The Trench Reynolds Report

All Crime Is Personal

Teen guilty in Rocori killings to challenge murder conviction:

John Jason McLaughlin, the Minnesota teen sentenced to life in prison for the shootings of Rocori High students Seth Bartell and Aaron Rollins, is now challenging the insanity law used in Minnesota. If you remember McLaughlin was found sane in the killings. His attorney is now arguing that the insanity law, known as the M’Naghten Rule, is outdated and doesn’t apply to juveniles…

McLaughlin’s attorney, Davi Axelson, is expected to challenge the sentence.

“The M’Naghten Rule is outdated for everyone, but it’s worse when it’s considered for a 15-year-old, whose brain may not fully develop until the age of 21,” said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, a mental-health advocate. Greiling said she plans to again introduce a bill seeking to update the M’Naghten Rule or replace it with a standard developed by the American Bar Association.

We’re not talking about a toddler here. We’re talking about a 15-year-old boy who made the conscious choice to shoot and kill two other students, one at point-blank range. Most people know by the age of 15 that shooting and killing someone is illegal.

More information on the M’Naghten Rule…

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who is among the many Minnesota county attorneys who support the M’Naghten Rule, counters: “It’s clearly the best test out there.”

According to the M’Naghten Rule, only people who do not know right from wrong or who do not understand the nature of their acts can be found not guilty by reason of mental illness. People found legally insane are then committed indefinitely to a secure mental hospital rather than a prison.

Twenty-eight states use the rule or a variation of it because “it’s such a simple, easily understood concept,” Backstrom said. “Other tests focus on ambiguous terms or are subject to experts’ opinions. M’Naghten is pretty straightforward.”

Now let’s hear from the Helen Lovejoy’s of the world…

But that doesn’t mean it’s not outdated, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota branch of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

“Even England doesn’t use it anymore,” she said. “The M’Naghten standard is so strict. It’s: Do you know right from wrong? What if you do … but the voices inside your head override what you know is right and wrong? So, you don’t meet the standards.

“The children’s thing is a whole other issue. As a society, we have to decide, Do we treat children differently? And what is the cutoff?”

Except for the fact that McLaughlin didn’t hear voices in his head. He was faking it specifically for an insanity plea. Is this really the kid you want to use as your poster boy to challenge the M’Naghten Rule? One who wasn’t crazy, to begin with?

Luckily the Minnesota Supreme Court has summarily rejected challenges like this to the M’Naghten Rule.

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