Can 7 diagnostic labels save a murderer’s life?

I couldn’t help noticing this article, about an alleged cop killer, and the lengths to which the contemporary defense team is willing to go to try to save a poor man’s life. They’ve found a psychiatrist who, get this, is willing to diagnose him with 6 mental disorders. 7, that is, if he’s also seen as having a drug abuse or “disorder” issue.

The DSM is now a grab bag of potential defenses in capital murder cases. This case is particularly interesting in that we can see the same type of defense already being suggested for the case of Jared Lee Loughner, the man who killed and maimed so many people in Tucson. Jared, of course, killed 6 including a US Discrict Court Judge John Rule, and Christina Taylor Green, a 9 year old girl, and seriously maimed 14 others, including Arizona state Representative Gabrielle Griffords.

The article in Newsworks bears the headline, Forensic psychiatrist diagnoses Derrick Powell with seven disorders.

Dr. Alizai-Cowan told jurors she examined Powell for several hours less than two weeks after Spicer was killed, reviewed numerous records, and saw Powell again in August 2010. Based on her findings, she diagnosed Powell with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar-2 disorder, panic disorder, cognitive disorder, anti-social personality disorder, post-traumatic stress, and cannabis disorder from the use of marijuana.

Talk about getting off to a wrong start! Apparently the young man had been diagnosed with ADHD, or throw away kid syndrome, from early on.

ADHD may have been present in Powell at a very young age, according to Dr. Alizai-Cowan. Jurors again heard about school and social-service records which indicated a pattern of disruptive and disturbing behavior, and being prescribed medication for the disorder. His father, Joseph Powell, said on the stand this week that he withheld the medication from his son unless absolutely necessary because he was concerned it could be a “gateway” drug.

From my understanding of the matter, those stimulants that are used in the treating of ADHD are more likely to be triggers of violence than deterrents of such, and so I would doubt the “off his meds” argument could be applied in this case.

When you’ve got a dope pusher, and a heavy dope user, who has been smoking marijuana since the age of 7, your chances of defending his life on a reefer madness defence I imagine are pretty high.

Dr. Alizai-Cowan said the disorder related to marijuana could have begun as early as age seven. She said Derrick Powell gave some stories she did not believe, including that he smoked 30 to 40 “blunts” per day, that he made $20,000 a week selling drugs at one point, and that he was shot. Powell also told the doctor that he believed he had a superior mind and that he could control traffic lights.

I think the PTSD might end up being a hard sell that I doubt the jury will be able to buy. The rest of the assorted disorders though are anybodies guess.

Under questioning from prosecutor Paula Ryan, Dr. Alizai-Cowan said it appeared Powell likely had many of these disorders on September 1st 2009, except for post-traumatic stress. She said it was unlikely that the earlier shooting and the police pursuit triggered PTSD, but she also could not rule that out.

As you can see the future of the insanity plea seems assured when it comes to using it to try to save people from their own state’s attempts at homicide.

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4 Responses

  1. They’re simply trying to label the victimizer as the victim. What a sad state of affairs.

    • A sad state of affairs, yes, but I’m not sure it is so simple. This young man is, for one thing, an African American. It seems he must have been labeled ADHD at a young age. Look into the prognoses seen for young and male ADHD sufferers sometime, and see if it doesn’t lead to criminality almost as often as it leads to other and lifetime labels.

      I do think we have a problem here with the pathologizing of everything. The guy is scruffed up, automatically he has PTSD. Bullshit. Even if he got beat up, that’s not a first, and he’s not a baby. At least, he shouldn’t act like one.

      Bipolar disorder might be seen as serious. In this case I just think we’ve got another defense witness trying to strengthen a case. Did anybody call this kid bipolar before he was standing trial? That’s the question I would be asking. This goes for the other disorders, too, only more so because some of them are so ridiculous, and it’s all a matter of over-diagnosis. The more disorders we’ve got, I guess the theory runs, the less likely the jury will be able to throw out all of them.

      This young man isn’t “sick”, but the defense is trying to save his life from that state sanctioned murder called the death penalty. It’s nonsense, and you can expect more of it, but the aim is to save a life from the madness of the state. The state doesn’t need to kill people, but we in this country, due to 3 strike laws and general intolerance, have something like 01% of the population in a federal prison. As for saving money, not that that’s a good argument because it isn’t, a whole lot of money goes into delays and legal manuevering, all directed at saving a life, even after conviction.

      • For the most part, the kid escaped the mental health marry-go-round. I say for the most part because the father testified:

        …that his biggest mistake was not allowing his son to be properly diagnosed and treated. He said he did not want Derrick to be placed on any medication, however beneficial, because of his own past drug use. Mr. Powell gave Derrick medication only to comply with school directives, and withheld medication at night and during the summer months.

        I think the kid could very well have been too mean and violent for psychiatrists to want to mess with. There are people like that. Psychiatry will try to claim otherwise, to claim that it can help anyone, but there are people like that. The Virginia Tech shooter taxis quickly to mind. He had been sentenced to involuntary outpatient commitment at one time, but the treating facility “didn’t know” that they were supposed to be treating him. They “didn’t know” they were supposed to be treating him because they were cowards who were more interested in their own personal comforts and who didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his rage. In the final analysis, shrinks are painfully aware that they can do absolutely nothing if they can’t sell their con to the patient. Psychiatry can only turn the blame around on these people for their refusal to be conned and then label them the “most disturbed.”

        I didn’t mean to speak harshly of this poor boy– he obviously had a lot of rough bumps in life– but I very much have a soft spot in my heart for the police. It’s such a dangerous job that I absolutely would not want it. I know I may be odd man out here, but in all of my encounters with the police, they have treated me with nothing but deference, courtesy and respect. Which is far more than I can say about my dealings with mental health.

        And yes, on another point I do agree that capital punishment is barbaric.

  2. I will start by exerpting from another article, Delaware Courts: Witnesses recount Derrick Powell’s temper, on the same case.

    Authorities said Powell, Flores and Reeves were trying to set up a robbery of a drug dealer at the McDonald’s when Powell pulled out a gun and began firing. After they fled, Spicer and his partner, Cpl. Shawn Brittingham, began chasing their vehicle through Georgetown around The Circle and pulled them over on North King Street, where Powell fired the fatal shot.

    You have 3 young men fleeing from the police. You have 1 young man up on capital murder probably because the other 2 agreed to talk in exchange for lesser sentences. This doesn’t bear much resemblance in any sense with either the case of the Virginia Tech shooter nor that of the Tucson killer. In those cases I’d say you had intentional mass murder.

    I’m not excusing the young man. He definitely got in over his head. He shouldn’t have pulled the trigger, but he was in one of these situations in which it could have been seen as it’s either us or therm. I wouldn’t call it premeditated, and I would say there was an element of self-defense involved here. That said, he is, of course, to be faulted for shooting an officer of the law.

    He’s been convicted, and they’re entering the penalty stage of the trial. The defense team is trying to save this young man’s life. All power to them! Cho killed 32 people at V-Tech. Jared killed 6 in Tucson. Derrick killed 1 in Georgetown. Do the math. I’m against the death penalty, too.

    The problem I have is with officials very effectively blaming the Roanoke and the Tucson tragedies on “mental illness”, or, more to the point, “the mentally ill”. (A term I don’t approve of, btw, as we are dealing with human beings who have, almost invariably, also had their constitutional rights to due process violated.) When they do so, a whole lot of completely innocent people wind up taking the rap for those two guilty, and legally sane, individuals.

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