Multiple Personalities: Crime and Defense
Who Said What When?
With the trial of Lori Scheirer in 1993, Pennsylvanias Northampton County was presented with its first MPD defense. She had actually implicated herself in the murder of Jean Theresa Sufrich by giving police details of the murder, but then confessed she had fabricated these stories to keep police interested in her---in particular, Joe Vazquez, a state trooper on whom she had a crush. Getting to the truth involved investigators in a twisted tale.
Scheirer told her public defender, Anthony Beltrami, that she had believed her stories would never lead to her arrest because she thought police had solid evidence that Sufrich was seen alive at a time when Scheirer had an alibi. One of her co-workers, Andrea Gerbino, vouched that she was on time for work the night Sufrich was killed. Gerbino also confirmed Scheirer had a crush on Vazquez and had been too infatuated to realize she was implicating herself.
I know she was a cracked walnut, Gerbino stated, but I know she did not commit this murder; theres no way its physically possible. Shes not that kind of person.
Scheirer had spun her stories to police from newspaper reports and a book about a California killing. The details of the murder, such as the exact position of the body and head, she claimed, were simply a matter of logic.
Dr. Robert L. Sadoff, the defense psychologist, initially diagnosed Scheirer with borderline personality disorder, with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and depression. In a second interview with the defendant, he confirmed this diagnosis. However, after receiving a letter from her suggesting a diagnosis of MPD, he did a third interview, and it became clear to him that Scheirer actually did suffer from that disorder. In the process of giving her another diagnosis, he had overlooked the symptoms.
Scheirer presented five distinct personalities, he indicated. The Other Lori had developed during the nine years when her father had sexually abused her---a period Lori did not recall (and that her father denied). Annie was a seductive personality who claimed to have enjoyed sex with her father and who worked when she could as a prostitute. Lori Ann was a silly, immature 12-year-old, and Laura was a nasty, angry, cocky personality. The Other Lori, according to Sadoff, was the personality that had written him the letter suggesting Lori suffered from MPD.
Chief Public Defender Brian M. Monahan also introduced mental health records with reports of blackouts and memory loss, a symptom common to cases of multiple personality. Other defense witnesses who were called to prove Scheirers lack of credibility in her storytelling included Police Capt. Scott Mitchell, who testified that Scheirer had once given him false information concerning a drug case; Detective Kenneth Swider, who revealed Sheirer had given him false leads in the case of a missing woman; and Detective Gerald Procanyn, who testified that Annie had invented a story about being with a 1989 homicide victim the night before that persons death. Under cross-examination, three of the five personalities revealed themselves.
Thus, the defense attorneys made the case that Scheirer had developed the disorder as the result of abuse by her father and that one of the personalities had given fictitious statements to the police. The state lacked any physical evidence connecting Scheirer to the murder scene, so they had a difficult case to prove, other than relying on Scheirers questionable statements.
After eight hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Lori Scheirer of all charges in the 1992 killing of Jean Theresa Sufrich. The prosecution was sure that had there been physical evidence the verdict might have been quite different.
It must be noted that this trial took place during a time when MPD was not only a viable diagnosis but was being promoted throughout the country as being the result of child abuse, with child abuse being considered a hidden epidemic. The jury could have been influenced by the culture as much as by anything else. While it is true the prosecution had no evidence against Scheirer, it is equally true the defense had no evidence her father had abused her. Claiming repressed memories of abuse was a common story in those days, accepted by many mental health professionals.
In fact, some were making their living off it and others wanted into the game. One eager psychologist appeared to take things too far.