Sheila Barry, of Brockton, Massachusetts, was convicted in 2006 in Plymouth Superior Court for the Murder of Admilson Goncalves. Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed her conviction, citing she was mentally ill when she committed the assault.
At her Murder trial, Plymouth County prosecutors alleged that Barry attacked Goncalves with a cinder block as he sat in his bicycle in Brockton in 2002 and that she continued to beat and assault him with the brick until it shattered.
In reversing her Murder conviction, the Massachusetts Supreme Court concluded that the legal rules regarding a defendant claiming an Insanity Defense need to be changed. Prior to this decision, a defendant who voluntarily consumed alcohol could not then claim the Defendant of Lack of Responsibility, or more commonly known as the Insanity Defense.
At her trial, Barry's defense team called 5 mental health experts who testified that she was bipolar and likely also suffered from schizoaffective disorder, which sometimes leads to delusional thoughts. At one point, for example, Barry claimed that Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center on her behalf.
In changing the status of the law, the Massachusetts Supreme Court concluded that the legal rules precluding a defending from claiming an Insanity Defense if he/she voluntarily consumes alcohol need to be changed. As a result of this decision, the Supreme Court contemplated the law to allow juries to consider whether a defendant's voluntary consumption of alcohol activates, intensifies or otherwise has any affect on the person's mental illness.
Insanity Defense or Lack of Criminal Responsibility:
Under the law in Massachusetts, a person is not guilty of a crime if he lacked the 'criminal responsibility' when he committed the crime. By definition, a person is lacking in criminal responsibility if he suffers from a mental disease or defect, and as a result, either he is substantially unable to appreciate the criminality or wrongfulness of his conduct, or he is substantially unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.
When the Defense of Lack of Criminal Responsibility (Insanity Defense) is raised, the burden is not on the defendant to prove any lack of criminal responsibility. Rather, the prosecutor must then prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the offense charged and that he was sane when he did so.
If the prosecutor persuades the jury that the defendant committed the crime charged and did not have a mental disease or defect when he committed the crime, then the jury could find that the defendant was criminally responsible.
If, however, the jurors have a reasonable doubt whether the defendant had a mental disease or defect, then in order to find him criminal responsible, the prosecutor must prove that, despite any mental disease or defect, the defendant nevertheless possessed substantial capacity both to appreciate the criminality or wrongfulness of his conduct and was able to conform his conduct to the law.