Jurors in Middlesex Superior Court heard opening arguments today in the Murder trial of John Odgren, who fatally stabbed James F. Alenson, a fellow Lincoln-Sudbury High School student on January 19, 2007.
Middlesex County prosecutors allege that the defendant, John Odgren, 16 at the time, armed himself with a carving knife and stabbed James Alenson to death in the high school’s bathroom. Despite Odgren claiming an insanity defense, prosecutors allege that the killing was premeditated, as Odgren allegedly planned on killing someone else two days before stabbing Alenson to death.
In his criminal defense, Odgren, who suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficity Disorder, claims that he was living in a “fantasy world” of violent video games and Stephen King fantasy novels. According to his criminal defense lawyer, Odgren did not realize what he had done to Alenson until he saw him lying on the floor, bleeding from his stab wounds.
In Massachusetts, the “Insanity Defense” is properly termed the Defense of Lack of Criminal Responsibility. When the defense is raised, the jury must first find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime, or in the Odgren case, murder. If the jury so finds that the defendant committed the underlying crime, they must then go on to decide whether the Commonwealth has proven that the defendant was criminally responsible at the time, beyond a reasonable doubt.
When a Defense of Lack of Criminal Responsibility is raised, the burden is not on the defendant to prove a lack of criminal responsibility. Rather, under Massachusetts law, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime(s) with which he is charged, and also that the defendant is criminally responsible for his conduct.
Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis Further Explains the Defense of Lack of Criminal Responsibility:
Criminal Responsibility is a legal term. A person is not criminally responsible for his conduct if he has a mental disease or defect, and, as a result of that mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality or wrongfulness of his conduct, or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.
The phrase “mental disease or defect” is a legal and not a medical term, and does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal conduct. If the prosecutor persuades the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime(s) and did not have a mental disease or defect when he committed the crime(s), then the jury could find that the defendant was criminally responsible at the time.
If, however, the jurors have a reasonable doubt whether the defendant had a mental disease or defect, then in order to find him criminally 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 to conform his conduct to the law.
What is meant by the word “appreciate” above means to understand rather than to merely know. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant knew and understood that his conduct was illegal or that it was wrong. It is not enough for the prosecutor to show that the defendant merely had knowledge or an intellectual awareness that his conduct was wrong; rather, the prosecutor must prove that a mental disease or defect did not deprive the defendant of a meaningful understanding and intelligent comprehension of the legal or moral import of his conduct.
Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis has experience in representing persons against criminal charges who also suffer from some sort of mental disease. If you have been charged with a crime where an Insanity Defense or Defense of Lack of Criminally Responsibility is an issue, contact Boston Criminal Attorney Lefteris K. Travayiakis.