At Commonwealth v. John Du Pont trial of 1997, the defense and prosecution psychiatric witnesses agreed that John du Pont had a mental illness (Bergstrom, 2000). The defense invoked the insanity defense. The defense experts testified that Du Pont had schizophrenic paranoia. According to various reports, Du Pont was encumbered by Delusions. The defense argued that Du Pont was led to believe that Schultz was part of an arranged conspiracy to murder him. His mental illness was valid, and even during his competency hearing, he fired his lawyers, Richard Sprague and William Lamb, through the perception that they engaged in the conspiracy against him (Bergstrom, 2000). According to his attorney’s revelations, his mental illness was manifested in the entirety of their meetings.
John du Pont was responsible and accountable for the killing of David Schultz, a wrestler, in 1996 (Bergstrom, 2000). Du Pont, a wealthy wrestling fan, had driven to David Schultz’s house and shot him dead. Shultz was operating his car near the house. As Du Pont drove into the yard, he opened the car window, and with a Magnum revolver, he shot at Schultz three times as his Schultz wife was watching from the kitchen (Bergstrom, 2000). Du Pont was housing Schultz in his Foxcatcher Estate in Pennsylvania.
According to Dr. Park Dietz, forensic psychiatrist, who was testifying for the prosecution, he reported that the murder of David Schultz was not related to Du Pont’s mental illness (Bergstrom, 2000). The jury afterward rejected the insanity defense. The judges put away John du Pont for third-degree homicide. However, apart from the guilty verdict, Du Pont was also found to have a mental illness. He was sentenced to 13 to 30 years in the correctional institution. He would also be required to take psychiatric treatment for the period he was in prison.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme court received and rejected an appeal of Du Pont’s conviction. The appeal argued that the verdict of guilty but mentally ill violated his rights to equal protection and due process. The appeal also held out that the imprisonment involved unusual and cruel punishment.
The insanity defense entails a defense used by a defendant in a criminal trial. In this form of defense, the defendants’ actions are admitted, but they also claim a lack of culpability grounded on mental illness and other mental issues (LII, n.d). Insanity is used as an excuse defense. In the aforementioned case, Du Pont and his defense admitted his actions but asserted that he had schizophrenic paranoia and was mentally ill (Brown, 2018).
The insanity defense also involves the legal competency element, or competence to stand before the jury. A defendant cannot stand before the jury if the defendant is deemed incompetent. A defendant is incompetent if they cannot participate in preparing for their defense or cannot understand the nature of consequences or court proceedings against them (LII, n.d). The Du Pont case involved two competency hearings before he was deemed competent to stand trial.
The M’Naghten Rule states that it is the burden of the defense to prove that during the time of the crime, the accused had a mental illness and reasoning defect that made him not understand what he was doing or did not know its wrongness (LII, n.d). When the defendant shows that they were incapable of knowing the wrongness of what they did, they are deemed insane (Meynen, 2021). In Du Pont’s case, the prosecution did not find him insane despite being ruled mentally ill because he understood the illegality of his behavior when committing the crime.
Bergstrom, T.A., (2000). Cover Story: The Cruel and Bitter Reality of Mental Illness, Commonwealth v. John du Pont. The Philadelphia Lawyer. Fall 2000, Vol. 63, No. 3 Retrieved from: https://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/TPLFall00CoverStory?appNum=3
Brown, K. P. (2018). Insanity defense typology. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 36(3), 317-324.
Legal Information Institute (LII). Insanity defense. Cornell Law School., Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/insanity_defense
Meynen, G. (2021). The insanity defense. LAW AND MIND, 317.