Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

'Movies Made Me Murder'

Matrix Psychosis

Keanu Reeves as Neo
Keanu Reeves as Neo

One of the movies mentioned most often in a murder defense in recent years has beenThe Matrix, released in 1999 and starring Keanu Reeves (with two sequels) as "Neo."  He finds himself in an alternate reality, aware that he once was "unconscious" in a computer-generated virtual reality and killers are chasing him.  He must resort to fancy footwork and plenty of violence himself in order to save the world.  All that he once believed has proven false as he's designated the savoir and learns his secret super powers. What Neo does serves a higher purpose, which gives his violence noble flavor.  But that's a movie.

Or is it?  Apparently, some murder defendants have come to believe they were in the matrix and that killing others was therefore justified.

Many people believe that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the 1999 Columbine High School killers, were inspired by it, although unlike some, they did not live to tell.  At any rate, they did wear black trench coats like Neo.

Eric Harris (l) and Dylan Klebold
Eric Harris (l) and Dylan Klebold

One-half of the beltway Sniper team from 2002, Lee Boyd Malvo, was devoted to the movie.  In jail he made many jottings, including a plea that people should free themselves from the Matrix.  He told the FBI to watch the film, states Mark Shone in the Boston Globe, if they hoped to understand how his mind worked.

Lee Boyd Malvo
Lee Boyd Malvo

In San Francisco, Vadim Mieseges, 27, killed and dismembered his landlady, and in his defense he said that he'd been "sucked" into the Matrix.  A Swedish exchange student, he confessed to skinning his victim and dumping her torso into a dumpster because he sensed "evil vibes" from her.  Since he'd already been diagnosed with a mental illness, the case did not get to trial.  His insanity plea was accepted.

Tonda Lynn Ansley
Tonda Lynn Ansley

In Ohio, Tonda Lynn Ansley also attacked her landlady on this premise, but was certain she had not really done so: it was only a dream.  She had targeted three others as well, to free herself from their mind control.  Her insanity plea, too, was accepted.

The Boston Globe ran a list of people in 2003 who had claimed that The Matrix had inspired them to kill.  One case that turned up in Virginia is that of nineteen-year-old Joe Cook, who claimed he did not realize what he was doing when he dressed like Neo, grabbed his twelve-gauge shotgun (purchased because it resembled one in the movie), and shot both of his adoptive parents to death.  Initially hoping to use an insanity defense, Cooke's attorney put this into motion, but then stopped the process and entered Cooke's guilty plea — his idea.  He decided to take responsibility.

Yet it turned out from birth records that his biological parents had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.  An assessment indicated that he could have been influenced by the idea that he was in an unreal world, and also been genetically primed to transform them into a sense of reality.  In addition, his habit of playing violent video games for many hours every day had played a role, as did the fact that he'd been bullied as a child and had felt many things building inside until he just exploded.  In the end, he received forty years in prison.

Other adolescents, too, have learned what it means to emerge from fantasy back to reality.

 

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