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FRONTLINE
A CASE OF INSANITY

a well-documented history of mental illness
In 1992, Ralph Tortorici's paranoid delusions were already evident. He went to the University Health Center at SUNY-Albany in August 1992 complaining that a microchip had been implanted in his penis. A psychiatrist at the health center immediately referred Tortorici to the Capital District Psychiatric Center (CDPC). Four months later, Ralph contacted a New York state trooper and told him that the microchip would beep and give him messages and asked to have it removed. He was again transported to the CDPC.

Below are excerpts from the court transcript in which defense attorney Peter Lynch questions two employees of SUNY's Health Center, the state trooper, and a records clerk from the CDPC regarding the existence of Ralph Tortorici's delusions two years before the hostage-taking incident. (Editor's note: These excerpts from the court transcript have been slightly edited.)


: Regarding the Aug. 31, 1992, Incident

Pat Ford, Nurse Administrator at SUNY-Albany Health Center:

... Ralph came in and said that he no longer could handle what was happening, he couldn't take the pressure of what was going on in his head and just couldn't take it any longer. I then took him into the examining room. He was in a great deal of distress, very uncomfortable. And he told me that he had had a X-ray, the X-ray was negative, and that he still was sure he had an implant, a microchip in his penis, and that was forcing him to do things that he didn't want to do. He felt that the government was speaking to him through the microchip and he couldn't handle the pressure. ... His face was very stressed. He grabbed me at one time, pushed my head down towards the genital area, and asked me to keep listening because he really needed help. It was a pitiful sight. He was sure that something was wrong. ...

....

Dr. Ingrid Porter, Director of the SUNY-Albany Health Center:

... He came into my office and I verified, by a few questions, that he was, indeed, a disturbed young man, and so disturbed that I felt it necessary to talk to our psychiatrist about him. I made a phone call to that psychiatrist. And he made a suggestion to me with regard to what to do about this young man right then and there, and that was to call the Capital District Psychiatric Center. I did this. ... I spoke to one person there, and that person said that two women would be sent soon to talk to him; soon being within the next half-hour or so. ...

Lynch: You indicated that he appeared to be disturbed to you. Could you elaborate on what you mean by the phrase disturbed?

Porter: Yes. He was restless and looked apprehensive; in fact, he looked frightened. ... He felt there was a device implanted in his body and he was frightened by it and didn't want to have it there any more.

Lynch: Did he advise you where the device was planted in his body?

Porter: Yes, he did. ... He said it was in his penis. ...

....

Theresa Springsteen, director of medical records at Capital District Psychiatric Center, reads a portion of Ralph Tortorici's Aug. 31, 1992, crisis evaluation at CDPC:

"8/31/[92], 14:30. MD note. Ralph Tortorici is a 24-year-old white male with no prior psychiatric contacts. Brought to crisis by MCT, mobile crisis team, from SUNY Health Services after he presented there requesting a X-ray. He has apparently suffered a fixed delusion times eight years of having a police listening device implanted in his penis by the doctor who performed the last of a series of surgical repairs of severe hypospadias. This belief is accompanied by suspicions of a conspiracy against him. Because he has had increased stress since April, lost a job and had an accident, he believes the conspiracy is worsening. He seeks a X-ray to prove that the device exists and will allow him to explore the conspiracy.

His history is remarkable in that he has functioned so well, B student at SUNY and working until recently. His remote history indicates traumatic childhood and alcoholic mother, who's made several suicide attempts and his parents' stormy on again off again relationship. He had approximately one and a half years of daily marijuana use, and perhaps other substances as well, at 17 years old, which is when his delusional belief began.

Currently he has had a few weeks use of daily marijuana. He says he drinks occasionally, up to a six-pack. He adamantly denies homicidal or suicidal ideation, although he says at times he has just wished that he was dead.

Mental status exam significant for pressured speech, tangential and circumstantial thought and the presence of the fixed delusion described above. He had difficulty concentrating and calculating. ...

His mood was anxious with congruent affect. He had grandiosity apparent in his thinking.

Impression: 24-year-old male presents with a fixed delusion accompanied by suspiciousness. After eight years of dealing with this experience privately, he comes to attention. Because of increased stress in his life, he believes more conspiracy activity is taking place and, so, out of desperation he seeks to expose the conspiracy. He appears willing to discuss the possibility that his belief is psychological in origin, but would be more likely to consider this after an X-ray rules out a foreign body.

Diagnosis: Delusional disorder. Rule out schizo-affective disorder. Rule out bipolar disorder. ...

