Call Me Crazy

When the accused reject a not-guilty plea, Colorado's insanity law breaks down.

Gwen then adds some details about the children's ranch before going on to discuss her "compulsions":

The funeral, the ranch school, children, the foundation, always being pushed forward. I have to do what I have to do, too. But just for now I'm going to take one day at a time. I'm hoping I don't get too compulsed to do anything more for at least this coming week. I need to rest.

Perhaps I should start by explaining the little voice. It's my voice, but not me. It comes from somewhere inside, and if I don't listen to it, act on it, it becomes a compulsion. If I don't listen and act on the compulsion, it grows stronger and stronger until it dominates all aspects of my life. I learned long ago to listen and do what I'm told. Things work out when I do, and when I don't, things get real miserable...Yes, my little voice is the way God reaches me with the Holy Spirit.

Gwen Hendricks heard voices that foretold her husband's death.Attorney Jane Hazen was assigned to appeal Gwen Hendricks's case.Authorities believed Tom Leask (above) was insane when he went on a rampage in the town of Alma and shot sculptor and former mayor Willie Morrison (right) in cold blood.
David Hollenbach
Gwen Hendricks heard voices that foretold her husband's death.Attorney Jane Hazen was assigned to appeal Gwen Hendricks's case.Authorities believed Tom Leask (above) was insane when he went on a rampage in the town of Alma and shot sculptor and former mayor Willie Morrison (right) in cold blood.
Gwen Hendricks heard voices that foretold her husband's death.
Gwen Hendricks heard voices that foretold her husband's death.

After Knaack turned the diary over to Douglas County investigators, they asked him to phone Gwen while they listened in. During that conversation, Gwen told Knaack that she had not killed her husband but that she wanted to die. The investigators used Gwen's words to justify a midnight "welfare check" on her, during which time Douglas County sheriff's sergeant Kim Castellano and an Air Force investigator took turns reading aloud to Gwen from her journal and quoting from the Bible.

According to court documents, four hours into the welfare check, Gwen curled into a fetal position and whispered that there were "two stories that night -- the story of the rest area and the story of Highway 83."

In the highway story, she said, "there is blood everywhere, I can see it everywhere. It's terrible. My mind won't let me remember. I don't know if I shot him or not. I don't know what's real anymore."

The investigators then took Hendricks to a local hospital for a mental-health evaluation. After her release from the hospital two days later, Hendricks was arrested and charged with her husband's murder.

At her November arraignment, Hendricks's public defenders -- Dan Bowen, Carrie Clein and Steve Gayle -- asked the court to enter a plea of NGRI. Hendricks objected. District Judge Thomas Curry ordered her sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for a competency evaluation and to determine if an insanity plea should be entered over her objections.

(Competency is different from insanity in that it is a measure of someone's thinking at the time of trial. Defendants are deemed competent to stand trial if they can understand the nature of the charges against them as well as the legal proceedings that will take place, and they must be able to assist and cooperate in their defense.)

But by November, Hendricks no longer believed her husband was dead. Her delusions now encompassed a vast military conspiracy in which a different man had been killed in Jim's place, after which Jim was whisked away to carry out secret duties for the government. Her attorneys argued that she was incompetent to proceed because as long as she believed that Jim was alive, she would be unable to participate in her defense in any meaningful way.

Over the next fourteen months, Hendricks bounced from jail to the state hospital and back again as psychiatrists and attorneys debated her state of mind. In medical terms, psychiatrists said, Hendricks was suffering from "bipolar disorder mixed with mood-congruent psychotic features." In layman's terms, Hendricks was having delusions or hallucinations surrounding issues of guilt and death. She exhibited delusions of grandeur and of persecution, she slept little, and her words came spraying out as if under an enormous amount of pressure.

Finally, in April 1992, the court found Hendricks competent to proceed, and Curry accepted her plea of not guilty. A month after her arraignment, however, her mental health deteriorated and she was again declared incompetent.

While her fate was still being debated in the courts, Gwen Hendricks found a way to get what she wanted: After receiving a small amount of money from a Social Security disability check, she hired private attorney Lloyd Boyer to represent her in the murder trial.

Hendricks had met Boyer while she was in the state hospital; much of his practice consisted of representing clients who were fighting a civil commitment to the mental-health facility. Boyer drew up a contract with his client promising that he would not pursue an insanity defense. According to court records, he also agreed that he would accept as part of his fee 50 percent of the media rights for Gwen Hendricks's story.

Hendricks was tried on the murder charge in October 1993. Boyer's defense rested largely on the idea that the body found in the truck was not that of Jim Hendricks.

Gwen Hendricks was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Her funds were now exhausted, and Boyer was off the case, but the court proceedings continued with a post-conviction relief hearing and an appeal. The court appointed Shelley Gilman as an independent counsel for the appeal; she questioned Boyer's representation of his client and whether a mental status defense should have been entered on Hendricks's behalf.

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