost to keep those workers on payroll, so until the cost of government-mandated employer-paid health care, set to be implemented in 2014, is either taken out of the equation (by repealing that legislation) or at least clarified, that hesitancy is likely to persist.

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