Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edward D. Gingerich: The Only Amish Man Convicted of Murder

Insanity Defense

Even though insanity defenses have a very low success rate in the United States, Eds attorneys were busy laying the groundwork for such a defense. In establishing why Ed was insane, the attorneys considered two possibilities: Eds psychosis was a result of Amish inbreeding, or his brain had been damaged by prolonged exposure to toxic Gunk fumes. Regardless of the cause, proving it would be a job in its self.

On October 2, 1993, Eds attorneys, at a routine pretrial discovery hearing, announced to the court that they were planning on using the insanity defense. This news was no surprise to the prosecution, and they were all ready busy looking for their own experts to counter the claim.

In January, Dr. Lawson F. Bernstein Jr., a professor of psychiatry from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was hired by the defense. Following his review of Eds confession and a one-on-one interview with the defendant, Dr. Bernstein determined that, ... (Ed) lacked the mental capacity to appreciate the nature of his act and therefore could not discern right from wrong. Dr. Bernsteins words were just what the defense team wanted to hear.

Dr. Phillip Resnick
Dr. Phillip Resnick

As the defense team worked to build their insanity defense, the prosecution was busy seeking experts of its own, to debunk the plea. In February, the prosecution sent the psychiatric reports to Dr. Phillip J. Resnick, professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The result however, was not good. In a March letter to the prosecution, Dr. Resnick wrote the following:

It is my opinion that the authors of the reports had a reasonable basis for concluding that Mr. Gingerich was severely ill and did not know the wrongfulness of killing his wife at the time of the homicide.

This was the last thing the prosecution wanted to hear from a prospective witnesses.

With the trial date approaching, the prosecution offered the defense a plea bargain; they would accept a plea of mentally ill, but guilty of murder in the third degree, in exchange for a sentence of ten years. Ed would then be eligible for parole after serving just five years behind bars. Nonetheless, the defense felt that the prosecution would loose their case at trial, and declined the offer.

The defense however, was unaware that a monkey wrench was about to be thrown into their plans. Eds attorneys had taken it for granted that his family would be willing to stand behind him and testify on his behalf, and the prosecution had done the same in thinking that they would have willing witnesses to use against Ed. However, the Amish community treated both the defense and prosecution with hostility, and every member refused to testify unless subpoenaed by the court. Ed, it quickly became apparent, had been shunned.

Crawford County Courthouse (David Lohr)
Crawford County Courthouse
(David Lohr)

On the morning of March 24, 1994, at the Crawford County Courthouse in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the trial of Edward D. Gingerich began. Whether anyone at the time realized it or not, this was a precedent-setting event and would mark the first Amish murder trial in United States judicial history, and probably the world.

Head prosecutor Douglas Ferguson opened with a brief address consisting of the events leading up to Katies death and Eds ultimate arrest. He stressed to the jury that Ed was not legally insane at the time of the murder and should not be excused for his actions.

Defense attorney, Donald Lewis
Defense attorney, Donald Lewis

Donald E. Lewis, appointed by the court to represent Ed, was one of the most successful criminal defense attorneys in the region, and wasted little time getting directly to the point as he took the lectern.

We are about to hear testimony that will stay with us forever. I am honored to be able to represent Edward Gingerich, to protect his rights during this traumatic time in his life. Together we will search for the truth because that is what a trial is about, a search for the truth.

Lewis went on to describe Eds exposure to the Gunk fumes and his lengthy mental illness. Following Lewiss opening speech, the court declared a 10-minute recess so the prosecution could prepare.

As the jury filed back into the courtroom, they were greeted by the Commonwealths first exhibit, a childlike drawing depicting Katies corpse produced specially for the jury. The prosecution had made a dire misjudgment in keeping the crime scene photos from the jury. While the intent was to spare the jury the brutality of the act, the drawing dehumanized the victim and trivialized her death.

The prosecutions first witness was Dr. Karl E. Williams, a forensic pathologist from Elwood City, Pennsylvania. Even though Dr. Williams had not performed Katies autopsy, he was called to testify to the reports. The doctor who performed the actual autopsy, Dr. Takeshi Imajo, had since left the county to work in another state. The fact that the prosecution did not bother to bring in Dr. Imajo was yet another disturbing blunder. This error, in combination with the child-like drawing, suggested that the prosecution placed little importance on their evidence.

Following Dr. Williamss explanation of the autopsy report, Doc Terrell, wearing a blue suit, five-gallon Stetson hat, and cowboy boots, was called to the stand and questioned about the day of Katies murder.

Did you treat him on that occasion? (the day of Katies murder). Ferguson asked.

Yes, I adjusted the patients head.

How did you do that?

I manipulated the scalp.

Did Ed Gingerich appear different that day?

No. Terrell replied.

He was acting normal?

Yes.

You saw no signs of mental illness?

No.

I have no further questions.

It was Lewiss turn to cross-examine the witness. How long have you been treating the defendant?

Several years, Terrell replied.

you were treating him for emotional problems?

Yes.

And what was your diagnosis?

He had a virus in his brain, the doctor answered.

Are you a psychiatrist?

No.

Are you an MD?

No.

Are you a psychologist?

No.

Then why were you treating Ed for depression?

Because he complained about it, Terrell stated.

Because he complained about it?

Yes.

You were treating Ed for emotional problems?

Yes.

I have no further questions, your Honor.

While Doc Terrell did little to help the prosecution, they were certain that their next witness would turn things around in their favor.

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