Exploring the Dark Side


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Exploring the Dark Side

  1. 1. J Exploring the Dark Side "landed barely a scratch on the credibility names, Dietz went on to imply that the His knack for teaching, the ability to and reputation and conclusions of Dr. defense had lost its objectivity in the clearly present his material, enables Phillip Resnick, the man who quite liter- case, ignored or overlooked pieces of Resnick to maneuver effectively through ally wrote the book on the psychology of evidence and asked leading questions in any testimony. But the doctor claims he child killings." the interview process. also comes equipped with the right per- For his part, Owmby, assistant district "It would have been the easier course sonality - specifically, a confident style attorney in Harris County, Texas, says of action to distort the law a little, and a willingness to defend his opinions that before the trial he had read exten- ignore the evidence a little and pretend and undergo the most intense scrutiny sively about Resnick's affinity for going that she didn't know what she did was - to gird himself for the nastiest court- mano-a-mano with a cross-examiner. "I wrong," Dietz told The New York Times. room contests. He adds that nine out of tried to keep his cross-examination as "It was obvious where public opinion 10 psychiatrists are not so equipped. short as possible and not engage in what lay, it was obvious she was mentally ill, "It's not for the timid of heart;' he has said he enjoys: a lively debate with it was obvious where the professional Resnick declares. "In a hospital, a physi- the cross-examiner." Instead, Owmby organizations would like the case to go, cian is very much the king of the hill, and argued that Resnick's finding was not in but it would be wrong to distort the law, his opinions and orders are not ques- accordance with Texas law. to stretch the truth and try to engineer tioned. But in a courtroom, he gets "He's a very analytical, very credible the outcome," he added. pushed around, so it's not an arena most expert;' Owmby says of Resnick. "I am very comfortable in terms of my physicians like to go into:' On the other side of the aisle, George own integrity and testifying honestly "Phil loves what he does so much, J. Parnham, Yates' attorney, says Resnick about how I perceived things;' Resnick he's always the same whether or not he's helped save his client from becoming the counters. "Dr. Dietz and I presented two in the middle of a high-profile case," ninth woman on Texas' death row (Yates different views to the jury, and it was their says Resnick's wife of seven years, Lois, a was sentenced to life imprisonment). responsibility to make the final decision:' magistrate in the Shaker Heights Munic- "Resnick's input, not only during the In October, Resnick will travel to ipal Court. presentation of his testimony, but also in Newport Beach, Calif., Dietz's home- Resnick is fresh from the national the pretrial preparation, was a significant town, where these two heavyweights of spotlight once again, having testified for factor in achieving this result;' says the forensic psychiatry will subject their the defense in the Andrea Yatestrial in Houston-based lawyer. views to the scrutiny of 500 colleagues Houston earlier this year. Resnick testi- James Knoll, M.D., one of Resnick's during a panel discussion of the Yates fied that Yateswas legally insane - suf- former students, says Resnick possesses a case sponsored by the American fering from both schizo-affective disorder "verbal genius;' an uncanny ability to Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. and postpartum depression - when she distill a complex problem into a lucid "I don't think I would be comfortable drowned her five children on the morn- explanation for a jury or a judge. doing that if! didn't believe my findings;' ing of Iune 20,2001. His conclusion It's a trait well matched with his leg- says Resnick. came after approximately 70 hours of endary thoroughness when preparing for evaluation that included a tour of the a case. While evaluating Ted Kaczynski, hillip Resnick did not begin his crime scene and extensive interviews with key players, including two 3 1/2- hour interviews with Yates. Though she knew her act was legally wrong, Resnick concluded, Yates for example, Resnick visited the Unabomber's Montana cabin, inter- viewed his neighbors and reviewed all 22,000 pages of documents in the case, including the defendant's diaries and P career with the intention of probing the evils of the human mind. A good listener who enjoyed when people opened up to him about their per- believed that killing her children would famed manifesto. sonal problems, Resnick decided while at accomplish a "higher good" because it All of which, Resnick relates, is one of Cleveland Heights High School that he would send them to heaven, while the biggest challenges of his job, yet it wanted to enter "a helping profession." Satan, who she thought was living inside "provides a wonderful opportunity to see He majored in psychology on the her, would be killed when she was exe- the window into someone's mind." premedical track at Case Western cuted by the state. "Phil doesn't need to resort to any Reserve University, where he earned his "Human nature wants to hold some antics or emotionality like some expert bachelor of arts degree in 1959. His