Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher

On Trial



Edmund Kemper was indicted on eight counts of first-degree murder on May 7, 1973. The Chief Public Defender of Santa Cruz County, attorney Jim Jackson, had defended Frazier and was assigned to the Mullin case as well. He now also took on Kemper's defense, which he offered as an insanity plea. He had his hands full, especially because Kemper's detailed confessions sans attorney had robbed him of any strategy except an insanity defense. But it would not be easy, since Kemper was so articulate and clear in the way he had planned and prepared for his fatal encounters. Nevertheless, he had once been diagnosed as psychotic, and despite the psychiatric records that pronounced him safe, he clearly had not been cured. For Jackson , there was hope that this defense could work.

Edmund Kemper in court
Edmund Kemper in court
While awaiting trial, Kemper tried twice to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. He failed both times. The trial began on October 23, 1973, and three prosecution

psychiatrists found him to be sane. Dr. Joel Fort had looked at Kemper's juvenile records to examine the diagnosis that he was then psychotic. He interviewed Kemper at length, including under truth serum, and told the court that Kemper had probably engaged in acts of cannibalism. He apparently cooked and ate parts of the girls' flesh after dismembering them. Nevertheless, Fort decided that he had known what he was doing in each incident, was thrilled by the notoriety of being a mass murderer, and had been entirely aware that it was wrong. That was good enough to find him sane. California relied on the M'Naghten standard for sanity that was used throughout most of the country. According to the wording, this standard held that a defendant might be found insane if, by reason of a disease or defect, he did not know that what he was doing was wrong. Kemper clearly did know that his acts of murder were wrong. He had also shown clear evidence of premeditation and planning.

One defense psychiatrist was willing to testify to insanity based on the "product standard," which allows someone to say that the crime is the product of a diseased mind — a subtle difference — but that was not within the state's definition. Kemper's younger sister described the strange acts she had seen her brother do, trying hard to show that he was abnormal, while Jackson fought valiantly through cross-examination to get the prosecution's experts to admit that many of the things Kemper had done with the victims were clearly aberrant. They did, but generally stuck with their original evaluation. They also questioned the Atascadero staff's diagnosis of Kemper when he was fifteen. Having a lively fantasy world was not necessarily psychotic.

 

 

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