The Aysha Ring Verdict Outrage: A Broken System Overseen by Supercilious Mental Health Professionals
–Richard E. Vatz
The legal case of the savage slitting of Aysha Ring’s throat by a vicious killer has ended in an outrageously invalid verdict: the perpetrator was found “Not Criminally Responsible.” I have written about the particulars of the case in The Baltimore Sun and in Red Maryland, talked briefly about it for a segment by WJZ-TV in Baltimore, and I have discussed the case at length on WBAL and WEAA Radio.
I shall not again go into great detail regarding the facts of the case as you can read the linked summaries, but in short: Ms. Aysha Ring was innocently waiting in line at a convenience store when she was set upon by the killer who murdered her, ran away, and disposed of his gun. The press reports went into his unusual behavior in a chapel in Pittsburgh subsequent to the killing, information which is intriguing to some readers, scintillating to those who want to believe that the killer was out of his mind and utterly irrelevant to those who believe that wanton murderers should pay for their crimes and be incapacitated permanently to protect the public.
In Maryland a lawbreaker can be found “Not Criminally Responsible” (NCR) if the examining psychiatrists and/or psychologists come to the conclusion that said lawbreaker suffered from a mental disorder and therefore didn’t know what was done was wrong, or if the otherwise criminal actions were beyond his or her control. None of these criteria – mental disorder or lack of understanding or control – was validly demonstrated in this case.
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In their examination of the killer, these mental health specialists ordered the available evidence to fit their preconceived conclusion. How did they publicly justify their findings?
With silence. They didn’t even have the decency to talk to the victim’s family. As one lawyer coldly put it to me, “The law doesn’t require them to do so.”
As the father of the slain young woman, Mike Ring, puts it, “I have neither heard from nor seen anyone associated with the mental health assessment. I was made aware of the finding by the state attorney’s office the day that office received word, and it was reiterated to me at that time that we had no recourse.”
Could doctors or even Ph.D. psychologists be so heartlessly insouciant so as not to even interact with the father of a victim whose killer would now spend not a day in jail for this heinous crime?
I wanted to ask the examining mental health team about this, so I called Dr. Anne Hanson, who signed the NCR finding, and she told me it was a “team approach decision.” When I asked who the other members of the “team” were, she said she could not divulge their names, but if I would call the CEO of Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, Sheila Davenport, I could ask her. CEO Davenport apparently had the Director of Forensic Services for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene call me and on my voice mail actually said that no one at the hospital could legally release any information regarding who was on the team or the basis of the decision, but that if I contacted the killer’s attorney, he would be legally permitted to apprise me of the information I sought, if he wished to do so.
Through other means I determined that other participants in the finding of NCR included a Dr. Lawrence Donner and Dr. Neil Blumberg, lately infamous for his testimony in the Nicholas Browning case (Browning killed his parents and brothers) to the effect that the killer had “dissociative disorder” and was abused by his parents. Blumberg’s claims were as firm as the evidence he presented: Browning’s claims. That shameless psychobabbling effort failed.
What can be done about a sophistry-laden system superintended by arrogant, superciliously irresponsible “medical experts?” The Maryland General Assembly could make it harder to effect a “Not Criminally Responsible” plea. Regarding the mental health personnel who participate in such unscientific and baseless “team decisions,” I don’t know exactly what can make them be less socially irresponsible.
I do know that in the early 1970’s when gay people marched outside of American Psychiatric Association meetings to protest homosexuality’s status as a mental illness, such demonstrations led to the end of that psychiatric makeshift disorder.
Maybe it is time to make forensic psychiatrists’ meetings less enjoyable.
Professor Vatz is a professor at Towson University and an associate psychology editor of USA Today Magazine and an editor of Current Psychology