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Judges uphold jury's rejection of insanity defense

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A woman convicted of murdering her young son has lost her appeal, in which she claimed the jury didn’t have sufficient evidence to reject her insanity defense.

In Latisha Lawson v. State of Indiana, No. 02A03-1107-CR-350, Latisha Lawson appealed her convictions of murder, Class C felony neglect of a dependent, and Class D felonies neglect of a dependent and battery. The convictions stem from an incident where she forced her two children to drink mixtures of oil and vinegar to exercise demons. In order to get her toddler son to drink the mixture, Lawson held her hand over his mouth, which suffocated J.K.

She kept J.K.’s body in a bin and told her daughter not to tell anyone what had happened. She told people who asked where J.K. was that he was living with another relative or had been adopted. Eventually, police learned about J.K.’s death and found his body inside the plastic tub where Lawson was living.

Lawson wanted to rely on the insanity defense, so she was examined by a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The psychologist believed she was sane at the time of the incident; the psychiatrist felt she wasn’t sane at the time. The jury was instructed that it could find Lawson not guilty, not responsibly by reason of insanity, guilty, or guilty but mentally ill. The jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to 61 years.

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Lawson’s claim that the psychologist’s testimony rendered an opinion lacking in probative value so only the psychiatrist’s opinion should have been considered. This case differs from Galloway v. State, 938 N.E.2d 699, 708 (Ind. 2010), in which the expert in that case originally testified that he thought the defendant was sane but later said on cross-examination that he was unable to offer a definite opinion on sanity. In the instant case, the psychologist never changed his opinion that Lawson was sane.

In addition, independent lay witness testimony corroborated the psychologist’s opinion she was sane.

“Lawson’s behavior in this case admittedly was highly bizarre; her actions concerning the ‘exorcism’ and retention of J.K.’s body thereafter were confirmed by three independent eyewitnesses. Still, as we recently noted, our supreme court has affirmed the rejection of an insanity defense even ‘where the crimes appear to have been completely irrational,’” wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

 

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  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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