But faced with a crime this incomprehensible, all of us – singularly the jury selected for this case – must ask: What makes people act this way? What could drive a 17-year old boy to murder another student, in cold blood, – and this is the key – for no apparent reason whatsoever? There seem to be very few answers, but, legally, one must be chosen.
1) Odgren is (ongoingly) mentally ill. This is as opposed to the claim that didn’t understand the nature of his act, at the moment he committed it.
2) He is not mentally ill, but instead suffers from a condition that impaired his ability at the time he committed the crime, to understand that what he was doing was wrong and a criminal act. (The apparently planned defense of Asperger’s Syndrome).
3) He is neither of the above. He is fully competent now, and was so at the time of the crime. He is simply evil.
For every person who feels that this boy deserves no defense, or should not be allowed to raise this particular defense, they should consider what they would want if he were their son. What if he truly does suffer from some defect that prevented him from either controlling his actions, or understanding the horrid nature of those actions? If true, what if that defense were prohibited, and he were convicted as a “normal,” sane person, and thrown in prison with the worst of hardened criminals, who are otherwise sane and responsible for their crimes? Most people could surmise what would happen to a 17-year-old boy who is thrown into the General Population of a state prison filled with the worst and most violent criminals imaginable.
Would that serve justice? Most honest people would say “no.” These are not the questions of a defense attorney seeking to play a legal trick. Nor are they the ‘soft on crime’ position of a liberal (I am a registered, and dedicated, Independent). Instead, they are questions that are required by our criminal justice system. They lay at the core of our system of justice.
If it were true that this boy did suffer from some kind of mental defect that prevented him from either controlling his actions or understanding their criminality, then the defense that his attorney reportedly plans (based on Asperger’s Syndrome) is appropriate, and it should be raised. However, so too should the sentence be appropriate. If this defendant were found “Not Guilty” by reason of mental defect such as allegedly caused by Asperger’s Syndrome, he should not — and the public needs to understand that he would not – be freed to walk the streets again. He would be — and should be — committed to and incarcerated in a state hospital for the mentally ill, safely away from the rest of us. And that is where he would be held, until such time – if any – as psychiatrists determined that he is no longer a threat to society.