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The Insanity Defense in Oklahoma

19-Aug-2013

Last week, an Oklahoma City District Court judge found a man accused of two counts of first degree murder not guilty by reason of insanity. A few days before Christmas 2009, Eric Ray Knox of Midwest City, fatally beat his girlfriend, 25-year-old Stacey Beesley, who was five months pregnant with the couple's daughter, Zoe. Knox was arrested after a newspaper carrier called police saying he saw a man covered with blood. Upon arrest, he told police, "I just killed someone. I call her the devil."

Psychiatric experts for both the defense and the prosecution determined that Knox was insane, and District Judge Cindy Truong accepted their findings. Knox, who has been held in the Oklahoma County Jail since his arrest, will be transferred to the Oklahoma Forensic Center. 

The Oklahoma Forensic Center, located in Vinita, is the state's only inpatient forensic center and the largest inpatient behavioral health facility under the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). The 200-bed facility houses defendants who are found mentally incompetent to stand trial or who are adjudicated Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

Although the insanity defense is often used in court TV series or made-for-TV courtroom dramas, it is actually a difficult and seldom used defense. Each state has different rules for determining insanity, and the burden of the proof also varies among the states. One of the most common rules for determining insanity is the M'Naghten Rule, and this is the standard by which insanity is determined in Oklahoma. Named for an early 19th century man who assassinated a civil servant while suffering paranoid delusions, the M'Naghten rule is an insanity standard that hinges on a defendant's ability to understand the nature of his or her offense or to determine the difference between right and wrong. 

In some states, the burden of proof lies on the defense to prove that the defendant is insane. In Oklahoma, however, the burden lies on the prosecution, who must prove that the defendant was sane at the time of his or her crime.

The insanity defense, although seldom successful as an affirmative defense, does have a legitimate use when defendants are seriously mentally ill. In 2011, Oklahoma County District Judge Don Deason found Dr. Stephen Wolf not guilty of the murder of his 9-year-old son by reason of insanity. The Nichols Hills doctor apparently had delusions that he was the devil, and therefore his son was the devil's offspring. In Wolf's case, as in Knox's, psychiatric experts for both the prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that Wolf was insane when he killed his son.




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