Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Johnny Frank Garrett: An Opposing View

Reader Steve left a note on my post regarding Johnny Frank Garrett. I repeat that comment here in its entirety.
I think the people that are so anti-death penalty get a little caught up in any alternative explanation for executed killers they can find. Not sure why my last post on this wasn't accepted but people who are trying to "prove" his "innocence" are intentionally leaving critical information out. Garrett was executed in Texas in 1992 for the rape and murder of a 79 year old nun, when he was 17. His defense brought in renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis to examine him. To his defense, she found him to have severe childhood trauma and significant brain damage. He also had multiple personalities, one of which ("Aaron") not only committed the rape and murder but described it to Dr. Lewis. This is why "Johnny" acted like he was innocent. He thought he was. All this stuff about a Cuban claiming the murder later have no support in facts. Why is there no mention of Otnow's book or position on this case here? Read Guilty By Reason of Insanity, 1998, Otnow-Lewis, Ivy Books, NY.
I begin my response by being a bit defensive. Steve suggested I rejected a previous comment: "Not sure why my last post on this wasnt accepted ..." Comments are posted automatically on this blog. They do not await my acceptance or rejection. I learn of them later via my gmail account. While I can delete any comment, I have yet to delete one. As far as I know, no comment from Steve or anybody else has been rejected or deleted.

I did earlier, however, receive an email from someone named Steve (who gave his full name) and I did respond. I treat emails as private correspondence and do not publish their content without permission. Since I assume Comment Steve and Email Steve are the same person, and since that person clearly wants his position made public, I reproduce his original email below, withholding only his last name and his email address.
Have you read "Guilty By Reason Of Insanity" by Dorothy Otnow-Lewis? Lewis interviewed Garrett extensively for the defense and found Garrett to have severe brain injuries and multiple personalities. She also personally interviewed Garrett and he, as another personality, admitted to killing and raping the nun. As "Johnny," he protested his innocence to the day of his execution, because he believed he didn't do it. In his mind, he didn't.

I am writing a second book about violent killers and I was using Garrett's case, when I noted people on the "Net proclaiming his innocence, who do not seem like the even know this.

Steve [last name withheld]
Steve apparently mistook me for someone "proclaiming" Garrett's innocence. I have yet to proclaim anyone executed by Texas to be innocent. I review some cases in considerable detail, and I attempt to apply a disciplined scoring system to assign a probability of actual innocence. I concede that I gave Garrett a score of 91, the highest I have given so far, but I did not proclaim him to be innocent. It's a quibble, but I use proclamations of innocence sparingly and I'm protective of them.

So I wrote back to Steve and challenged him to assign his own probability.

Thanks for the tip. I've ordered the book from Amazon. I'll check it out and update as appropriate.

What probability do you give to his actual innocence or actual guilt?  Just curious.


Steve wrote back but declined to assign a probability.
Hi John

I'll give you some background. I wrote The Psychopathology of Serial Murder: A Theory of Violence, in 1996. I teach Psychology of the Offender for the University of Illinois at Springfield.  I am writing a new book based on the old one, updated for 2011. While researching some of Dr. Otnow Lewis's work, I included the Garrett case because of his severe brain injuries, neurological issues and abuse. He also seems to be an interesting case of multiple personality (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Full disclaimer: I tend to lean towards the prosecution side of things, but I try to keep an open mind because I don't want to look foolish and the prosecution does that enough as it is. I like Lewis's work because of her brain injury analysis with Dr Pincus, but I always have a problem with her because she finds these issues to be exculpatory and she always works for the defense to say so.

Lewis worked for the defense on this case, and worked up all his history as a mitigating defense for his actions. Her interview of Garrett, especially when Garrett was acting as "Aaron" where he admits to the rape because "Johnny needed it" is more than enough for me to believe Garrett's guilt. Lewis had a point here ... executing Garrett giving his age and his mental incapacity was ludicrous (and I do support the death penalty), but I do not believe that Garrett didn't do it. Neither does Dr. Lewis.

The Cuban confession story seems very unsupported and unbelievable to me.

That's my take-
Steve [last name withheld]
I realize that anyone can probably now track down Steve's last name based on the title of his book, and I'm guessing he wouldn't mind if you did. Nonetheless, I elect not to make it public here.

Steve apparently is convinced of Garrett's guilt because Aaron, one of Garrett's "multiples", confessed to raping and murdering Sister Tadea Benz. I quote from Steve's comment which I included at the beginning of this post. "He also had multiple personalities, one of which ("Aaron") not only committed the rape and murder but described it to Dr. Lewis."

So I obtained a copy of Dr. Otnow Lewis' book. Now I have another quibble with Steve. Aaron did not say he killed Sister Benz. He adamantly and persistently denied it. I quote from the author's interview with Garrett, then acting or believing himself to be Aaron. Aaron speaks first, author responds.
"When he got into her room, he blacked out. I took over, I put my hand over her mouth so she wouldn't scream. I raped her."
"You raped her? Why?"
"Johnny needed it."
Alternates have a marvelous way of recounting the most bizarre, the most grotesque acts, as though they were describing the facts of life. Johnny needed sex: Aaron raped a nun. It was as simple as that. Sometimes Aaron shoved a bottle in Johnny's behind. Other times he found Johnny a woman.

"I know Johnny better than Johnny does. He had an erection. I knew what he wanted. But he wouldn't be able to do it. I put him to sleep. I took over."

"Who killed her?"

Again Aaron's eyes widened and fixed me with a wild, untamed look. He was afraid. He fell silent. The powerful Aaron Shockman was frightened. I thought, maybe Aaron is not as powerful as Johnny thinks. Aaron remained silent, listening, anxious.

"What's happening?" I waited. "Is someone talking to you?" Still no answer. "Is someone stopping you?" The silence continued as Aaron remained wide-eyed, in a trance.

Since that day I have seen this phenomenon many times. I have thought that I was speaking with someones most violent protector alter, only to discover weeks, even months later, the existence of a more powerful alter and dangerous personality.

"Aaron, if you didn't kill her, who did?"

"I don't know," came the reply. I could tell he was lying. "When I got off her she wasn't dead. It all happened on the bed. When I left, she was on the bed."

"But Aaron," I interrupted. "They said they found her on the floor. What happened?"

"I don't know. All I do know is that I did not kill her. Johnny did not kill her. I did not kill her."
Steve has built himself a house of cards on a shaking foundation in a seismic zone. Steve believes Garrett murdered Sister Benz because he (Steve) disbelieves what Johnny says but he (Steve) does believe what Aaron says. However, Steve doesn't really believe what Aaron says because Aaron said he didn't murder Sister Benz. Steve chooses to believe Aaron when Aaron says he raped Sister Benz, but he chooses to disbelieve Aaron when Aaron says he didn't murder Sister Benz. No explanation is offered.

Not only does Steve accept the explicit denials of Johnny and  Aaron as compelling proof of Garrett's guilt, Steve dismisses the confession of Leoncio Perez Rueda to the very murder that Johnny and Aaron deny committing. Steve dismisses Rueda's confession even though Rueda's DNA ties him (Rueda) to the murder of Narnie Box Bryson, a murder close in space, time and detail to that of Sister Benz. The two murders were indeed so proximate and similar that the police initially insisted they had to be the work of the same man.

Steve dismisses Rueda's confession with a flick of an evidentiary wrist: "The Cuban confession story seems very unsupported and unbelievable to me."

I caution that confessions should be treated as simply another police statement in need of corroboration by other evidence. An unquestioning acceptance of confessions (or dismissal of denials, as in this case) leads to wrongful convictions. Recall the case of the Norfolk Four, where four people in rapid succession confessed to a rape/murder and implicated three others in the process, though DNA proved none of them were guilty.

As Sherlock Holmes so wisely said while misquoting the Bible: "Data, data, data. I cannot make bricks without clay."