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Monday, August 31, 2009

Evil or insane?

Anyone who reads this blog has undoubtedly also been following the sickest new item of the past week, the kidnapping of 11 year old Jaycee Dugard by Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy. Dugard was held a captive for 18 years, during which time she bore Garrido two daughters, now aged 11 and 15. The two young girls lived in a rabbit warren of tents behind the Garrido house, and had extremely limited contact with the outside world.

Dugard was called "Alyssa" and helped Garrido with his printing business. She had contact with his customers, who assumed that she was his daughter, and evidently did most of the work involved. She evidently could have escaped but didn't, which seems a perfect illustration of the Stockholm Syndrome. Dugard is now said to have "strong feelings" for Garrido, although she also feels guilty about those strong feelings. Her mother, with whom she has now been reunited, is said to be upset that her daughter is not the same girl she knew before.

To me, the most interesting question is whether Phillip Garrido is insane or just evil (the two are not mutually exclusive). He has claimed that he has spoken to God. (There are plenty of sane-but-evil-and-greedy televangelists who have made this claim.) At one point he hired a private investigator to corroborate his belief that he could control sound waves with his brain. Both beliefs are, of course, delusional, though it's always possible that was merely laying the groundwork for a future insanity plea.

Garrido was excellent at manipulation, which is a trait of sociopaths. His wife Nancy was described by neighbors as an automaton who merely did Garrido's bidding. He was successful at brainwashing the young Jaycee, although it takes less persuasive ability to control an 11 year old. Most tellingly, he was able to prevent police and parole officers from investigating the rabbit warren of (partially hidden) tents in his backyard. Garrido must have been quite convincing as a "reformed" man.

The local police are now issuing mea culpas and beating themselves up -- as well they should be.

The problem for sociopaths, though, is that the more one gets to know them, the more repulsive they are. Around the neighborhood Garrido was known as "Creepy Phil," partly because of his religious rants, partly because the neighbors knew that he was a convicted sex offender.

How did Garrido turn out this way? His mother was undoubtedly a strong influence. She has spent the last six years in an old age home, suffering from dementia, but before that lived with Garrido and his wife. The mother must have known about the girls living in the backyard, but she did nothing about it. And if she was that accepting of character fault as an older woman, she must have been the same during Phillip's formative years. The word "enabler" comes to mind.

Garrido is certainly sane enough to stand trial. He tried to hide his crimes, and that is the ultimate measure of sanity. If you know that what you did was wrong, and are sly enough to hide your crimes, then you're definitely sane enough to stand trial. He can spend the rest of his life controlling sound waves from his jail cell. If I were him, I'd stay there, too, because other inmates tend not to be overly fond of child molesters.

The authorities are now investigating whether Garrido may also be a serial killer.

The two little girls seem to be in bad shape. Garrido was originally caught because onlookers reported that the two little girls with whom he was handing out religious literature at UC Berkeley seemed to be acting like automatons. Investigators have since found that when they tried to interview the two girls, they wouldn't make eye contact with anyone. Who knows what the future holds for them.

My guess is that Jaycee will recover. After all, she had her mother's love for the first eleven years of her life, and now that she is away from Garrido, sanity should return to her life. Perhaps she will be able to bring some semblance of normalcy to her daughter's lives as well, though that seems less likely.

Addendum, 9/1/09: This morning's NY Post reported that Garrido's father said that Garrido was normal until age 15, when he suffered serious head injuries in a motorcycle accident, at which point he became violent and obsessed with sex. It may be that the father is helping set up an insanity defense, but his earlier comments certainly didn't suggest he was on his son's team. If in fact Garrido effectively became a sociopath because of head injuries, he wouldn't be the first. In the nineteenth century there was a famous case involving a railroad engineer, Phineas Gage, who underwent a similar transformation. Gage was involved in an accident in which a tamping iron was driven through the frontal lobe of his brain. He survived, and evidently retained his logical faculties afterward but his personality changed for the worse, and he became very intemperate and childlike. It's possible that Garrido also had frontal lobe damage which affected his personality similarly. Garrido reportedly also took LSD, which may also have contributed to his delusions.


Anonymous said...

"Garrido is certainly sane enough to stand trial. He tried to hide his crimes, and that is the ultimate measure of sanity."

I agree completely. I am outraged by the possibility of him being considered unfit to stand trial.
The fact that Elizabeth Smart's kidnappers have not been tired so far, only means that there is something wrong with our justice system. The fact that parole officers or police on other occasions have visited Garrido's house and never made it past the front door is mindboggling!
What a shame!

John Craig said...

Thanks for your comment. I had vaguely remembered her name, but not the details of the case, so I just read up on it. Yes, it is outrageous that her kidnappers were deemed mentally incompetent. They were competent enough to kidnap Elizabeth, disguise her, and stay on the run for a significant period. And both have refused medication which might make them better. Crazy like foxes.