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Death By Instability Essay

1121 words - 5 pages

On the definition of the criminally insane, the M'naghten rules were the common method of testing used to determine insanity. These rules were established in Britain after the 1843 case of Daniel M’naghten, in which he murdered the prime minister’s secretary in an attempt to murder the prime minister himself, Edward Drummond. The M’naghten rules provide a general set of questions in discerning the defendant’s sanity, and are: “was the defendant aware of what they were doing?” and, if answered yes, “do they realize that what they committed was unjust?” However, these rules concern, more so, the physical quality rather than the moral quality of the act. In many instances, patients may acknowledge their crime as nefarious, but remain apathetic. In posing a challenge to the M’naghten rules, the Durham rules, constructed in Durham v. U.S., recognize the moral aspect in regards to the crime. They proposed that as long as it can be proven that the defendant committed the act as a cause of mental disease/defect, they are not criminally responsible. This is what should have been the case in the trial of Perry Smith. For Perry Smith’s mental instability should have provided a substantial amount of justification for the attenuation of the charges he faced. However, due to the use of the the M’naghten rules in his trial, Perry Smith was held fully responsible, criminally and mentally, and sentenced to execution by hanging.
Perry Smith detailed his life, in writing an autobiographical statement to Dr. Jones, his psychiatrist (Capote 273). In this statement, Perry speaks of many events in his life that certainly contributed to his later demise. This encompassed: beatings from his father, a divorce, an alcoholic mother, detention houses, severe beatings from a cottage mistress, and frequent crime sprees. To say that these events are commonplace among children, in any era, is madness. These are events that happen amid an unfortunate select few and are the cause of many psychological consequences. Children put into these situations usually experience feelings of isolation, distrust, anger, and fear. It has also been shown that children who underwent neglect and abuse were nine times more likely to be involved in criminal activities. This is definitely the contributing factor in Perry’s act of murder. Had Perry not lived in such a detrimental childhood and adolescent situation he would not have had such extreme feelings of loneliness and the desire to seek vengeance upon the people who had wronged him. Although the Clutter’s had never harmed him, Perry had attributed their murder as being done because they were “‘the ones who had to pay for it’” (290), in reference to everyone who had wronged him.
With all these events having occurred in Perry’s life, it is no wonder he sought out crime and isolation. Perry felt he could not trust anyone who showed him companionship, due to the thought that they would attempt to harm him. This pushed him away from...

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