Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

Mentally Ill, but Sane?

Prosecution's case

If Mullin was legally insane, and did not comprehend what he was doing was wrong, then why did he take such careful measures to cover his tracks? Assistant D. A. Chris Cottle told the jury that after killing White, he sandpapered the blood stains off the baseball bat. He picked up the shell casings at the Gianera house, he claimed, "because they belonged to me." Mullin shot Francis and her kids because they were witnesses. He ground off the serial number on his .22 caliber gun. While the prosecutor presented his case, Mullin, who usually avoided looking at anyone in the court, glared at Cottle.

But Mullin had already undermined his case with reckless comments. Sometimes he sounded coolly sane and rational. In an earlier interview, Mullin said that he killed Joan Gianera because "she was a witness and I didn't want to be punished."

The quake theory was "developed as an afterthought," according to one court-appointed psychiatrist who had examined Mullin. He killed Gianera for getting him into drugs, and Joan, Kathy and Daemon and David because they were witnesses. He killed the campers because "he had a thing about hippies, and he described them as hippies." Another court-appointed psychiatrist said that his motivation was pure hatred. "He told me John Gianera introduced him to LSD, and that ruined his life and he took revenge."

In a strange split, Dr. Charles Morris testified that after examining Mullin, he concluded that he was legally insane when he murdered the transient, the hitchhiker, and the priest, but legally sane during the last ten murders. In January, when he quit doing LSD in hopes of becoming a Marine, Mullin killed out of revenge (with the exception of Perez). He had been made morally numb by killing his first three victims, so that killing again, especially out of anger, no longer carried moral consequences. Perez was shot, he argued, because Mullin was tired and wanted to get caught.

Dr. Morris contended that it was probably LSD that precipitated the murders. In response, defense attorney Jackson read a note from Mullin, and asked the doctor if the rambling was written by someone on drugs.

The doctor acknowledged that it was possible. The note was dated July 1973, months after Mullin had been incarcerated. It was a complaint, written to the judge by Mullin regarding court procedure.

Mullin's claim that he heard the victims telepathically agree to be killed, said Dr. Morris, was a concocted rationalization. "He developed this belief as an afterthought," he said, and wasn't surprised by Mullin's cosmic sacrificial excuses. "He's an individual with a high mental capacity and an interest in the occult, psychology, and philosophy."

One doctor testified that Mullin told him, "I chose to be vindictive (because these people) caused me to be an objector in the greatest country on earth, so I punished them."

Legal Insanity

There was no question that Mullin was mentally ill. To prove the legal definition of insanity, the defense had to demonstrate that Mullin did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the murders. If he was found legally insane, then he would be found not guilty by the jury. If the jury found that Mullin was suffering from "diminished capacity," in that he did not understand the meaning of his actions, he could not be found guilty of first degree murder. The prosecution told the jury it did not matter "why" Mullin killed. Motives are ambiguous, and not necessary to prove. In countering the defense's theory that Mullin's delusions made him kill, the prosecution said, "simply because two plus two equals seven (in his mind) does not mean Mr. Mullin is not responsible for his acts."

In closing, the defense asked the jury to consider the fact that Mullin "kills people because he has to but he doesn't know why. I suggest that a person who kills thirteen people and doesn't know why . . . is MAD!"

The prosecution told the jury, "There's no question he's mentally ill, seriously mentally ill. But that does not mean he's legally insane." He hid his crimes, and even ground down the serial numbers on his gun.

Verdict

The six man, six woman jury deliberated for over fourteen hours, finding Mullin sane and guilty. The verdict was delivered on August 19th, 1973. Mullin premeditated the deaths of Jim Gianera and Kathy Francis, thereby making two counts of first degree murder. The rest were considered "impulse" by the jury, therefore second degree murder.

"It's as insane as Mullin is," said his defense attorney Jackson. "They were afraid because he might get out and kill somebody — which is not an illogical consideration. They didn't want his fourteenth victim to be one of them." The prosecution was disappointed with only two counts of first degree murder. Mullin only shrugged when he heard his verdict. Mullin was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 2025.

But Mullin's case didn't sit right with the jury foreman. He soon took action.

 

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