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First Successful Insanity Plea in the US

11 Jan

philip-barton-key

Philip Barton Key

“Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house—you must die!”

This words were shouted by US Congressman Daniel Sickles just before he shot Philip Barton Key, a US Attorney and the son of the author of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” And true to his words Sickles shot Key with three different pistols in broad daylight in direct view of the White House. It seems that Sickles had discovered, or at least believed, that Key was carrying on a affair with Sickles’ wife Teresa.

sickles

Daniel Sickles

At the trial, his attorneys employed the insanity defense. In his two-day opening statement, attorney John Graham put it this way:

It may be tragical to shed human blood; but I will always maintain that there is no tragedy about slaying the adulterer; his crime takes away the catcher of the occurrence….the fact is now proved in this case that Philip Barton Key seduced the wife of Daniel E. Sickles, and that for that, in a transport of frenzy, Daniel E. Sickles sent him to his long account.

“Transport of frenzy”? I guess that’s sort of like “going postal.” Temporary insanity as it were.

And of course in that state the only logical action would be to send the scoundrel “to his long account.”

Regardless, Graham’s ploy worked and Sickles was acquitted, served out the rest of his term in the House of Representatives, became a Major General in the Civil War, and was later an ambassador to Spain under US Grant—where he supposedly was the lover of Spain’s deposed Queen.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Forensic Psychiatry, Interesting Cases

 

One response to “First Successful Insanity Plea in the US

  1. Sue Coletta

    January 12, 2017 at 5:52 am

    Wow!

    Like

     

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