A spectrum of psychopathy

No bombshells on day 2 of the Casey Anthony trial.  Wednesday’s testimony was about how Anthony seemed and what she said to friends before and after Caylee’s death.  The prosecution laid down the background of its portrait of Anthony as both a calculating liar and a callous self-indulger whose lies and pleasure-seeking demeanor didn’t change (other than to escalate) even on the very day when she now admits that her daughter died.  On cross examination, the defense pulled out and highlighted contrasting impressions that others had of Anthony as a devoted and caring mother.  So, while we await day 3 in the Anthony trial, let’s take a brief look at other potential and proven psychopaths in this week’s Lawpsyc news:

Remember the “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski?  Well, he’s in prison for sending package bombs to people, but he’s also now under investigation for possibly being responsible for another series of random killings accomplished through the poisoning of Tylenol capsules on store shelves back in the 1980’s.  If he’s guilty of the Tylenol murders, it would be a rather unusual change of m.o. (modus operandi, methodology) for a serial killer in that it would entail both a change in murder weapon and a shift from random to targeted victims, so at this point, I’d bet against it — some, but not my home.  After all, many psychopaths do demonstrate both diversity and escalation in their criminal behavior.  Although he’s serving a life sentence already, resolution of this decades-unsolved case would certainly be a positive for the victims’ families.

And remember Brian David Mitchell, the creep who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart and delayed justice by faking insanity for years before finally being convicted?  Well, he was sentenced in a Utah court on Wednesday, and Smart got an opportunity to make a victim-impact statement, telling Mitchell and the court simultaneously how much he had damaged her.  Surprise, surprise, the coward initially refused to come into the courtroom, then came in singing a religious hymn.  After Smart made her statement, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison.  Good riddance.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Arizona held a hearing to determine whether another suspected psychopath, Jared Loughner, the shooter who killed six and wounded 13 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a shooting rampage back in January, is competent to stand trial.  Perhaps taking a page from Brian Mitchell’s playbook, Loughner disrupted the proceedings with an outburst in which he thanked the court for the “freakshow,” resulting in his removal from the courtroom.  Magically, however, and again reminiscent of Mitchell, he was able to understand and accept an invitation to follow the remainder of the proceedings on close-circuit television.  Nevertheless, based apparently on the findings of two clinicians at a federal prison hospital in Missouri, the judge ruled that Loughner is incompetent to stand trial at this time (meaning that he supposedly can’t understand the charges against him, the court proceedings in which those charges would be adjudicated, the roles of the various participants in those proceedings, what could happen to him if he’s found guilty, etc., such that he supposedly can’t assist in his own defense).  Loughner will now be transferred to a federal prison hospital for restorative treatment for up to 120 days, whereupon the court will reassess his competency.

And remember former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards?  Back in 2008, I spent several days on the air talking about the sex scandal in which it was revealed that Edwards had fathered an out-of-wedlock child with a staffer while asking Americans to trust him as their President.  Well, in the coming days, it’s widely expected to be announced that Edwards will be prosecuted for illegally using campaign funds to cover up the affair (i.e. to pay off the mistress).  That’s a sad but good thing, for all of the reasons that I stated in my recent piece “The Extortionator” in the wake of a similar scandal involving former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So, I’ve been writing a lot (even more than usual) lately about proven and suspected psychopaths and psychopathic behavior.  If you’re interested in learning more about them, you might be interested in a new book entitled How to Spot a Psychopath, excerpted here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/21/jon-ronson-how-to-spot-a-psychopath

And while you’re checking out links, here’s one that you might find interesting as it addresses a potential danger in not distinguishing between psychopaths and non-psychopaths.  It’s a column by my friend and colleague Diane Dimond in which she points out that our federal and state sex offender registries may be losing some of their utility if/as we continue to register non-dangerous (e.g. “Romeo and Juliet” offenders, like 18 year-old boys who’ve had consensual sex with 15-year-old girls) along with the truly-dangerous ones.  You can find Diane’s piece, dated May 16, 2011, here:   http://www.dianedimond.com/


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