Robert Bianchi appeared on Fox News America’s Newsroom to provide his legal analysis on two separate cases – the Chris Kyle murder and the Tammy Meyers murder.
The Chris Kyle murder trial has the defense presenting evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to support their insanity defense. For the second segment, Tammy Meyers was a woman who was killed in a road rage incident due to a minor traffic incident.
By Robert A. Bianchi, Esq.: The movie American Sniper was about Chris Kyle. Kyle was murdered by a fellow United States military veteran who Kyle had befriended and was helping as the defendant suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While at a shooting range, the defendant shot and killed Kyle and another man. He was captured after a brief chase, and is now on trial for the murder of the two men.
The defense is now offering testimony to the jury in an attempt to show that the defendant was insane at the time of the shooting.
New Jersey’s insanity defense, is like that of most states. It requires that the jury finds that the defendant was suffering from a “mental disease or mental defect” to such an extent that the defendant did not “know the difference between right and wrong, or to know the wrongfulness of his conduct.” Here, the defense is arguing that the defendant’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was such a mental disease and that it prevented him from knowing the difference between right and wrong at the time of the shooting.
Juries are the “finders of fact” at a trial. They listen to testimony, review evidence, listen to the attorneys’ arguments, and then listen to the judge’s instructions on the law given at the end of the case. It is their job to determine what the facts of a case are, and to use those facts to determine if a crime was committed, and in this case, if a legally valid defense such as insanity, is proven.
There will be little question that the jury will find that Kyle was murdered. The only issue they will have to decide is if the insanity defense was proven. If it is proven, then the judge will enter a “not guilty by reason of insanity” finding. This means that he will not be held responsible for the murder, and will not be sentenced for the crime. But, this is not the end of the road for the defendant should this happen. The defendant will then be evaluated by psychologists and psychiatrists who will offer opinions to determine if his mental disorder(s) renders him a danger to himself and/or the community. The judge will take testimony from these mental health professionals in this regard. If the judge determines that the defendant is a danger to himself or others due to his mental disorder, the defendant will then be civilly committed to a facility that houses such persons, until the time the defendant is deemed to no longer be a danger. Periodically, mental health experts will go to court to update the judge on the status of the defendant’s mental health progress. He will remain civilly committed until the time the judge is convinced that he is no longer a danger. If the judge determines he is no longer a danger to himself or the community, he is released from the facility.
But the insanity defense is a tough one for the defense to prove in any case. The defense is not applicable to persons who are just mentally or emotionally troubled and made a poor choice. It is for those that are so mentally or emotionally debilitated from a diagnosed mental health disease or disorder to a point that they had no idea that the murder was wrong.
In this case, the defendant gave a lengthy statement to the police. In the statement, he was speaking at times incoherently. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence throughout the statement that he knew what he did was wrong. As former prosecutors and now New Jersey criminal defense attorneys, we know these mental health defenses well and have significant experience in handling such cases at trial. We have worked for years with mental health providers in such cases as criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors. What is key in cases like this are the moments before and after the shooting. These time periods best show the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the shooting.
Here, the defendant fled the scene of the crime immediately after the shooting. He fled in the defendant’s car. This will undoubtedly be used by the prosecution to show that he knew he did something wrong, what is oftentimes termed a “consciousness of guilt.” The prosecution will also show in addition to fleeing that he was not so debilitated mentally to do a number of things that “made sense” or better stated, showed complex, logical, and “goal orientated” mental activity. Getting into the right car, turning it on, fleeing the scene, driving on the road, stopping and purchasing a soft drink, and then fleeing from police, for example, all show “goal oriented” behavior that experts in the field will say shows that he was not so incapacitated to do purposeful and intentional activities at the time of, and shortly after, the shooting.
Also, he made numerous statements to his family members shortly after the crime indicating that he knew that he did something wrong. Further, in his video confession he repeatedly made statements that he knew it was wrong to shoot these people, was sorry for doing it, and wanted to see his mother for “the last time” showing he knew further that he was going to jail. These statements are very damaging to the defense in an insanity defense case.
The jury will have the final say.
As former New Jersey Prosecutors and now criminal defense lawyers, we have tried numerous murder cases with mental health defenses on both sides of the criminal justice isle. We know that oftentimes defendants are not in “their right mind” when they kill, as killing anyone for no reason is not a “sane” act, at least in a layman’s sense. But, to be exonerated for murder under the law requires a lot more than the fact that a person wasn’t thinking correctly. It requires that they be so mentally handicapped that they did not even know that the killing was wrong.
On that score in this case, the defense has a long road ahead of them with the jury.