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Justices sharply split on insanity defense case

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Faults in the state’s mental health system can’t be used to justify an insanity defense being rejected in favor of a different sentence that will keep a person locked up, an Indiana Supreme Court majority ruled.

But that holding isn’t without its critics, including two justices who worry that a mentally ill murderer from southern Indiana might be a danger to society.

The sharply divided 3-2 court ruled Wednesday on the case of Gregory L. Galloway v. State of Indiana, No. 33S01-1004-CR-163, a Henry County case involving an October 2007 murder. A man with a long history of mental illness murdered his grandmother, who he lived with at the time and with whom he appeared to have a good relationship.

On the day of his grandmother's murder, Galloway spent the day with her running errands and having lunch without incident. When he returned home, he got a knife and stabbed his grandmother in the chest. Just after the incident, he felt remorse and cooperated with police. He said he thought he would feel better if he stabbed her, but he did not.

Charged with murder, Galloway was eventually found competent to stand trial. Two psychiatrists testified he was insane at the time of the stabbing, while a third psychologist initially found Galloway to be sane, but then retracted his opinion. After a cross-examination by defense counsel, the psychologist apparently learned more details about Galloway's behavior around the time of the stabbing.

Henry Circuit Judge Mary G. Willis found Galloway guilty but mentally ill and sentenced him to 50 years in prison, noting he had a history of mental illness for more than 20 years and that his family had unsuccessfully tried to have him institutionalized to avoid this type of violent behavior from happening. Judge Willis said she would have begged a mental health provider to keep him long term in a civil commitment, but providers did not, and that she didn't have the option to commit him for life to a mental health institution as she would like. With that, the judge felt she couldn't allow him to return to the community, and she determined that Galloway had failed to prove he was insane at the time of the stabbing.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals in a January decision affirmed the trial judge’s ruling and relied on Thompson v. State, 804 N.E.2d 1146 (Ind. 2004), which allows a fact-finder to disbelieve uncontradicted testimony from experts and lay persons and focus on facts in the record apart from that testimony. In this case, Judge Willis explained her decision was based on Galloway's repeated refusals to take his medication, his drug and alcohol abuse, the danger he posed to himself and society if he were acquitted, that he was able to interact with people and act appropriately on the day of the stabbing, and that he cooperated with police.

But a sharply divided Indiana Supreme Court came out with a different result, reversing the local judge’s decision and essentially letting Galloway legally off the hook for the murder because of the insanity defense. Justice Frank Sullivan wrote for the majority and was joined by Justices Steven David and Robert Rucker.

The majority disagreed with the state’s contention that the change of opinion by the psychologist during cross-examination illustrates a conflict in testimony, finding that goes against past caselaw and that Judge Willis didn’t give any weight to the expert testimony in this particular case.

But central to what happened at the trial level, Justice Sullivan wrote that Judge Willis should not have turned to the state’s mental health system as justification for her decision.

“It was not appropriate, however, for the trier of fact to consider the condition of our State’s mental health system,” he wrote. “Although raising the insanity defense opens the door to examining the defendant’s entire life and allows in evidence that might otherwise be inadmissible under our rules of evidence, what may or may not happen to the defendant in the future cannot be considered. The trier of fact must make its determination as to whether the defendant was insane at the time of the offense using only evidence and considerations that are relevant to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense.”

Justice Sullivan delved into the history of the insanity defense going back to the 12th century, how it is based on common law principles, and how it has evolved in Indiana during the past century.

“It is not for the judicial branch to decide that a legally insane defendant should be convicted and sentenced to prison because of the condition of the State’s mental health system.” Justice Sullivan wrote. “Although such considerations may be relevant and appropriate during a commitment proceeding, they are not relevant or appropriate in determining whether the defendant was legally insane at the time of the offense. Thus, while we sympathize with the difficulty of the trial court’s decision, we cannot sustain it.”

Disagreeing with the majority, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote a dissent in which Justice Brent Dickson joined. The chief justice pointed out nuances about Galloway’s spotty mental history, how it reflected that he was mostly sane at times, and how it was more difficult to believe that he lost his sanity for a few brief seconds to commit this murder. Chief Justice Shepard addressed the third psychologist’s changing view as an effective cross-examination by defense counsel at trial.

The two dissenting justices took issue with appellate review trumping what happens at the trial level, as it’s those jurists who see the evidence and testimony firsthand. The chief justice also addressed Judge Willis’ use of the state mental health system in her decision making.

“The majority declares that it is not relevant what may happen as a result of this reversal by appellate judges. Not many of our fellow citizens would not recognize this disclaimer of responsibility as legitimate,” he wrote, referring to several examples of Galloway’s history and saying it is clear from the record that the man is a danger to others. “I mention this litany – just salient elements in an even longer story – to suggest that some innocent future victim is placed at risk by this Court’s decision to second-guess Judge Willis. A society that responds to such violence with tolerance should well expect that it will experience more violence than it would if it finally said, ‘This is unacceptable.’ Not knowing what I would say to the next victim, I choose to stand with Judge Willis and affirm the judgment of guilty but mentally ill.”

The county prosecutor plans to ask the Indiana Attorney General’s office to petition the justices to reconsider the ruling, in part on grounds that Justice David – who supported overturning the man’s conviction – wasn’t on the appellate bench when the oral arguments occurred. If the Supreme Court’s ruling stands, the prosecutor can petition to have Galloway committed to a state mental hospital for an indeterminate amount of time.

Galloway, 38, remains imprisoned at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, according to a state Department of Correction online database.•

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