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November 17, 2010

Real case involving an honest/genuine(?) --- but seemingly crazy/unreasonable(!) --- killer who might claim necessity (or duress)

I was struggling in class yesterday to come up with a plausible hypo that would effectively portray the possibility of somebody having an honest but unreasonable belief that they needed to kill an innocent person to prevent a greater harm or when subject to under a coercive force. Today I just learned about a spooky case via this AP story from Illinois that perhaps provides a real setting for testing these possibilities. The story is headlined "Prosecutor: Mom says she killed girl as protection," and here is how it begins:

A woman charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of her 4-year-old daughter in suburban Chicago told police she killed her child to prevent her from being raped and sold as a sex slave online, prosecutors said.

Marci Webber of East Nassau, N.Y., was being held Monday at DuPage County Jail on $5 million bond in the death of Magdalene "Maggie" Webber.  Her body was found last week in an upstairs bathroom of a Bloomingdale town house.  The child's throat was slashed and the words "divine mercy" were scrawled in blood on a nearby wall, according to DuPage County prosecutors.

The 43-year-old mother told police she gave her daughter sleeping pills and Benadryl, some of which were found next to the girl's body along with a 4-inch folding knife, prosecutors said.     "She said she wanted to keep her daughter from being an Internet sex slave," Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Lindt said in court Sunday.

Prosecutors later said they did not believe the girl ever faced such a threat.  They planned to seek a mental health evaluation in anticipation of an insanity defense, Paul Darrah, a spokesman for the DuPage County state's attorney, said Monday.

November 17, 2010 in Notable real cases | Permalink

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What a heartbreaking story. At this point, I wonder if it would even be decent to treat the mother. After all, if she is given some sort of anti-pyschotic medication and is better able to comprehend reality, then she'll have to face the fact that she murdered her own child. There is no good ending to this story.

Posted by: Keith Edwards (student) | Nov 17, 2010 11:57:57 AM

Under IL law for the defense of compulsion, the defendant has to reasonably believe that great harm will be inflicted on herself or her family member.

Compulsion. (a) A person is not guilty of an offense, other than an offense punishable with death, by reason of conduct that he or she performs under the compulsion of threat or menace of the imminent infliction of death or great bodily harm, if he or she reasonably believes death or great bodily harm will be inflicted upon him or her, or upon his or her spouse or child, if he or she does not perform that conduct.

Posted by: Jessica Yu | Nov 17, 2010 4:35:45 PM

Oh dear. I really wish I could un-read that!

Thinking about the 'honest but unreasonable belief' idea mentioned about--I'm reminded of a story from this spring...an amateur mixed martial arts fighter and his friends drank a bunch of mushroom tea...this guy became convinced that one of his friends was, in fact, satan, and so he needed to kill this friend in order to save himself (& everyone else in the world, too, I guess). I'm not going to post the link because this guy killed his friend in a really gross and disturbing way, but if you're extremely curious and want to search on your own, the story was covered on the blog Deadspin, and it happened this past May I believe. But in that case, the killer's belief was honest & sincere--at that moment, he truly believed his friend was satan. Of course, since they were all hallucinating, that belief was not reasonable.

Posted by: Katie Zeitler | Nov 18, 2010 12:24:00 AM

As a reflection on Keith and Katie's comments, what a difficult case for a prosecutor! When the story evinces such emotional reactions from readers (as our collective reactions evidence), I cannot imagine trying to take such a case to trial. The conduct of the defendant here is so outlandish that I cannot see a jury being willing to convict of a very high offense. I'm interested to see where this one goes, and what the likely plea arrangement looks like.

Posted by: Michael Shoenfelt | Nov 18, 2010 11:08:12 AM

I also was reminded of a very recent case that took place in Upper Arlington--a man killed his two sons (who were, I think, 6 and 8 years old) before also killing himself. He left behind some long, rambling notes about how he wanted to protect his sons from the horrors of this world. Obviously the dad can't be prosecuted, since he's dead...but it reminded me of the Illinois case cited above. A parent's desire to protect their child is certainly reasonable, but...the means these parents have chosen to try to accomplish that are horrible and gruesome.

Posted by: Katie Zeitler | Nov 18, 2010 11:50:16 AM

Here's another example of someone with an honest but unreasonable belief that they needed to kill an innocent person (also probably a good bet that the insanity defense will make an appearance in the trial):

http://wonderwall.msn.com/tv/ugly-betty-actor-i-killed-the-demon-inside-my-mom-1584722.story

Posted by: Lindsey Silverblatt | Nov 29, 2010 7:40:22 AM

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