In my last entry that discussed the Lincoln, Massachusetts high school student accused of First Degree Murder in the killing of another student at Lincoln-Sudbury High School, I discussed John Odgren’s attorney’s reported plans to raise a defense of “Diminished Mental Capacity”. However, that’s a pretty general defense, and if it is ever going to succeed in any kind of trial like this one, the particulars of how and why the defendant could not understand that his acts were criminal, all have to be produced. If a defense attorney wants to win, he or she can’t just ‘claim’ a general defense like this. The specifics have to be ‘filled in.’ Odgren’s defense attorney reportedly plans to accomplish that here, by specifically claiming that his client suffers from “Asperger’s Syndrome” – a mild form of autism that some observers in the medical community assert is associated with thoughts of weapons and violence. Odgren’s defense intends to show that because he suffers from this disorder, he lacked the necessary mental capacity to premeditate the act or understand the criminality of his act – and hence, he cannot be guilty of the crime for which he is formally charged, Murder in the First Degree.
“What’s the big deal?” some might say. If the jury doesn’t find him guilty of First Degree Murder, they can find him guilty of Second Degree, or perhaps Third Degree Murder. Possibly, but the problem is, young John Odgren hasn’t been charged with those crimes – he’s only been indicted (so far) for First Degree Murder. His lawyer is trying to get that indictment thrown out, but so far, it hasn’t been. Were Odgren to remain indicted and charged only for First Degree Murder, and if his attorney could, through this defense theory, establish reasonable doubt in the minds of sufficient jurors that Odgren lacked the necessary ability to understand the criminality of his act, then he might be acquitted of the charge of Murder in the First Degree.
That seems to enrage a lot of people. Frankly, many people are tired of seeing high-profile defendants accused of horrific crimes, acquitted on the basis of “theoretical” or specious defenses. I understand how such people might feel. Their attitude: “Lock ’em up, and throw away the key.”