Insufficiently Frequent Verdict: First Degree Murder in the Insanity Plea Case of Mary Koontz

–Richard E. Vatz

WBAL Radio’s Rob Lang reported the satisfying news: “A Baltimore County jury has found a former Glen Arm resident [Mary C. Koontz] guilty of first degree murder in the killing of her estranged husband, and guilty of first degree attempted murder in the attempted killing of her daughter.”

It should not have been a close call, but the mysteriously irrelevant questions the jury was passing to Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger, Sr. during deliberations at the Koontz murder trial caused informed observers pause. Questions included, according to Towson Times writer Bryan Sears’ report (who, along with The Baltimore Sun’s Nick Madigan, has provided riveting, understandable detail of this trial), “who would pay for her psychiatric care if she were sent to an institution…”

This was a classic case wherein the defense tried to mystify a jury, despite the clear evidence that the murder and attempted murder had been premeditated. As Judge Bollinger (who has a checkered past with his indulgence of insanity pleas) instructed the jury, the defendant could be found not criminally responsible for her actions if at the time she was unable to “to appreciate the criminality of the conduct or to conform that conduct to the requirements of law.” He added that even if she were suffering from a “mental disorder,” that would be relevant only if it were established that said disorder affected her ability to tell right from wrong.

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A defense attorney is required to help his client raise reasonable doubt and provide all appropriate legitimate defenses. Defense attorney Richard M. Karceski did that, but went too far – with relish. According to reports on the case by reporter Madigan, Karceski actually perversely said of the killing and attempted killing that, like the Hinckley case, “This was a love story.”

Neither the Hinckley shootings and attempted assassination nor the Koontz abomination was anything but a terror-filled, intentional and purposeful abomination.

On one point he was right, however: to be found guilty, Mary should have shown premeditation, and she did.

As Madigan recounted, she bought a handgun, took weapons training, registered at a Towson hotel under an assumed name, parked her car a mile from her former home, and likely walked through dense woods to reach the house. She removed her shoes to preserve quietude in her stalking. She shot her husband four times and shot at, but missed, her daughter, who remains traumatized by the events.

In her own transparently mendacious defense, Koontz claims that husband Ronald was having an incestuous relationship with their daughter, a charge for which there is absolutely no evidence, irrelevant as it is. She claims she had an “out of body” experience, leaving her not remembering performing the acts of murder and attempted murder: “I was in a fog.” Karceski claimed she was “screwed up” and “didn’t know what she was doing.”

Mary Koontz’s psychiatric enablers diagnosed her with the all-purpose, unverifiable “borderline personality disorder” and found her heavy drinking and drug usage to be further evidence exculpating and/or mitigating, rather than aggravating, her responsibility for her crimes.

As Madigan quotes the prosecutor, Deputy State’s Attorney Robin S. Coffin, “The defendant had a ‘specific intent to kill…she knows she’s going to commit a crime.’ Koontz’s premeditation was obvious not only in her preparations but in the multiple ‘pullings of the trigger,’ the prosecutor said, suggesting that the defendant could have reconsidered each time whether to continue shooting.”

There was more premeditation and purposeful action. Mary Koontz made profane, terrorizing phone calls, played for the court, in which she told Ronald “I will survive you” and “I won’t make any threats that I won’t carry out.” Her calls, some of which were played on local television were rational and frightening, exactly what one would expect from a dangerously violent killer.

Defense attorney Karceski told the jury, “[Mary Koontz’s] acts were a product of her illness; she was not normal.”

He was wrong on the first count and right on the second, and now she will be sentenced for her crimes.

This was a vicious, premeditated, cowardly murder, and the jury is to be congratulated on not being fooled by psychiatric mystification.

Professor Vatz of Towson University has been writing on psychiatric rhetoric for over 35 years

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