The George Zimmerman Trial: The First Couple Days

The trial is moving fast. In its thirty minute opening statement, the prosecution shocked the court. John Guy, of the prosecution team, repeated the words that George Zimmerman had used with a police dispatcher as he was following Trayvon Martin: “F*cking punks. These a**holes always get away.” Mr. Guy presented Zimmerman as a wannabe cop who was profiling Trayvon Martin, as he had done many times with other black men in the neighborhood. 

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Why Aren’t There Homicide Prevention Hotlines?

Suicide prevention telephone crisis services exist but there are no comparable services for individuals who have homicidal thoughts. Perhaps that is the job of 911 or phoneemergency services.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is estimated that suicide call centers receive approximately 1,800 calls a day; that’s 54,000 calls a month.

The purpose of suicide prevention crisis call centers are multi-fold but mainly it’s to talk someone out of ending their life. Suicide prevention workers also provide much-needed emotional support and link callers to psychological treatment centers.

Why are there no comparable services for individuals who have homicidal thoughts?

I suspect that if such services were available, they would be highly utilized. There were approximately 165,000 murders in the United States (data excludes Florida) between 2000 and 2010. It is conceivable that at least some individuals could have been talked out of taking someone’s life or talked into seeking psychological help.

Studies have shown that after calling telephone crisis centers, callers experience a reduction in suicidality. There might be a similar reduction among callers experiencing homicidal feelings, especially since many people who are homicidal also report feeling suicidal.

Anecdotally speaking, it seems as though there is a non-negligible number of people who have homicidal thoughts. There are no official statistics but I receive many of these types of letters. Below are four excerpts from those letters:

“I have no feelings toward people. I want to kill people I want to toy with them give them hope and then watch the hope drain from them. [the abuse I sustained has been] coming back to me and its making it harder for me to keep the mask on. I want to kill so very badly I’m losing myself.”

“On the outside, my life appears to be great, but in my mind, I struggle. I have strong desires to kill. I do not want to, but in my mind, it is almost like 2 people instead of one and they always argue.”

“I want to kill and not just people who have slighted me (even thought the worms deserve it) I mean people in general and I’ve been planning how, when, where and everything else you can think of, I want to feel a person’s blood on me and watch them die, I know this is not normal.”

“I’ve spent the last thirty years living with…suicidal and homicidal thoughts…[lately] my homicidal thoughts have grown stronger. I’ve thought I could control what was going thru my head but the last couple of months it’s been a real struggle… Where can I turn to for help? I’m afraid I will actually harm someone.”

Many of these individuals want help. Their questions typically involve wanting to know whether their feelings are normal and how should they seek help. My general response is to strongly encourage them to seek immediate treatment.

The Domestic Violence High Risk Team Model (DVHRT)

There is one homicide prevention model in existence called the Domestic Violence High Risk Team Model (DVHRT). The high risk team is interdisciplinary in nature. Teams are comprised of individuals from victim services, probation, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, batterer intervention programs and local hospitals. The team assesses, identifies and assists victims who are high risk for homicide. The team also identifies high risk offenders and utilizes pretrial conditions to keep these offenders in custody. Between 2005 and 2011, one study showed that the team managed a total of 106 high risk cases. Their outcomes were impressive: None of the women were killed, 90% were linked with crisis services;  92% were not re-assaulted by the offender; and 93% did not find it necessary to relocate to a domestic violence shelter for safety.

Perhaps the DVHRT model could be utilized and expanded to prevent homicides beyond domestic violence situations. The drawbacks of such a model may be that it is costly and labor intensive.

It would be advantageous to institute homicide prevention telephone services. There’s no way to know with certainty how many suicides hotlines have prevented but it’s likely a significant number; a comparable homicide prevention telephone service could have that same impact.

It certainly worth a try.

Murder/Suicide Mystery In Georgia

Tom Sublett was the Commissioner of Glynn County, Georgia. He body was discovered this past December in a lake. His hands were tied and he had a gunshot to the head. The Coroner ruled it a suicide.

Facts of the case include:lake

  • There was a gun found in Mr. Sublett’s car but not near the lake;
  • Authorities also uncovered unused bullets, zip ties, empty prescription bottles (belonging to he and his wife), Mr. Sublett’s wallet, and blood evidence on the dock and the car;
  • He was last seen playing poker with friends the night before his death;
  • Was described as a well-liked, trusted man; and
  • Had no history of substance use or abuse, depression or suicidal thoughts.

