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Profile: Robert T.M. Phillips
Robert T.M. Phillips was a participant or observer in the following events:
After authorities determine that Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996 and June 9, 1996), may have attempted to commit suicide in his jail cell, they agree to a psychiatric evaluation of his competence to stand trial and to allow him to seek to conduct his own defense. Kaczynski also agrees to the evaluation. [Washington Post, 1998; Washington Post, 1/8/1998] Until now, he has forcefully resisted attempts by his lawyers to present him as mentally ill (see January 5, 1998). It is believed that Kaczynski tried to hang himself in his cell with his underwear. Kaczynski told jailers that he had “lost” his underwear while in the prison shower; a search of his cell found the underwear stuffed inside a small plastic bag inside his trash can. According to Sacramento County Undersheriff Lou Blanas, the underwear was stretched out of shape consistent with being “used in the type of way we thought he did: putting it around his neck and trying to hang himself.” US Marshals have reported seeing a red rash on the right side of Kaczynski’s throat while he dressed for court, leading them to conclude he had tried to hang himself with the missing underwear sometime before leaving his cell. Kaczynski is now under 24-hour suicide watch. The judge presiding over Kaczynski’s trial, Garland Burrell Jr., is caught between trying to defend Kaczynski’s constitutional rights to participate in his own defense, and protecting Kaczynski from himself and his mental illness. The legal standard for “competency” is quite low: someone diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia, as Kaczynski has been, can still be ruled competent to stand trial. Ronald Kuby, who has stood as defense counsel in high-profile death penalty cases, says: “It is a firm principle of constitutional law… if you’re competent to stand trial you are competent to represent yourself. That’s not competence in the legally talented sense.… [I]t violates 200 years of jurisprudence and basic notions, such as the presumption of innocence, to force an insanity defense on an unwilling defendant.” Psychiatrist Robert T.M. Phillips says: “Insanity is a legal term, not a clinical term. The law defines what the components of insanity are.… Depending on the jurisdiction that you’re in, you could be a flagrant psychotic, quite schizophrenic, and still found legally sane. To the lay person it may not make sense—to some of us in the system it may not make sense. But these are rules of law, not of medicine or science.” [Washington Post, 1/8/1998; Washington Post, 1/9/1998]
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