Guilty by Reason of Insanity
Having delivered their verdict, the members of the jury shuffled slowly out of the jury box, the gravity of their judgment reflected in somber, averted faces. Moments before, on this 19th day of December, 1997, the twelve sworn citizens had found 39-year-old Henry Wallace guilty of second-degree murder. Now they were taking their last leave of courtroom number 5750 in the Broward County Courthouse.
Before they could reach the sanctuary of the courtroom's back chamber, however, a strong loud voice broke the silence. "Hey, y'all!" The newly convicted murderer, it seemed, had something to convey. Something he wanted the jurors to hear before they walked out of his life. Something shocking.
"I just want to thank you all for coming! 'Bye now!" Wallace called out.
As anyone who'd sat through the two-week trial -- the prosecutor included -- could attest, there was not the smallest hint of bitterness or sarcasm in Wallace's fond farewell. It was, in fact, heartfelt. "You could tell he was sincere," juror Richard Schweitzer recalls. "We walked out of there and looked at each other and went, 'Whoa....'"
The crime Wallace stands convicted of was a brutal one: the vicious stabbing death of Wallace's housemate in November 1996. The main line of defense at trial was that he had been insane at the time of the killing. This defense failed, and Wallace now faces the prospect of spending much of the rest of his life in prison. (Second-degree murder is a crime for which the minimum sentence guideline is twenty-and-a-half years).
Yet Wallace cares little for that, says Trudy Block-Garfield, the psychologist who interviewed him shortly after the trial. "I confronted him with it. I asked him if he understood that this might mean that he would go to prison for a long time," she says. "The emotion and the effect was the same as if I had asked him to tea."
Indeed, she says, Wallace -- who has a fifteen-year treatment history for paranoid schizophrenia and the intellectual and emotional development of "a ten-to-twelve-year-old" -- doesn't truly grasp what the trial was all about. "I asked him what he thought in his own mind was going to happen now, and he said, 'I'm going to [the South Florida State Mental Hospital in] Chattahoochee for five years, then I'm going to come back, marry my girlfriend Gina, and have a little boy.'"
More important to Wallace was the fact that the jury had vindicated his own firm belief in his own sanity: "The jury said I was sane," he told her. "And I am not crazy." For that he was grateful to them.
As Henry Wallace could probably tell you, if he were in his right mind, the insanity defense is out of style these days. With juries, with defense lawyers, with practically everybody -- except prosecutors. Tom Kern, who prosecuted Wallace, says with an aw-shucks grin, "It's a very tough standard for a defense to meet."
That such a defense was even presented in Wallace's case in the first place is something of an anomaly. "I can't tell you how rare it is to see an insanity defense go to a jury trial," says Cheney Mason, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "I've been doing criminal defense work for a long time, and I can only remember three or four times in the entire state."
But there's good reason why so few insanity defenses are presented to juries: They don't get the results hoped for. "Far less than 25 percent of all legal defenses involving an insanity defense succeed," says Christopher Slobogin, a professor at the University of Florida College of Law. One reason for this, he says, is that defense lawyers, faced with the choice of presenting an insanity defense to a jury or or accepting a plea agreement, usually accept the plea. As much as 90 percent of cases in which the insanity defense is used never go to trial at all, according to national statistics compiled by New York legal expert Henry Steadman in a report entitled "After Hinckley: Reforming the Insanity Defense."
The downhill slide of the insanity defense is nothing new. Most legal experts trace its decline to 1981, the year a jury shocked the nation by finding John Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity in the attempted murder of President Reagan. The spectacle of a purported assassin receiving treatment and help instead of retribution and punishment touched off a powder keg of resentment that blew many existing state laws governing the insanity defense right out of the law books. (Today Hinckley resides in a special ward for the criminally insane at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C.)
Arizona moved the burden of proof in an insanity defense from the prosecution to the defense. The way it used to work was that if a defendant alleged insanity and backed it up with evidence, the burden of proof then fell on the prosecution to prove the defendant was sane beyond a reasonable doubt. Now it's up to the defense not only to provide evidence of insanity but to prove that the defendant was insane with "clear and convincing evidence."
Florida had no need to tighten its insanity-defense laws; these laws were tight already, says Slobogin. In 1977 the Florida Supreme Court rejected insanity defenses that would "excuse from criminal responsibility the defendant who lacks substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirement of the law." Since that time the state has relied upon the relatively strict M'Naghten test, under which defendants claim-ing insanity must be found by the jury to have been unaware of both their actions and the wrongness of those actions at the time of the crime. The instructions provided to the Wallace jury were clear: "A person is considered to be insane when: 1. He had a mental infirmity, disease, or defect. 2. Because of this condition, a. he did not know what he was doing or its consequences, or b. although he knew what he was doing and its consequences, he did not know it was wrong."
Henry Wallace personifies some of the concerns of critics of the M'Naghten test. Howard Finkelstein, assistant chief public defender for Broward County, says this case was the strongest case for an insanity defense he'd heard of in Broward County. "This is unique in my experience, that five psychologists would agree that a defendant was insane. Normally, you can't get five psychologists to agree on anything."
The five psychologists -- only one of whom was a defense witness -- testified that Wallace was legally and clinically insane when he killed John Matthews.
These experts included Block-Garfield, who, in fifteen years of work in psychology for the Broward County courts, has examined thousands of purportedly insane defendants. "Let me tell you, I tend to be tough. I've been doing these evaluations since 1982, an average of three to four a week. And this is only the third or fourth time that I have said somebody was insane."
Similar was the report offered by Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter: "It is my professional opinion that Mr. Wallace was suffering from a major mental illness at the time of the crime. His impaired mental state appears to have compromised his ability to understand the consequences and wrongfulness of his actions. Therefore, in my opinion, he meets the legal criteria for insanity."
In addition to the expert testimony, there was Wallace's treatment history for paranoid schizophrenia that stretched back fifteen years, plus testimony from the grandson of the murdered man that Wallace had experienced an increase in bizarre behavior in the weeks leading up to the murder.
To this, one could also add Wallace's courtroom demeanor. "He'd blurt out in court all these things," recalls alternate juror Michelle Chavarria. "He'd greet you and say hello, say thank you for coming to be a witness. There was one witness, he said 'Yo, man how you doing,' as if he didn't understand what was happening."
Indeed, his whole body language was "uncomprehending," she said. "He kept standing up and sitting down frequently. And when he took a drink, he'd hold the cup up to his face after the water was gone. It was just something that you know a normal person wouldn't do. You could look at him and tell something wasn't right. It's hard to describe."
That's a phrase that crops up often when it comes to Henry Wallace. Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Frank Illarazza, who testified as a prosecution witness, says, "If you look at him, it appears he has some sort of problem, but it's not like he's jumping around. You can just tell something's wrong with him. It's hard to describe."
On November 17, 1996, Wallace's abnormalities were easy to describe: Standing in the westbound lane of McNab Road near the corner of Rock Island Road, "he was doing touchdown signals and signaling that he was making a left turn. He was making hand movements in different manners," according to Sgt. John Fry of the Margate Police Department.
Fry had been driving to work in a marked patrol car when he saw Wallace, who was shirtless and covered in blood. "He almost got hit by several cars when he went across McNab from the south side to the north side. Again, I could see him screaming and yelling at the people."
"Feeling that something definitely was amiss here," Fry called for backup and then pulled up alongside the man, "Hey, buddy, I need to talk to you," he said. In response Wallace "looked at me and basically blew me off. When he saw me, he started speeding up the walk almost to a speed walk."
If escape was in Wallace's mind at that point, it was a forlorn thought. There would be no getting away. Within seconds Fry was out of the car, Wallace was down on the curb, and backup was on its way.
During the arrest and in detention, Wallace was restless, getting up, moving around, talking in spurts. He told officers he'd gotten into a fight with his housemate.
A fight it may have been, but a contest it was not, as Broward County sheriff's officers discovered when they arrived to search the duplex where Wallace lived at 7041 SW 20th St., about half a mile from where he had been found raving in the street. Outside the kitchen area, detectives found no signs of violence in the house, leading them to surmise that whatever happened, happened fast. Inside the kitchen, they found concentrated savagery.
Next to the refrigerator lay John Matthews, sprawled faceup on top of the knife that killed him, dressed in blue jeans and socks, dead of seventeen stab wounds to the chest, stomach, and arms. Blood was everywhere -- smeared on the refrigerator, spattered on the cupboards, pooled on the patterned brown-and-gold linoleum floor. The door to the laundry room was blown off its hinges, its wooden jamb shattered and torn.
There was little doubt that Wallace had done it. He admitted that to Illarazza shortly after being brought into the Broward County Jail. "He started telling me, 'It was self-defense. I punched him,'" Illarazza says. Then Wallace made a horizontal motion with his hands. "I asked him, 'You stabbed him?' -- 'Yes.'" Wallace told police that Matthews had come at him with a knife, that he had taken it away and then "punched" Matthews three times. On the basis of Wallace's own statements, a grand jury soon returned an indictment against him for first-degree murder.
The year following the murder was taken up with legal maneuvering and competency hearings. In May, Judge James I. Cohn ruled that Wallace was incompetent to stand trial after a team of psychologists reported that he was psychotic and unaware of the circumstances. Wallace was sent to Chattahoochee for treatment. In July the medical director there informed the court that Wallace had responded to treatment with antipsychotic drugs and was now aware of his surroundings. Wallace was returned to Broward and a hearing was held. This time he was found competent.
During these months investigators for both the defense and prosecution had been talking to neighbors, friends, and relatives. They were trying to build a picture of the relationship between Wallace and Matthews, two men who had shared a duplex -- indeed, a life -- for fifteen years.
What they found in Wallace's and Matthews' old neighborhood was outrage that Wallace was on trial. "That is not fair," says Rose Verdejos, who lived across the street from the two men. "That is not fair. Henry has a mental problem. He had been been mistreated. He had nowhere else to go. He don't have no family -- nobody wants him -- and that man used Henry."
During the ten years she lived next door to Henry Wallace, Penny Portala says the one constant in his life was his desire to be just like everybody else. "All Henry ever wanted was for people to think of him as normal -- a normal guy with a normal life, a normal job, and a normal girlfriend."
If so, his methods were flawed. The neighbors say Wallace used to howl at the sky at the top of his lungs -- "I'm no fuckin' loony!" -- while riding his bike. He would then dismount and kiss the ground. Wallace shouted that sort of thing all the time, neighbors agree. When not on his bike, he'd poke his head out the front door of the duplex and shout the "no loony" slogan or something else just as strange. Wallace had a number of private mantras of inscrutable purpose that he liked to yell in public before retreating inside and banging the door shut hard behind him.
And not just occasionally; this was something that happened "60 to 70 times" on an average day, says Larry Carroll, John Matthews' grandson, who lived with the two men during the months preceding the killing.
Portala recalls lying on her couch and being able to track Wallace's progress around the block on his bike just by his nonstop yelling. He shouted at the sky, at strangers, at animals.
Nobody in the neighborhood seemed to know where Wallace had come from. He'd always been part of the landscape in this tucked-away, working-class parcel of unincorporated Broward County, a place of curbless streets where the most familiar sounds were the laughing of children and the jingling of the ice cream truck.
Wallace told stories about having been raised in New York and having served a stint in the Army, but nobody in the neighborhood knew how much of that was true.
It was hard to know what to believe because many of his stories were patently incredible. His father, he bragged, was the president of something called Republic Steel, a man who could recite all of Shakespeare's plays from memory.
According to the evaluation of Dr. Bourg Carter, however, Wallace was actually born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, the only child of a father who died when Wallace was seven and a mother who died seven years ago. For the past eighteen years, he has lived in South Florida, and he has been an outpatient at Nova Clinic for the past eight years. For paranoid schizophrenia he takes the psychotropic medications Haldol, Trilafon, Artane, and Cogentin.
His neighbors knew little of that, however. All they knew was that he'd lived with Matthews for as long as anybody could remember. Matthews, a wealthy man nearly twenty years Wallace's senior, provided him with room and board in return for his $400 monthly disability check. It wasn't clear just how Wallace and Matthews had first hooked up; sometime in the mid-'80s, Wallace had shown up on Matthews' doorstep looking for a room to rent, and that was that. By 1996 their shared household was just one of the givens of the neighborhood.
No one knew all that much about Matthews either, for that matter. He was a divorced man who seemed to have a lot of money, always driving a shining white Lincoln Town Car and wearing gold jewelry and chains.
Marie Matthews, John's ex-wife, says he worked for twenty years as a checker at Publix. He was good with money, she says, and had invested well in stocks and also inherited money. In addition to the duplex on SW 20th Street, he owned a condo on the beach in Palm Beach County and a small apartment in Margate, which he rented out.
Matthews mostly kept to himself, though, neighbors say. "He never seemed to ever have anything to say to anybody," says Smith, adding that Matthews tried to keep Wallace under his thumb as well.
But, for all the shouted vulgarity, Wallace was a friendly guy and a popular one among both children and their parents. "He was charming," says Portala. "He was entertaining. He was somebody that it was just fun to be around."
He was also at times sweet-natured and helpful. Next-door neighbor Hartsell Smith recalls that if Wallace ever saw him out raking the yard, he would walk up and take the rake right out of his hand. "Here, Smitty, let me do take care of that for ya," Smith recalls him saying. Anthony and Rose Verdejos, who lived around the corner, let Wallace play with their kids all the time.
In recent years, however, there were signs that Wallace was deteriorating, Portala says. When she first met Wallace in 1987, he seemed to care about his appearance, always taking the trouble to dress nicely and comb his hair. He worked out regularly on an exercise machine that sat out in the front yard.
Portala moved away for a couple of years in the early '90s, and when she moved back in 1993, she noticed a change in Wallace. He seemed more decrepit, dirtier, less concerned about his appearance. Wallace would wear the same clothes day after day, something he never would have done when she first met him. Now, "he looked like any bum you'd see on the streets," she says.
Portala noticed other signs that he was waning. He seemed less able to hold a normal conversation. He shouted more often, talked to God more often, slammed doors all the time. Carroll also noticed Wallace's decline, saying he appeared to get "worse and worse and worse" as time went on. He didn't want to take his medication during this time and was acting "really, really paranoid."
Portala was worried. "I could tell that something was going to snap in him. But I just thought he was going to run away. I didn't think it would come to this."
Five local psychologists probed Wallace's mind, his actions, his statements, and his former living situation. All agreed that Wallace was insane at the time of the crime.
The softest of the recommendations came from Dr. William Ryan, who expressed his thoughts in terms of probability. "I said there was a 51 percent chance that Henry was legally insane when he killed John Matthews," he said.
Block-Garfield said Wallace's state of mind was influenced by what she believes was an unwanted sexual relationship with Matthews.
This relationship, she says, was "abusive" on its face because of Wallace's diminished capacity. "Emotionally, he's a ten- or a twelve-year-old, and this [relationship] was as voluntary as if [Matthews] had been having sex with a ten- or twelve-year-old. The state would never buy that, and I don't see a distinction -- I'm sorry."
Evidence of such a relationship comes mainly from Portala, who says Wallace admitted it to her one day while trying to console her over the breakup of her marriage to a man she claims had been abusive. "He said, 'You know Penny, I know what it feels like. John makes me have sex with him, and I don't want to. I hate it.' So I said, 'Well why don't you just leave, Henry?' He just shook his head."
Wallace did, in fact, try to leave Matthews several times, according to court records. But he always came back. Wallace couldn't survive on his own, Carroll said in his deposition. "He had been known to give money away. He gave clothes away. Like when he packed his stuff to leave, he packed it in garbage bags or anything. And when he came back, he had no clothes."
Portala says, "John always told Henry that he was stupid and crazy. He made sure that Henry believed that without John, he'd end up in an institution."
Maria Matthews, who now lives in Georgia, denies that John was ever gay. "I should have known," she says. He never displayed any homosexual tendencies: "No, not through thirteen years we were married."
But Carroll says that one day, about a year before the murder, his grandfather admitted being bisexual. Wayne Corry, the defense lawyer, asked, "How did it come to your attention that your grandfather was bisexual?" And Carroll answered, "It really didn't. Well, it did, I guess. He told me at one time." Carroll also said Wallace admitted having "made mistakes" with men. Plus, detectives found a trove of homosexual pornography in the house, says Detective Illarazza.
Portala tells the story of having Wallace knock on her door one night in 1992 with a girl on his arm. He'd just come back from the beach, ("He loved hanging out on the beach," Portala says) and this time he'd brought a girl back with him on the bus.
Wallace asked Portala if he could come in and sit with the girl for awhile. "She was cute," Portala recalls. "I said 'Why don't you just take her home,' and Henry said John wouldn't let him have any girls in the house." So she let them come in and sit on the couch.
After a couple of minutes, however, "John came by and peeked in the windows and saw Henry sitting there. He yelled, 'Henry, get your... over here right now!' And Henry ran right home. He was scared. I ended up having to drive the girl home."
Edna Smith, Hartsell's wife and Portala's mother, testified that the night before the murder she heard Wallace screaming, "All you want to do is fuck me, and that's all you want!"
Psychologist Carter speculated on the effects of a possible pattern of unwanted sexual advances on Wallace's state of mind. "The motivation for his actions... is unclear and may never truly be known. It may have been in response to a physical attack by the deceased [as claimed by Wallace] or it may have something to do with unwanted sexual advances by the deceased toward Mr. Wallace. Testimony indicates that there may be a history of both behaviors."
To Corry, Wallace's court-appointed attorney, the undivided opinion of the experts seemed a reasonably solid case for an insanity defense, so he decided to risk going to a jury.
Still, he didn't feel comfortable betting everything on one hand, so he also tried to offer the jury a second option. If they didn't believe he was insane, they should find him not guilty because he was acting in self-defense. He couldn't very well drop this claim, because Wallace had already told police the killing was in self-defense.
As it turned out, this may have been a mistake. More than any single piece of testimony, it was Wallace's claim to self-defense and his actions after his apprehension that got him convicted, says juror Zena Silverman.
Shortly after booking Wallace into jail, Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Chris Murray said in a deposition that he left Wallace in the room alone with a tape recorder running, and that Wallace talked nearly the whole time.
Sometimes it seemed as if he were talking to himself, Murray said. Other times Wallace looked up at the ceiling as if he were talking to God. His words were a running commentary on his thoughts: "They can't prove shit. I'm guilty as hell, but I'm not going to tell them. It doesn't matter who died here. Prisons are full of fucking people, so what's one more. That will teach him not to fuck with me like that. Just keep your cool. O.J. got away with it, and he's a football player. I'm guilty as sin. Forgive me. Fuck them. They didn't see shit in here."
Wallace also tried cutting himself with a torn-open soda can, Murray testified. "It wasn't real aggressive, brutal fashion, but it was just like picking at his wrist with the sharp portion of the can that had been broken."
Kern, the prosecutor, told the jury that this had been an attempt by Wallace to wound himself in a way that would seem like a defensive wound. This fit neatly with another powerful piece of evidence that was presented to jurors. At one point Corry had approached Kern with photographs of a wound to Wallace's face. This was a defensive wound, Corry said, and he was going to enter it into evidence to bolster a case of self-defense.
Kern went back into the police files and dug up a photograph of Wallace that had been taken shortly after he'd been taken into custody. In this photograph Wallace had no wound on his face at all.
This struck a chord with jurors. "Look at what he did after they arrested him," says juror Zena Silverman. "He tried to cut his face up so they'd think it was a defensive wound."
Block-Garfield says she believes the jury failed to account for the effects that a possible history of sexual victimization may have had on Wallace. "Those who are sexually abused do tend to self-mutilate. That's what they do."
But at least one juror never believed that Wallace had ever been abused. "[The defense] tried to sell us on the fact that he was abused," says Richard Schweitzer. "I never did consider that at all. It was hearsay. [Wallace and Matthews] were never seen in that context."
The most powerful testimony as to the pattern of abuse was Portala, who did not testify in the trial. Corry says he saw no reason to call her as a witness, because her testimony as to Wallace's abuse at the hands of Matthews was reflected in the psychologists' reports.
Although Corry did submit Portala's deposition (which she gave under the name Penny Carrube, her married name at the time) into evidence, it apparently didn't have much of an impact on the jury. Three weeks after the trial, for example, Zena Silverman does not even recall her name. "Penny who? No, I don't recall her. What did she say?"
And the most vocal denial of a homosexual relationship between Wallace and Matthews came from Wallace himself. "When we asked him about it, he completely denied it," says Illarazza. "He adamantly denied it. I think Henry was too embarrassed to admit it. It's too bad; that could have been an excellent defense."
Wallace's denials were consistent with the things he had said his entire life: he wasn't a loony, and he wasn't gay. In his deposition Carroll said that Wallace often yelled, "I don't need this gay shit. I'm no gay cocksucker." Wallace did this "too many times to count." He also often yelled, "I can't be gay, because I'm a roofer, and roofers aren't gay."
As to the psychologists' testimonies about the potential impact of a sexual relationship in which Wallace was a reluctant participant, these apparently didn't have much of an impact either. "Textbook this, textbook that -- we just didn't buy it," says Schweitzer. Early in their deliberations, a few jurors -- Schweitzer included -- were leaning toward manslaughter, he says, but they gradually moved toward the more serious second-degree murder.
Silverman says she was concerned that a manslaughter verdict would leave Wallace without the long-term help he obviously needed. "With manslaughter you get out in a few years, and what would he [Wallace] do then? There was no way he could take care of himself," she says.
When the jury's verdict was announced, Portala says, "Everybody was shocked. Wayne Corry called me up and said everybody in the courthouse was shocked."
Chavarria was also surprised. "I sat through the whole thing, and I really thought he should have been found not guilty by reason of insanity. I talked with the other alternate, and he had been thinking the same thing." Prosecutor Kern says that this is common with alternates. "They don't go through the deliberations, and their opinions are -- I won't say tainted -- but influenced by talking to others and reading news accounts."
According to Schweitzer the jury never came close to returning a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. "He knew he'd done something wrong," says Schweitzer.
Some legal experts wonder whether the verdict would have been different if the semantics of the insanity defense had been different. For the last couple of years, a move has been afoot to have the verdict "not guilty by reason of insanity" changed to "guilty but insane." Part of the problem with the current terminology is that juries aren't comfortable saying somebody who obviously committed a crime is not guilty, says Cheney Mason of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL).
There would be no legal difference between a "guilty but insane" verdict and a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict. The only change would be semantic.
The criminal defense lobby supports this change, but not too vocally, says Donnie Murrell, past president of the FACDL. Legislators have proven leery of suggestions coming from defense lawyers because of the perceived unpopularity of the people the lawyers defend. "Come on -- we're received as if we're talking about letting loose the scum of the earth," he says.
Howard Finkelstein says that isn't the case. "It isn't as if a 'not guilty' verdict means that he would be let loose. It just means that he would be treated instead of punished for something he had no control of."
At this point Henry Wallace still doesn't understand what happened to him. On January 13, Judge Cohn found him incompetent to be sentenced after reading a report from Block-Garfield in which she stated her belief that Wallace is unaware of his circumstances.
But Wallace has been found incompetent before, after which he has improved with proper medical treatment at Chattahoochie. Corry thinks that will happen again. "They'll bring him back," he says.
Block-Garfield is worried about what will happen to Wallace then. She doesn't think he'll ever be able to survive in a regular prison population. "What I think will happen is that when he goes to prison, they'll recognize very quickly that he doesn't belong in the normal population." And then? "Then they'll put him in the prison hospital.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.