A Crime of Insanity airs on Frontline on most PBS stations Thursday night. The documentary is a detailed examination of the case of Ralph Tortorici which raises larger questions about the legal system and how it deals with mentally ill criminals.
In 1994, Tortorici walked into a classroom at SUNY-Albany (where he was a psycholigy student) bearing a rifle and a knife and said he was taking them hostage. For three hours, he ranted about how he a government experiment had implanted microchips into his head and penis. Several students rushed him and he seriously wounded one before being arrested.
The rest of the hour follows Tortorici through the legal system through candid interviews with his lawyer, the prosecutor, his father and brother (who was a guard at the prison he initiallly went to), and other involved in the case. There is also footage from his trial where he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The most revealing interviews are with prosecutor Cheryl Coleman who is now a judge. She wanted to reach a plea since Tortorici was paranoid schizophrenic. She says when she first met him, ""within thirty seconds, it was patently obvious to us that he wasn't faking it."
But her boss Chief Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Wiest refusted. He tells Frontline, "You know, the district attorney, here in New York for the 62 I believe counties is an elected position. And they have to get elected every four years and we didn't want to be perceived by the electorate as accommodating somebody that they felt should have gone to prison and not some hospital. If a jury made that determination, that's fine, that, that's twelve ladies and gentlemen from the community making that decision."
Coleman says Wiest told her, "'I want you to go out there and be Rush Limbaugh.' And I said, 'What do you mean, Rush Limbaugh?' He said, 'Well you've got that way about you. Just go out there and start insulting tou know psychiatrists and just take a slap at the psychiatric profession and just basically like a burn-and-destroy kind of mission.'"