Mr. Sublett’s family “strongly disagrees” with the Coroner’s ruling as a suicide. There is a $70,000 reward for his any information about his death.

There are likely other facts of the case that have not been reported but its unclear how an individual shoots themselves in the head when their hands tied.

NY Daily News

This story reminds me of a recent documentary that aired on PBS who asked the question: Should we abolish coroners? The National Academy of Sciences say yes.

Coroners are not necessarily trained medical professionals. Qualifications vary greatly state to state. PBS, citing the National Association of Medical Examiners, noted the following problems with coroners:

  • Colorado recommends and encourages but does not require their coroners to be trained in forensic death investigations.
  • Jay County, Indiana elected an 18-year old to the position of deputy coroner while she was still in high school.
  • Georgia, the state discussed in the above story, only requires that their coroners be at least 25-years old, be a high school graduate, complete one week of death investigation training, and not be a convicted felon.

Watch this PBS Clip About Abolishing Coroners:

Watch Should We Abolish Coroners? on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Successful and Schizophrenic

The New York Times features an article by Elyn Saks entitled “Successful and Schizophrenic.” Elyn Saks is a university professor, [amazon_link id=”1401309445″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]an author[/amazon_link], a researcher and the recipient of the MacArthur foundation genius grant. She also has schizophrenia and has clearly experienced a great deal of success in her life. bulb

In the article, she describes the research that she and her colleagues have conducted with 20 highly successful individuals with schizophrenia who manage their delusions and hallucinations. Some utilize cognitive techniques. For instance, one individual would ask himself these questions when he began to experience hallucinations:

“What’s the evidence for that? Or is it just a perception problem?”

One individual would simply “blow off” their derogatory voices.

Another individual felt that it was important to identify his or her triggers for the purpose of preventing a “full blown experience of symptoms.”

Other helpful strategies for minimizing symptoms included: minimizing sensory outputs, exercising, working, getting the proper sleep, developing a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol, and engaging in prayer.

The author is careful not “romanticize” schizophrenia. She recognizes that it is a serious disorder. In her case she also takes medication which has helped her tremendously.

“I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna about schizophrenia; mental illness imposes real limitations, and it’s important not to romanticize it. We can’t all be Nobel laureates like John Nash of the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” But the seeds of creative thinking may sometimes be found in mental illness, and people underestimate the power of the human brain to adapt and to create.”

Read the rest of Successful and Schizophrenic

The “Real” Story Behind One Model’s Beautiful Photos

I love TED talks and this video is quite interesting. Cameron Russell is a model. She speaks candidly about what that experience is like, and not in a way you’ve ever heard before.model

Two aspects of her talk are quite memorable. The first is her acknowledgement of being highly insecure.

I don’t know that many people would have expected a high-fashion model to be insecure. She explains that her insecurity derives from the fact that her livelihood depends entirely on her looks. Once explained, it makes perfect sense.

The second memorable aspect of the video are the split-screen photos of her looking “normal” and made-up, both on the same day (once you watch the video, you’ll see what I mean). It makes the viewer realize just how fake those images are.

Tomorrow I will be lecturing about gender and stereotypes. In the context of that discussion, the students will appreciate this video.

She also addresses her race in a remarkably honest way.

“I always just say I was scouted, but that means nothing. The real way I became a model is that I won a genetic lottery, and I am a recipient of a legacy. For the past few centuries, we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures with femininity and white skin. This is a legacy that was built for me, and that I’ve been cashing in on.”

It Is Stalking Awareness Month

The National Center For Victims of Crime has named January 2013 as National Stalking Awareness Month. This is an important educational endeavor since many people aren’t aware of the dangerousness of stalkers, both male and female. Below are some highlights from their campaign. Stalker

You can support their awareness efforts in many ways. Visit their website here.

What Do We Know About Female Stalkers?

Stalking is defined differently depending on the state in which you reside but generally stalking entails “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Other Facts About Stalking

  • Most people are stalked by someone they know, most typically a former intimate partner.
  • A little fewer than half (46%) of those who are stalked experience unwanted contact at least once per week; the majority of stalkers pursue their victims at least once a week, many do so daily.
  • Most stalkers have varied approaches to stalking their victims.
  • About 33% of stalkers have a history of stalking.
  • All states have stalking laws in place.
  • Women are more likely to be stalked than men but both women and men are equally likely to experience harassment.
  • The most common fear cited among those who have been stalked is not knowing what will happen next.

Sometimes people laugh off stalking or don’t believe that it is happening to them. They may underestimate their potential stalker. Take every case seriously. Report suspicious activity to the police and document all incidents. Never minimize the potential dangerousness of a stalker.

