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FRONTLINE
A CASE OF INSANITY

norm lamarche

Norm LaMarche, a juror in the Tortorici trial, says that he doesn't regret returning a guilty verdict. He says that while Tortorici was obviously mentally ill, the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Tortorici had meticulously planned the attack and understood the consequences of his actions. This interview was conducted in February 2002.

Describe the prosecution's case.

I think the main features I remember from the prosecution's case was that Ralph planned and understood what he was doing. He had taken a number of steps to cause this, to do this, to have this incident at the university. ... In spite of anything else we may have known about Ralph or heard about Ralph, this incident was a stand-alone incident. He did something; he planned it. He did it. He understood what he was doing, and therefore he had to pay for the consequences and take the consequences of that event. ...

And from the defense?

The defense ... was trying to build on the history of Ralph and his disease -- that this disease carried over into impairing his judgment [and] being able to understand what he was doing and the severity of what he was doing. That was his defense. ...

Describe for me the emotional impact that [Jason McEnaney's] testimony had on you and the rest of the jurors.

I think [what] I remember most about his [testimony] is really the long-term [effects], ... the injury that he had, and how that affected his life from that time forward. He showed real emotion, and was having a very difficult time presenting the testimony.

If he had just grabbed a gun and run into a McDonald's, it would have been a different situation. The fact that there was so much planning weighed heavily on us.

... Jason brought home just the impact on the victim, on the person that was there, communicated what he felt and helped us understand. ...

So for that moment, the trial became him?

It became him. I mean, he was really injured; he was hurt. ...

The prosecution never presented an expert to testify that Ralph was sane. Did it matter? ...

I really didn't realize that until [I was] thinking about it later on. I think Ralph had already been determined to be competent to stand trial, so I guess in my mind, that ... set some standard of his competence. I didn't really look at the prosecution of needing someone to counter the expert witnesses. ... I didn't really put a lot of weight on the expert witnesses. They were giving an opinion, but we really had to work beyond that.

Assess Cheryl Coleman's strategy with the defense experts.

I think Cheryl did a strong job to maybe minimize the impact of the defense witnesses. I didn't think it was really necessary, in my case. I felt the witness was going to present his or her opinion of the facts. Cheryl did a good job of essentially painting them as "paid for" witnesses, or hired guns, to give a certain point of view.

I think she built some strong points ... when she brought out the resume or the credentials of one of the witnesses and had indicated that this witness had frequently presented the same defense. [He had served as a defense witness for] a ... very notorious convicted criminal and killer. ... I would assume that Cheryl's strategy [was], if ... this person would just defend [a notorious serial killer], he would defend anyone, and therefore it lessened the credibility of him. So I think she did a good job in terms of lowering the credibility of those witnesses. ...

I'm told that was a dramatic moment in the trial. Is that true?

I personally don't remember it being that dramatic. It was pretty much a confrontational time, because Cheryl was trying to diminish the position of the expert witness. They spent an awful lot of time on that, but from the juror's point of view, I don't know if it was time well spent. I think the jurors were able to put the expert witness in proper perspective, and really looked at other issues. ... I don't remember in deliberations [if] we even tried to rate the value of the testimony of the expert witnesses. ...

So you had four defense doctors saying that he was paranoid schizophrenic, delusional, psychotic enough that he didn't understand the nature of his crime -- that he was legally insane. From the juror's point of view, [what was the effect of this testimony]?

Certainly Judge Rosen tried to limit, from what I remember, their conclusion of whether he was legally ... insane. They presented their [opinions] ... that he was delusional. ... But from what I remember, Judge Rosen was pretty adamant in stopping them [from] ... saying he was legally insane. He left that to us to decide. ...

You go into the deliberation room after the charge is read. Describe for me what that was like.

... We took to heart very much what Judge Rosen had told us during the entire trial, in terms of not talking about the case. ... So when we got to deliberate, there really was sort of a release, of people venting immediately. ...

