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Call Me Crazy

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

The Court of Appeals upheld Hendricks's conviction.

Gilman was later appointed a Denver District County judge and stepped down from the case; Jane Hazen was then assigned to represent Hendricks.

In 1998, when Hazen first met her client, Hendricks was still claiming that her husband was alive. "She wanted me to find him," Hazen says.

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.

Hazen appealed Hendricks's case to the state supreme court. And in a decision issued in September, that court articulated for the first time the standards a judge should apply when reviewing a defendant's desire to plead not guilty. Hendricks was entitled to a new hearing, the court said, because Judge Curry had not sufficiently examined whether she was truly able to make a rational decision to make such a plea and if there was substantial evidence that would entitle her to use a mental defense.

This time, Hendricks, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is going along with her attorneys. She has agreed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Hendricks was sent back to Pueblo in December; psychiatrists there are expected to make a decision as to whether she was insane at the time of her husband's murder. She is due back in court later this month.

Douglas County prosecutors say they do not yet know what they will do with the Hendricks case. Curry must conduct a hearing to determine whether substantial evidence existed to support a mental defense (in 1991) and whether Hendricks's reasons for rejecting the defense were rational.

Depending on what the psychiatrists say, Curry could decide to send Hendricks back to prison.

The defense and prosecution could reach a plea agreement on the matter. Or Curry could decide to allow another trial. (Because Hendricks committed murder when the old insanity laws were in effect, she is entitled to a bifurcated trial.)

If Hendricks were to be found not guilty by reason of insanity -- either by trial or in a plea agreement -- she would be sent back to the state hospital in Pueblo, where she would undergo still more evaluations. She would be entitled to a release hearing to determine if her sanity has been "restored."


Tom Leask may never get the chance to appeal his case.

Leonard Post, an investigator with the Park County District Attorney's Office, was the first person to interview Leask after his arrest.

Leask appeared rational that night, Post says, despite the fact that he "had marks of paint or oil on his face."

"I asked about that," Post says. "He said it was for the Ghost Dance. The meaning of that, I don't know. He had some unusual religious beliefs.

"But at the same time, when I asked him if he knew right from wrong, he seemed to answer those questions appropriately. He seemed to pass those tests regarding competency. He knew that it was wrong to kill and against the law...I think he has bizarre beliefs, I must say. But I do feel strongly, as far as the statutes require, that he was competent when he spoke to me, and he wasn't so delusional that he was outside that area.

"It's a real controversial subject in the justice system," Post adds.

Four psychiatrists who examined Leask decided that he was insane. He had persecutory delusions. He heard voices and believed that God had spoken to him.

But insanity is not a psychiatric term. It is a legal one. And legally, Tom Leask was sane the night he flattened Alma.

"Every doctor, including our own, said [Leask] was insane," says Dave Thorson, deputy district attorney for Park County. "What our doctor said is that [Leask] would be insane except that it was a product of long-term drug and alcohol abuse. There's an exception in the law that basically says you're not insane if the insanity is caused by the voluntary ingestion of drugs or alcohol.

"What the doctor was saying is that long-term use made him insane."

But whether the "voluntary ingestion" exception applies to long-term drug use -- as opposed to someone who drops acid one night and throws another person out a window -- is open to interpretation. "It's not a settled question," Thorson admits.

Leask told the court that he didn't want to be declared insane because he feared that doctors would force medication on him. He said, too, that he didn't care about his defense because his "job," as he perceived it, had been completed.

Despite Leask's wishes, his public defender, Nick Lusero, insisted on trying to force an insanity plea on his client. "When someone is truly insane and meets the state's definition of it, it's wrong to send him to prison. I think they should be in a mental-health institution. I think it's insane for a society to execute mentally retarded and insane people, and they do it all the time. It's just nuts."

Thorson chose to take Leask's side and push ahead with the prosecution. He says he believes that Leask was sane, based on the fact that Leask had carefully planned the crime and because Leask held a grudge against his victim. (Leask told investigators that the first time he saw Willie Morrison, at an AA meeting, Morrison had smiled and whispered something to another member, and he believed that Morrison was talking about him. Leask also said that Morrison questioned him about his religious beliefs and that he had "tried to run" the AA meetings, all of which angered Leask.)

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