Stalking: Real Fear, Real Crime

The Stalking Resource Center has a great of information for developing a safety plan. Always call 911 in an emergency situation.

The 4 Best Questions To Ask a Teen Who Might Be Suicidal

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health describe the development of a new and improved questionnaire to better assist ER doctors in identifying teens who are strongly at risk for suicide. In their study, four questions in particular where found to be the most accurate for identifying youth at risk for attempting suicide: Suicide Questions

The study authors estimated that without these improved screening questions, 14 patients would have gone undetected and thus untreated.

You can read more about the study here.

These might be the four most important questions you can ask a troubled teen. It could save their life.

Another study this week showed that one is 25 teens attempt suicide. One is eight teens contemplate suicide.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, seek help immediately. Go to the emergency room if you feel that you cannot protect yourself. Call 911 in immediate emergencies.


James Holmes’ Affect Similar to Andrea Yates?

In court today, officers described the emotionality, or lack thereof, of Mr. Holmes after he had just massacred innocent people. Color

“James Holmes was the picture of calm, “just standing there” in a helmet, gas mask and body armor, staring off into the distance. “He seemed very detached from it all…very, very relaxed.”

Officers thought at first that Holmes was an officer, who had arrived early on the scene but they quickly realized otherwise.

It was also observed that Holmes was sweating profusely, literally dripping with sweat. He smelled badly.

Officer Grizzle said that Holmes “did not display normal emotional responses.”

His eyes were also dilated.

via NBC News

Demeanor Similar To Andrea Yates?

His lack of emotion is abnormal and interesting but we still know very little about Holmes and his mental health state both then and now. We may learn new information as the week progresses.

It does remind me of how Andrea Yates behaved after drowning her five children in the bathtub.

Immediately following their deaths, she called 911 to report what she did. She spoke “unemotionally” to the dispatcher.

Police reported her as being “emotionless” as she told them about having killed her children. Some officers said that:

“…Yates had a flat demeanor and that her reaction was unlike that of other mothers who just lost their children.”

Andrea Yates was seriously mentally ill. Despite having a long history of mental illness, including psychosis, during her trial, she staunchly resisted the efforts of her attorneys to plead insanity. She insisted that she was not insane and believed that she deserved to die. She made statements to that effect to virtually anyone who would listen.

Mentally Ill Son Incarcerated: One Reader’s Story

Stories about mentally ill offenders are generally not of a positive nature. Typically, the stories are focused on the disturbing prison conditions often faced by mentally ill offenders increasingly being housed in jails and prisons.

Below is one reader’s story.

“Hi, my son has been suffering from schizophrenia for the past 5 years. In Oct. of 2011 he was baker acted into a local hospital, he refused to take his med ‘s and wanted to be placed where people go that nobody wants any more. A petition was filed, a hearing scheduled to be involuntarily committed to the Florida state hospital. The day before the hearing, he was discharged, the person who he lived with took him to the SSI office and became his payee. the next day she wanted the key to the house back, when my son would not give it to her, she and her boyfriend beat my son in the eye with a baseball bat, causing an Orbital floor fracture. the people who beat him were arrested, the boy plead no contest, the girl was bailed out. she filed a restraining order and the judge granted it because my son could not get a lawyer, she was his payee and did not give him his money, legal aid wouldn ‘t do anything for him because he didn ‘t file the restraining order, she did. two months later our son started to beat up his father, who is also my husband because he went to check on him in his camper, the camper where our son was beat with the baseball bat. the sheriff came, our son ran. the next day, I called the sheriff, who came and arrested my son. I was helping the sheriff and my son bite me. I told the sheriff my son needed to go to the hospital, he was not himself. I wrote letters to the judge and lawyers, the domestic violence case involving his father was dropped and my son was placed on probation for resisting arrest and biting me. In march of 2012 I baker acted my son because he needed help and would not go to the hospital. Another petition was filed, a hearing scheduled for involuntarily placement in the Florida state hospital, a continuance for five days was filed at 9 in the morning before the hearing, at 2 pm that same day, he was discharged. the doctor wrote his prescription for seroquel, not seroquel XR and medicaid would not pay for it. It took a week to get it straightened out. In may his sister walked into his camper while he was sleeping and he pushed her, later that day I called the sheriff because my son was trying to run threw the sliding glass door. my son appeared normal when the sheriff showed up, my son told him about his sister trying to steal from him, the sheriff wouldn ‘t do anything. I told his sister I was going to the court house to file another baker act, but while I was in town, she called the sheriff, who came later that night, i told the sheriff all about the baker act, two hearings and not being committed. he did not care, he was arresting my son.if my son wanted to go to the state hospital he could tell them when he got to the jail, my son pounded his head so hard into the sheriff ‘s car it left a dent and now my son is sitting in the bay county Florida jail and one of his charges is criminal mischief more than 1,000. as you most likely already know, a person must be a danger to themselves or others to be involuntary placed (baker acted) in a hospital.”

