Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Insanity Defense

'The Holy Child'

"I've fully concluded that I was ill..." multi-millionaire John du Pont as he apologized for killing Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz on January 26, 1996.

John du Pont (AP)
John du Pont (AP)

In the Fall of 1995, the local police were called to the 800 acre estate in Pennsylvania of John du Pont, 57, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune. Newton Police Chief Lee Hunter went to the du Pont mansion as a result of a request by the family lawyer. When the police chief arrived, John du Pont told him that he thought he was attacked in his sleep by a wrestler who was living on his property. Du Pont was an avid wrestling fan and donated large sums of money to the Olympic wrestling team. At that time, his wealth was estimated to be $250 million dollars. In the private gym where the athletes trained, a plaque read "You can't just take it to the top. You have to take it over the top." Du Pont told Chief Hunter that there was a conspiracy to ruin his name and if it wasn't stopped, the Russian Army was sure to invade Newton township. During the conversation, Du Pont referred to himself as the "Holy Child" (U.S. News, Jan. 30, 1997)

David Schultz (TIMEPIX)
David Schultz (TIMEPIX)

On January 26, 1996, du Pont, his mental condition deteriorating and feelings of acute paranoia consuming him, drove over to the home of David Schultz, a 1984 Olympic gold medallist, who lived in a house on du Pont's estate. While Schultz' wife looked on in horror, du Pont shot and killed David with a .38 caliber handgun in the driveway of his home. Immediately after the shooting, du Pont went back to his mansion where he held off an army of police for three days. He was arrested when he ventured outside his home to fix a heater, which police had turned off.

In court, du Pont's lawyers pleaded an insanity defense. They said his mental condition had gone downhill ever since is mother died in 1988. Afterwards, he took to wandering his vast estate armed with handguns and acting erratically. He believed he was the Dalai Lama and spoke of himself in exalted and exaggerated terms (U.S. News, p. 1). There were also rumors of cocaine use and du Pont told friends he believed he was about to be assassinated. Psychologists testified that du Pont was mentally unbalanced and could not be held responsible for his conduct. Du Pont himself later said, "I wish to apologize to Marty Shultz and her children. I'm very sorry for what happened" (U.S. News, p. 1). But the insanity defense was eventually rejected. The prosecution was able to show that du Pont knew that what he did was wrong and appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct. They used his three-day stand-off as evidence that he knew shooting Shultz was wrong and that he knew could be arrested for the killing. During that standoff, du Pont asked for his lawyer over 100 times, indicating that he was fully aware of the nature of his act and the need for legal representation. After seven days of deliberations, he was found guilty of 3rd degree murder and sentenced to 13 to 30 years (U.S. News, May 12, 1997).

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