Psychiatry And In Cold Blood Essay English Literature Essay

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On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family, Herbert Clutter, Bonnie Clutter, Nancy Clutter, and Kenyon Clutter, were savagely murdered by two violent marauders with initially no apparent motive for the horrendous crime. Within the novel In Cold Blood, Truman Capote reconstructs the events leading up to the murder and the investigation that eventually led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, on April 14, 1965. During the trial, both of the defendants were considered to be mentally ill, but were competent to stand trial and execution as they had been recognized with the capacity to discriminate between right and wrong, and were therefore considered mentally sane. Even though both defendants were mentally ill, the jury reached the rational verdict of execution since the mentally ill should not be pardon from such a punishment, therefore justifying it necessary for the defendants.

Since 1976, the United States has been attempting to assess the criminal responsibility of murderers by dividing them into two categories, the mentally sane and the insane, and prosecuting them due process of law. In the article printed in, The American Journal of Psychiatry (July, 1960), written in collaboration by Karl Menninger, Irwin Rosen, and Martin Mayman, it explains, "The 'sane' murderer is thought of as acting upon rational motives that can be understood, though condemned, and the 'insane' one as being driven by irrational senseless motives." During the trial of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the prosecution used the M'Naghten test to determine the sanity of the defendants, as the test asks whether the defendant was unable to understand what he or she was doing at the time of the crime due to some "defect of reason or disease of the mind" or, if he or she was aware of what she was doing, that he or she failed to understand that what he or she was doing was wrong. The criminal psychiatrist, Dr. Jones, who evaluated the mental condition of the defendants, testified that Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were sane, even though he personally concluded both to be suffering from mental illnesses. In Ford versus Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) and Panetti versus Quarterman, 127 S. Ct. 2842 (2007), the Supreme Court held and reaffirmed that it was unconstitutional to execute someone who was incompetent at the time of his execution under the eighth amendment. However, those who are mentally ill, but not insane, have no such exemption. Therefore, both Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were lawfully entitled to the death penalty as the jury reached the rational verdict.

On June 6, 1931, Richard Eugene Hickock, was born in Kansas City, Kansas to his parents, Walter Hickock and Eunice Hickock. Richard was raised in Kansas City, as he attended Olathe High School, participating as a first team athlete and known to be a popular student with aspirations to attend college, but was slighted from his parent's lack of wealth, which eventually led him to become a mechanic. After Richard's unsuccessful marriage, fathering three children, and his extramarital affairs, he soon began participating in petty misdemeanor crimes, such as the creation and use of fraudulent checks which led to his conviction and sentence in Lansing correctional detention, where he devised the Clutter incident and met his partner in crime Perry Smith. On November 15, 1959, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith implemented their plans by robbing and murdering four members of the Clutter family at their home. During the prosecution of the defendants, the defense requested a psychiatric evaluation for Richard Hickock, who evaluated by the criminal physiatrist Dr. Jones, described the mental condition of Hickock, as he wrote,

"Richard Hickock is above average in intelligence, grasps new ideas easily and has a wide fund of information. He is alert to what is happening around him, and he shows no sign of mental confusion or disorientation. His thinking is well organized and logical and he seems to be in good contact with reality. Although I did not find the usual signs of organic brain damage - memory loss, concrete concept formation, intellectual deterioration - this cannot be completely ruled out. He had a serious head injury with concussion and several hours of unconsciousness in 1950 - this was verified by me by checking hospital records. He says he has had blackout spells, periods of amnesia, and headaches ever since that time, and a major portion of his antisocial behavior has occurred since that time. He has never had the medical tests which would definitely prove or disprove the existence of residual brain damage. Definitive medical tests are indicated before a complete evaluation can be said to exist.... Hickock does show signs of emotional abnormality. That he knew what he was doing and still went ahead with it is possibly the most clear-cut demonstration of this fact. He is a person who is impulsive in action, likely to do things without thought of consequences or future discomfort to himself or to others. He does not seem to be capable of learning from experience, and he shows an unusual pattern of intermittent periods of productive activity followed by patently irresponsible actions. He cannot tolerate feelings of frustration as a more normal person can, and he is poorly able to rid himself of those feelings except through antisocial activity.... His self-esteem is very low, and he secretly feels inferior to others and sexually inadequate. These feelings seem to be overcompensated for by dreams of being rich and powerful, a tendency to brag about his exploits, spending sprees when he has money, and dissatisfaction with only the normal slow advancement he could expect from his job.... He is uncomfortable in his relationships to other people, and has a pathological inability to form and hold enduring personal attachments. Although he professes usual moral standards he seems obviously uninfluenced by them in his actions. In summary, he shows fairly typical characteristics of what would psychiatrically be called a severe character disorder. It is important that steps be taken to rule out the possibility of organic brain damage, since, if present, it might have substantially influenced his behavior during the past several years and at the time of the crime" (Capote, 294-295).

