Hiding from the Truth re: Insanity Defense
I will always be bothered by the case of State v. Gregg Madigosky. The former Southbury resident was convicted in 2006 of the 2003 murder his wife. A psychiatrist testified that he was out of his mind at the time he killed her. Jurors rejected the psychiatric testimony. He was sentenced to 50 years behind bars.
The psychiatrist who examined Mr. Madigosky after the killing later testified that Mr. Madigosky represented a “perfect storm” of mental illness. His psychosis made it impossible for him to understand what he was doing.
Here is what is so troubling about the case. Mr. Madigosky was examined by a forensic psychiatrist hired by the defense. The doctor reviewed the man’s medical records, his employment records, he interviewed the defendant himself, and took account of the medications he was taking.
After doing all of this, the doctor reached the conclusion Madigosky was psychotic, as in out of touch with reality, the orderly world most of us wander through most of the time. The doctor wrote a report about his findings, as is customary in such cases. The defense gave the report to the state.
It takes a long time to become a psychiatrist. One first acquires an undergraduate degree, typically taking four years to do so. Then comes medical school, another four years. Then four more years of post-medical school training. After that, should one want to do specialized work in the courts, there might be a fellowship in forensic psychiatry of one or more years.
In other words, in order to earn the right to be designated an expert and to offer testimony about another person’s mental state in a courtroom, a person must complete 13 or more years of post-high school education. And let’s not forget the various licensure and board certification exams.
The opinion of a forensic psychiatrist is not mere quackery.
In Mr. Madigosky’s case, the prosecutor treated the forensic psychiatrist as little more than a stooge, however. The state pressed the doctor: Wasn’t Mr. Madigosky able to drive a car after the murder? Wasn’t he able to take his infant daughter to his parents’ house after the murder? Wasn’t he able to answer police questions hours after the murder?
If the defendant could do all this, isn’t it true, doctor, that the man was in touch with reality?
The doctor disagreed.
Juries are free to accept or to reject the testimony of an expert, however. Judges tell jurors that at the end of each trial. Experts, jurors are told, are people who because of their education, skills, training and experience know things the rest of us don’t. Experts are free to do something regular witnesses may never do — render opinions on things they observe, things like whether a defendant is in touch with the world of shared perceptions we casually call reality.
A man or woman with 13-plus years of education beyond high school is likely to be an expert in their field.
In Mr. Madigosky’s case, the state ignored the fact than an expert declared the man likely insane.
In most cases, a party in litigation presented with the report of an expert hires an expert of their own. Trials sometimes become battles of experts, with two learned men or women dueling in the glare of trial. Thus, in Mr. Madigsoky’s case, the state would be expected to hire an expert of its own, to conduct what is known as an independent medical examination, or IME for short.
But there is a danger to hiring an expert, if you are a prosecutor. Suppose your expert agrees with the defense expert? Then what? In that case, justice would require agreeing that the defendant was, in fact, insane at the time of the killing. Some prosecutors would prefer not knowing too much truth — that could interfere with getting a guilty verdict.
Better to ignore the truth than suffer an acquittal by reason of insanity, some prosecutors reason. Better to ignore the opinion of a learned expert, some prosecutors believe.
The state never hired an expert to do an IME of Mr. Madigosky. It did not want to know the truth. It wanted a conviction. Shame on the state.
Under Connecticut law, a person is not guilty of a crime if, at the time they committed the act in question, they either could not understand what they were doing was wrong, or were simply unable to control their conduct. The law recognizes even temporary insanity.
A person found not guilty by reason of insanity is not set free. They are sent to the Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown and placed under the supervision of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, a panel that serves as a warden for the ill, determining whether, when and under what conditions a person might be permitted to live among us.
Mr. Madigosky killed his wife, and the mother of his child. I can imagine few things worse.
But the state’s treatment of Mr. Madigosky represents one of the criminal justice system’s fundamental flaws: We punish the ill, treating illness as though it is a crime. And we brazenly call it justice.
My office has been trying for almost 10 years now to get Mr. Madigosky a new trial. The state ought not to be permitted to pretend that medicine is superstition. At a minimum, the state should be required to have a person declared psychotic by a competent medical professional evaluated by an expert of the state’s choosing. It’s simply medieval to ignore the insights modern science offers on a psyche in distress.
I’ll never know what happened in the Madigosky home one horrible night in 2003. A woman was killed. Why? The killer was insane, a psychiatrist said. The state, however, cared less for the truth than it did for calling Mr. Madigosky a murderer and locking him away forever.
This is not justice. It is worse, in fact, than murder.