This 1993 Ninja case might be called a failure of the “Dungeons and Dragons” insanity defense. The narrative of the appeals court decision explains an adventure game gone crazy as two soldiers become ninja assassins. And I wonder what was up with ninja in North Carolina in the early 1990’s because this is the third NinjaLaw post in a row that is from that area (Ninja Pants was also Fort Bragg and Motorcyle Bank Robbers was also NC).

ninja dungeons

MARK EDWARD THOMPSON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. GARY T. DIXON, Warden, Central Prison, Respondent-Appellee.
No. 92-6779
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
987 F.2d 1038

Decided – February 19, 1993

Opinion by Judge Morgan:

In the fall of 1986 the Petitioner was a 17-year old enlisted soldier in the Army stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. There he met Jeffrey Karl Meyer, and the two began playing “Dungeons and Dragons,” an adventure game in which the participants enact roles and carry out adventures in a medieval setting. In November 1986, the Petitioner and Meyer were playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons which called for several “Ninja” assassins to enter the house of an elderly couple and assassinate them. The two chose the home of Mr. and Mrs Paul Kutz in rural Cumberland County, North Carolina, because it had what resembled a moat around their house. On December 1, 1986, the Petitioner and Meyer went to the Kutz’s home around 11:15 p.m. and broke in. They found Mr. Kutz, age 69, in his recliner and Mrs. Kutz, age 62, asleep in her bed. They killed Mr. Kutz by stabbing him 17 times and cutting his throat. The two killed Mrs. Kutz by holding her down and stabbing her numerous times. After stealing jewelry, credit cards and a television set, the Petitioner and Meyer returned to Fort Bragg. They were stopped by military police who discovered the stolen property. The military police notified Cumberland County authorities who discovered the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Kutz. The Petitioner and Meyer were subsequently arrested.

The Petitioner confessed to being present at the murders, stealing the property and watching Meyer stab the Kutz’s. The Petitioner later confessed to his psychologist that he participated in the stabbing of Mrs. Kutz. At trial, the Petitioner contended that he was not guilty by reason of insanity and that he lacked the mental capacity to formulate the requisite intent required for murder. In his instructions at the close of trial, Judge Herring instructed the jury that “sanity or soundness of mind is the natural and normal condition of people; therefore, everyone is presumed sane until the contrary is made to appear.” (J.A. 64). On October 26, 1989, the jury rejected the Petitioner’s insanity and mental illness defenses and found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, and one count of first-degree burglary. He was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life terms of imprisonment plus two forty-year terms which were combined to run subsequent to the expiration of the life sentences.

The Petitioner appealed all judgments to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The North Carolina Supreme Court found no constitutional error in his trial. State v. Thompson, 328 N.C. 477, 402 S.E.2d 386 (1991). The Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 with the district court on November 25, 1991. His sole claim was that the state trial court violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when it instructed the jury that he was presumed to be sane unless he proved otherwise. On January 8, 1992, the State filed its answer to the Petitioner’s habeas corpus petition and moved for summary judgment. On July 2, 1992, the district court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, finding the state trial court’s presumption-of-sanity instruction did not in any way relieve the State of its burden of proving the intent which was an element of the offenses of which he was convicted by the jury. (J.A. 38). The Petitioner argues on appeal that these presumptions deprived him of his due process rights by removing the presumption of innocence and relieving the State of its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he intentionally committed the felonies of which he was convicted.

So defendants can’t just say playing Dungeons & Dragons made them insane and that they thought they were a ninja. The Japanese ninja was a D&D class in first edition D&D, in a 1985 expansion called “Oriental Adventures”. The character class only resumed recently in the 3rd edition. Perhaps the defendant was frustrated by the unavailability of the ninja character class in the middle editions of the game. If so, it is fair under due process and North Carolina law, to obligate the defendant to prove his insanity and this court does not find a violation of rights to innocence until proven guilt. Defendants are presumed sane.

A similar example of a case in which a defendant performed criminal acts by referencing to a role playing game involved the Vampire Masquerade game. I’ll tell you more about it when I get around to writing VampireLaw (soon enough but not today!). In the meantime, I hope you are reading ZombieLaw which is so far the most active.

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