Our examination of previous insanity cases found that it's often obvious right from the beginning — before a defendant has even pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity — that the person who committed the crime has serious mental-health issues.

That was true for Robert Dunn, the father who killed his young daughter. The crime scene was so horrific and Dunn's behavior so bizarre that the prosecutors who worked the case still remember it with a sense of sickening awe, even though the crime took place in June 2000, more than thirteen years ago. Heim, now a private defense attorney in Colorado Springs, was one of the prosecutors who responded to the initial call. He went first to the police station in Manitou, where Dunn was being held.

"I've never seen anybody who looked quite like he looked at that time," Heim says. "He was clearly out of it. His eyes were bugging out of his head. There was a total disconnect with what was going on around him."

Amber Torrez pleaded insanity in a pair of 2004 murders.
Amber Torrez pleaded insanity in a pair of 2004 murders.
Ahmad Clewis-Green was deemed sane  —  and guilty of murder.
Ahmad Clewis-Green was deemed sane — and guilty of murder.

Earlier that evening, the 51-year-old Dunn, who owned a liquor store in town, tried to impale his seven-year-old daughter, Aaren, with a crowbar that he'd recently begun keeping for protection. Then he repeatedly stabbed her in the neck and chest with two kitchen knives and tried to rip her head off. "He damn near decapitated Aaren," Heim recalls. "Her head was hanging on by one or two tendons."

Dunn's eleven-year-old daughter, Nadine, escaped the house and ran to a nearby convenience store for help. "My dad is killing my sister!" she yelled. A local carpenter and his girlfriend who were walking into the store heeded Nadine's cries and followed her to the house, where they found Dunn hovering over Aaren in the kitchen. "I put my hand over the wound on her neck and gave her CPR, but the look in her eyes. She was gone, man," the man told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "She was with God."

When the cops arrived, they found Dunn lying in the grass in the back yard. "The devil is here. I killed the devil," he shouted. "She was possessed. I killed the devil."

At the police station, Dunn was "urinating on himself and bewildered and disoriented," recalls John Newsome, a former prosecutor who was Heim's partner on the case. Heim remembers that there was a birthday cake at the police station, and as they waited to speak with Dunn, Newsome dipped his finger in the frosting. As he was about to lick it off, he looked over at the holding cell to find Dunn peering at him through the tiny window in the door, "like Jack Nicholson in The Shining."

After Dunn threatened to hurt himself in jail, the sheriff's office transferred him to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. Dunn's public defender, Deborah Grohs, saw the transfer as a stroke of luck; it just so happened that a psychiatrist she'd hired to evaluate another defendant was at the hospital when Dunn arrived and was able to see him, too. Grohs, now a district court judge in the special mental-health court in Colorado Springs, says "to have it happen so quickly to the time of the offense to get the best snapshot of what was going on with Dunn at the time of the crime" was "a true blessing."

The psychiatrist's report was clear: Dunn was insane when he killed Aaren. The state doctors who evaluated him at the hospital agreed with the psychiatrist hired by the defense. "There was not a single doc that said he was sane," Heim recalls. "It was a clear diagnosis of insanity."

With that evidence in hand, the district attorneys decided against a jury trial. But they did want a public airing of the facts, so Heim, Newsome and Grohs agreed to have a trial in front of a judge. "We didn't want to be the ones who said, 'This dude is insane,'" Heim says. "It was a horrific event, and we wanted to have a community determination rather than just a closed-door, DA and defense attorney agree, handshake, he goes down to the state hospital. We wanted to make sure the community knew what was going on."

The proceeding took place in December 2000. It was quick: No cops took the stand to describe the murder scene, and no medical examiner was called to give gruesome testimony about Aaren's wounds, the lawyers recall. The psychiatrists were the star witnesses. A staff psychiatrist from the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo testified that Dunn thought the devil was trying to take over Manitou Springs and was using Aaren to do so. Afterward, the psychiatrist said, Dunn showed no remorse.

"I thought they were going to pin a medal on me for saving the town of Manitou Springs," Dunn told the psychiatrist, according to news reports.

The judge agreed that Dunn was insane and sentenced him to the state hospital — but not for life, as a murderer would have been. When a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Colorado law dictates that he be sentenced to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo until doctors determine it's safe for him to leave. If the district attorney objects to the doctors' findings, a judge has the final say.

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My Voice Nation Help

My take on people like this? haul their ass out east of Pueblo about 40-50 miles on the prairie, stake them naked over a fire ant nest.
Screw insanity defense, nuf said, no hand wringing, a painful miserable death.


Pleading insanity is a real gamble for a defendant; it means he has completely given up on an alibi, on denying he did it, on suggesting that there was justification or mitigating circumstances, etc.  He is openly admitting that he committed the murder and his one and only defense is that we should take pity on him because we are willing to believe he is sick.

This defense very seldom works in the real world.  In addition, there are are least two conflicting standards - the old M"Naughton Rule that he was so crazy that he didn't even know what he was doing - and the newer Durham Rule that he knew but really really really couldn't stop himself.  Either one is a real high hurdle.

Considering that the 'reward' for a successful insanity plea can be a lifetime locked in a psych ward - where he would have even fewer legal rights than if he were in prison - this defense is trotted out only for cases with a life or death sentence.  Frankly I think a lot of jurors are saying to themselves, "I don't care that he hears voices or sees phantoms.  I don't want this guy ever turned loose even twenty years from now.  Since I don't trust bleeding heart shrinks, I'd rather send him where he'll be locked in a cage forever or put to death."

Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

Stop lying. You couldn't kill a cockroach if it was crawling right up your schnoz.


There are many people in this world who have never even seen someone who is floridly psychotic.  Then again, some people have witnessed bizarre behavior & not understood what they were seeing.  This frequently happens when Law Enforcement encounters those with altered states of consciousness.

I would like to share a video of an expert in the field of deception & malingering.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCnUlQt7YN0

If you are a mental health professional, you may be aware of this text:  http://www.amazon.com/Clinical-Assessment-Malingering-Deception-Edition/dp/1593856997/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0/181-7000442-2446242

I am providing this for public information.  I do not wish to argue with anyone who has never stepped foot inside prison or worked with within a forensic environment.  I have many years of clinical experience specific to this population. 

Tiffany Marie
Tiffany Marie

The fact someone could choose to plead insanity, in itself suggests intelligence. Most people who are truly insane are pitifully unaware of being so.

Kacey Ingram Jechura
Kacey Ingram Jechura

I was on the Clewis Green jury. We made the right decision, he clearly understood his actions were wrong evidenced through his own taped confession. He is mentally ill, he was also sane at the time of the crime. These things are not mutually exclusive, which Kossie-Butler seems to not understand.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

If they know they are insane by the acts they do then they are competent to die for what they did.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

They get pampered instead of hard labor. If they are so mentally ill then hard labor won't hurt.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

... typical ignoramus, confuses intelligence with insanity.


Most defendants enter a plea based on the advice of their legal counsel, not their own intelligence or excellent decision-making.