"This is sick," my friend exclaimed. "That guy's got to be insane."
That was in 1979. We were discussing the latest details in the Florida murder trial of Ted Bundy, a man whose trail of bodies went through - and forever changed - Utah.Confronted with a gruesome crime, most people talk about insanity. But many people are unhappy when a suspect uses insanity or mental illness to explain a crime.
Was Ted Bundy insane? Not legally. He was judged competent to stand trial.
And competency, rather than mental illness, is really the question.
"It's a question of competency and responsibility. You can be mentally ill and be competent," said Dallas Earnshaw, State Hospital forensics program director. "But if you weren't competent at the time the crime was committed or if you are incompetent to stand trial, the legal proceedings change."
It's always a timely question. Legal proceedings against Edward S. Deli and Von Taylor, accused of killing two women and committing several other crimes in Oakley before Christmas, have halted until the defendants' competency can be evaluated. The two men pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Mental-health issues arise for people accused of all types of crimes. Competency evaluations have been ordered for shoplifters as well as murderers.
At the State Hospital forensic unit, 11 people are there for homicide, six for attempted homicide, five for rape, 19 for sexual abuse of a child, five for aggravated assault and one each for sodomy, manslaughter, sexual abuse, child abuse and kidnapping. There are three in for arson, eight for burglary, three for theft, four for robbery and two for bad checks.
In the prison, the crimes are as varied, but it's less clear sometimes exactly who is mentally ill.
Courts frequently send alleged criminals to the State Hospital for a competency evaluation, either prior to trial or prior to sentencing.
Some well-known people have been at the hospital. Bundy was committed temporarily for a competency evaluation. Ditto Gary Gillmore.
A court found Ronald W. Lafferty mentally ill but competent and he was tried and sentenced to die for his part in the killing of his sister-in-law and niece. When his mental condition deteriorated, he spent several months at the hospital before returning to prison.
Eugene Woodland, also know as "Captain Nemo," has never been tried. He was found incompetent before his murder trial could begin. If he becomes competent (and he must be re-evaluated at least every six months), he will stand trial.
David Jones pleaded guilty and mentally ill and was sentenced to up to 15 years on an attempted murder charge. Todd White, who killed an elderly woman, plead guilty and mentally ill and was sent to the State Hospital and later to Orange Street for treatment. Originally, he was found incompetent and his trial delayed.
Garth Hooley, convicted of rape, was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years. First, the court ordered, he was to receive psychiatric treatment. Dixie Madsen was treated at the State Hospital until she was found competent, then was tried on aggravated-assault charges and found guilty and mentally ill.
The law enacts different punishments on people depending on their competency. There is no death penalty for someone who is incompetent.
The legal system determines blame. It enacts penalties. And it tries to protect the public. In some cases, though, the results depend on a state of mind.