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The Man Who Killed John Lennon and the Insanity Defense


Everyone knows of the English rock band that hit America by storm in the 1960's. This so-called "Beatlemania" made The Beatles the best selling band in history. And, with that came four new superstars; John, Paul, George, and Ringo were greeted by screaming crowds and adoring fans.

But, one adoring fan in particular made headlines. Mark David Chapman was 25 years old on December 8, 1980 when he took the life of John Lennon. The events before and after Lennon's death gave rise to Chapman's insanity defense for trial. Chapman waited outside of Lennon's apartment building all day with a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Inside the book, Chapman wrote, "this is my statement." When Lennon left the building, Chapman shook his hand and got an album autographed. Upon Lennon's return, Chapman waited from across the street and shot five times at Lennon hitting him four times in the back and left shoulder. Chapman then waited at the scene for police to arrive while reading his book.

Chapman was charged with second degree murder, and with six of nine psychiatrists/clinical psychologists prepared to testify that Chapman was psychotic, he was prepared to use the affirmative defense of insanity.

Although Chapman's defense team was ready to use the insanity defense, Chapman decided to drop the defense and plead guilty to the judge. The judge accepted his plea and sentenced Chapman to 20 years to life.

Last month on August 23, Chapman had his seventh parole hearing, and by a three-member board, he was again denied parole. His next parole hearing may be in 2014.

In Texas the insanity defense is found in Penal Code §8.01 and it states:

(a) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong.

The defendant must prove the issue of insanity by a preponderance of the evidence, thus bestowing upon the State the burden of proving that the defendant is sane beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately, the issue of the defendant's sanity at the time of the offense lies in the hands of the jury. And, the jury focuses on whether a defendant understood the nature and quality of his action.

The insanity defense is not written in a difficult manner, although it is harder to obtain that what the public may realize. Only about 1% of all federal trials involve the insanity defense, and among that small percentage of defendants, only about 25% are ever found by a jury to be legally insane.

Chapman was one of those rare defendants, yet chose to plead guilty. He remains in the Wende Correctional Facility in New York and is currently 57 years old.