Happy Labor Day! Here’s a rundown of law/psychology stories in the news as we head back to work after a long holiday weekend:
We’re hearing now that James Holmes apparently placed a call to the University of Colorado’s switchboard, possibly in an attempt to reach his psychiatrist, either while en route to the movie theater massacre or shortly prior. If he was trying to reach the psychiatrist, we still don’t know, however, what the reason was. Was he in the throes of some violent psychotic episode and calling the psychiatrist in desperation for her to stop him from committing mass murder? No, I seriously doubt it. He planned the massacre for months; it wasn’t an impulse, psychotic or otherwise. For all we know, he could’ve been calling to taunt the doctor about how her concerns regarding his behavior had failed to prevent what he was about to do. If I had to bet my own money, I’d bet on the taunt theory, not the “cry for help” theory. And by the way, Holmes supposedly applied for admission to the University of Kansas, where I teach a course, before matriculating at the University of Colorado — don’t know yet whether he ended up there because K.U. wisely rejected him (as the U. of Iowa apparently did) or because he simply chose C.U.
Odds and Ends about Kids:
Speaking of K.U., I recently came across a snippet from a former K.U. professor discussing “incorrigible” behavior among male juveniles. Interestingly, he said that juvenile delinquency resulted from parental neglect, poor socialization/upbringing, innate antisocial personality traits, and in rare cases, cognitive developmental disabilities. That was 100 years ago. And speaking of things parents do that set their kids up for major problems in life, I’ve been saying for years that I think it’s abusive for parents to let their kids get seriously overweight. It sets the kids up for all kinds of physical, social, and psychological problems, all of which are quite avoidable. (No, I don’t want to hear about thyroid conditions and the like — those occur all over the world, and there are plenty of places where the kids still aren’t fat. It’s true that limited food supplies, sadly, contribute to the relative thinness of the kids in some of those other places, but that sad fact nevertheless illustrates the inescapable truth, that all obesity ultimately stems from over-indulgence in food). So, here’s the update: A new study found that childhood obesity apparently also adversely affects kids’ cognitive abilities. Obese study participants performed significantly below their non-obese peers on standardized academic skills tests. So, as if parents needed another reason to watch their kids’ weights, here’s yet one more.
Grocery Store Shootings in New Jersey:
A former U.S. soldier apparently became disgruntled about something at his workplace, a New Jersey grocery store, late last week, left the store, returned with a gun, and shot two co-workers dead before killing himself. This is one of those cases in which people hear that a veteran was involved and immediately start talking about combat PTSD (service-connected trauma manifesting in psychological problems) and how it supposedly renders many veterans returning to civilian life behaviorally unstable. I actually have considerable experience working with veterans, and I can tell you that combat PTSD is highly unlikely to account for a murderous rampage like these N.J. grocery store shootings. The N.J. grocery store shooter, for instance, reportedly not only never saw combat but never even left U.S. soil during his time in the service. The fact is, most veterans, including those who’ve served overseas, including those who’ve seen combat, don’t have PTSD, and even of those who do, the vast, vast majority are non-violent. (Also in New Jersey over the Labor Day weekend, a man was arrested — hiding under a mattress by the way, which shows clear consciousness of guilt — after an apparent home invasion in which he allegedly stabbed one child to death and another child to near-death. The defendant is reportedly now claiming to have been insane at the time, having smoked a marijuana/PCP cocktail known on the street as “wet,” which can produce a psychotic effect similar to that of “bath salts” — remember the “causeway cannibal” case in Florida — but regardless, voluntary intoxication cannot form the basis of an insanity defense.)
Closing Argument Time in Drew Peterson Trial:
Both sides have rested their cases in the Drew Peterson trial. Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday, after which the case will go to the jury. I’ve consistently expressed doubts about the prosecution’s ability to get a conviction in this case, but at this point, I’m somewhat less pessimistic given the admission of multiple potentially-pivotal hearsay statements into evidence, the most recent of which were admitted due to what I think may have been a major defense error in calling missing wife #4’s divorce attorney as a witness. Stay tuned!