Thursday, January 21, 2021 -
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Insanity plea is often just an excuse

So, is there really no such thing as evil anymore? Are all the despicable murders attributable to a mental or emotional deficit beyond the control and responsibility of the perpetrator?

On the first anniversary of Mohammed Merah’s killing spree at the Jewish school in Toulouse, France, a spree that claimed the  lives of a student, a principal and his two children, as well as those of three French soldiers, a newly released film implies that Merah’s actions may have been the result of his difficult childhood. Never mind that Merah was a card-carrying jihadist, and that the killing of Jews, Americans or other infidels is condoned — even encouraged — in jihadism.

Closer to home, in Arapahoe County, Colorado, the judge in the Aurora theater shooting case entered a  plea of not guilty on behalf of James Holmes over the objection of Holmes’ attorneys who, for weeks, have said they were considering entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but needed more time to prepare.

In Jefferson County, Colorado, attorneys for Austin Sigg bought more time to build their defense of the now-18-year-old who confessed to the kidnapping and murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. Since Sigg confessed to the crime, there apparently is no doubt that he killed Jessica, so his attorneys must be looking for evidence that Sigg’s actions were beyond his control.

While there are people who suffer from extreme mental illnesses that remove them from any awareness of reality, the great majority of them do not kill anyone. And of those people who kill, virtually none of them is mentally ill.

Now, there is certainly something abnormal about anyone who would commit murder intentionally and not in a fit of rage. Human beings are simply not wired to kill others. So, may we say both that murder is abnormal and that people are responsible for their actions? Do we have here a problem in logic?

We think not. There is something fundamentally wrong with anyone who murders, but most murderers are sane. The Nazis, recall, were “ordinary people”: murderers, perverse in the extreme — evil actors responsible for their evil actions.  All sane people are responsible for their actions, however unfortunate their background, or (as in the case of the Nazis) however hateful the social pressures around them or (as in the case of jihadists) however perverted the religious influences on them.

Evil does exist. People make evil decisions. Others are full of rage. In either case, the actors are responsible for their actions. Insanity is a legitimate defense in rare cases. The justice system — in this country and in others — must be extremely judicious in buying into such a defense rather than facing the reality and the pain of evil.

Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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