I could do a whole show based on Wednesday’s news!

Lots of lawpsyc news on Wednesday!

First up, evidence collected from the Arizona shooter’s computer shows that he not only researched assassinations prior to his rampage, but he also researched whether death-row inmates experience pain when they finally receive their lethal injections.  This suggests not only premeditation, but also consciousness of guilt, which supports what I’ve said since the very beginning of this story:   it looks like he knew both what he was doing and that it was wrong (wrong by society’s standards, i.e. against the law).  I heard a defense attorney, who admittedly had a tough job, discussing this guy’s defense prospects on t.v. today, and he questioned whether anyone who would shoot that many people, including a child, could possibly be legally sane.  Maybe he was just demonstrating a defense lawyer’s best rhetorical effort to get jurors to ignore the evidence and the law on insanity as a defense to a crime, but if he really wonders that, he obviously isn’t reading or watching my commentary.  If he did, he’d know that yes, disturbing as it is, it’s absolutely possible for someone to do something as horrific as this, knowing full well what he’s doing and that it’s wrong.  Sounds like this case is going to be a sobering illustration of just that.

Ok, so mental illness and criminal responsibility is at issue in Arizona, but let’s back up to the issue of competency to stand trial in the first place, which is at issue in another high-profile case, this one in Texas.  Allen Stanford is accused of masterminding a securities fraud that cost investors roughly $7 billion.  His attorneys are now claiming that their client is no longer competent to stand trial.  I know what you’re thinking — if he could mastermind a hugely-fraudulent financial scheme, he can stand trial — and I think you’re probably absolutely right, but there is an additional factor that we have to consider.  While awaiting trial in jail, he was beaten up by a fellow inmate, sustaining head and facial injuries, requiring reconstructive surgery and pain medication.  Competency to stand trial, which I’ve assessed time and again, essentially requires that a defendant be able to understand the charges against him, understand in basic terms what’s going on in court, understand the penalties that could be imposed, and assist in his own defense. The defense attorneys claim, and they introduced testimony from an expert (hired by them), that Stanford is unable to assist in his own defense due to post-concussive syndrome (residual effects of a head injury) and/or the effects of his required medication.  The judge has ordered Stanford to be transferred to a federal prison facility with the on-site medical and psychiatric services necessary to perform an independent competency evaluation and, if necessary, to attempt to restore him to competency.

So, we’ve had an insanity story, and a competency story, and now we’ve got a custody story.  I don’t know this woman because I don’t watch cooking shows, but as an expert in child-custody cases, anytime there’s one in the headlines, I’m interested.  Padma Lakshmi, from the show Top Chef, gave birth to a baby about a year ago.  She apparently has since claimed that her current boyfriend is the baby’s father.  Her former boyfriend, however, has filed a custody case alleging that he in fact is the father and seeking custody of the child.  A spokesperson for Lakshmi reportedly has said that she wants to reach a “fair and amicable” agreement, which suggests to me that the allegations in the suit are true (why would any woman want to reach a “fair and amicable” agreement with a guy claiming to be her baby’s father if he weren’t?).  I hope she’s sincere about that, because if I’m the evaluator, and the allegations are true, i.e. she kept a baby and father apart fraudulently for a year, I have serious concerns about her ability to parent in the best interests of the child in the years ahead.

And finally tonight, there’s a new study out about the after-effects of abortions on women’s mental health.  This is an area in which I also have a lot of expertise.  I’ve been called upon to testify before state legislators about how to draft legislation addressing the use of mental conditions to justify performing late-term abortions that would normally be illegal.  You may recall the high-profile story of Dr. George Tiller, who was doing just that in Kansas before he was killed by an anti-abortion zealot in 2009.  I was involved in that story in multiple ways, including explaining the many complexities of it to Kansas legislators and to the country on television (that’s me talking about it on The O’Reilly Factor above).  Numerous previous studies have found that women’s mental health suffers after they have abortions.  This new study is getting a lot of press because it found otherwise, that women who had abortions actually had fewer mental-health problems than women who carried their pregnancies to term.  When I heard this, I was skeptical, because it’s inconsistent with previous research findings and with my professional experience.  So, I looked into it and found out some important caveats.  The study was done in Denmark, so there’s a question about its generalizability to the U.S., but more importantly, it only examined data from the months immediately before and after the women’s abortions or deliveries.  While I some women who have abortions experience feelings of relief in the days immediately afterward, mental-health problems associated with abortions can take years to arise.  Therefore, I think it would be erroneous and dangerous to conclude, on the basis of reports about this Danish study, that abortion is a harmless procedure from a mental-health perspective.

See, I could do a whole show based on Wednesday’s news!

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