Friday, March 7, 2008

Likely Insanity Defense in Upcoming Death Penalty Trial

According to the Houston Chronicle ("Insanity plea likely in officer's shooting death," March 6, 2008), Juan Quintero, the man facing a capital murder charge in the 2006 shooting death of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson, might plead not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). The district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty for Quintero, a Mexican citizen who was deported from the United States by federal authorities, following his 1998 conviction for the state offense of indecency with a child and the imposition of a probationary sentence; Quintero illegally returned to the country in 1999. Robert Lane Camp, the owner of Camp Landscaping, Deer Park, has been charged by criminal complaint with encouraging Quintero to unlawfully enter the United States and with harboring him.

More from the Chronicle:

"Assistant District Attorney Denise Bradley said she received notice that attorneys for Juan Leonardo Quintero plan to call a mental health professional to testify about Quintero's state of mind at a pre-trial hearing later this month. The trial is set to begin in April, at which time Quintero will be arraigned by the judge and enter a plea.

Bradley said the district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty in the case, which unfolded after officer Rodney Johnson stopped a truck owned by a landscaping company for a traffic violation. He arrested Quintero after the man could not provide a driver's license.

As Johnson wrote up his report in the front seat of his police car, investigators said, Quintero pulled a pistol overlooked in a body search and shot Johnson four times in the head from the back seat.

In a pre-trial hearing Thursday, prosecutors said Quintero fired eight shots, at least one of which was directed at a tow truck driver who had been dispatched to the scene to tow Quintero's truck.

State District Judge Joan Campbell ruled Thursday that a ballistics expert would be allowed to testify for the prosecution, and a psychologist, who is an expert in acute stress disorder, can testify for the defense.

The psychologist, Kris Mohandie, is expected to testify about the state of mind of the officers who first arrived on the scene and inconsistencies in their reports about what happened, not Quintero's state of mind.

A second mental health professional is expected to be called for another pre-trial hearing next week.
Quintero's lawyer, Danalynn Recer, declined to comment after the hearing.

A possible insanity defense came as no surprise to members of the Houston Police Officer's Union, said Mark Clark, the union's executive director.

"We don't agree with it, but we understand it," Clark said. "The defense lawyer is going to pull out all the stops because of what is at stake here."

He said he has full faith and confidence that Quintero will be sentenced to die for the murder of a peace officer, an offense eligible for the death penalty."
According to Section 8.01 of the Texas Penal Code, “insanity is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong. The term ‘mental disease or defect’ does not include an abnormality manifested by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.” Although it does not specify, the “wrong” referred to in the statute means legally wrong.

Insanity must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Less than one percent of all defendants raise the insanity defense; of these, even fewer defendants are found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. (Psychiatric Times, April, 2002) In approximately 80 percent of the cases where a defendant has been found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” the prosecution and defense have agreed on the appropriateness of the plea before trial.

Texas juries are not informed of the consequences to the defendant if they return a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

For more information on the insanity defense, go to

No comments: