Lawyers close to Zwack's case and independent legal experts agree
on this: no judge would have sent Kyle Zwack back to the streets
if he'd been found not guilty by reason of insanity. No judge anywhere,
let alone in Texas.
"No way," says defense attorney Ackerman.
points to surveys showing many Americans think violent criminals found not- guilty-by-reason-of-insanity
are simply set free. But in fact, in most states they're automatically committed
And here, Ackerman argues, is where the law failed Kyle Zwack. The jury that
convicted himójuror Roy Sandoval acknowledges thisódid not know the court had
the power to commit Zwack indefinitely if he were declared insane. And they tried
to find out. During deliberations the jurors sent a note to the judge, asking
what would happen to Zwack if they acquitted him. By Texas lawóand it's a law
common to many other statesóthe judge could not answer the question.
That, says Yale University law professor Abraham Goldstein, is
"a very serious mistake."
Goldstein points to surveys showing many Americans think violent
criminals found not- guilty-by-reason-of-insanity are simply set
free. But in fact, in most states, they're automatically committed
to hospitals. And they're confined there for about as longóand often
longeró than those convicted of similar crimes and sent to prison,
studies have found. By not correcting the misperception, Goldstein
argues, courts leave juries almost no choice but to find dangerous
defendants guilty, no matter how insane they may be.
What if Kyle Zwack's jury had known the real consequences of an
acquittal? What if Roy Sandoval himself had known that a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity
verdict would not have set Kyle Zwack free but would have sent him
to a mental hospital indefinitely? Could that conceivably have made
a difference in his vote on Kyle's guilt or innocence?
"Well, yeah, it might have," Sandoval concedes. "It might have."
Then again, it might not have. Psychologist Jerome Brown says many
jurors, and judges too, for that matter, can't get past a gut-level
belief that criminals must be punished even if a mental disease
made them do the crime.
"I've been involved with cases where six or seven mental health
professionals got up and said 'This man is insane,' and the court
would find him sane anyway," Brown says. "Even though he's wearing
hats to keep the x-rays out of his brain and he thinks his dead
wife that he just killed is still talking to him, and he's asking
the deputies when they arrive if they could quiet her down. Really,
really gross cases."