What happens when accused killers plead insanity?

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A psychiatrist at the state hospital found that Torrez had indeed been insane, and Habas entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. A second sanity assessment returned the same result. Torrez told the psychiatrists that she was on a mission to kill robbers, rapists, prostitutes and johns. She said she murdered Hand because he tried to pay her for sex and Gezahan because he picked her up in his cab and asked if she wanted to "make some money." Torrez reportedly told the doctors that she understood that mainstream society would condemn her actions but felt she had "a higher calling."

It was that last statement that gave veteran prosecutor Bonnie Benedetti pause. Although all of the psychiatrists said Torrez was insane, Benedetti thought otherwise. Since there were no facts in dispute — just opinions as to whether Torrez was insane — Benedetti agreed to forgo a jury trial and hold a trial before Habas instead. At that trial in August 2006, "I argued that she was sane," Benedetti says. "The reason I did is because she was able to say, 'Society may not think I was right but I did.' She was able to distinguish that her behavior, under regular standards, was wrong."

Habas disagreed. She found Torrez insane and sentenced her to the state hospital.

But two years later, Benedetti was once again in Habas's courtroom prosecuting a first-degree-murder insanity case — one that ended much differently. The defendant, nineteen-year-old Ahmad Clewis-Green, was accused of killing a prostitute.

He told the police that he met Esperanza Soledad Pardue at a park in October 2008, and that she agreed to follow him to his downtown apartment and have sex for $10. Afterward, when she asked for the money, Clewis-Green beat her to death with a lead pipe. At some point, he wrote the phrases "I use this girl to awake" and "blood dragon" on Pardue's body in marker and then wrapped her body in a plastic shower curtain and stuffed it in a barrel. Clewis-Green used his skateboard to wheel the barrel to an alley a few blocks from his apartment, where it was found by a maintenance worker.

Clewis-Green confessed the murder to his mother, who didn't take him seriously, according to an appeal (currently pending) that Clewis-Green filed in 2012. The teenager had a long history of mental illness, starting when he was very young. By the time of the murder, he'd been hospitalized ten times; according to the appeal, he sometimes heard voices telling him to kill and saw "movies playing in his head." Clewis-Green's mother thought the story of the prostitute was another of his delusions.

But when she saw news reports of a dead woman found in a barrel, she called the police and told them her son did it. Clewis-Green offered a full confession, reportedly telling the police that he decided to murder a person after he killed his cat and liked the way it felt. Habas remembers that Clewis-Green told the cops he "went hunting."

Upon learning of his extensive mental-health history — he'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and paranoia — his public defender, Phelicia Kossie-Butler, was convinced that he was not guilty by reason of insanity. "It was very clear that something was not right," says Kossie-Butler, now a civil attorney.

But two evaluations done by state psychiatrists concluded that while Clewis-Green was mentally ill, he wasn't insane when he killed Pardue. Instead, the psychiatrists opined that Clewis-Green set out to murder somebody that day. "There were things about his behavior that were calculated," Benedetti says, including that he disposed of the body and cleaned his apartment with bleach after the murder.

However, Kossie-Butler doesn't think the state psychiatrists did their homework. One admitted that he didn't even watch Clewis-Green's taped confession, in which the teenager vacillated between speaking softly, sobbing and laughing. The video, Kossie-Butler says, is "horrific. He's articulate enough that you can tell that he is tormented." And several things he told the police didn't check out, including that he had a roommate named "Grumple." He also changed his story, giving the cops different descriptions of the weapons he used to kill both his cat and Pardue.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar