The Horrible Murder of Aysha D. Ring and the Insanity of the Insanity Plea
–Richard E. Vatz
Last week I was on Ron Smith’s WBAL radio show for about 40 minutes talking about the invalid mental health survey findings discussed in the American Medical Association journal, The Archives of General Psychiatry, which were the basis for estimations that nearly half of all college students have a mental disorder. Before that, I was talking for about 20 minutes about the case of David A. Briggs, 23, who, according to a story in The Baltimore Sun, killed a woman at a Catonsville liquor store and was “charged with first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Aysha D. Ring,” whom apparently the assailant did not know. Briggs, it appears, “stabbed [her] in the neck and wrist while [she was] waiting in line to pay for her purchases, according to court documents.” Briggs was, again, according to the Sun, “found naked Sunday night in the empty chapel of a homeless shelter in the Pittsburgh area.” He was also speaking apocalyptically and/or incomprehensibly. A perfect combination of events to infer that a killer is not to be held responsible for ending a completely innocent person’s life.
Often, when I’ve discussed an interesting matter on television or radio, people I know and some I do not know, want to talk to me about the topic. In the days since the show several — indeed, many — people have brought up my appearance, and to this point all of them wanted to discuss only the “case of the nude killer.” No one has brought up the more complicated issue of the survey findings.
It is forever thus.
I have written extensively on the rhetoric of the insanity plea and its invariably invalid manifestations in Maryland and throughout the country as well as its use in specific cases like the John Hinckley assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan (Google “Vatz” and “insanity plea,” if you’re curious).
The insanity plea usually requires the defense to convince a jury and/or a judge that a defendant lacks either the ability to understand what he/she was doing or was unable to control his actions when he/she broke the law.
I have yet to come across a case which convinced me that either criterion was satisfied. When people kill, they almost without exception know what they are doing, and, equally without exception, they have complete control over their actions.
The insanity plea in a relative sense is successfully used rarely (1/4 of 1% in criminal cases), but that translates into many, many cases absolutely over time. It is another clever dodge by defense attorneys who know that juries and judges are easily mystified by strange behavior accompanying criminal and especially murderous activity.
Briggs’ attorney indicated he would file a “not criminally responsible” plea, Maryland’s version of the insanity plea.
But of course. No person intending to kill another person would ever take off his clothes and perform rituals. All murderers are completely normal except for their violent crimes.
Why did Briggs take off his clothes and talk strangely? I don’t know. I don’t care. Neither should you. Briggs, not so incidentally, had a criminal record — no surprise /there/.
What you should care about is the horrible death experienced by an innocent, Ms. Aysha D. Ring, and the effects on her loved ones and friends. I cannot find very many people overly concerned about her — certainly not attorneys, judges and others in the criminal justice and mental health systems who contribute to the occurrences of such travesties of justice.
Professor Vatz of Towson University is Associate Psychology Editor, USA Today Magazine and an editor of Current Psychology