Insanity defense: Six notorious cases when it worked

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John Hinckley Jr. Our other Colorado connection, Hinckley was living in Evergreen in 1981 when he suddenly became one of the most infamous figures in the country. After an extended stay at the Golden Hours Motel on West Colfax, and regular meals at the McDonald's across the street, Hinckley traveled to Washington, D.C., and on March 30 of that year, he shot President Ronald Reagan as he was leaving the Hilton Hotel, where he'd addressed a labor conference.

Hinckley also injured a police officer, a Secret Service agent and Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, who was severely wounded but survived to become the namesake of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

When he went to trial in 1982, Hinckley's legal team claimed that he had been insane when he'd opened fire. According to his attorneys, he had become obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, and specifically with her role as a child prostitute in the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver. The movie revolved around Travis Bickle (portrayed by Robert De Niro), who planned to assassinate a politician. Bickle didn't do so in the end, yet Hinckley is said to have decided that the best way to impress Foster would be to kill the president.

When Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, several states abolished the death penalty, and others rewrote their laws. But while the man behind the gun became the symbol of the debate over the issue, he couldn't be an active participant. He remains institutionalized to this day, although courts have allowed him to take occasional visits outside the hospital where he's otherwise confined in order to visit family.

Lorena Bobbitt Lorena Bobbitt and her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, became celebrities of the strangest sort just shy of twenty years ago, owing to a series of startling events that took place on June 23, 1993.

On that evening, when John returned to the Manassas, Virginia apartment the couple shared, he was reportedly drunk, but apparently not so sloshed that he couldn't manage to rape his wife — although he was subsequently acquitted of this crime.

Afterward, Lorena rose from their bed and headed to the kitchen, ostensibly to get a drink of water. While there, however, she grabbed a knife and brought it back to their bedroom — where she took hold of her sleeping husband's penis and cut off almost half of it.

Bobbitt then split, taking the bloody penis portion with her. She drove for a while, then tossed it into a field; it was later found, packed in ice and rushed to a hospital, where it was reattached to John during an operation said to have taken more than nine hours. And the member in question apparently still worked afterward, since John had a brief career as a porn actor in future years. His magnum opus? Frankenpenis.

At trial, Lorena's attorneys detailed a long history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, including an assertion that he'd forced her to have an abortion. And while prosecutors insisted that she had known what she was doing when she took a blade to John's manhood, the jury ultimately accepted the argument that she snapped due to the alleged rape and previous mistreatment and ruled her not guilty by reason of insanity. She spent 45 days being evaluated at a state hospital, after which she was released.

Ed Gein Gein was a role model of sorts, inspiring in whole or in part some of the most frightening figures in film history, including Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. How? By digging up bodies from graveyards near his Plainfield, Wisconsin home and doing terrible things with the remains — like making a belt from women's nipples, using a pair of lips as a draw string on a window blind, and constructing a lampshade from facial skin.

And also by killing people.

Gein ultimately confessed to murdering two women — Mary Hogan in 1954 and Bernice Worden in 1957. After Worden's body was found strung up as if she was a deer, Gein was arrested, but he was subsequently found to be criminally insane and locked up in a mental health facility.

Eleven years later, authorities tried again, putting Gein on trial for Worden's murder. He was found guilty, but he was ordered to spend his life sentence at a mental hospital. He died in 1984, but his horrifying influence continues to linger to this day.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts