The 'insanity defense' and diminished capacity


United States v. Kaczynski

The federal case: United States v. Kaczynski

September 1997 -- pretrial

On September 20, 1997, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California held a pre-trial hearing. At that hearing, federal prosecutor Robert Cleary read from excerpts of 22,000 pages of documents seized by investigators from Kaczynski's cabin. Cleary claimed that these excerpts, taken from Kaczynski's daily diary, amounted to an "admission" to sixteen of the UNABOM attacks.

December 1997 -- jury selection

On Monday, December 22, a jury was selected for the federal case. Nine women and three men were selected. Although the judge ordered that the identity of the jurors not be revealed, observers noted that their responses to attorneys' preliminary questions revealed that they were generally conservative, knew quite a bit about the case, and typically believed Kaczynski was guilty.

December 1997 -- mental state evidence still uncertain

As of the time of jury selection, attorneys for the prosecution and defense had yet to come to an agreement on what could be said by the defense about Kaczynski's mental state. In October 1997, attorneys for Kaczynski refused to allow government experts to interview the defendant, so the prosecution's latest proposal was for Kaczynski to submit to a battery of examinations.

Judge Burrell questioned attorneys for both sides, with an eye towards formulating a court order regarding the matter. Throughout the proceedings, Kaczynski remained steadfast in his rejection of a strategy that would have required him to plead insanity or otherwise argue that he was unfit to stand trial. Nonetheless, defense attorneys planned to introduce his Montana cabin - which was loaded onto a trailer and carted to Sacramento in early December - as evidence of his diminished capacity.

Judge Burrell met with Kaczynski, defense team

Also on Friday, December 19, Judge Burrell held a closed-door meeting with Kaczynski and his defense attorneys, out of the presence of prosecutors. According to attendees, it involved "matters of attorney-client communications." Observers of the trial suggested it most likely concerned serious differences between Kaczynski and his attorneys over his defense strategy, and likely involved their differences over the issue of his alleged paranoid schizophrenic state.

In a statement after the meeting, Judge Burrell said he held the meeting because of letters he had received, in which Kaczynski complained about his appointed counsel, Quin Denver and Judy Clarke. Reports surfaced that after the meeting, Kaczynski agreed to proceed with this defense team.

Guilty plea offered, rejected by prosecution

In mid-December, Kaczynski offered to plead guilty in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty. A Justice Department death penalty review panel rejected the offer

January 1998 -- final preparations for the trial

On December 31, prosectors and defense attorneys agreed that, although Kaczynski was only charged with four bombings, the jury would be told about all sixteen bombings which comprise the UNABOM case. This was intended to expedite the trial. Kaczynski's attorneys also agreed that they would not present a mental deficiency defense.

On January 2, defense attorneys clarified their position regarding a mental deficiency defense. They stated that, although they would not pursue a defense at the main trial, if Kaczynski were convicted, they would present mental deficiency evidence to avoid the death penalty during the penalty phase of the trial.

In response, prosecutors again requested to have Kaczynski examined by government psychiatrists.

Increasing rift between Kaczynski, defense attorneys

The trial was scheduled to begin on the morning of Monday, January 5. However, just before the trial began, Kaczynski notified the court that he had "very important" complaints regarding his attorneys. The court then met with Kaczynski and his attorneys for over four hours. At the close of the meeting, Judge Burrell postponed the opening of the case and threatened that, if the issue were not resolved by Thursday, he would look into some "other type of proceedings."

On Tuesday, January 7, Kaczynski announced that he wanted to dismiss his court-appointed attorneys, because they would not agree to drop any mental illness defenses. As a replacement, Kaczynski offered another California defense attorney, who he said had agreed not to use a mental deficiency defense. Judge Burrell replied that Kaczynski's request was too late, since the trial was prepared to begin. The judge also ruled, over Kaczynski's strenuous objections, that the defense team would be permitted to proceed with a mental illness defense.

January 8 - Suicide attempt

On Wednesday morning, prison officials announced that Kaczynski had attempted to hang himself in his prison cell. Later that morning, one of Kaczynski's attorneys, Judy Clarke, announced to the court that he wished to dismiss his attorneys and represent himself. Judge Burrell again postponed the case. Legal experts suggested that Burrell would now be forced to hold a hearing as to whether Kaczynski was mentally competent to represent himself -- a legally separate issue than whether he was competent to stand trial.

Kaczynski ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation

Following the fiasco of the week, on Friday, January 9, Judge Burrell ordered Kaczynski to undergo evaluation by government psychiatric specialists, in order to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. If Kaczynski refused, Burrell said he would place Kaczynski in a federal psychiatric institution for observation. Burrell then scheduled a competency hearing for Thursday, January 22, and postponed the trial until after that hearing.

Over the weekend, Kaczynski again offered to plead guilty, in exchange for life in prison, rather than the death penalty. After a weekend of talks, federal officials again rejected Kaczynski's offer.

On Monday, January 12, Dr. Sally C. Johnson, a Federal Bureau of Prisons psychiatric specialist, met with Kaczynski to begin the evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation was to determine whether Kaczynski understood the nature of the charges against him, and could assist in his defense.

Defense concedes competence

After a week of evaluation, defense attorneys conceded that he was competent to stand trial. On Tuesday, January 20, Judge Burrell announced that the trial would proceed, and that he would enforce Kaczynski's agreement to proceed with a mental deficiency defense, at least in the penalty phase of his trial. Burrell scheduled the trial to begin on Thursday, January 22. Johnson's sealed report, which was delivered to Burrell shortly before the agreement, stated that she found evidence of paranoid schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder, and avoidant and antisocial features.

On Wednesday, both defense and prosecution attorneys submitted briefs to the judge, stating that they felt that Kaczynski had a constitutional right to represent himself at trial. Given the psychiatrist's conclusion that he was competent to stand trial and to assist in his defense, attorneys for both sides apparently rejected Judge Burrell's conclusion that his request to defend himself was invalid because it was untimely.

Plea agreement reached

The growing circus over Kaczynski's rights to defend himself and his mental competence ended, at least in the federal courts, on Thursday, January 22, when federal prosecutors finally agreed to Kaczynski's plea offer. Under the agreement, Kaczynski pleaded guilty to the four bombings, and will serve life in federal prison without parole.

Coming soon: state trials

Although Kaczynski has now been convicted of four of the UNABOM bombings, two states, New Jersey and California, may now prosecute him for murder. The federal trial did not address at least two of the fatal bombings, which occurred in those two states. Kaczynski's mental competence to stand trial is expected to play a major role in those trials as well.