human being responsible, but the real witnesses do;' says Knoll, director of decision to become a psychiatrist led culprit here is mental illness;' states forensic psychiatry at Dartmouth Medi- him to CWRU's medical school, which Resnick. "It made Andrea so ill that the cal School in Concord, N.H. "His com- he graduated in 1963. killings flowed from it." plete and total mastery of a case is threat- But it was while serving as a captain Though a jury of eight women and ening enough:' in the U.S. Army at Valley Forge Hospital four men convicted Yates, a registered Yet the Yates defense strategy was not outside Philadelphia from 1964 to 1966 nurse, of murder after only 3 1/2 hours without criticism. In a controversial that he began to define his role as a spe- of deliberation, Resnick earned praise April interview with The New York cialist in extreme behaviors. for his work. Times, Dr. Park Dietz, who testified for In his second year, while working on A March online analysis by Andrew the prosecution in the Yates case, said the women's ward, he treated two Cohen, legal consultant for CBSNews.com, the role of a forensic psychiatrist is "to patients who had murdered their chil- suggests that prosecutor Joe Owmby's seek the truth, not to help any party to dren. During his interviews, Resnick nearly two hours of cross-examination the case." Though he failed to name found both women to be loving, caring 134 JUNE 2002
  2. 2. J Exploring the Dark Side mothers who suffered from severe mental sion of the Court of Common Pleas Having trained more than 39 fellows, illness. When neither was held criminally assesses accused criminals for sanity at several of whom now direct divisions of responsible for the killings, Resnick the time of the act and competence to forensic psychiatry at other universities attempted to place them in private insti- stand trial.) or teach at law schools, Resnick finds tutions. Initially, nurses and other staff In 1976, Resnick was named director helping prepare the next generation of strongly opposed admitting the women. of the clinic. Since then, he has consider- forensic psychiatrists especially gratify- Over time, however, the staff got to know ably improved the way the clinic oper- ing. "The single identity that I feel most them and became quite sympathetic and ates, according to proud of and successful caring, Resnick says. Franklin Hickman, in is my role as a That experience exposed Resnick to the senior partner at Hick- teacher;' he says. very visceral reaction - a mix of horror man & Lowder law firm His work has even and fascination - people have to mothers in Cleveland. Resnick inspired his offspring. who kill their children. "In the abstract, a replaced the full-time He's proud to note that child murderer is a monster that stirs a lot psychiatrists with part- each of his children of upset feelings;' he says. "But once they time doctors who rotate went into fields to help are seen as humans who are mentally ill, shifts each week. other people: Heather, it's easier to try to help them:' "These psychiatrists 40, is a psychologist in Resnick's hospital supervisor encour- don't get burned out Chicago; Reuven, 37, is aged him to write an article about child because they're doing a rabbi in Temple Hills, murder as a way to enhance his career other things;' Hickman Md.; and Kimberly is a opportunities. "At that time, I didn't think explains. "That has sig- social worker in of myself as an academician or scholar in nificantly increased the Youngstown who spe- terms of my aspirations, but once I wrote effectiveness and credi- cializes in sexual disor- about that experience, it came into focus;' bility of that program:' ders and offenders. Resnick recalls. He went on to publish Recognition of the Of course, a portion several papers about child murder, which clinic's success even of the fellowship entails continue to be considered the seminal crosses philosophical Resnick imparting his studies of this psychotic behavior. boundaries. Gordon daunting testifying skills After being honorably discharged Friedman, partner in to his students by from the Army, he completed his psychi- the Cleveland-based putting them into simu- atry residency at University Hospitals of Friedman & Gilbert law firm, says he dis- lated courtroom situations and cross- Cleveland in 1969 and began the early agrees with Resnick's "very limited and examining them himself. part of his career as an academic psychia- strict definition of criminal insanity;' yet "The inside joke among his fellows;' trist on the CWRU medical faculty. concedes that Resnick has "created a very relates Knoll, "is that if you can make it But by 1975, Resnick was looking to competent forensic-psychiatry unit for through Phil's fellowship, you have noth- "differentiate himself from being another the county." ing to fear from any lawyer:' run-of-the-mill psychiatrist." So, after Resnick's academic impact also Renee Binder, M.D., professor of psy- hearing a professor'spresentation about extends beyond Northeast Ohio. In chiatry at the University of California, psychiatry and the law, the ambitious 1979, he initiated a fellowship in forensic San Francisco, says Resnick is regarded as young doctor entered CWRU's law psychiatry at University Hospitals and the finest educator in American forensic school. In 1978, after adding a law degree CWRU to bring others into the field. At psychiatry Last