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Bizarre Mysteries Invoked as Criminal Defenses

Since time unremembered there have been criminals amongst us, and for just as long there have been those who would seek to evade their own guilt through sometimes impressively creative or strange ways. This is a topic which I have covered to some extent recently with the Matrix Defense, but this is not the only one, nor even the most bizarre, and it seems that there are plenty of other puzzling cases where defendants have conjured up some pretty odd arguments in their defense. From demon possession to Ouija boards to Bigfoot, there seems to be no end to the weird stories people will claim to try and get out of prison or assign blame elsewhere, and here are some of the weirdest.

One way criminals have attempted to avoid blame for their actions is invoking some sort of outside force that took control of them or otherwise influenced their dark deeds. I have covered this sort of thing here before with regards to the well-known “Devil Made Me Do It” case, but the Devil is not the only force that seems capable of possessing people, controlling them, and causing them to carry out despicable crimes. One weird case occurred in 1991, when two teenagers by the names of Christopher Martinez and Vincent Perez were arrested in connection to the seemingly random and senseless shooting death of a man named Bruce Romans in Dodge City, Kansas. After being detained, the boys began to spin quite the strange story indeed.

They claimed that they had been to a party with three other boys where they had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana, but made it clear that it was not this that was responsible for their actions. Instead, they said that they had been listening to music by the Houston based rap group “Geto Boys” in their car and had been mysteriously “hypnotized” and “driven temporarily insane” by it. After hearing one of the songs, Martinez says he was overcome by the urge to kill Romans, who they did not know and was minding his own business, ordering them to pull over the vehicle so that he could shoot the man in the head with a .22 caliber rifle. The attorney for the boys would pursue a temporary insanity plea, saying:

Basically, it was partly the liquor, partly the marijuana, and finally, -probably most of all- it was the rap tape of The Geto Boys.

The Geto Boys

Other such cases have a decidedly more supernatural spin on them. Take the case of six military intelligence officers with the 701st Military Intelligence Brigade, who suddenly went AWOL from their posts in Augsburg, West Germany, in 1991, after which they were found hiding out in Florida. When detained and asked why they had fled their duties, they told authorities that they had been told in no uncertain terms through a Ouija board that a world ending catastrophe was inexorably approaching, and that they needed to make their way to the United States in order to help combat it. According to the soldiers, they had learned through these spirits that the Antichrist was on the way, that they were chosen, and that if they did not do something to stop him then the Biblical rapture, basically the end of the world, was going to ensue. It does not seem like the jury believed them, and they were found guilty and duly sentenced for abandoning their military posts.

Just as strange are the circumstances surrounding the grisly death of 63-year-old Micki Davis, in Wichita, Kansas. On April 9, 2017, 35-year-old Rachael Hilyard, who had recently broken up with one of Davis’ sons, called the older woman to tell her to come over and pick up some of his belongings that he had left at her home. Davis arrived with her 9-year-old grandson, and Hilyard took her to the garage, where she claimed the son’s property was being kept. As soon as they arrived at the garage, the until then calm Hilyard reportedly suddenly and savagely attacked Davis with a knife, and during the struggle the quick-thinking grandson was able to escape and call the authorities. Responding police officers were then greeted by the gruesome sight of Davis’ decapitated corpse lying in a pool of blood in the garage and her disembodied head propped up in the kitchen sink.

Although Hilyard was hesitant to discuss her true motives for the killing, it soon came to light that she had believed her home to be under invasion by “evil spirits,” and that she had attempted to have an exorcism performed on the house just a few days before the killing. She had also posted photos of these alleged spirits on Instagram, including one which shows what appears to be smoke under a ceiling fan, and which comes with the caption “Look here it’s the grim reaper. In a cloud of smoke.” There were also numerous bizarre Facebook posts by Hilyard in the days leading up to the murder which paint a picture of a troubled mind, saying things such as “Please dont let them cut my head off … anymore,” as well as “Well this is how it feels to be insane. & i must say that i don’t like it.,” among others. When pressed about why she had killed Davis, Hilyard refused to take the blame, saying that God was responsible for what had happened, not her. Although she had been on disability for a traumatic brain injury caused by a 2003 car accident, she denied that this had anything to do with it.

Rachael Hilyard

In other baffling cases people have turned to good old fashioned sleepwalking as an excuse. Many of you may have experienced the phenomenon of sleepwalking at some point or other in your life, and although odd it usually does not lead to murder. However, if some people are to be believed then it is quite possible to kill someone in your sleep without your awareness, and this defense has been pursued in a surprising number of cases. In 1981 there was the case of a Steven Steinberg, of Scottsdale, Arizona, who brutally and thoroughly stabbed his wife 26 times, killing her. Steinberg would later argue that he had been sleepwalking at the time, and that he did not remember anything that had happened. His defense attorney would go with this argument, and state that Steinberg’s alleged insufferable nag of a wife had driven him to mentally splinter into “intermittent dissociative states,” making him unable to recall what he had done, not responsible for the death, and therefore innocent. Amazingly, this defense worked, and Steinberg was ultimately acquitted of the crime.

A few years later, in May of 1987, a Kenneth James Parks got into his car in the dead of night, drove a full 15 miles to the home of his in-laws, and proceeded to ruthlessly beat and stab his mother-in-law to death, so viciously attacking her with so much vigor that he reportedly tore a tendon in the process. He also tried to choke his father-in-law to death, who went unconscious but was not actually dead, unbeknownst to Parks. Parks then calmly drove to the nearest police station and admitted that he had just killed two people, although the father-in-law would end up surviving his injuries.

Parks then claimed that he had been sleepwalking, and could remember none of what he had done. As far as he was concerned, everything before walking into that police station was a total blank. At his trial, his defense attorney would use this as his excuse, claiming that his client had indeed been sleepwalking and thus could not bear the responsibility of what he had done. A perhaps understandably skeptical court demanded that a Electroencephalography (EEG) scan be carried out, and it indeed showed that Parks suffered from a type of sleeping disorder called “parasomnia,” which involves abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and dreams, leading to bizarre bouts of sleepwalking, night terrors, and other random acts or odd behavior while asleep. Considering this diagnosis, a lack of motive, and the adamant defense, the court eventually found Parks not guilty of the murder of his mother-in-law. The prosecution then worked this into their case, and argued that Parks had woken up while strangling his father-in-law and thus was guilty of attempted murder, but he was completely acquitted of any crime nevertheless.

More recently was the 2015 case of Joseph Anthony Mitchell, who was accused of strangling his 4-year old son to death and trying to kill his other two children in the same way in the middle of the night. Mitchell would claim that he had not been sleeping well due to various financial problems, which had led to an odd bout of potent sleepwalking, during which he had committed the crimes. His defense called in an expert who testified that Mitchell indeed suffered from parasomnia, just like Parks, and that he was therefore innocent. Unbelievably, Mitchell was found not guilty of murder and attempted murder, walked away a free man, and it is another bizarrely successful case of using the sleepwalking defense.

Similar to the sleepwalking defense is the idea that amnesia can absolve a criminal of any wrongdoing. On June 4, 2008, 28-year-old Jodi Arias brutally murdered her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, at his house in Mesa, Arizona, shooting him, stabbing him 30 times, and slitting his throat before dumping the body in the shower, killing him as dead as dead can be. After her arrest, Arias claimed at first that masked intruders had done it, but she would later admit that she could not remember much from the day in question, and psychologists believed that she suffered from dissociative amnesia, in which large chunks of memories would just disappear into nothingness.

She would later claim that she had been in an abusive relationship with Alexander, and that she could remember only a few murky details from the day of the actual murder. Arias claimed that Alexander had attacked her and that she had hid in a closet, where she found the gun and shot him in self-defense. After that she said that everything was a blur, and that she had no memory of stabbing him or cutting open his throat. Although she was found to have cleaned the scene of the crime, dumped the murder weapon in the desert, and even left a voice mail on Alexander’s phone after the killing to throw off investigators, Arias claimed that she had no recollection of any of this due to her amnesia, and that the whole incident was cloaked in a thick fog. Despite all of this, Arias was sentenced to life in state prison on April 13, 2015.

Jodi Arias

Perhaps even weirder than amnesia is the Canadian case of Jasmine Richardson, who along with boyfriend Jeremy Steinke massacred her entire family in 2006, when she was just 12 years old. Richardson was accused of slitting her little brother’s throat and Steinke for killing both of the girl’s parents with a knife. It would turn out that in the months leading up to the grisly attack, Richardson had gone from a cheerful girl to a morose, goth kid, and Steinke, who was 23 years old at the time of the killings believed that he was a 300 year old werewolf.

Richardson claimed that he had mesmerized her and held her in thrall with his supernatural powers, and whether magical or not it was argued in court that that Steinke’s influence had most certainly had a role to some extent and driven Richardson to commit her crime, but prosecution argued that it had been her idea to kill her family in order to run away with her much older lover. Magical werewolf influence or not, Richardson was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison, which was the maximum allowable Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, and was released in 2016. Steinke was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences, which I’m guessing for an immortal werewolf is a pretty long time.

Last we come to a bizarre case involving none other than Bigfoot, because this just had to pop up at some point. In 2008, Gene R. Morrill, 57, of New Ipswich, New Hampshire, was found guilty of child molestation charges linked to distributing child pornography and soliciting young boys over the Internet. In his pre-trial defense, Morrill claimed that his crimes had stemmed from a bizarre incident that had occurred when he was a child. He told investigators that as a child he had been sexually assaulted by Bigfoot, and that it was this mental trauma that had driven him to do what he had done. In light of this profound mental health issue, Morrill’s defense sought leniency from judge J. Howe Brown, but he was deemed to be mentally competent to stand trial and was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Stafford County Detective Darryl Wells would say of the strange defense, “I’ve had a few that have claimed abuse, but never by a mythical creature.”

What really seems to be amazing about some of these cases is not only the sheer absurdity of some of the claims, but that on many occasions they actually worked, at least to some degree. It is hard to say how much weight any of these defenses or excuses should be given, whether any of them are true, or even whether the accused really believes them or not, but they are certainly entertaining and colorful nevertheless, and prove that for as long as there is crime there will be some rather strange ways people will try to escape blame.