Lincoln, Massachusetts High School Murder Case: Goal Should Be Justice, Not Vengeance

In my previous entry on this case, I made the point that when a jury returns a verdict that a defendant is found to be “Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity”, that defendant is not released to the public, but is incarcerated in a state correctional facility for the criminally insane. When trying a case like this, the end purpose of justice should not be revenge. It should be two-fold: 1) Protecting the public from such a dangerous person, and 2) Treating that person. When sane defendants kill, and they are not legally determined to be “mentally ill,” they should be punished. That means locked up, and the rest of us made safe from them. Aside from “punishment”, many would say that is “vengeance.”. I think that is true.

But if this young boy in fact was prevented from controlling his thoughts or actions due to a medical condition, then justice is not served through vengeance. It would not be served by throwing him into the general population of a state prison – a hell few who have not seen such can understand.

I made this argument to friends of mine in the John Salvi case here in Massachusetts,12 years ago. (That case involved a man who went on a shooting spree at two abortion clinics in the Boston area, killing two women, while claiming that “Saint Paul and other saints” told him to “punish the wicked”). Prosecutors charged Salvi with First Degree Murder. Evidence in the case made clear that Salvi had suffered from schizophrenia since he was approximately 17 (he was in his mid-20’s at the time of the crime). He lived secluded alone in a trash-strewn, filth-ridden apartment – the equivalent of a garbage dump – the walls filled with his own written rantings on religion, and quotes from scripture about “sinners.” Witness after witness in his trial testified on the stand to observing years of his mental instability, his deranged behavior, and his non-sensical religious rantings. These witness included parishioners at a church who, recently before these murders, witnessed Salvi charge the altar, take over the lectern from a priest giving a sermon, and rant non-sensically about abortion and “sinners.” At that incident, Salvi was carried out of the church forcibly, legs and hands flailing. At his murder trial for the abortion killings, his defense lawyer produced expert psychiatrists in the field of schizophrenia, who testified unequivocally that Salvi was mentally ill, and that he lacked the necessary mental capacity to understand the criminal nature of his acts, and that he lacked the mental capacity to conform his actions to the rule of law.

By contrast, the prosecution produced just one “expert” witness – shockingly, not even a psychiatrist, but a PhD in Education, who disputed the assertion that Salvi was mentally ill.

Legally, this was about as easy a call as a jury could get on the evidence. Notwithstanding, you’d be surprised at the number of people who argued “He should hang from the rafters.”