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Tulsa Man Acquitted of Mother's Murder by Reason of Insanity

08-Jun-2015

In my most recent Huffington Post article, I wrote about the the James Holmes trial and the use of the insanity defense in his trial and other murder trials. While many people seem to think the insanity defense is merely a way to get away with murder, the fact is that the defense strategy is rarely used and even more rarely successful. Because the M'Naughten test for insanity requires that a person was unable to distinguish between right and wrong at the time he or she committed the crime, prosecutors are often able to refute the defense. Evidence that a person tried to cover up his or her crime, for example, or an admission that he or she "did a bad thing," is used to destroy the idea that a person knew right from wrong. Even people who are severely mentally ill or who behave in ways most people would consider "insane" are typically held accountable through the criminal justice system as a result of the M'Naughten test--they knew what they did was wrong.

However, sometimes, the insanity defense works. People who are plagued by extreme psychosis truly have no understanding of their actions or the consequences of them. In Oklahoma, the insanity defense worked for a Tulsa man accused of stabbing his own mother to death.

Even family members of Matthew Stick, 22, and his mother, Veronica Stick, are relieved by the judge's verdict this week. Despite losing his wife at the hands of his son, Michael Stick supported his son's defense, believing that the young man's mental illness led to the stabbing death, and hoping for treatment instead of lifetime imprisonment for his son.

Tulsa County District Judge William LaFortune ruled that Matthew Stick, who was 20 at the time of his mother's murder, was in a "highly psychotic state" when he stabbed his mother to death. At the time of the killing, he believed he was the main character in an apocalyptic science fiction television show, and that he was battling evil. He stabbed his mother to death thinking that she was possessed by a demon that would then possess him if he didn't kill her.

Reports say that nearly a week after Veronica Stick's murder, her son was still unable to speak coherently, have a conversation, or even realize that he was in jail.

Just because the young man was found not guilty by reason of insanity, however, does not mean he goes free. Instead, he will be sent to the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita, where he will remain until a judge determines that he is not longer a danger to the public.

The Oklahoma Forensic Center is a 200-bed inpatient facility that houses those who are declared incompetent to stand trial and those who are adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity. Other Oklahomans who have been sent to the OFC include:

  • Dr. Stephen Wolf, a Nichols Hills doctor who stabbed his 9-year-old son to death, thinking the boy "had the devil in him"
  • Gerald David Hume, who shot his 77-year-old mother 11 times before dismembering her and placing part of her body in a freezer along with a cat
  • Eric Ray Knox, who beat his pregnant girlfriend to death and then told police, "I just killed someone. I call her the devil."
  • Sheilla Shea, who stabbed her 6-year-old son to death during a "mental breakdown" while she waited for her mother to pick her and her children up so they could leave Shea's abusive boyfriend
  • Toni Elizabeth Torres, who waded into the Spring River in Ottawa County with her 17-month-old and 10-year-old sons before letting go of them both. The 10-year-old managed to cross the river and scream for help, but the toddler was swept away and drowned. Torres told authorities, "God told me to do it."

Not everyone who is found not guilty by reason of insanity remains in the Oklahoma Forensic Center for life. With adequate treatment and medication, some are able to overcome their mental illnesses. The court may ultimately rule that someone is no longer a danger, and he or she may be released from the center. Typically, they are first released to a halfway house and required to continue outpatient treatment. Later, they may be released with even fewer restrictions. Others, however, may remain involuntarily committed for decades or even life.

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