Jury Rejects Insanity Defense in Penna Murder Trial
The term “insane” only has meaning in a criminal courtroom. Psychiatrists and those who work in mental health don’t use that term for clinical diagnostics. It’s quite possible for a person to have a serious mental health diagnosis such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or bipolar disorder and still not rise to the level of legal insanity.
Such was the case in the Zachary Penna double murder trial. The jury rejected Penna’s insanity defense and chose to convict the young man of two counts of first-degree murder. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Analyzing Penna’s Defense
Penna claimed that he heard voices that harried him and it was the voices that told him to kill Wayne Dixon and Freddie Sanchez, a married couple who lived together in West Palm Beach. The fact that Penna heard voices isn’t enough to prove that he fits the legal definition of insane. To be legally insane, you must not be able to distinguish right from wrong.
The defense insisted that Penna had gone off his meds and thought he was God. The prosecution insisted that Penna was just an evil person who did something cruel. The problem for the defense is that both of these assertions can be true at the same time.
Insanity defenses are a major risk for defense attorneys. You are essentially admitting that your client did precisely what the prosecution said they did. You then argue that they should not be held to the same standard as an average reasonable person because they were not in their right mind at the time of the murders.
But the prosecutors in this case faced a different dilemma. Penna didn’t know Sanchez or Dixon prior to the murders and the entire attack appeared to be random. In other words, the two just found themselves the unfortunate targets of a man who was on a crime spree.
But the problem for Penna was that he was in the midst of a robbery. He wanted the couple’s car and stole it after murdering them both. Then he drove it away, stole an old woman’s purse, and switched out the license plates. In other words, his insanity defense never had a prayer.
Penna showed that his intentions were impure to the jury. He may have been hearing voices, but his moves were calculated. He wanted a car. He wanted to steal money. He wanted to disguise the car by trading off the license plate, and that may have been the difference. While it’s easy to claim you’re insane when you show others that your actions make no sense in the context of what’s occurring, Penna’s actions made complete sense. He stole a car, killed two people to do it, and then replaced the license plate to disguise his identity.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
Have you been charged with a serious crime in West Palm Beach? If so, the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at the Skier Law Firm, P.A. will represent your interests if your case goes to trial and try to get the charges dropped or the case dismissed before it does. Talk to us today and we can begin building your defense immediately.