Massachusetts Teen Murderer’s Defense To Focus on Asperger’s Syndrome

Welcome to my first blog post on this site. It’s my hope that readers will find my thoughts, opinions, musings and postings to be educational, informative, and, sometimes hopefully, provocative toward a better criminal justice system in Massachusetts, and in other states.

For this first entry, I’d like to comment about a case soon to be tried in Cambridge, Middlesex County, involving charges of First Degree Murder against John Odgren, a 17-year-old boy at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School here in Massachusetts. My first blog on this case will discuss what his anticipated defense is, and why he is entitled to it. A second blog, later, will discuss arguments, pro and con, for what are called “Professional Juries.”

Unlike many cases involving violent crimes in high schools, the high school in this case is nothing like so many of the underfunded, crowded, urban high schools in cities across the United States, where violence is sadly no stranger. It’s a highly-rated public high school, in an upscale town, surrounded by well-to-do, wealthy communities. And unlike many such youthful defendants accused of violent crime in schools, this defendant is anything but a gang member or local ‘tough’. He is a bespeckled, slight, and dimunitive student: To look at him, he resembles either Harry Potter or the proverbial “98-Pound Weakling.”

Except this ’98-Pound Weakling’ lured a fellow student into a boys bathroom in the high school – a student he didn’t even know and had apparently no history with at all – and plunged a carving knife into his heart five times, killing him on the spot. When he was done, Odgren openly admitted to bystanders that he killed the boy. He reportedly even helped to try and stop the bleeding in his victim’s wounds. No one – neither his attorney nor his family – disputes that he committed this murder. His attorney has indicated that his legal defense – obvious to all attorneys watching – will be based on a legal principle known as “Lack of Criminal Responsibility.” This defense essentially means that the defendant lacked the mental capacity to understand the criminality of his act, or to conform his actions to the law. This defense doesn’t claim “insanity” – permanent or temporary. Rather, it advances the argument that an impediment in the defendant’s mental state at the time of the crime, prevented him from either forming the necessary intent, or from understanding or appreciating the criminal nature of his act.

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