Before getting into the specifics of my entry today, I feel it’s necessary to state that people who are charged with a crime are innocent until they are proven guilty. Neither am I here to judge. Today, I am going to simply ask a few questions, and offer a few opinions.
There is a trial going on in Miami. Someone named Jason Beckman is accused of murdering his father, South Miami Commissioner Jay Beckman. Jason Beckman has Asperger’s Syndrome.
What is at issue, to me at least, is this:
“The jury will not hear any testimony about Beckman’s Aspergers, a form of autism. The judge won’t permit it and the defense lost a mistrial motion today as Judge Rodney Smith again refused to allow testimony about the defendant’s mental deficiency.”
Is the judge right or wrong?
I am really interested in hearing what people think. The reason is because, as someone who has circulated in the autism community for years, I have heard both sides of the issue whenever someone with autism stands trial.
I usually hear something akin to: “There is no linkage between autism and criminal behavior, therefore any criminal with AS should be treated like any other criminal.”
Or: “S/He committed the crime because s/he has autism and does not understand the consequences of her or his actions.”
I hear these opinions from autistics and non-autistics alike, although my experience is that most people with autism usually have the first opinion. They can be quite hard on themselves.
At any rate, autistics cannot have it both ways, nor can they invoke one belief or the other when it’s convenient.
Or can they?
My opinion is that we have to consider each case separately, because each individual is different.
In one case, a person’s perseverative interest might be a powerful drive for them to commit a crime, BUT they know they are doing wrong and could have controlled their behavior if they really applied themselves.
In another case, perhaps an autistic individual doesn’t know what they are doing, and should be “disciplined” accordingly. Discipline, in this context may mean a firm reprimand (which they may or may not understand) and probation under the supervision of a caregiver (which may really be all that can be done).
In this case, we are talking about murder. I wasn’t there to see it happen, and chances are, no one who reads this entry was there to see it happen. But if, as it has been reported, the accused shot his father to death with a shotgun while his father was showering, it would have been a case of the accused having to get the shotgun from some other part of the house, walk into the bathroom, and shoot his father. Even if this happened in the space of seconds, there was still time for the accused to have second thoughts. In fact, even if the shotgun was already in the bathroom, to pick up the weapon and shoot his father in the face would have allowed a second or two to reconsider pulling the trigger.
“Dobbins said Beckman told a friend that he wanted to kill his father and then make it look like self-defense.”
If this is true, it means that the crime may have been premeditated to some degree. And yet, there’s this:
“State witness Syren also testified that Jason had a propensity of lying, telling wild stories often not true. Syren said, on the stand, that Jason once told classmates that he lived in mansion with a golf course, but in fact lived in a “dilapidated” house with his father.”
So there was the possibility that Beckman was out of his mind.
Knowing the limited facts that have been reported on by the media, what is YOUR opinion about this case? Should we have predetermined rules for dealing with accused criminals with autism when they stand trial? Or should we take each case individually?
Thomas D. Taylor
MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO