List of serial killers who used the insanity plea in their defense. Although pop culture often depicts the insanity plea as a common occurrence in the legal universe, it’s actually one of the rarest methods of defense. In order to prove an insanity plea, the defense must show that the killer either did not realize what he or she was doing, but also that they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Very few insanity pleas have worked in murder defenses and even fewer in the case of serial killers. Most killers who have pleaded insanity have found themselves with a death sentence anyway.
When there is mounting evidence against a serial killer, sometimes the insanity defense is the best way to try to stay off death row.The defense, however, ensures that the criminal must admit that they committed a crime, so a later not-guilty plea is difficult or impossible. Even in cases where a killer has been found not guilty by reason of insanity, serving time in a mental hospital is required. In some cases, like with Albert Fish, the jury may acknowledge the killer is insane, but find them guilty anyway.
Which serial killers have plead insanity? The dangerous killers on this list used insanity pleas to defend themselves in court.
When Anthony Sowell was on trial for killing 11 women, he pled insanity. Ultimately, Sowell, who buried the bodies around his Cleveland home, couldn't prove that he didn't know the difference between right and wrong and was convicted.
Birthplace: East Cleveland, Ohio, United States of Americasee more on Anthony Sowell
Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub. She was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison. Since she was suffering from postpartum depression, she was able to plead insanity in a 2006 retrial. Yates is currently in a mental hospital.
Birthplace: Houston, Texas, United States of Americasee more on Andrea Yates
David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, claimed that a demon dog told him to kill young girls. Psychiatrists called him delusional, but the courts allowed him to stand trial. He spent a few months at a psychiatric hospital, but was transferred to Attica soon after.
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of Americasee more on David Berkowitz
Jeffrey Dahmer murdered, dismembered, raped, and cannibalized 17 men between 1978-1991. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity but he was still convicted to life in prison.
Age: Died at 34 (1960-1994)
Birthplace: West Allis, Wisconsin, United States of Americasee more on Jeffrey Dahmer