Updates: Afghanistan, Neuman, Young, V-Tech, Rutgers, Blago, Idol & more!

Shooting Rampage in Afghanistan

Just as I predicted (see my last post), people — most notably a newly-retained, high-profile defense attorney — are suggesting that the as-yet-unnamed American soldier who shot and killed 16 civilians, mostly children, in Afghanistan just “snapped.”  Doubt it.

We’re hearing that the shooter was angry because one of his fellow soldiers was injured shortly before the murderous rampage.  Ok, maybe, but he apparently waited a while before sneaking out to the site of the shootings under cover of darkness.  That sounds like premeditation to me.  Anger is a reason why people sometimes decide to exact revenge.  That’s not “snapping.”

We’re also hearing that the shooter may have consumed alcohol before the rampage.  Ok, maybe, but when people who don’t think murderous thoughts while sober then consume alcohol, the alcohol generally doesn’t put murderous thoughts into their minds.  Alcohol generally just reduces people’s inhibitions such that they may find the “courage” to do say/do what they wanted to say/do all along.  That’s not “snapping” either (but it doesn’t really even matter because when people voluntarily get intoxicated, they’re just as responsible for their ensuing behavior as they are when they’re sober).

We’re also hearing that the shooter had suffered a head injury.  Ok, maybe, but if he did, it apparently occurred many months ago and was minor.  Minor head injuries generally don’t cause people to suddenly become crazed after functioning normally for long periods of time.  (In addition, we’re hearing that he may have had a troubled marriage.  Ok, maybe, but marital problems also generally don’t cause people to become crazed murderers either.)

Could a confluence of stressors have culminated in a murderous “psychotic break” in a slightly-weakened, intoxicated brain?  It’s possible, but in addition to some apparent premeditation, here’s how you can know that it probably didn’t happen that way in this case:

The shooter reportedly didn’t just walk back to his post after the rampage and tell his fellow soldiers about all the “enemies” that he had just killed as if he believed his actions were justified or even “heroic.”  Had he done that, it’d be more believable that maybe he was insane at the time.  Instead, he reportedly literally tried to crawl back to his post as his fellow soldiers searched for him.  Usually, people who don’t know what they’re doing and/or don’t know that it’s wrong also don’t try to hide the fact that they did it.  As I’ve said many times, evidence of premeditation and “consciousness of guilt” generally negates the proposition that somebody just “snapped.”

(While I’m on this topic, in San Francisco, a veteran who had served in Iraq and was suspected to have been suffering from PTSD has apparently killed his 11-year-old sister, himself, and perhaps their mother, who’s missing at this hour.  I have experience assessing and treating veterans with mental illness, so for more on that topic, see my last post, and for even more, search the archives.)

Hemy Neuman Verdict

Remember the guy who shot his employee’s (and alleged lover’s) husband in broad daylight in front of an Atlanta daycare center and then plead insanity?  Well, he’s been convicted, which is no surprise because there was ample evidence of both premeditation (e.g. disguising himself and driving to/from the scene in a rented vehicle) and consciousness of guilt (e.g. fleeing the scene afterward and lying to cops about where he had been).

But wait, there’s more.  He was actually found “guilty but mentally ill.”  What does that mean?  Technically speaking, it’s a verdict option that’s available to juries only in certain states, Georgia being one, whereby instead of finding a defendant “not guilty by reason of insanity,” a jury can find the defendant both guilty and insane.

So what does it mean in practice?  In this case, maybe not much.  It’s a guilty verdict, which means that that jurors categorically rejected the insanity defense and concluded that he knew what he was doing and that it was wrong (i.e. that it was against the law).  Nevertheless, the “but mentally ill” part generally can come into play in two ways:  First, judges can take it into account as a mitigating factor in sentencing (but in a murder case like this one, a judge in Georgia doesn’t have much leeway in sentencing anyway — e.g. the mental illness finding could result in a sentence of life with the possibility of parole instead of without).  Second, it can provide the convict with more mental-health treatment than would otherwise have been available while incarcerated, which again, may not make a whole lot of difference if the convict is in for life.  (Are you picking up on my dislike for the “guilty but mentally ill” verdict?  Good, because I think it’s bogus!)

Jason Young Verdict

You may have heard us talking about this one on the Jane Velez-Mitchell show — Young’s the philanderer who killed his wife after she refused to abort her second pregnancy.  He’s been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, no parole.  His attorney is arguing now that there was juror misconduct (discussion of the case outside of formal deliberations), but I think it’s safe to say that Young’s headed up the river for the foreseeable future, right where he belongs.

Virginia Tech Verdict

A jury found Virginia Tech University liable (to the tune of $8,000,000 — although that will likely be reduced, perhaps drastically, due to a statutory cap on emotional pain and suffering damages in Virginia) for the wrongful deaths of two students killed in the now-infamous mass shooting that occurred on that campus several years ago.  The jurors concurred that the school had an opportunity to save the women’s lives by issuing a campus-wide alert that a shooter was on the loose on the campus but elected not to do so.  Right on (the verdict, not the school’s decision, just to be clear)!

Rutgers Jury Deliberations

There’s no verdict at this hour in the trial of that Rutgers student who streamed video of his roommate having sexual encounters with another man, which, upon discovery, apparently precipitated the roommate’s suicide.  Jurors reportedly have asked the judge to clarify the definitions of a couple of words, which suggests to me that they’re trying, as I think most jurors do, to figure out how to correctly apply the law to the facts of the case.  As you may know, I don’t like “hate crimes” legislation (because I don’t believe in giving people lighter sentences when there’s not hate involved), so I’m really not a proponent of the “bias intimidation” charge in this case, but the invasion-of-privacy and obstruction charges seem like no-brainers to me (unless they’ve flown in the Casey Anthony jury).  Stay tuned.  (And speaking of suicides, a 47-year-old woman in the L.A. area has apparently committed suicide — with a chainsaw — if this really was a suicide, self-decapitation is an extremely rare method in general, let alone for a woman, so I’m going to stay tuned for you on this one, too.)

Another Courthouse Shooting

After a shooting outside of an Oklahoma courthouse a couple of weeks ago and then one inside a Washington courthouse last week, there was another one outside a courthouse in Texas this week.  A defendant accused of molesting his own daughter tried to kill the daughter (also the star witness at the trial) by shooting her (and her mother) and then running over her with his vehicle as he fled the scene (thankfully, both the daughter and her mother are alive at this hour).  After a chase and gunfight with police that spanned several blocks, the shooter took hostages, but the hostages overpowered him (that’s that positive legacy of 9/11 that I’ve cited numerous times), and he’s now is in custody, charged with the murder of an elderly bystander.

Blagojevich Incarcerated

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, whose case I covered on HLN, has finally begun his 14-year sentence for various corruption convictions at a federal prison in Colorado.  Could this really be the last we’ll hear of Blago for a while?  Well, it was true about O.J., but in Blago’s case, I’m not so sure.

HUGE Props to American Idol Producers

Finally, I get to give major credit to the producers of American Idol for reportedly kicking a contestant named Jermaine Jones off of that show due to dishonest (and alleged criminal) behavior!  This is the kind of thing that America’s kids need to see happening more often — celebrities, athletes, entertainers, politicians, etc. being held accountable instead of being given passes for antisocial behavior.  Insistence on integrity — now that’s behavior worth “idolizing”!

Have a great (and safe) St. Patrick’s Day weekend!

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