Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Russell Obremski: A Killer's Luck

A Psychopath

The defense first called Dr. Neal Black, the defendant's family doctor, who called Obremski a "constitutional psychopath." According to Black, Obremski was the type of person who acted on the spur of the moment and would not give much consideration to what he was about to do. Such an individual doesn't obey the rules of society, but Black would not go so far as to say that Obremski did not know right from wrong.

Dr. James G. Shanklin, a Portland psychiatrist who had studied Obremski's file, but had never interviewed him in person, said that the facts presented were characteristic of a mentally ill person. Obremski's case history would suggest a person suffering from schizophrenia, with an element of paranoia. That disease would affect his emotions, intelligence, and social relations, the doctor testified. It would cause a withdrawal from reality, unusual sensitivity to attraction or rejection, love or hate, and such a person would engage in a good deal of fantasy. Someone with those symptoms would have great resistance to emotional stress. He would be sensitive and may be withdrawn, or may turn about suddenly and become extremely aggressive.

"His tolerance to pressure would be low," Shanklin testified. Would he know the consequences of his actions? "There is nothing in his case history to suggest this man ever deliberated in his life. Mentally ill and intoxicated, he was incapable of deliberating, plotting, and carrying through any organized scheme. I don't think he was able to distinguish between right and wrong." And yet, had the psychiatrist ever examined Obremski? No, he had not. He was speaking hypothetically.

Dr. Richard Lahti testified that in his opinion Obremski had suffered brain damage from his mother's being in labor with his birth for 56 hours, and his history of glue sniffing. Obremski did not testify.

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