But a number of people, you realized then, had very strong feelings about the case. Many people wanted to talk and discuss it. So there was an immediate venting of different people, talking about different aspects of the trial that they thought strongly about, or where their feelings were or where they thought their decision should be. ... Some people really voiced very strong feelings against some of the witnesses. ...

We then started to talk amongst ourselves. ... We decided not to vote immediately on where we were. ... We started by [asking] if there were any major issues that we needed to talk about or explain more before someone could make a decision. As it turned out, there really weren't any major issues. As we started to go around the table and talk, ... generally we were very consistent of how we were seeing things. ...

Then we took a general feel of each person, what they generally felt. We could see then at that time that everybody was consistent. They actually felt [that Tortorici was] guilty, and did not feel that the defense had proven their case. ...

What was missing in terms of finding him not responsible?

I think that there was too much evidence that we saw to the planning and understanding of what was done. ... [Tortorici] was a college student or close to graduating, [and had been] able to pass courses, showing some degree of competence. There was a level of planning to this incident, in terms of buying the rifle, taking the ammunition, ropes, whatever else he needed with him to that class. ... So he must have known what he had done. I think we talked about it in deliberation.

You know, if he had just grabbed a gun and run into a McDonald's, it would have been a different situation. We would have looked at it differently. The fact that [there] was so much planning weighed heavily on us. ...

So even though the defense argues that he's doing all these things because of the microchip, how did you, as a juror, grapple with that?

I think there was a general feeling that Ralph did have some problems, some mental illness problems. But I think we focused pretty much on the judge's directive in terms of how to evaluate those problems. The directives we [had were to evaluate] whether he knew what he was doing and knew what he was doing was wrong. We sort of focused more on that. ...

Our general feeling was, well, he may have these other issues, but it doesn't justify this incident that took place. So we looked at it more in that [way, rather than] trying to really rationalize, how could we find this person guilty if he displays this type of bizarre behavior? We felt that you could have both. You could have the bizarre behavior, but under the standards that we were working with, we could still find him guilty.

Because of the law?

Very much so. ... We focused more on that than whether to say he had a mental illness. We all sort of agreed he probably did, and that was part of our discussion. I think the judge also indicated that it wasn't up to us to decide his punishment; the punishment would be decided by the court. It was really for us to decide the facts of the case and what he was doing on that day. ...

For you then and the jury, did the law give you any other room?

We really felt the law really led us in that direction. ... Prior to that, you might have thought you could find him guilty and [not responsible]. But my understanding of the law [is] that's not what we could do -- not the directive we got from the judge. So we focused on those two items of it, I guess in the back of our minds, knowing, yes, there is some mental illness there, but that does not immediately rationalize or justify the actions that he took.

[What would you have to see in order to determine that Ralph wasn't responsible for his actions that day?]

It's hard to say. ... I think it probably would have been a history of him of being possibly committed and being under care, exhibiting strange behavior all the time. ... Pretty extreme behavior would have to have been exhibited -- being on medicine and then still having problems. ...

Did his prior history seem extraordinarily bizarre?

Yes, many of the incidents that ... were described about Ralph's behavior [were] bizarre. ... On the jury, if we had to fully assess whether those were true or not, [some of us] would have had a hard time believing some of them. There were a number of jurors, or a few jurors, I believe, that would have felt Ralph's whole story was just made up, and these were just all bogus incidents and they were just excuses. ...

If we were leaning towards that direction [of finding him not responsible], I feel there would have been a number of jurors who would have dug in and said, "No, this is just an excuse." ... One juror was concerned because he had not taken his medicine and another juror said, "Well, that's his fault, for not taking that medicine. ... He's causing his own problems."

So even though he had bizarre behavior, we really separated out the behavior from what he did that day. ...

So you followed the law?

We feel we did. We were very comfortable that we had followed the law. ...

Were you aware that people anticipated the jury would be deliberating for hours, perhaps days?

We thought we [might be]. We were told by the judge that we would be sequestered if we didn't come to a decision on the verdict, so we had brought our items with us. I was personally a little surprised that we were so close, when we just first decided to talk. ... There was no one that really saw things completely different. ... There really wasn't a lot of dissension or things that we agonized over. I guess we felt the prosecution was very thorough in presenting their case.