The evaluation revealed several irregularities in Richard Hickock's mental state, as the doctor clarified was influenced by "severe character disorder" which would be closely related to severe depression, psychopathic and sociopathic tendency, and inadequate repression. Richard's suffering from severe depression, which included; various aches and pains, negative and pessimistic thoughts, and insomnia, was a direct result of his constant feeling of disappointment to his parents, the experience of prison, complications during his marriage, and constant economic pressure. Richard demonstrated psychopathic and sociopathic characteristics which included; superficial charm, manipulations, antisocial behaviors such as lacking guilt, living a parasitic lifestyle, irresponsibility, impulsiveness, and pathological lying, as described, "His poise, his explicitness, the assured presentation of verifiable detail impressed Nye - though, of course, the boy was lying." Overall, the effects of mental illness on Richard Hickock during the Clutter murders undoubtedly granted him the character and ability needed to effortlessly execute the crime without fear and unfortunately leaving him without guilt. If the jury had not sentenced Richard Hickock to death, he would have continued to be a threat to society with the possibility of release to harm others.

On October 27, 1928, Perry Edward Smith was born in Huntington, Nevada to his parents Florence Julia Buckskin and John Smith. During his early life, Perry was initially raised by his alcoholic mother, but was placed in a Catholic orphanage where he was allegedly abused physically and emotionally by nuns. Soon, he was placed in a Salvation Army orphanage, where again he was allegedly abused by a caretaker, and was then reunited with his father to live. As a child, Perry participated in a gang and became involved in petty crime, which resulted in detention in juvenile homes. Eventually, Perry enlisted as a United States Merchant Marine, and served in the Korean War in the army where he assaulted Korean civilians and soldiers. Perry Smith and Richard Hickock first met in the Kansas State Prison, at Lansing, Kansas, later resuming their acquaintance after Hickock's release, and carrying out the plan to pillage the Clutters, which resulted in the family's death. During the prosecution of the defendants, the defense also requested a psychiatric evaluation for Perry Smith, who evaluated by the criminal physiatrist Dr. Jones, described the mental condition of Smith, as he wrote,

"Perry Smith shows definite signs of severe mental illness. His childhood, related to me and verified by portions of the prison records, was marked by brutality and lack of concern on the part of both parents. He seems to have grown up without direction, without love, and without ever having absorbed any fixed sense of moral values.... He is oriented, hyper alert to things going on about him, and shows no sign of confusion. He is above average in intelligence, and has a good range of information considering his poor educational background.... Two features in his personality make-up stand out as particularly pathological. The first is his 'paranoid' orientation toward the world. He is suspicious and distrustful of others, tends to feel that others discriminate against him, and feels that others are unfair to him and do not understand him. He is overly sensitive to criticisms that others make of him, and cannot tolerate being made fun of. He is quick to sense slight or insult in things others say, and frequently may misinterpret well-meant communications. He feels he has great need of friendship and understanding, but he is reluctant to confide in others, and when he does, expects to be misunderstood or even betrayed. In evaluating the intentions and feelings of others, his ability to separate the real situation from his own mental projections is very poor. He not infrequently groups all people together as being hypocritical, hostile, and deserving of whatever he is able to do to them. Akin to this first trait is the second, an ever-present, poorly controlled rage - easily triggered by any feeling of being tricked, slighted, or labeled inferior by others. For the most part, his rages in the, past have been directed at authority figures - father, brother, Army sergeant, state parole officer - and have led to violent assaultive behavior on several occasions. Both he and his acquaintances have been aware of these rages, which he says 'mount up' in him, and of the poor control he has over them. When turned toward himself his anger has precipitated ideas of suicide. The inappropriate force of his anger and lack of ability to control or channel it reflect a primary weakness of personality structure.... In addition to these traits, the subject shows mild early signs of a disorder of his thought processes. He has poor ability to organize his thinking, he seems unable to scan or summarize his thought, becoming involved and sometimes lost in detail, and some of his thinking reflects a 'magical' quality, a disregard of reality. He has had few close emotional relationships with other people, and these have not been able to stand small crises. He has little feeling for others outside a very small circle of friends, and attaches little real value to human life. This emotional detachment and blandness in certain areas is other evidence of his mental abnormality. More extensive evaluation would be necessary to make an exact psychiatric diagnosis, but his present personality structure is very nearly that of a paranoid schizophrenic reaction (Capote, 296-298)."

The evaluation revealed several irregularities in Perry Smith's mental state, as the doctor explained was influenced by "paranoid schizophrenia" which would be closely related to bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress. Perry demonstrated indications of bipolar disorder as he experienced disruptive mood swings, manic states of depression as he sought grandeur, and the creation of delusional and unrealistic plans which may lead to rage if not completed. Perry seemed to suffer from post-traumatic stress which can trigger vivid emotions, in Perry's case pertaining to helpless, abuse and near death trauma, may result in irrational physical response due to an inability to cope. Although Perry Smith's participation in the Clutter incident was directly influenced by his mental illness, he still was able to slaughter four innocent people, which made him a danger to society and eligible for execution.

Even though both defendants were both mentally ill, the jury reached the rational verdict of execution, as the mentally ill are not exempt from such a punishment, and was therefore necessary for both defendants. If the jurors had not decided to vote for the death penalty, and instead imposed a prison sentence, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the killers of four members of the Clutter family, Herbert Clutter, Bonnie Clutter, Nancy Clutter, and Kenyon Clutter, would have continued to be a threat to society with the possibility of release to harm others.

Work Cited:

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Random House, 1965. Print.

"Mental Illness and the Death Penalty." Death Penalty Information Center. Death Penalty Information

Center, 18 2012. Web. 27 Nov 2012. <