Mental health advocate and best selling author of the book “Crazy,” Pete Earley, receives letters from family members struggling with similar mental health issues.  

A few other websites document these stories, the most comprehensive among them is Solitary Watch.

It is important to document these stories. If you know of others don’t hesitate to send your story.

Mass Shootings: Failure of the Mental Health System

Mother Jones magazine studied 61 mass shootings, 24 of which occurred in the past seven years.

Of particular interest was this finding:

“Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 35 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. (Seven others died in police shootouts they had little hope of surviving, regarded by some experts as “suicide by cop.”) And according to additional research we completed recently, at least 38 of them displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings. “

Yes, the expansion of guns laws may be to blame but untreated mental illness is also a major part of the problem.

Mental health system experts who have studied the current system contend that it is in disarray. The most recent group to document this assertion was President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.  In their report to President Bush, the Commission stated that:

 “The mental health delivery system is fragmented and in disarray…lead[ing] to unnecessary and costly disability, homelessness, school failure and incarceration…In many communities, access to quality care is poor, resulting in wasted resources and lost opportunities for recovery. More individuals could recover from even the most serious mental illnesses if they had access in their communities to treatment and supports that are tailored to their needs.”

Understandably, many people are frightened of changing civil commitment laws but there are occasions when forced treatment is required to avert a tragedy. We have a system that often treats people after the fact, after they have suffered tremendously or perhaps harmed others.

Most people have never and will likely never be in the presence of someone who is actively psychotic and thus the argument regarding forced treatment remains abstract. It is a tragedy to watch a loved one decompensate in your presence and to be powerless to help them or to take them to a hospital for treatment. Commitment laws have become more liberal in some states but generally it is still very difficult to forcibly commit an individual to a hospital. Even when they are admitted they are often released before they are truly well and thus little is resolved.

When it comes to mass shootings, relatively speaking there is little empirical research. James Alan Fox and colleagues have written several books on the subject but a review of the scientific literature reveals relatively little in the way of evidence-based solutions regarding how to prevent future shootings.  We still don’t know precisely what leads to mass shootings and we don’t how to stop them. Fixing our mental health system is one place to start. Another idea is the creation of a dedicated center and team of researchers who are singularly focused on the study of mass shootings. It could involve helping employers and the general public identify and effectively defuse a potenitally dangerous situation and or report the behavior of an individual who appears to be a “ticking time bomb,” among other  ideas.

via Mother Jones

Highlighting Suicide Survivors

One of the purposes of this blog is to highlight cases of individuals who have survived suicide.

Most famous among the survivors is Kevin Hines.

Kevin Hines had been suffering tremendously with the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

He pretended to be taking his medications and following a treatment plan but he wasn’t. He was getting worse.

He then came to the conclusion, after hiding his symptoms for months, that he was not okay.

“I didn’t know how to cope,” he said. “I didn’t want to die, but because of my psychosis I believed that I had to die. I thought that everybody hated me, they were just pretending to be nice to me.”

He made the decision to end his life. It made him feel peaceful.

Hines says that many people who decide to end their lives feel peace with their decision. They believe that their pain will be gone.

He climbed over the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped.

“The millisecond I hit freefall, when my hands and feet left the rail, I said, ‘What have I just done? I don’t want to die. God, please save me,'” he said. “People get shocked into reality and they realize immediately they’ve made a mistake and I knew I made a mistake.”

Hines survived a fall that very few people ever survive.

He Wanted To Live

More than anymore, Hines wanted help.

He did not want to die.

“I said to myself, ‘If just one person, just one, comes up to me and asks me if I need help, I’ll tell everything…”

No one did and so he let go of the rail.

Devotion to Saving Others

His life is now devoted to preventing suicide. He says:

“If you’re considering suicide right now, if you’ve ever thought about suicide and it haunts you — suicide is never the solution for any problem. But when you feel that way, you have to know you’re not alone, there are millions of people who have thought about suicide,” Hines said. “Hope exists, and a future, while living with a mental health issue or a suicidal thought, exists. It’s not easy. You have to work hard.”

