Using Multiple Personality Disorder as Legal Defense

ByABC News

K N O X V I L L E, Tenn., May 1, 2002 -- — Police heard the confession on tape: A man said he raped and strangled a woman.

After that, "I throwed her down and left her lying there," said the loud and angry voice on tape.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed that the voice belongs to Thomas Huskey, who pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder. But Huskey's lawyers said that the man confessing was someone else: another personality who lives inside Huskey's body, but is completely beyond his control.

Was Huskey inventing another persona, completely changing his tone and vocabulary as part of a ploy for acquittal or a more lenient sentence, or does he suffer from multiple personality disorder?

Primetime explored the Huskey case as part of a broader question: whether multiple personality disorder is a valid defense, or simply a clever ruse by criminals who are also good actors.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

In the early 1990s, four women were viciously killed, some of their bodies bound and mangled in the outskirts of Knoxville. Huskey was charged with the attacks on the women, three of whom were known prostitutes.

Other prostitutes claimed Huskey took them to the same spot, and he was also found with some rope and jewelry that the prosecution claims can be linked to the slayings. Then there is the tape: Prosecutors said it is the recorded voice of Huskey, confessing in chilling and remorseless detail.

But defense lawyers Gregory Isaacs and Herbert Moncier said the man on the tape is not Huskey at all. Huskey may have been speaking, they said, but the words were coming from an alter ego that had taken control of Huskey's body, a completely different personality named "Kyle." And even though "Kyle" confesses to murder on the tape, the defense attorneys said it is not proof that Thomas Huskey — a soft-spoken and reserved man — committed any crime.

"You can call me a goddamn son of a bitch, as long as you don't call me Tommy," said the voice on the recording. "You can't get me and Tommy mixed up. You can't get that goody-goody little son of a bitch mixed up with me!"

The defense said that other personalities had emerged in interviews by police and defense experts, including an Englishman called Phillip Daxx, and a homosexual interested in pornography named "Timmy." The defense said that Huskey, who claimed to experience fierce headaches and blackouts, suffered from multiple personality disorder, which is clinically referred to as dissociative identity disorder.

If, as the defense argued, Huskey suffered from mental illness, according to Tennessee law, he would not be "responsible for criminal conduct, if at the time of such conduct, as a result of a mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."

The Prosecution

Prosecutors called their own expert witnesses. Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a psychiatrist in private practice, said he believes that a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder is very rare, and using it as a legal defense is "an embarrassment to the whole profession" of psychiatry.

Huskey, he told jurors, is not a victim of the disorder, nor did a separate personality kill four women outside Knoxville. Rather, he said, Huskey is simply a psychopath trying to pull of a sham.

"'Kyle' is a figment of his imagination," he said in his courtroom testimony. Even the most unlikely people, Spiegel argued, can be capable of a brilliant imagination and a stunning performance.

"I think he has an incredible ability to manipulate people," said Spiegel. "He is now, if anything, manipulating the whole state of Tennessee."

To show that the other personalities were just a hoax, the prosecution called William Fletcher, a convicted rapist and a jailmate of Huskey's.

"He told me he was going to play crazy and act like he had blackouts, because he knew they didn't give the electric chair to crazy people," said Fletcher. "He said he thought that would be the best thing to do."

Prosecutor Randy Nichols argued that the multiple personality defense is nothing but an excuse. The evidence, he said, demands a guilty verdict.

The Defense

But defense attorneys asked: How could an uneducated man with a low I.Q. improvise so many characters with distinct styles, histories and vocabularies? Huskey, they said, did not remember killing anybody. In fact, they argued, Huskey didn't even know about the murders. The tapes, they said, were simply evidence that Huskey is mentally ill.

To further support their claim, defense attorneys showed jurors psychiatric reports that described Huskey as "possibly schitzophrenic," and pointed to his 1984 divorce from a woman who noted his mood swings and "scary split personality."

Dr. Robert Sadoff, one of the nation's top forensic psychiatrists, told jurors he had been with Huskey before when "Kyle" emerged.

"It's the same body, but his facial expressions were different," said Sadoff. "He was angry, he was vicious, he was violent, both in speech and lunging and trying to get at us to hurt us."

Sadoff also said that Huskey used his left hand to write, but "Kyle" was right-handed.

"If indeed Kyle did commit these acts," said Sadoff, "Thomas Huskey, at the time of the commission of the acts, would have lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the acts."

The Jurors' Deliberation

Deliberations went on for five days, the longest in state history, as jurors circled around the same questions.

"It is a very difficult decision, and people saw it in diametrically opposed ways," said Leslie Boone, a juror.

Even if Huskey had dissociative identity disorder, said juror Carolyn Vaugn, "Could he control 'Kyle' coming out? … I didn't think they gave us enough evidence to make a good decision."

The jurors finally sent a note to the judge indicating that they could not reach a unanimous decision. Five of the 12 jurors voted that Huskey was guilty and sane, while four deemed him not guilty by reason of insanity. Three never really decided since it was clear the group would never agree.

Frustrated jurors told Primetime they felt that the system itself was the problem. They had only two choices for Huskey: guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. They had no option, they said, of recognizing Huskey's illness while also holding him responsible for the crimes.

"He's guilty by reason of insanity," said Vaughn, "which only changes what happens to him afterward. It doesn't say he didn't do it."

Charlotte Trainer, another juror, agreed. "I really do feel that if we'd had that third option of guilty but insane, I feel very definitely that many of the jury would have gone with that."

But there were stories the jurors never heard.

A one-time prostitute told Primetime that Huskey almost killed her. Another former prostitute said that Huskey took her to the Knoxville Zoo, where he beat and raped her.

She said she was saved when a mail truck happened to pull up, and Huskey fled. She said she has no doubt it was Huskey, and that he never mentioned anyone named "Kyle."

"There's no other person in him," said another prostitute. "He's just a rotten, dirty, excuse my language, bastard! That's it."

The jurors also never heard that Huskey was previously tried for raping three other prostitutes: one more at the zoo, and the other on Cahaba Lane, where the bodies of the four slain women were later discovered. In Huskey's rape trial, there was never a mention of multiple personality disorder, and he was convicted.

"Knowing now what I know, I believe definitely that he was guilty and sane at the time he did it," said Trainer.

Huskey's lawyers said they wanted to introduce his multiple personality disorder in the rape trials, but the judge made it too difficult. Huskey is currently in prison on the rape convictions, which his lawyers are appealing.

As for the murder charges, Huskey will face another set of jurors in a retrial.

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