Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Multiple Personalities: Crime and Defense

MPD as an Organic Disorder

Arthur Shawcross
Arthur Shawcross
Arthur Shawcross faced trial for the murders of 11 women in Rochester, New York in 1989. Having confessed, he soon wished he hadnt. He and his lawyers decided to mount a defense of Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity (NGRI). To be considered insane in New York State, he had to show quite specifically that at the time of the various offenses---every single one---he suffered from a mental defect such that either he did not know what he was doing or could not appreciate it was wrong.

Guilty by Reason of Insanity
Guilty by Reason of Insanity
The defense had Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatric expert on organic disorders and violence from New York Citys Bellevue Hospital. In her book, Guilty by Reason of Insanity, she documents more than 25 years of experience among criminals, illustrating that brain damage, abuse, and certain organic disorders play a strong role. Her involvement in the Shawcross case is among her reports.

Dr. Lewis believed Shawcross had been severely traumatized as a child and suffered from incomplete temporal lobe seizures that blocked his memory. She was of the opinion that those seizures only occurred during certain situations, such as when he was alone with prostitutes at night. Despite confessing to each murder and providing details only the killer would know, including leading investigators to the bodies of two of his victims, he was stating before trial that his memory was impaired.

Lewis was frustrated, she wrote, with the defense teams inability to get the brain scans she needed to prove her case neurologically and found herself ill-prepared for the prosecutions questions. She did not even know that another expert had questioned Shawcross at the same time as her evaluationsomething that may have influenced what Shawcross had told her.

Dr. Park Dietz
Dr. Park Dietz
The prosecutions psychiatrist, Dr. Park Dietz, said Shawcross suffered from antisocial personality disorder, but that did not necessarily produce a mental disease or defect that hindered his awareness of what he was doing. Shawcross had tried to avoid detection and apprehension, which clearly indicated his appreciation for the wrongfulness of his behavior.

After five weeks of trial, the jury took less than two hours to find him both sane and guilty of murder in the second degree on 10 counts. Shawcross was sentenced to 25 years to life on each of the counts.

Lewis realized from this trial the need for physiological evidence and she continued her campaign to get recognition for brain damage as the basis for a diminished capacity to comprehend ones criminal acts. In 2003 she went on to make a case for it.

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