Read more about Kevin Hines here.

Read more about The Case Against Suicide.

John Lennon’s Killer Up For Parole, Details From the Hearing

For the seventh time, Mark David Chapman was up for parole in the killing of John Lennon. Recently, the State of New York released a transcript from his parole hearing in August 2012. 

Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon in 1980. 

Below are a few highlights from the hearing taken verbatim from the transcript. 

Q. : Do you want to say anything about the instant offense. sir? 

A.: It was a very selfish act and I deeply regret it. I’m sorry for my crime. 

Q…:Why did you target this victim? 

A.: Because he was very famous. 

Q.: All right, So, you knowingly wanted to inflict death to this victim, John Lennon, correct? 

A.: Yes. Absolutely. 

Q.: And even after that [earlier] encounter [with John Lennon], you still waited for him to cause his death? 

A.: Yes. There was an inner struggle for a while there, you know, what am I doing here, leave now. It wasn’t all totally cold-blooded, but most it was. I did try to tell myself to leave. I’ve got the album, take it home, show my wife, everything will be fine. But I was so compelled to commit that murder that nothing would’ve dragged me away from the building. 

Q.: … And the paperback book you had, “The Catcher in the Rye.” Was there any significance to why you had that[?]

A.: At the time, there was a great significance. I identified with the book. I identified with the character, who seemed to be lost and troubled. And in my state of mind at the time, I felt of kind I had was him [sic]. And so, the book was like saying, this is me and I wanted people to read it and it was a confusing time for me. 

Q.: You said that you did this for the attention and notoriety? 

A.: Yes ma’am.

Q. : And how do you feel about it today?

A,: Absolutely not worth it. Absolutely ridiculously selfish act to take another human life so that I could be pumped up into, you know something that I wasn’t to begin with. I deeply regret it.

Q:… How do you feel about yourself now?

A: Because of my years, I was thinking about this and my age, it’s 57, I’ve come to the conclusion what happened was a very horrible thing. It did not need to be done. It was done for extremely selfish reasons that I regret to this day. I personally can’t think of anything more selfish to do, to take somebody’s life for your own aggrandizement and there were a lot of people in pain then and people that were still want to know what happened now. 

Q: People are still in pain, right? 

A. There [sic] still in pain, sir. I get letters all the time. 

Q.: Are you still in pain? 

A.: That’s a great question, sir. I wouldn’t say as much pain. I would say that the pain I have now is trying to stay as close as I can to what I think is right and that is to stay as close as I can to God. 

Q.: … Who else did you consider [killing]? 

A.: Johnny Carson, … George C. Scott. 

Q.: Did you share this plan with anyone, this cold, calculated plan?

A.: …[My wife]. And she said Mark, don’t, right away. And I flew home and met her at the door of our apartment and hugged and cried and it was over at that point. I was fine. In the weeks later, the compulsion started to build again. I felt like a piece of me had become empty again and the compulsion built again. 

Q.: … If you were to be released, what happens if you drift off again?

A.:… If released, I probably stay right where I’m at. You know, once you stand on a rock for 20 years and feel the waves on you and you don’t go anywhere because you’re on a rock, you don’t want to move. I’ve had a lot of waves coming through my life and I know how to handle it now.


Mark David Chapman was ultimately denied parole. The parole board stated that:

“…if released at this time, there is a reasonable probability that you would not live and remain at liberty without again violating the law and your release at this time is incompatible with the welfare and safety of the community…. Your action [the murder of an international music star] demonstrates a callous disregard for the sanctity of human life.” 

I highlighted many parts of the transcript of the August 2012 parole board interview with John Lennon’s killer. It is interesting to read about how big of a role the book “The Catcher in the Rye” played in the life of Mark David Chapman. You can read the entire 39 page interview here

Mental Illness and Mass Shootings

David Gomez, president and chief executive of HLS Global Consulting Group, is a retired F.B.I. special agent and a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.”

According to his article in the New York Times entitled: Hate Speech Alone Can’t Lead to an Investigation:

“…I cherish the fact that in America it takes known or suspected criminal activity and not just speech to predicate an investigation of an individual or a white hate group.  But considering the number of mass shooting deaths in recent years, perhaps white hate groups are not as great a threat as the mentally ill.

Rather than worrying about law enforcement investigation of groups of knuckleheads engaged in hateful speech, maybe society should focus on identifying and developing protocols to deal with the mentally ill. Because mental illness and hateful beliefs are a dangerous combination.”

Via The New York Times