year, Binder recom- to his credentials, he accepted a position the time, only six such fellowships mended Resnick for the APA'sprestigious at John Carroll University, teaching a existed in the United States. Today, there Isaac Ray Award in recognition of his course called ''Aggression, Psychiatry and are approximately 35, and the American contributions to the field, including set- the Law."He taught at JCU until 1983 Board of Psychology and Neurology offi- ting a high standard for the ethical prac- and also began lecturing at CWRU's and cially recognizes it as a subspecialty. tice of forensic psychiatry. In May 2001, Cleveland State University's law schools, Resnick's one-year program is now con- Resnick became the most recent recipient all of which he considers key to his pro- sidered the leading forensic-psychiatry of the award, named for one of the fessional development. fellowship in the country, followed by fathers of forensic psychiatry. "Teaching at the undergraduate level those at Harvard and Yaleuniversities. "His talks are wonderful and he is different from the medical school in "Because Phil is so intense and metic- always engages the audience;' says that you teach a whole semester;' Resnick ulous in his work, his fellowship stands Binder, adding with a laugh, "I've heard explains. "So it got me to prepare a num- out as being the most intense, thorough him talk about the same topic multiple ber of instructional videotapes of inter- and detailed," says Jonas Rappeport, times, and every time I learn something views with patients, and it built my con- M.D., a retired forensic psychiatrist in interesting." fidence in lecturing to a group." Baltimore and one of the founders of the Around that same time, Resnick American Academy of Psychiatry and the year after the award, Resnick joined the Court Psychiatric Clinic of Cuyahoga County and Cleveland to com- pletely immerse himself in psychiatric applications in the legal arena. (This divi- Law. (Resnick served as president of the AAPL from 1984 to '85 and continues to teach an annual forensic-psychiatry review course for the organization.) A says things have come full cir- cle for him and the work that started 37 years ago at the continued on page 196 CLEVELAND 135
  3. 3. ~ Exploring the Dark Side continued from page 135 tively formulating opinions on legal issues. as a child or other damaging incidents to Army hospital. During a three-week trip "When I bring in fresh medical or law the criminals themselves. While that does to the Pacific Rim in April, he delivered students who've never sat in the room not excuse the crime, it does make the keynote addresses to the Royal College of with a rapist or murderer before, and offender more sympathetic and less Australian and New Zealand Psychiatry they become uneasy or excited or fearful, monstrous in the eyes of the psychiatrist. in Brisbane, Australia, and the Hong it reminds me that I've become hardened Resnick says that major advances in Kong Society of Psychiatry. In May, he just by virtue of having done it for so the last two decades have increased our was slated to give a one-day course on long," Resnick says. "At this point, it's just understanding of the biology and genet- child murder and insanity to the fabled kind of routine to me." ics of mental illness and medications to Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Still, when pressed, he does recall one treat it. He points out that in 1958, the Academy in Quantico, Va. encounter that shook him. While inter- mean length of stay for a diagnosed Resnick quotes philosopher Friedrich viewing a suspect for the County Court schizophrenic was 13 years in a hospital; Nietzsche to explain the impact of his own Clinic, Resnick learned that the individ- today, it's two weeks. work delving into the darkest demons and ual had raped a CWRU medical school However, there remains a need to delusions of the human mind: "Whoever student. "That was very hard to separate reduce the stigma of mental illness, which fights monsters should see to it that in the myself from;' Resnick admits. "It helped can prevent someone who is capable of process he does not become a monster. me to better understand how the prose- functioning perfectly well from finding a And when you look into the abyss, the cution thinks of criminals:' job or even renting an apartment. abyss also looks into you:' He notes that one of the paradoxes of At 64, Resnick could contemplate Resnick sayshis intimate interactions the legal system is that prosecutors who retirement, but that's not the case - at with hundreds of murders, rapists and deal with victims and their families typi- least not anytime soon. He observes - in others who have committed the most cally seek the most severe punishment the calm tenor voice that helps him con- heinous acts imaginable have had no ill for criminals, while psychiatrists who vey complex aberrant human behaviors effects on his life. Instead, he finds that he perform in-depth interviews with the to a jury - that "people who look for- frequently experiences some degree of pos- people who commit terrible acts come to ward to retirement are those who are glad itive feeling for the person, which he adds understand the acts in a different context to get away from work. But I love my does not interfere with his job of objec- - one that often includes acts of abuse work, so it's like work isn't work at all:' •