August 6, 2013
For most people, hearing the words Ariel Castro uttered at his sentencing evoked horror, disbelief and confusion – for me, it was just another day at the office.
The pure evil that is Castro exists everywhere but only those of us in the criminal justice and mental health fields get the up close and personal privilege of witnessing it on a daily basis. When the sentencing began with a brief apology by Castro I was startled that he was going off-script (I am referring to standard psycho script). But after the prosecution presented their case, with Ms. Knight displaying indomitable grace, Castro got back to his duplicitous task at hand. Intermingling the gratuitous “sorry” with descriptions of a harmonious utopia that was his home life, was sickening even for my anesthetized soul.
Castro included in his revolting diatribe the requisites – “it was consensual”; “I am not a monster” and the always popular “I am addicted to porn”. What folks could not understand is why the Judge didn’t just shut him up. He couldn’t. Unfortunately, the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure allowed Castro to spew his venom ad nauseam.
When he threw in, “I am not a violent person…… I simply kept them there without them being able to leave” it was akin to a twisted comedian’s punchline. And then overwhelming fear hit me that this plea may not go through. According to Ohio’s Rules of Criminal Procedure a “plea of guilty is a complete admission of the defendant's guilt.” Consider that a hard and fast rule in all federal and state cases. Castro was verbally denying many elements of the crimes. For instance, consent is a direct contradiction to force, an element of the rape counts he pled guilty to. And claiming not to be violent was not only a departure from reality, but legally inconsistent with a plea of guilty to the counts of aggravated murder and assault.
The Judge could have refused to take the plea; however, because there was an executed plea agreement, OVERWHELMING evidence (much of it was highlighted at the sentencing) and a waiver of right to appeal, the Judge accepted the plea and went forward with sentencing. Forgive my digression but noteworthy is that a waiver of appeal does not waive all constitutional and statutory rights. Do not fret – Castro has NO chance of appeal. The record was clear; he entered a ‘knowing, intelligent, voluntary’ guilty plea as required by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution.
Is that incompatible with Castro, as some experts claim, being a psychopath? According to Dr. Gregory Saathoff, a forensic psychiatrist who testified at the sentencing, Castro had no "mental illness whatsoever". And here is the divide. Those suffering from mental illness with the inability to appreciate the criminality of their conduct – those who cannot tell ‘right from wrong’ - are excused under the law with the Insanity Defense. Then there are others who suffer from mental or personality disorders who commit crimes, understand exactly what they are doing and do so in a way to avoid detection. They are among us in great numbers. Specifically, 9.1% (1 in 11) of the general population meet the criteria for a personality disorder according to a study published in Biological Psychiatry (2007).
So there are psychopaths everywhere??? Not exactly. According to Dr. Jessica Pearson, a Clinical Psychologist specializing in Forensics, “although the psychopath can share the behavioral characteristics of the antisocial personality (i.e. violating social norms, being impulsive and deceitful), where the psychopath differs is in his interpersonal and emotional experience. They lack empathy for others and often manipulate, use and deceive others for their own personal gain. A psychopath may feel no remorse or guilt for the most heinous crimes, often blaming his victim or providing some distorted self-serving justification for his behavior.” Sound familiar?
The closest counterpart to psychopathy is antisocial personality disorder. Numerous overlapping traits between these conditions is why we must be concerned with who are neighbors, co-workers and friends are. A recent 2013 study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago and University of New Mexico found that psychopaths make up only 1% of the general population but 20 - 30 % of the U.S. prison population. Similarly a study published in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry in 2010 reported that antisocial personality disorder was present in 35.3% of the prison.
Here is the take-away from the reluctant 15 minutes of fame that television gave Mr. Castro. We can no longer be naive in believing that evil is an aberration. We do not need to be fearful, just careful. And aware. A little insight into what is going on beyond your closed doors may just prevent the next Castro into becoming the next monster.
Seema Iyer is an attorney in New York City with her own practice that specializes in Criminal Defense, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law. Seema is also a Legal Contributor at Arise News and frequent guest on MSNBC. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq