KIMT News 3 - During court trials, you often hear about defendants pleading insanity, but , it’s a rare tactic, and one that seldom works. Over the years it has been tried and failed. Michelle Kehoe, Mark Becker, Michael Swanson, and Jordan Johnson all claimed they were insane at the time of murder, but the jury didn’t buy it. They all face a first degree murder charge. Thomas Barlas Jr. broke that trend on Wednesday when he was issued a not guilty verdict.
Cerro Gordo County Attorney, Carlyle Dalen, says he’s never seen the insanity plea work, until Wednesday.
“When you’re claiming that someone is insane at the time they committed an act, you’re saying that they did not have the ability to understand the nature and consequences of their actions, or know right from wrong,” says Dalen.
That ruling doesn’t happen very often. According to the National Center for State Courts, the insanity defense is used in only one percent of trials, and successful in only a fourth of those. Dalen explains one reason why.
“A lot of times you have experts that disagree. If we had a state expert that said no, I think at the time this act was committed, that they were not insane, that they knew the nature of the consequences of their act, there would be a fight,” says Dalen.
When both sides contribute solid evidence, it can be hard to convince a jury, or judge that the defendant is not guilty, when they know who committed the crime. That’s something Joan Becker knows all too well. She’s the mother of Mark Becker, who was found guilty of killing renowned Coach, Ed Thomas in 2009 after entering a plea of insanity.
“When they (jurors) see something so horrible and cruel that happened, how do you wrap your mind around saying that he’s not guilty,” says Joan Becker.
Now, she is advocating for better avenues to get help for those with mental illnesses. She says her family attempted to get Mark help ahead of time, but by the time he could get in, it was too late.
“We knew it was extreme, but it took way too long for him to get to the right place. In fact, he had yet to be diagnosed when this incident occurred,” says Becker.
No matter the court’s decision, she knows her son was mentally unstable at the time of the incident. Becker is also advocating for a ruling, “guilty but insane” so those like her son can get the help they need.
In Barlas Jr.’s case, he was transported to the Iowa Medical Classification center in Oakdale to be evaluated. After 30 days, another hearing will take place to decide where he will go from there.