The 1957 classic movie, 12 Angry Men, depicts what most of the jurors thought would be an open and shut case, where a guilty verdict would result in the death sentence for the defendant, a Puerto Rican youth accused of killing his father.
Indeed, 11 of the 12 jurors were ready to go home, but Juror 8 stated that he had doubts about the case and wanted to give the defendant a fair hearing. As it turns out in the movie, there were serious holes in the case which raised substantial questions about the police investigation and, indeed, the competency of the defense.
The more the jurors looked into the evidence, the more the evidence fell apart, until one by one the jurors changed their minds.
Despite the jury committing what would amount in real life to juror misconduct, the lesson here is about a rush to judgment without exploring the facts.
On Friday it was understandable that the jury could quickly come back with a guilty verdict – after all, the defense did not deny that Daniel Marsh killed Oliver Northup and Claudia Maupin. However, given the complexity of the psychological issues, the gravity of the situation, and the conflicting views of medical and psychological experts, that the jury could deliberate for as little time as they did is appalling.
The Vanguard spoke to Lisa Rea, President and Founder of the Restorative Justice International, a Davis resident. She is a fierce advocate for victims.
She told me that, in 2001, she sat through the sanity hearing for Scott Thorpe, who had been found guilty of mass murder in Nevada City. This included the killing of the daughter of Nick and Amanda Wilcox, for whom Laura’s Law is named.
She said this particular sanity hearing lasted a number of days, and that ultimately the offender was found to be not sane. She said this “made perfect sense to all of us who were present during the hearing.”
She said that Mr. Thorpe was sent to Napa State Hospital, which she said “is not just a hospital but a prison for the mentally ill who commit violent crimes.” She said, “It seems that it is where Marsh should be sent.”
Ms. Rea wrote an op-ed at the time, that was published by The Union in Grass Valley; unfortunately we were unable to locate the publication online.
The lengthy trial and the shocking nature of the Daniel Marsh crime to this small community seem to have played a role here in the quick rush to judgment. The jury had to listen to weeks of horrifying and disturbing testimony – which leads us to wonder if there are services available to the jurors for post-traumatic stress.
The long trial, the potential loss of income and general disruption to jurors’ lives may have played a role in the quick verdicts both on the guilt phase (which is more understandable) and the insanity phase.
However, as we noted during the Talamantes trial and the ultimate 25-to-life sentencing for the killing of Talamantes’ daughter last year, there are misperceptions by everyone as to what an insanity finding really means.
The Vanguard was told that the DA’s office in the Talamantes case was opposed to the insanity plea because they believed that Ms. Talamantes would go to a state hospital for a short period of time and then be released. This is inconsistent with current policy.
NGI (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity) is covered under Penal Code §1026 and the inmates are handled under CONREP, the Forensic Conditional Release Program which is a statewide system of mental health treatment services.
According to their state page, “Most individuals in the CONREP program have experienced lengthy state hospitalizations. Once psychiatric symptoms have been stabilized and they are considered no longer to be a danger, the state hospital medical director recommends eligible inpatients to the courts for outpatient treatment under CONREP.”
Mr. Marsh, if he had been confined under CONREP, would likely have stayed in a facility as long as he will be sentenced to prison – perhaps even for the rest of his life, depending on the severity of his conditions.
As Lisa Rea implicitly notes, there are misperceptions about not guilty by reason of insanity. Mr. Marsh will not get the kind of treatment that he needs in prison. A facility like Napa State Hospital is not just a hospital, but rather a prison for the mentally ill who have committed violent crimes – mentally ill is clearly what Mr. Marsh is, whether he meets the legal definition of insanity or not.
That said, while I believe Mr. Marsh would be better suited for confinement at Napa than in a prison, I am also not convinced he fits the very technical legal definition of insanity.
Under the law, not guilty by reason of insanity has limited application under the 1843 McNaughton case, the first widespread legal standard for insanity. What has transpired is the use of the “McNaughton rule,” where the defense has to prove that “at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
The story of the Scott Thorpe killings and the Wilcox family, however, reminds us that, while this is a time for great pain for both the community and the victim’s family, there is opportunity for both healing and putting the pain and hardship aside to pursue a better outcome.
Lisa Rea also told me that she got to know the Wilcox family at the hearing and, years later, they would meet face to face with the man who killed their daughter in a victim-offender reconciliation program.
We were able to find a piece written in 2011 in the Restorative Justice online, where she wrote, “I was at the hearing of Scott Thorpe as the court decided his sanity. The court’s decision would then dictate where Thorpe would be sentenced. The Wilcoxes took a position against the death penalty from the beginning which was shared with the local district attorney. There were other victims that day who died at the hands of Thorpe; the Wilcoxes’ position represented their own personal opinion on the death penalty. It was the first time I had attended such a hearing and it had an impact on me and how I viewed both the offender and the victims’ family members as well as the family of the offender.”
The Wilcoxes became staunch advocates for preventing firearms from getting into the hands of mentally-ill individuals, and state legislators used the tragedy to pass new legislation to allow the court more power in ordering involuntary outpatient treatment for those individuals with serious mental illness.
Laura’s Law was passed in 2003 by the state and it allows the court to order involuntary outpatient treatment for those individuals with serious mental illnesses with a history of violent behavior. From 2003 to 2013, only Nevada County had fully implemented the law. However, in 2013, Yolo County committed $100,000 to a pilot program creating four slots for outpatient treatment.
In June of this year, by a 4-1 vote, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors made Yolo County one of the only places in California to fully implement the law.
—David M. Greenwald reporting