Murderous Minds on Trial: Terrible Tales from a Forensic Psychiatrist's Case Book

Murderous Minds on Trial: Terrible Tales from a Forensic Psychiatrist's Case Book

Murderous Minds on Trial: Terrible Tales from a Forensic Psychiatrist's Case Book

Murderous Minds on Trial: Terrible Tales from a Forensic Psychiatrist's Case Book

Synopsis

Each murder trial brings its own tangle of evidence, legal parameters, medical factors, social circumstances, and personalities. The tangle gets trickier when we must keep in mind that: "A person shall not be criminally responsible for an act or omission if they suffer from a mental disorder such that they were not able to appreciate the nature and quality of their act or to know that it was wrong."

Forensic Psychiatrist Stanley Semrau takes us through some of the more terrible and fascinating tales from his career and from historical sources, including several cases that came to national attention: Clifford Olson and Terry Driver (The Abbotsford Killer) and the Daniel McNaughten case that marked the beginning of the insanity defense in Britain in 1843.

These chilling and thought-provoking stories delve deep into the psychiatric aspects of homicide law and into the psychology of the muderous mind. Semrau’s examination of these thrilling cases also offers a critique of the existing laws in Canada as he argues for profound changes.

Excerpt

Why do people kill? And do many of them really “get away with murder”?

A child is brutally slain. The confessed killer — a scruffy individual who shows no sign of remorse during his trial and who emits small smiles as some of the most grisly evidence is presented — pleads not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and is acquitted.

The public, media-fed and emotionally charged, is outraged. How can the courts let this happen? Why should one killer “walk” while others are locked up for life? When a life is taken, why should any killer be absolved of blame?

In another case, a pathetic picture is drawn for the jury: a young mother, weeping quietly, smothers her baby, believing with her whole heart that she is actually saving the infant from the devil. It is an act committed by someone distraught beyond reason.

This time the public’s anger is directed less at the woman than at her failed support system. Hardly anyone would wish her sent off to maximum security for life. Still, a life has been taken, the law has been broken — even if the defeated figure in the prisoner’s box does not fit anyone’s image of a killer.

Nor does the well-spoken business executive fit the mold. After months of senseless torture from a neighbour — including, the jury hears, excrement thrown against windows, obscenities directed at his wife, a dead pet on his doorstep, and boom-box “music” pounding through the night — he suddenly shoots his tormentor.

Is this a normal, nice person who “lost it” in a temporary, isolated moment of madness? Or is he afflicted with a mental disease, fighting bigger demons than his neighbour? Or was he “born evil,” with his villain side just waiting to emerge?

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