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Supreme Court upholds Ariz. insanity law for cop killer

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Arizona's law on the insanity defense is not too restrictive in limiting evidence defendants can present at trial.

By a 6-3 vote, justices affirmed the murder conviction of Eric Clark, who thought he was being pursued by space aliens when he killed an Arizona police officer. Clark, a paranoid schizophrenic who was a teenager at the time, is serving 25 years to life in prison.

Under Arizona's law, defendants "may be found guilty except insane" if they prove they were so mentally ill that they did not know what they did was wrong. Many other states also allow insanity findings for defendants who can show they did not understand the nature of their criminal acts.

Critics had said that Arizona's standard for proving insanity is almost impossible to meet, violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill defendants.

Writing for the majority, Justice David Souter disagreed.

"Arizona's rule serves to preserve the state's chosen standard for recognizing insanity as a defense and to avoid confusion and misunderstanding on the part of jurors," he wrote.

Souter said the state can limit psychiatric testimony to avoid such confusion, given the often dueling opinions of experts and inability of anyone to truly know what is in someone else's mind.

But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said in a dissent that restricting expert testimony deprived jurors of evidence they needed to "make sense" of Clark's claims of mental illness.

"In sum, the rule forces the jury to decide guilt in a fictional world with undefined and unexplained behaviors," Kennedy wrote on behalf of himself and justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

It was the first time the court has dealt with a direct constitutional challenge to insanity defense laws since lawmakers nationwide imposed new restrictions following John Hinckley's acquittal by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of President Reagan.

Four states do not allow for insanity defenses at all: Idaho, Kansas, Montana and Utah.

Clark had a trial before a judge in which he was found guilty of first-degree murder. Part of Clark's appeal turned on whether the judge should have considered mental illness in weighing whether Clark intentionally killed the officer.

Before Clark started acting bizarrely the year before the killing, he was a standout football player and popular student. He began obsessing about the millennium, and ran up his parents' credit cards buying survival supplies. He became convinced that aliens had taken over his town and that his own parents were aliens.

Clark shot Officer Jeff Moritz in Flagstaff, Ariz., on June 21, 2000. Moritz, a 30-year-old father of a toddler, had pulled Clark over as the 17-year-old drove around his neighborhood in a truck playing loud rap music at about 5 a.m.

The case is Clark v. Arizona, 05-5966.


On the Net:

Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/

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