California professor may face only arson charges and plead insanity

Last week I told you about a California professor who allegedly set several fires and contemplated mass murder/suicide at his son’s former school after the son committed suicide earlier this year.  It still looks like his motive was some perceived mistreatment of the son at the school (that presumably is believed to have precipitated the son’s suicide), but it’s not yet clear whether that was bullying and/or discipline that the son received for allegedly stealing on campus.

It’s also not yet exactly clear what the charges will be when the father is arraigned (which is set to happen Wednesday) and what his plea will be.  Apparently, he communicated his murderous intentions only via email to his wife.  If he didn’t directly threaten anyone at the school, then he may not face charges of making criminal threats.  There’s no indication that the wife participated in any way in his plans, and if that’s the case, then there’s no conspiracy to commit murder either.

It’s conceivable, then, that his alleged fire-setting may be the only solid basis for criminal charges (arson for sure and possibly attempted murder).  The problem there, however, is that given the bizarreness of how he allegedly went about setting the fires (doing it relatively openly, using bizarre items as fuel, etc.), and given that he’s in California, he may actually have a reasonable chance of mounting a successful insanity defense to charges stemming from the fire-setting.

In short, this guy could conceivably escape criminal responsibility for any of his behavior, including the alleged plotting of mass murder.  If he’s convicted of only arson charges, he could spend up to 12 years in prison.  If he’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, he’ll still face indefinite civil commitment in a mental health facility, but “indefinite” could easily translate into “alarmingly brief” if he were to quickly start acting fully lucid, repentant, etc. in such a facility.  Stay tuned.

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