[The verdict surprised some people.] The opinion was that the prosecution was going to lose.

As part of our deliberation, we always would think about what's going to happen to Ralph. I forget who on the jury reminded us the judge had told us that [it's] not our job [to think about] what's going to happen to him; it's really to judge the facts.

I think the basic jury probably was going to have a high standard of what was going to be [not responsible]. I think we agreed probably that he had some mental illness, but we really could see a clear difference between some mental illness and having something that crossed over and impacted his ability to plan and do what he had done. I think we were able to separate those pretty well.

When you say you had to have a high standard, you mean the threshold in your minds has to be high?

Personally, I believe so. ... Generally, people were looking for more than just an excuse. ... "The doctor says I'm a schizophrenic, therefore I'm off for this incident." I'm sure the jury would not have sided with that type of a story. So I think they wanted to see more than just a simple correlation between illness and the event. They really would want to see it very tightly drawn, and when we didn't really see that, I think we had no problem separating the two issues and feeling that he was guilty.

Did anyone worry about what would happen if he were found not responsible and had gone to a psychiatric hospital?

I don't really remember that we talked too much about that. ... There was general discussion about where he was going to go, and that there was some concern that he would be going to jail and not to going to psychiatric hospital, and that's what we talked about. ... [But] I don't think we discussed [it] too much.

What do you mean? People thought that he should go to a jail?

They were concerned [about] what kind of jail was he going to go to. Even though we were to find him guilty, I think there was a general feeling that there was an illness here, and he needed some kind of help. So I think there was that concern: Is he just going to go to a jail, a traditional jail?... Or is there [going] to be a jail with help for people with psychiatric problems? So we did discuss that a little bit. ...

People were concerned about that, because I think people generally knew he was ill. But they didn't, again, feel that illness justified what he had done. So they were concerned that he was going to get some kind of treatment, and basically trusted the judge in the system that he would get some kind of treatment. ...

Is it more difficult to find someone not responsible?

Well, we struggled. ... There was a number of people that were parent age that could identify that Ralph was ill somehow. I think we all, in our own way, were trying to understand illness and how that impacted his behavior. ... Generally, we all felt he needed some psychiatric help, but we felt he was responsible for what he had done. ... This jury would have had to have a lot of evidence to find him innocent; a lot more than what we saw. ...

[Ralph Tortorici wasn't in the courtroom at all during his trial.] What difference did it make?

We never really talked about Ralph not being in court. Again, I guess we were rule followers, and the judge said we can't take that into consideration one way or the other. He [Ralph] is not there, so we couldn't really read anything into him.

I mean, if he had testified, ... maybe his testimony would have done something or could have swayed it. But him not being there, we really didn't evaluate that too much. We just listened to the rest of evidence and made our decision. It really didn't impact it, I don't believe. ...

[How was it possible for the jury to make decisions about complicated psychological diagnoses?]

I would say we put our common sense, our personal lives, used our personal life experiences to try to understand it. ... I really focused on the facts of what he did and his history of behavior, and then what he had done on that day. ...

[So you feel that the jurors were qualified to make this decision?]

I believe we were. I think we were equipped to deal with these decisions, where we really compared to our own life experiences. We clearly weren't swayed by a pure clinical definition of mental illness; that's not what we were going to use as a justification. ...

[What did you think when you heard that Ralph had committed suicide?]

It was sad. ... I can only assume that it didn't help by being in prison. ... I personally was sad that that had happened, but I can't say I was surprised. I mean, he did have that history, a history of problems. ...

Did you feel regret?

I didn't feel regret. You know, I thought over again what we had done, and said, "Did I make a wrong decision?" I was comfortable we hadn't made a wrong decision. I think, again, we all understood he was ill. But that illness hadn't risen to that level where it could justify what he had done. I think that's the gap that was there, and since that gap wasn't closed, we weren't going to find him innocent of his actions. ...

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