In the case of State of Georgia vs. Brian Gene Nichols, Brian was convicted on all 54 counts of different crimes all including murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, theft among others. During the trial of a rape case against him, Nichols managed to overpower the officer in whose custody he was assigned, wrestle her gun and fled from the courthouse. Over the course of his escape, he gunned down several other people leaving two dead on the scene. He also stole several vehicles to escape. He was eventually caught and brought to trial. His arrest and consequent trial generated a significant media buzz at the time. He was named the “courthouse killer.” He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. As mentioned above, he was found guilty despite his plea.
Over the course of the trial, his attorneys tried to demonstrate to the jury that he was not of sound mind. They tried to prove the deterioration of his sanity by a series of event that rendered him emotionally devastated. They first presented the previous girlfriend. She had testified that Nichols broke down after she had broken up with him. She recounts the night when he broke into her house and pointed a gun at her and telling her that if she does not take him back he would kill her and himself. Next, they presented his attorney for the rape case against him. He said that he thought that, even at that early point in time before the shootings had happened, he already felt that there was “something wrong” with his former client. The attorney was able to bargain 15 years instead of the 25 Nichols would have been sentenced to if convicted. When he report this to his client, Nichols replied that they should go to trial instead because he’s a very attractive man and he was certain that he will be able to convince the jury. This, the former attorney of Nichols’ said, was his basis for doubting the stability of the latter’s mental state.
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They then presented the psychologist Mark Cunningham, who confirmed that Nichols was in fact delusional. He testified that Nichols’ experiences from childhood may be the root cause of his recent behavior. As a child, Nichols was molested by two members of his close family and was neglected by his parents. His father, Cunningham said, was a drunk and frequently got high from marijuana. He also quoted several excerpts from a paper that Nichols had written in college. The essay revealed what delusions Nichols had been suffering even then. The essay showed that Nichols believed that there was a conspiracy to eradicate the black race which would eventually lead to his resolution that he needed to wage a war against the United States Government.
The psychologist confirmed in his testimony that the emotional stresses Nichols experienced from his childhood and the seeming apathy of his parents toward him had paved the way for his awful acts which culminated in the shooting of several people in the courtroom that day.
However, the jury did not believe him; they found him guilty on all counts. They were however deadlocked on deciding on the death penalty which is why Nichols was instead sentenced to numerous counts of lifetime imprisonment with no chance of parole.
From his testimony, it is clear that Dr. Cunningham was drawing from the Attachment theory. He took pains to demonstrate and emphasize how estranged Nichols was from his parents. They would not testify in his favor when he was accused of rape nor visit him in jail.
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The Attachment Theory basically provides that a secure attachment between a child and his parents or whoever the primary caregiver may be lays the basis for a healthy psychological development. What happened to Nichols was the exact opposite. His parents did not seem to nurture this sense of attachment while he was growing up and the belief that they were indifferent to him was reinforced by their refusal to extend help when he was in jail.
According to Attachment theorists, when children do not get empathy from those around them during the stages of socialization, they come to see others as not deserving empathy as well. This is what makes them prone to inflicting injury upon others with little remorse or maybe none at all. This could very well explain what had happened to Nichols here.
He did not have any qualms hurting those people that he hurt in the course of his escape. In fact, in an interview, he was very upfront about it. The reported even made note of how candid Nichols was about the whole thing. Reading the interview and how Nichols had answered the questions, he seemed very unremorseful; as if he did not know what he had done was bad. Based on his demeanor in the interview, it was as if he thought that these people had to die and did not feel sorry about it.
However, a strong case can also be made that the Self-control theory also fits well with the development of Nichols’ story. Could it be that he was simply unable to contain himself? He said it himself, he was afraid that he was going to be put away for a very long time for a crime he said he did not commit. Could it have been that his fear had grown so much that he could not control this overpowering desire to flee? That fear had pushed him beyond the bounds of reason to a point that he could not control himself?
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Nonetheless, the jury found Nichols guilty. Applying the M’Naughten rule, I believe they ruled correctly. The provides that in order for a person to be considered legally insane the person must prove that he did not know what he was doing at the time or at the very least, did not know that it was wrong. Nichols might have been emotionally disgruntled and maybe even a little mentally unstable, but based on the aforementioned standard, he still knew what he was doing when he gunned down those men and stole the vehicles. Those acts were done in the course of his escape, they were part of a plan which he executed fully. This alone should be proof that, at the time, he knew what he was doing.