Less than a year ago, a beautiful and wonderful citizen by all accounts, Aysha Ring, was viciously murdered by David Briggs - stabbed to death while standing in line at a convenience store. The perpetrator has been found not criminally responsible and is committed to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. He will serve no jail time and will be re-evaluated in a year for possible release, although prosecutor S. Ann Brobst told this writer that her office will ensure that does not occur.
According to the Maryland Annotated Code, a defendant may be found "not criminally responsible" if, due to a mental disorder, a preponderance of the evidence indicates that he or she cannot "appreciate the criminality" of his or her conduct or "conform [his or her] conduct to the requirements of the law."
In other words, a defendant would not be criminally responsible if the accused didn't know what was done was wrong or if it appeared beyond his or her control. Neither appears to be the case in the killing of Ms. Ring.
Did the killer appreciate the criminality of what he did? Indisputably. He immediately fled the crime scene, got rid of his weapon and got rid of his clothes.
Did he have control over what he did? Again, it would seem hard to dispute. He singled out the only white woman in the store, and in conversations with investigators, Mr. Briggs indicated that he may have been motivated by that fact.
The assessment of evidence for Mr. Briggs was conducted as a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination. Information was cherry-picked by state psychiatrists to establish the fiction that Mr. Briggs was not criminally responsible, or as Mike Ring, Aysha's father, wrote in his statement to the court, "the assessment appears to have drawn on only those select pieces of information from the investigation which reflected credence to their collected finding." Specifically regarding the factor of race, Mr. Ring wrote in that statement, "Had the ethnic roles been reversed, the public and political outcry would have been overwhelming, assuring a vastly different judgment for the killer."
There was little local coverage of the outcome of this atrocity, save, to my knowledge, for a mention by The Baltimore Sun and a segment on WJZ Television, put together by reporter Jessica Kartalija. The lack of media attention and public outrage leaves people like the Rev. John Swope, a co-worker of Ms. Ring, incredulous. It was, Father Swope observes, "not the type of justice we expected."
For Mr. Ring, a career counterterrorism professional, his outrage at the "not criminally responsible" decision is unambiguous - and eminently reasonable.
"This was nothing more than a hate crime," Mr. Ring wrote. "It nauseates me to know that the state of Maryland has established a precedent based on liberal ideologies ... and that its constituents continue to accept political correctness over factual issues."
Prosecutor Brobst said that the state staff of psychiatrists' determination of "not criminally responsible" was legally unchallengeable: "The statute," she said, "does not provide a mechanism to disagree with the finding."
If the law says that, as Charles Dickens' Mr. Bumble once observed, then "the law is an ass." How long will Maryland citizens accept with equanimity such arbitrary, psychiatric exculpation for murderers of their finest citizens?
Richard E. Vatz is a professor at Towson University, an associate psychology editor at USA Today Magazine and an editor for Current Psychology. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.