Should the mentally ill go to prison, or get a second chance?

Insanity law shouldn’t protect guilty from justice

By Kelly McLain

Cynthia Lord did what a sane mother can only fear.

According to news reports, while at her Anchorage home in 2004, Lord shot three of her four children: Christopher, Joey and Michael. Lord’s reason for the murders was her belief that her sons were going to be turned into clones.

A superior court judge found her guilty of first-degree murder and also mentally ill May 15. In order for Lord to have been ruled not guilty but insane, she had to prove that she didn’t know she was going to murder the three boys by her actions.

Lord knew she was going to deliberately kill her sons. The judge was provided with clear evidence from Lord’s description of her buying the gun months in advance to shooting her sons over an 11-hour period. There is clearly a discrepancy between the time of obtaining the murder weapon and killing the three boys.

Lord not only said that she believed her sons were becoming clones, but by killing them she was saving them from “evil.”

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Clearly, the woman is mentally unstable.

But regardless of Lord’s suspicion that her children were clones, she admitted to police and mental health experts that she knew her children were human.

The judge made the right decision in ruling that Lord is both guilty and mentally ill. The judge could have ruled that Lord was only guilty, or not guilty but insane. However, by separating the two accounts, the judge recognizes the judicial question of guilt separate from the acknowledgement and treatment of her illness.

If Lord were to have been sent to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, she would not only be dismissed of her time in prison but also offered the chance to be released back into society.

This is a chance that Lord doesn’t deserve.

This is similar to the 1982 case involving Alaska resident Charles Meach, who murdered a woman and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Years later, his doctors said he was in remission of his mental illness. Shortly afterward, Meach was found guilty of killing four teenagers. Alaska’s insanity laws have changed since then, but the idea that the insane cannot be fully rehabilitated hasn’t.

Imagine if Lord was eventually released back into society and thought that any other person was an evil clone.

Through her own testimony, Lord proves she knowingly murdered her sons. She doesn’t only need psychiatric help; she needs to be in a penitentiary to account for her actions.

Mentally insane need proper care, not prison term

By Suzanna Caldwell

The line between guilty and not guilty can sometimes be an obvious one. But for people suffering from mental illness, that line can be vague.

So when they commit a crime, where do we draw the line on their punishment?

Alaska has some of the most stringent insanity defense laws in the nation. A judge ruled, May 15, that Cynthia Lord was guilty but mentally ill, regardless of the fact that she believed her sons were turning into evil spirits and clones when she killed them.

Lord now faces life in prison for her actions, but not for her mental state. Records show that Lord had been in and out of the Alaska mental health care system since 1994. Lord clearly suffers from severe mental illness.

In the days where people sue McDonalds for serving their coffee too hot, people assume that others use the insanity defense as a means to escape punishment. This is rarely the case, especially in Alaska. In order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, individuals have to prove they had no idea that what they where doing was wrong. Temporary insanity or extreme mental duress cannot be used as a defense.

But mental illness cannot last forever. People who suffer from diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have been to known to recover from them. Schizophrenic mathematician John Nash overcame his illness and went on to receive the Nobel Prize. Even Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression for a good portion of his life and still achieved greatness.

So sending a person to prison or even having them executed and giving them no chance at recovery seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Lord was found guilty of the murders, but maybe they could have been prevented if Lord had received better psychiatric care earlier in her life.

Even John Hinckley Jr., the man who attempted to assassinate former president Ronald Reagan in 1981, has been found to be in full remission from the mental illness that provoked the attacks.

Ultimately, placing a person in prison for committing a crime they did not understand in no way helps the individual recover from the illness that caused the crime. Filling our prisons with people who unknowingly harm others brings more danger to the other prisoners and ensures that the person in question will not receive the proper medical care they require.

People who are found guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity are as much a victim as their own victims. To not allow them proper care is as morally wrong as the crimes they have committed.