Jurors in Suffolk Superior Court found Edwin Alemany guilty of first-degree murder and 15 other counts, including premeditated murder, for the killing of Amy Lord. Alemany was also found guilty of attacking two other women before and after killing Lord.
In July of 2013, Alemany kidnapped Lord from outside her South Boston apartment and forced her to withdraw money from several ATM machines. Prosecutors said he then raped her and stabbed her more than 75 times. He then dumped her naked body in Hyde Park and set her car on fire.
At trial, Alemany’s attorneys admitted their client killed Lord, but tried to prove he was not guilty by reason of insanity.
A defense of lack of criminal responsibility, also known as the “insanity defense” is often used as last resort for criminal defendants. According to Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure, “A mental health defense is one that places in issue the defendant’s mental condition at the time of the alleged crime, based on a claim that some mental disease or defect or psychological impairment affected the defendant’s cognitive ability.”
The Supreme Judicial Court has found that “a person is not responsible for criminal conduct, if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.” For reference, being intoxicated or under the influence of an illegal substance does not qualify as having a mental disease or defect. “Because I got high,” will not work as an insanity defense unless the substance was ingested involuntarily.
In order to assert a lack of criminal responsibility, the defense attorney must notify the prosecution before trial so that the prosecution may offer its own expert opinion after evaluating the defendant. In many cases where the insanity defense is raised, the trial boils down to a duel of expert witnesses testifying as to the mental state of the defendant at the time of the crime, all based on whatever prior mental health records exist and their own recent evaluations.
During the Alemany trial, a psychiatrist testified that Alemany was raped as a child and struggled with mental illness from a young age. He had spent several stints in psychiatric hospitals as a teenager for mental health problems that included hallucinations and severe depression. During the trial, Alemany tried to hang himself inside his jail cell, but was stopped by corrections officers. A further description of Alemany’s mental state can be found in this Boston Globe Article.
It is the Commonwealth’s burden of proof to show that the defendant was of sane mind when he committed the crime. When faced with the insanity defense, a common prosecutorial tactic is to focus on the defendant’s activity before and after the criminal conduct. If there is no evidence presented to the jury that the defendant was “acting crazy” close to the time of the incident(s) (speaking to himself, admission to a psych ward, hallucinating, etc.) then the prosecution will argue that the insanity defense is a blatant attempt to avoid responsibility. A similar high profile case was heard in a Texas court for the murder of Chris Kyle (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/02/25/trial-of-american-sniper-chris-kyles-killer-why-the-insanity-defense-failed/)
In this case, the Commonwealth argued that, “He knew exactly what he was doing” and that “He acted with clarity of mind.” Alemany’s extensive history of trauma and mental illness as a juvenile was not enough to persuade a jury that he did not know what he was doing. There are a lot of people with traumatic pasts that do not going running around killing. It seemed clear to the jury that although Alemany had some serious mental issues, he was capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong.
The jury could have surmised Alemany’s cognitive guilt based on the evidence that he tried to get rid of the body and burned her car. The argument would be that he obviously knew what he was doing was wrong because he tried to cover it up. Furthermore, there was no scientific evidence of mental instability (i.e. he was not in counseling) right before the attack.
As defense attorney will tell you, to win a trial using the insanity defense is extremely difficult and rare. When defendants do have mental health issues that lead to criminal charges it may be in the defendant’s best interest to work out a plea deal with the prosecution prior to trial that includes mental health treatment. In cases like Alemany, where there are horrendous crimes, the prosecution, as office policy, will not entertain an idea of a lack of criminal responsibility. However, in less horrific crimes it becomes a much more viable option. In my next blog I will discuss how the attorneys at the Law Offices of Samuel Goldberg successfully used the insanity defense.