Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Gallaudet Murders

Mental State

Joseph Mesa
Joseph Mesa

The November trial date came and went, with legal delays. Judge Robert Richter ordered Mesa to undergo psychiatric examinations at St. Elizabeth's hospital to assess his mental state at the times of the crimes. He would also be evaluated for competency to waive an insanity defense in the event he disagreed with his attorney's strategy. The findings were due in court on February 19, 2002. The defense knew the odds were against an acquittal, especially given the obvious and petty motive, but it was not impossible. What both sides gained was a delay, as the trial was further postponed.

Richter ruled that Mesa would stand trial for both murders, contrary to Bond's hope to have two separate trials. Bond also attempted to suppress the evidence found during a police search of Mesa's dorm room, but the judge ruled that the prosecutor could use the items.

In the meantime, Mesa had made his own plans for his defense. Contrary to resisting an insanity defense, he had some ideas for how to make it work for him. In March and April of 2002, he wrote to his girlfriend, Melani de Guzman, and asked her to help beef up his case for mental illness with a few little lies. "It isn't true," he stated, "but I hope it will work, anyway." He also sent a letter to his brother-in-law in Guam to persuade him to destroy evidence. Investigators who learned about these communications confiscated a series of letters, and defense attorney Ferris R. Bond moved to have them suppressed.

The federal prosecution team was Assistant U. S. Attorney Jeb Boasburg and Assistant U. S. Attorney Jennifer M. Collins. Their argument was simple: Mesa had methodically selected specific individuals to rob and kill so he could purchase items for himself and his girlfriend.

Bond's argument was more surprising. A lifetime of frustration over his inability to communicate had triggered Mesa's bad behavior. He had directions to kill in his head, not from voices, as hearing people might, but in sign language. Supposedly, two hands directed his behavior and he could not stop. Thus, at the time of both murders, Mesa had been legally insane. (Bond apparently had no explanation for Mesa's lack of remorse afterward.)

The trial required an interpreter for Mesa, which meant the procedure would be much longer than normal because all comments had to be relayed to him. The courtroom windows were covered and Mesa was given a partition for private conferences with his attorney, which had to be conducted in sign language. Once everything was in place, the trial commenced.

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