Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Court of Appeal Rejects Insanity Contention In School Shooting Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A defendant who was found guilty of attempted murder and related charges for shooting children at an elementary school playground was properly determined to be sane at the time of the incident, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Brendan Liam O’Rourke was charged with numerous counts of premeditated attempted murder and assault with a firearm. Jurors rejected his insanity defense and convicted him. The trial court issued a determinate sentence of 90 years in prison and an indeterminate term of 99 years to life.
He appealed, arguing that the jury’s verdict in the sanity phase of his trial wasn’t supported by the evidence.
O’Rourke had entered an elementary school playground in October 2010 with a loaded gun in one hand and a gas can in the other. He had additional ammunition and a gun speedloader in his jacket pockets.
He began firing at the school children after saying:
“This is just a drill. These are not real bullets.”
Two children were injured with nonfatal gunshot wounds, and O’Rourke attempted to fire his weapon at school employees after expending his initial loads. Nearby construction workers began to chase him as he tried to reload his gun and escape the playground by climbing over a fence, leaving his gas can and matches behind.
After pointing his gun at a construction worker, the worker ran into O’Rourke with his truck. Other workers kicked and hit him as they grabbed his gun and held him until police arrived.
A propane tank was found on the sidewalk near O’Rourke’s vehicle.
Witnesses described O’Rourke during the assault as being “crazed,” “distant,” “far-off” and “disconnected.” They said he had been yelling “something about Christians,” and “Kill Obama” as well spouting various epithets towards Obama and the AIG insurance company.
Four psychiatrists testified at the sanity phase of the trial—Dr. Jaga Glassman, Dr. Richard Rappaport, Dr. David Naimark, and Dr. Park Dietz. All of them agreed that O’Rourke had been suffering from delusions at the time of the attack and that he understood his actions were legally wrong.
However, Dietz, who had been retained by the prosecution, dissented from the other three doctors in opining that O’Rourke also knew that his actions were morally wrong. Glassman and Naimark had been appointed by the court, while Rappaport was hired by the defense.
Each psychiatrist pointed to various statements O’Rourke had made before and after the incident to bolster their respective contentions.
The three who argued that O’Rourke did not know that his conduct was morally wrong pointed to various emails and statements he made suggesting that conspirators had
forced him to engage in a terrorist act, that he would be killed if he did not perform the shooting, that it was the only way to stop the torture he was enduring at the hands of the conspirators, and that anyone else in his position would have done the same thing.
Dietz had said that even though O’Rourke had delusions of persecution, he still had “sufficient moral reasoning to know that it’s wrong to hurt children.” He pointed to statements O’Rourke made to a co-worker the year of the attack when he said “anyone who hurts children is a coward and ought to be killed.”
Dietz also pointed to the fact that O’Rourke referred to his alleged conspirators as being part of a “terrorist organization” and that he had emailed his half-brother stating that his only options to end his persecution were to join the Peace Corps or “to do a horrible criminal act for the organization.”
Dietz testified that O’Rourke’s statements showed that “his moral reasoning in general remained intact despite his delusional beliefs” and that he still understood the choice between what were good deeds versus an “act of terror.”
Jurors found O’Rourke sane, and the Court of Appeal found that finding to be supported by substantial evidence.
“[T]he jury was not required to reject Dr. Dietz’s reasoned opinion merely because three other experts disagreed with him,” Justice Judith Haller wrote. Haller said that although jurors could have reached a conclusion that O’Rourke was insane based on the testimony of the other three psychiatrists, they were not obligated to do so.
In rejecting the notion that O’Rourke could be found insane as a matter of law based on the evidence, Haller said:
“This is not a case where a defendant attacked his perceived persecutors; rather, defendant attacked people at an elementary school with no indication that he thought they had anything to do with his suffering. Nor is this a case where the defendant’s thought processes were essentially focused on committing a crime to serve some greater public good that could provide subjective moral justification for the misconduct. Given defendant’s repeated acknowledgement that his conduct was horrible and terroristic and that he was acting to save himself, the jury could reasonably conclude that he knew his conduct was morally wrong because he was acting to protect himself without regard to the severe trauma inflicted upon innocent people, including children.”
Haller also rejected O’Rourke’s argument that he was in a position similar to “a starving person who steals food” in trying to get the court to differentiate between legal and moral wrongs.
“The contention is unavailing,” the justice said. “When evaluating moral awareness of the defendant, food theft is not akin to a violent attack on innocent people.”
The case is People v. O’Rourke, D062132.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company