It’s become surprisingly easy to talk your way out of a murder case.
Last week, 50-year-old Joseph Mitchell was found not guilty of murdering his 4-year-old son, Blake, or of attempting to murder his other two children. Though he admitted to killing Blake, Mitchell claims he was sleepwalking and unaware of his actions. The only support for this defense is that Mitchell was allegedly stressed over financial issues and that he got little sleep in the weeks prior to the killing, which led to “non-REM parasomnia.” There are two problems with this case. One: The defense is purely word-of-mouth. And two: Even though the court apparently decided Mitchell really wasn’t in his right mind, he isn’t required to receive any kind of treatment for his alleged psychiatric issues.
There have been plenty of other cases where killers claimed they weren’t in their right minds when they did what they did; some of them weren’t so lucky. James Finney and Lakshminivasa Nerusu both claimed insanity when tried for their respective killings; both were found guilty of murder. Why is saying that you were sleepwalking any more or less believable than saying that you were insane? If you can’t claim one psychiatric issue, why should you be able to claim another?
Also, the fact that Mitchell wasn’t legally required to receive treatment after the decision makes no sense. If a court of law determines that a man has a psychiatric issue that can and has caused him to harm others, the sensible thing to do would be to order him to have the issue resolved before he hurts someone else. Such orders are normally issued when suspects are deemed not guilty by reason of insanity, but apparently “non-REM parasomnia” doesn’t qualify as such a problem, even if it drove a man to kill his own son.
According to District Attorney Roger Echols, the law says that people aren’t guilty of crimes they commit in an unconscious state, but this case shows how easy it is to abuse that rule and get off scot-free. Imagine every future murderer, rapist and whatever other kind of criminal getting away with it by saying “I was sleepwalking.”