“The Witches Made Me Do It”: A Look at an Old Defense Strategy

A man is facing first-degree murder charges after he turned a gun on his friend while inside of a vehicle and fired ten rounds into his chest. According to police, the man insists that “witches” or “voices” in his head compelled him to kill the defendant. Below, we’ll take a look at this old “devil made me do it” strategy and see what kinds of prospects it has under the law.

The devil made me do it

Culpability is dependent on intent for certain types of crimes. A man charged with first-degree murder must have made a conscious choice to kill someone. A man who accidentally kills someone may be guilty of a lesser crime, like homicide, but they will never face the full brunt of the law unless there was guilty intent. The law calls this mens rea, or “guilty mind”. If, indeed, there were witches, devils, or other powers in the world which could force an individual to cause harm to another individual, then indeed, the defendant would not be guilty of any crime. The defendant would instead be the victim of the devil’s crime.

Can a psychotic person have mens rea?

Yes. Let’s look at the case of Theresa Knorr. She was a schizophrenic mother who believed that her daughters were robbing her of her youth and beauty. She was extremely abusive to her daughters throughout the course of their lives, and in fact, shot one of her daughters non-fatally. This daughter asked to be let go by her mother, but her mother would not let her go until she had removed the bullet from the daughter’s body, as it represented proof of the abuse.

Superficially, Knorr’s perspective is heavily skewed toward the unreal. Her daughters are not stealing her youth and beauty as that is beyond their power. Knorr, nonetheless, believes her daughters are her enemies and abuses them. At one point, she shoots a daughter who wants to escape her circumstances. Before Knorr lets her leave, however, she has the sense to extract the evidence of her abuse. Hence, a psychotic person with delusional thoughts can have a guilty mind. Their reasons for doing evil may be insane, but they’re still making a conscious decision to do it, and in fact, are quite calculated about the manner in which they do it.

Is a psychotic person held to the same standard?

Yes. A psychotic person using an insanity defense is held to the exact same standard as any defendant. Their attorney would have to show that their insanity compromised their ability to make the correct moral choice.

There are a number of reasons why this case is a great choice for an insanity defense. Unlike Knorr, the defendant didn’t necessarily benefit from the murder at all. In fact, he may have been under the delusion that he was doing the moral thing. That would, in fact, be the exact type of moral insanity that avails itself to acquittals. Nonetheless, a witch or the devil isn’t a “moral authority”. They’re bad guys. If God had told him to kill his friend, that would be an entirely different story.

Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney

If a moral authority told you to kill someone, and you did not benefit at all from the killing, then you have a strong insanity defense to murder. Call the West Palm Beach criminal lawyers at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. today for more information on how to protect your future.



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