Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers

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Fawcett Columbine, 1998 - Psychology - 301 pages
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Everyone has felt the urge to kill. Most people don't kill. Some people do. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a psychiatrist and an internationally recognized expert on violence, has spent the last quarter century studying the differences between those who do and those who don't. Among the murderers she has examined are the notorious killers Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, and Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon. Now, she shares her groundbreaking discoveries--and the chilling encounters that led to them.

Guilty by Reason of Insanity is the gripping, brilliantly written true story of Dr. Lewis's search to understand those who kill. The unforgettable cases revealed here clearly illustrate how the disparate elements of brain damage, paranoia, and family brutality combine to create a killer.

It starts at a juvenile court in New Haven. A thirteen-year-old girl--out of the blue, in broad daylight--has stabbed her best friend to death before an audience of gaping classmates. Dr. Lewis convinces her colleague, the eminent neurologist Jonathan Pincus, to help her figure out why. Thus begins a collaboration that continues to this day.

The passion to understand the underpinnings of violence draws the Lewis-Pincus team to the psychiatric and forensic wards of New York City's Bellevue Hospital, and then to prisons around the country--eventually leading to the corridors of death row and to an infamous gallery of condemned killers.

There we meet a thirty-six-year-old woman who forms a sexual attachment to a fourteen-year-old boy. Together, they kidnap, torture, and ultimately murder a teenaged girl. Suddenly, in the midst of the interview with the doe-eyed, soft-spoken murderess, a menacing, male persona appears and Dr. Lewis finds herself face-to-face with her first case of multiple personality disorder, a condition she never before believed existed.

We sit in on the psychiatric evaluation of a condemned boy who, at seventeen, raped and murdered a seventy-six-year-old nun. Only after his death does Dr. Lewis discover the grotesque secrets of his childhood that finally explain his murderous rage and his bizarre choice of victim.

Powerful, controversial, and utterly absorbing--including an intense final interview with an executioner--Guilty by Reason of Insanity is a tour de force, a compelling odyssey of one extraordinary psychiatrist striking a delicate balance between emotion and objectivity. It will forever change the way you think about crime, punishment, and the law itself.

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GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY: A Psychiatrist Probes the Minds of Killers

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A psychiatrist who meets the criminally insane tells all. Lewis, a professor at New York University and Yale, spends a good deal of time examining the most violent among us. Her specialty is violent ... Read full review

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User Review  - neurodrew - LibraryThing

Dr. Lewis is a forensic psychiatrist who has examined, along with Johnathan Pincus, many persons on death rows or incarcerated for very violent crimes. The individuals tend to have been brutalized as ... Read full review


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About the author (1998)

Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D. grew up in New York City. She is a graduate of the Ethical Culture Schools, Radcliffe College, and Yale University School of Medicine. She is a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, a professor at New York University School of Medicine, and a clinical professor at the Yale University Child Study Center. Her studies on violence have been cited in decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is married to Dr. Melvin Lewis, a child psychiatrist and professor at Yale. The Lewises have two children.

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