Insanity Defense, Likely in Whitten Murder Trial, Not an Easy Tack

Article excerpt

Byline: Tona Kunz & Adam Kovac

If Betty Whitten is found fit enough to stand trial, which county psychologists predict, she'll likely use an insanity defense.

The Campton Township woman's husband, Earstin, is leaning toward that defense. He has said Betty was suffering from depression before being charged with stabbing to death the couple's 34-year- old disabled daughter, Nyakiambi, April 3 in their home.

Whitten herself has laid the groundwork for such a defense.

On the day of the attack, Whitten's daughter, Rachael, called 911 for help. She told the dispatcher that Betty had tried to kill her and her sister Nyakiambi. Rachael also told the dispatcher that her mother apologized but said that she had to kill the girls because of the demons their father had brought into the house, according to court documents.

Whitten would later clarify to police that she had planned to kill herself but decided to kill two of her daughters as well rather than leave them with their father. The women still lived at home. According to court papers, Whitten told police that she believed her husband was abusing their disabled daughter.

Earstin has said Betty began slipping in and out of lucidity about a month before the attack, accusing him of things that weren't occurring.

Prosecutors have said there is no evidence that any member of the family other than Whitten committed a crime.

She was committed to a mental hospital earlier this month at the request of the doctor at the county jail and her attorney, Herb Hill.

Hill has yet to rule out an insanity defense for when Whitten is deemed fit to stand trial.

While such defenses make headlines, they are far from common.

A 1991 eight-state study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that insanity defenses were tried in less than 1 percent of cases and successful only about 26 percent of the time. Nearly 80 percent of the successful "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdicts were determined through plea agreements prior to trial.

Illinois allows for four possible outcomes from insanity defenses: not guilty, guilty but mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity and guilty.

In Kane County, insanity defenses have had mixed results.

In recent years, no one has gambled on an insanity defense and been found not guilty and released to live on their own.

Vivian Mitchell, a homeless former Indiana woman, was found guilty but mentally ill for the March 17, 2003, murder of 32-year- old Lynn Weis, who was found dead in the farmhouse apartment she rented in River Valley Memorial Gardens, a cemetery off Route 31 in West Dundee. Weis was stabbed more than 80 times and her apartment torched to hide the crime.

The verdict, in essence, means that the judge believed Mitchell was disturbed but not enough so to fail to comprehend what she was doing was wrong. Mitchell said she believed her victim was part of a "multi-cultural hate group" conspiracy against her.

She received life plus 65 years in prison. The state prison system will decide whether she receives medical treatment while incarcerated.

The American Psychiatric Association found that judges tended to be more sympathetic to the insanity defense than juries. The difficulty of convincing jurors that insanity isn't made up is evident in the 2003 trial of Edward Edwardsen Jr. He was convicted of attacking two people with an ax and killing three cats in Elgin and Carpentersville.

A jury wasn't convinced by the testimony of five medical experts that Edwardsen's mental state played varying degrees of culpability in his September 2000 crime spree.

After 16 hours of deliberation, a jury rejected his insanity claim.

Michael Kadlec was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the beating death of 51-year-old Kathy Ginesi, whose body was found May 4, 2003, in their Carpentersville house on Amarillo Drive. …