In this case, the court’s majority denied a writ of habeas corpus to a convicted cult leader, Jeffrey Lundgren, who claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. The word “ninja” appears in the dissent, in which Judge Merritt argues that the defense counsel’s failure to claim the insanity defense was ineffective assistance. But the majority saw it as a reasonable decision and would not let the defendant get the opportunity to first test the case at trial and then allege insanity. The particular facts are about insanity by “deific degree”, meaning the defendant acted under belief he was ordered by god to kill.

JEFFREY D. LUNDGREN, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
BETTY MITCHELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 02-3001; 440 F.3d 754
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Decided, March 13, 2006, Judge Merritt’s dissent begins:

Lundgren testified that he killed a family of five cult members as a religious sacrifice. He did so, he said, because he received a command from God that this sacrifice was necessary to prepare for “Zion” and the “Second Coming.” I disagree with our Court’s decision and reasoning in section II.D.3. above rejecting Lundgren’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on trial counsel’s inexplicable failure to raise the defense of insanity. Other than insanity Lundgren had no defense. In many similar “deific decree” cases in which a “delusional” person like Lundgren professed to be following God’s command to kill, defense lawyers have almost uniformly entered an insanity plea — and the jury has accepted the defense in some of the cases. As we shall see, even the prosecutors in the case could not understand why Lundgren’s lawyers did not enter such a defense. I will also apply Ohio’s definition of insanity in light of a mental illness theory counsel overlooked in bypassing his only available defense. I will then show why, in light of these considerations, the conduct of Lundgren’s counsel was manifestly ineffective. The writ of habeas corpus should have issued in this case to require a new trial in which Lundgren would be allowed to present the insanity defense before the jury.

The dissent then continues by listing a variety of deific decree insanity defenses over the past 200 years:

State v. Lafferty, 2001 UT 19, 20 P.3d 342, 363 (Utah 2001) (Mormon fundamentalist, who killed his sister-in-law and her infant child pursuant to God’s “removal revelation,” presented insanity defense to jury);

People v. Coddington, 23 Cal. 4th 529, 97 Cal. Rptr. 2d 528, 2 P.3d 1081, 1103, 1110-14 (Cal. 2000), overruled on different grounds by Price v. Superior Court, 25 Cal. 4th 1046, 108 Cal. Rptr. 2d 409, 25 P.3d 618, 633 n.13 (Cal. 2001) (defendant presented insanity defense to jury after strangling chaperones of two girls he sexually abused professedly because God commanded the actions);

State v. Blair, 143 N.H. 669, 732 A.2d 448, 449-50 (N.H. 1999) (counsel presented insanity defense to jury in case in which husband bludgeoned his wife and son with a hammer after experiencing a “trance” in which God revealed that he would be cast into the lake of fire if he refused to do so);

People v. Serravo, 823 P.2d 128, 130 (Colo. 1992) (en banc) (jury found defendant not guilty by reason of insanity for stabbing his wife “in order to sever the marriage bond” in accordance with God’s purported instructions);

State v. Ryan, 233 Neb. 74, 444 N.W.2d 610, 632 (Neb. 1989) (cult leader entered plea of not guilty by reason of insanity after following Yahweh’s “command” to torture and kill an “unfaithful” cult member);

Laney v. State, 486 So. 2d 1242, 1245-46 (Miss. 1986) (defendant shot police officers because God purportedly commanded the act and presented insanity defense to jury);

State v. Cameron, 100 Wn.2d 520, 674 P.2d 650, 654 (Wash. 1983) (en banc) (jury question regarding insanity defense existed when defendant implemented God’s “command” to stab repeatedly his stepmother to stop the “evil spirit” within her);

State v. Malumphy, 105 Ariz. 200, 461 P.2d 677, 678 (Ariz. 1969) (defendant, who shot and killed two co-employees due to his belief that God sanctioned the deeds, presented insanity defense to jury);

State v. Di Paolo, 34 N.J. 279, 168 A.2d 401, 407-08 (N.J. 1961) (defendant repeatedly stabbed ex-girlfriend because God professedly commanded the actions and presented insanity defense to jury);

People v. Schmidt, 216 N.Y. 324, 110 N.E. 945, 945, 34 N.Y. Cr. 51 (N.Y. 1915) (defendant, who claimed God commanded him to kill a woman as a sacrifice, presented insanity defense to jury);

