In 2009, Iraq War vet Davon Lamont Thomas murdered his girlfriend, but in a twist, Thomas was found not guilty of this murder due to insanity. The psychologists who were interviewing and treating him claim that he has PTSD, or posttraumatic stress syndrome, which drove him to kill. Rather than going to prison for the murder, Thomas will instead be going to a state mental hospital. Evaluation of those who are on trial is one of the areas that a forensic psychologist may well work. The outcomes of these kinds of decisions can cause quite a rift in communities.
What Happened in this Case?
In November of 2009, Thomas shot and killed his girlfriend, Tigist Yemane, in his parent’s house. His attorney claims that he had PTSD and killed his girlfriend because he believed that she was a part of a terroristic plot to attack the United States. The attorney claims that Thomas was in a delusional state of mind and would not have done anything to harm anyone had this not been the case. He believed he had to kill her. On the same grounds Thomas, a felon, will not receive charges for possessing a firearm either.
Forensic psychologists for both the defense and the prosecution examined Thomas and claimed that he had severe mental illness and was unable to understand the wrongness of his actions. Over the course of four weeks, the state’s forensic psychologist examined Thomas and came to the same conclusions as the defense. According to evidence and testimony from Thomas’s parents, he was acting strangely, interrogating his girlfriend about being a Muslim and accusing her of plotting just before the murder took place. They claim he was definitely not a right state of mind.
It does seem as though the psychologists and the court are making the right decision here. However, it does make one wonder if criminals who have been to war and who know full and well what they are doing may try to use PTSD as their insanity defense. Psychologists are going to have to prepare for this just as they would any other type of insanity plea when they go through the case.
Forensic Psychologists in the Court System
In addition to evaluating suspects to see if they are going to be capable of standing trial, the psychologist some psychologists will be working for the prosecution and others may be working with the defense. Psychologists may well be working against one another, each seeing something different in the suspect that may cause one to believe he is either sane or insane, and both trying to bring about evidence that makes the court agree with them.
As you can imagine, when someone receives a not guilty by insanity verdict, there is going to be quite a bit of division. Some will see this as a victory for those who suffer from mental issues and need help rather than incarceration. Others see this as an affront to justice.
Forensic psychologists should not see it either way. Instead, the best psychologists are not going to let emotions get in the way of their findings. They are going to take what they know to be true according to their knowledge of psychology and apply that to the case. They are not there to judge, only to help and get to the bottom of these types of cases as best they are able. In this instance, both defense and prosecution came to the same conclusion.