The Allentown Massacres
Howorth's trial started in July 1995. Defense attorney Dennis Charles decided to use the insanity defense, believing that something within him had caused Jeffrey to snap. But such a defense rarely worked, said the Morning Call, and had only worked once before in that county. The prosecution team, headed by ADA Douglas Reichley, used the notes left behind at the murder scene to argue that Jeffrey was looking for attention and hoped to become famous. His true heart, they said, was darker than people had realized, proven by his excitement over the Freeman brothers' crimes. However, the boy appeared to the jurors to be a troubled youth, immobilized by his situation. He displayed nothing. A defense psychiatrist said that he could be mentally ill. He had a learning disability and a brother who set high standards.
"It's not uncommon," says Ewing on Murder in the Family, "in these kinds of cases to find a sibling rivalry that is implicated. The perpetrator of the parricide frequently being someone who can't live up to the example of a sibling or the expectation of the parents."
Dr. Timothy Michals, a psychiatrist, interviewed Howorth and learned that thoughts about parricide had first occurred to the boy when he was only five years old - the same age at which he had been diagnosed with a brain disorder that gave him learning disabilities. He had expected to wait until he was thirty and then use a knife or some other sharp implement to hack them to death. He had been inspired by the Freemans, but Jeffrey had no allegiance to skinheads or neo-Nazis. He even disliked racism. His father had been a Boy Scout leader and Sunday school teacher. His mother was a homemaker and reportedly a loving mother. The crime made little sense, apart from Jeffrey having an untreated mental illness that hindered his appreciation that what he had done was wrong.
The attorney played up the manic nature of Jeffrey's condition. He had overreacted to comments only days before when his gums had bled from brushing his teeth, and had threatened to kill his brother. He'd also suffered some academic setbacks, having received a low SAT score, failed a Spanish test and received Fs in other classes. He believed, said the attorney, that his parents would be severely disappointed over his failures, although he could pinpoint no behavior that indicated they actually would. And he also showed no remorse for his crimes, which made the defense difficult.
Judge William Ford instructed the jury about the requirements for a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, and they took four days to come up with that verdict. When he heard it, said the Associated Press, Howorth smiled and one of his defenders wept. He was sent to the Norristown State Hospital for a three-month evaluation. It was also noted in the paper that he was now eligible to inherit half of his parents' estate.