State v. Hudson, 1999 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 144, No. 01C01-9508-CC-00270, 1999 WL 77844, at **1, 8 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 19, 1999) (appellate court remanded for entry of a judgment of not guilty by reason of insanity in case in which defendant shot her one-month-old nephew, believing that God had instructed her to kill “the son of Satan”);

State v. McDaniel, 1998 Ohio App. LEXIS 6122, No. 18805, 1998 WL 887184, at **2-3 (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 16, 1998) (defendant, after experiencing religious delusion that God commanded him to kill his wife with a baseball bat, presented insanity defense to jury);

Ivery v. State, 686 So. 2d 495, 499-503 (Ala. Crim. App. 1996) (defendant, who claimed to be the “ninja of God” and to have followed God’s command “to kill people at will and to take their money as the spoils of victory,” presented insanity defense to jury);

People v. Wilhoite, 228 Ill. App. 3d 12, 592 N.E.2d 48, 55-58, 169 Ill. Dec. 561 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991) (court found defendant not guilty by reason of insanity after she followed God’s “command” to shove her nine-year-old daughter out of apartment window to pass “a test to see if the defendant could get into heaven” prior to the imminent end of the world);

Perkey v. Cardwell, 369 F. Supp. 770, 770-74 (S.D. Ohio 1973), aff’d, 492 F.2d 1244 (6th Cir. 1974) (defendant claimed he was carrying out God’s orders by shooting victim and entered plea of not guilty by reason of insanity);

United States v. Guiteau, 10 F. 161, 186 (D.D.C. 1882) (defendant alleged he was following God’s command to kill the president and presented insanity defense to jury);

Elizabeth Mehren, Fellow Inmate Guilty of Murdering Ex-Priest, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 2006, at A15 (Massachusetts inmate, who claimed God commanded him to kill defrocked priest, presented insanity defense to jury);

Mom Who Killed Kids with Rocks Committed to Mental Hospital, Chi. Trib., Apr. 7, 2004, at 8 (Texas jury found mother innocent by reason of insanity after she stoned two of her young sons to death with heavy rocks professedly in accordance with God’s instructions); Richard Moran, The Origin of Insanity as a Special Verdict: The Trial for Treason of James Hadfield (1800), 19 Law & Soc’y Rev. 487, 508 (1985) (jury acquitted defendant who pled insanity defense following attempted shooting of the king of England purportedly at God’s direction);

cf. State v. Wilson, 242 Conn. 605, 700 A.2d 633, 641 (Conn. 1997) (“An individual laboring under a delusion that causes him to believe in the divine approbation of his conduct is an individual who, in all practicality, is unlikely to be able fully to appreciate the wrongfulness of that conduct.”).

With footnote #1

I am aware of only a few deific decree cases in which the insanity defense was not presented. In one of them, the failure to do so was held to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. Galloway v. State, 1985 OK CR 42, 698 P.2d 940, 942 (Okla. Crim. App. 1985) (defendant, at the professed direction of God, “drove demons out” of his neighbor by killing him). In another, the defendant represented himself. Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven xxii-xxiii (large print ed. 2003) (Mormon fundamentalist killed his sister-in-law and her infant child pursuant to God’s “removal revelation”). The brother of the aforementioned defendant declined to raise the insanity defense in his first trial because he believed the jury would interpret that defense as an admission of guilt, but, in his retrial, allowed counsel to present the insanity defense. State v. Lafferty, 2001 UT 19, 20 P.3d 342, 363 (Utah 2001); State v. Lafferty, 749 P.2d 1239, 1250 (Utah 1988). In addition, prosecutors wondered why some of Lundgren’s followers did not raise the insanity defense. See Cynthia Stalter Sasse & Peggy Murphy Widder, The Kirtland Massacre 273 (1991).

And so here, the word “ninja” is actually a reference to another case entirely. That case was in an Alabama criminal court. Again, in that case, and in this citing case, we see “ninja” in a case related to murder and religion.

Ultimately, the higher courts did not agree with Judge Merritt’s dissenting analysis (though a stay of execution was at one point temporarily ordered) and Jeffrey Lundgren was executed by the State of Ohio on October 24, 2006. The final clemency report can be read, with eight signatures recommending denial of clemency and explaining further details about his case. May the ninja gods have mercy on their souls.

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