: Regarding the Dec. 18, 1992, Incident at the Police Station

Lynch: What were you doing when you first saw Mr. Tortorici at the barracks? What were you doing?

New York State Trooper Drew H. McDonald: He came to the door and asked to speak to a trooper, and I spoke to him. ... I went to the patrol room, and he had a seat next to my desk and he began to discuss a problem with me. ... Mr. Tortorici started off his conversation, he was inquiring basically whether or not the State Police in Guilderland were investigating him for any type of sexual offense against a seven-year-old girl. ... I was aware we were not investigating him or anyone else at that time for that offense, and I advised him of that. And from there he went on to discuss other problems.

He spoke about having a problem with the Schenectady Police department, which began approximately eight years prior to that day, where he was living with two roommates in the City of Schenectady; he advised me that they were arrested for drug dealing, that he wasn't, and he felt that the Schenectady Police were trying to even the score, even to the present day. He went on to state that he felt that they had been surveilling him ... from a location behind his residence, in Guilderland, and he believed he had thwarted those efforts.

And he went on to say that he believed they had implanted some type of tracking device into his teeth. And he believed he removed one of those. And this time he was here to speak to me about the problem because he felt that they had gone too far this time and they had implanted a tracking device in the tip of his penis. ...

Lynch: What observations did you make, Trooper?

McDonald: Initially he was calm. As the interview progressed, he became more agitated. And at the end of the interview he was no longer sitting down, he was now standing.

Lynch: At anytime during the interview did he discuss with you any purpose or reason for his being there?

McDonald: He wished for me to ... do something. ... The way he put it is to do something about what's happening with the Schenectady Police Department, or that he would do something about it.

Lynch: What was your reaction to his claim that he would do something about it?

McDonald: At that point I felt that Mr. Tortorici was at such an agitated state that I wanted to get him under control. I decided that I was going to take him in custody and deliver him to the psych center at that point.

Lynch: Your note indicates Mental Health Law 9.41. ... What do you mean by that?

McDonald: The section 9.41 of the Mental Health Law allows me to take a subject into custody, who I believe is a danger to himself or others, due to some type of a problem, which I may not be able to understand. At the time that I was interviewing Mr. Tortorici I didn't think there was any type of a criminal charge that I had to deal with, so I wanted him to be evaluated by personnel at the psych center, to see if there was anything they could help him with. ...

Lynch: What else, if anything, did he say to you about this computer chip that had been implanted in his person?

McDonald: He told me that the computer chip would beep now and then and tell him, give him messages.

Lynch: Like what?

McDonald: In relationship to the seven-year-old girl, telling him to have sexual relations with her.

Lynch: What, if anything, did he ask you to do about it?

McDonald: He asked me to have it removed.

Lynch: After that discussion with Mr. Tortorici you placed him under arrest; correct?

McDonald: Yes. ... I transported him personally down to the Capital District Psychiatric Center. ...

....

Theresa Springsteen, director of medical records at Capital District Psychiatric Center, reads from Tortorici's in-patient record at CDPC dated Dec. 18-20, 1992:

"Number one: Mr. Ralph Tortorici arrives at crisis ambulatory accompanied by New York State Trooper McDonald of the Guilderland barracks, who refers patient.

Two: Patient had presented to the Guilderland barracks to inquire about his being under investigation for sexual abuse of a seven-year-old girl whom he used to babysit for and his drug use at age 16 years old. Patient is currently 24 years old. Patient stated to the trooper that he had gone to various police agencies and to Mayor Duci of Schenectady's office to ask a similar question.

Patient explained to the trooper that he had been the victim of a long-term surveillance by someone who had a surgical team place a listening device into his penis. Patient states that he had initially been under open surveillance and had agitated those in charge of the listening by making fun of them and they had to switch to the implant while he was under going surgery for congenital defects.

Patient states that he had baby-sat for his sister's child and a few other children and admits to holding the seven-year-old female and kissing her. Patient states that the penis implant emits beeping sounds in a code that he has managed to break and they are now giving him instructions to fuck the girl, as per Trooper McDonald. Patient informs Trooper McDonald that he was getting frustrated and wanted to bring the investigation out into the open and threatened, 'Do I have to do something drastic?'

Trooper McDonald described this patient as having informed him that he was a wrestler and a boxer and he feared his increasing level of agitation may have acquired some kind of physical intervention and feared that patient may act out significantly by doing something so drastic to obtain media attention. Trooper McDonald called patient's mother who described herself as 'I don't know where to turn' with the situation with her son and was happy that he had gone to the police on his own."

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