Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What's worse than a violent sociopath?

A violent sociopath with power:

Serbian-Bosnian military man Karadzic, who hid for years in plain sight as a self-styled "alternative health" guru, is going on trial for war crimes, stemming from attacks of ethnic cleansing that left hundreds of thousands dead. And, like the late Yugoslavian tyrant Milosevic, he will be serving as his own attorney. There is an old saying, "A man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client." In the past, infamous criminals like Ted Bundy (who dropped out of a Washington State law school before his first prison term), Beltway Sniper John Muhammed, and Long Island Railway shooter Colin Ferguson have represented themselves at trial. And all walked away with long prison terms or death sentences. Why do they do it? I'm sure there are several reasons, but the one overwhelming motivation is most likely egomania, a trait common among sadistic serial killers, mass murderers, military criminals and bloodthirsty dictators. These men (usually) consider themselves so superior to others that they think the rules of the past, like the bad luck of defendants who have represented themselves, don't apply to them. Maybe they don't trust an outside lawyer to properly speak for them and their often complex and incomprehensible motives. Maybe they're just so full of themselves that they think they can do it all. Colin Ferguson, while questioning witnesses at his trial, referred to himself in the third person, an added touch of grandiosity. John Muhammed's opening and closing statements were barely coherent. I'm not familiar with Milosevic's trial or the defense he presented, but I know how it ended; he was convicted. And I'm sure the same is in store for Karadzic. Ferguson and Muhammed killed around a dozen people between them, but Milosevic and Karadzic, or those acting on their orders, murdered hundreds of thousands. These are men with a serial killer mindset who wormed their way into powerful positions, and the result was devastating.
In the case of Ted Bundy, although there was substantial forensic evidence against him in the Chi Omega murders, it was one statement to a witness that sealed his fate at trial, according to the attorney helping with his case. While questioning a police officer about the crime scene, Bundy asked for specific details and a thorough account of what the police found at the sorority house. To the jury, and others watching, this question appeared to be designed to allow Bundy to relive his crime, and the jury later sentenced him to death. This wouldn't have happened if Bundy could have let a professional handle his case, but a narcissist like him would not have accepted that. The judge at Bundy's trial remarked that this notorious murderer could have become a great lawyer, but he "went another way." But even the best attorneys, should they find themselves on the other side of the law, shouldn't defend themselves. They have the right, but that doesn't mean they should do it.

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