The New York area's premier forensic psychologistthe expert prosecutors turn to when a defendant claims insanitylooks back over her most celebrated cases to deliver a no-holds-barred critique of recent insanity defense abuses. Zeroing in on cases such as the Menendez brothers and Jeffrey Dahmer, Kirwin shows how unscrupulous defense attorneys and overzealous prosecutors have perverted the true purpose of the insanity defense. of photos.
A former narcotics parole officer turned forensic psychologist, Kirwin has a 20-year record as a fake buster, specializing in spotting the phonies who try to plead insanity. Her job is to "cull the killers who have no inkling of the wrongfulness of their crime from those who know exactly what they have done. In other words, I try to separate the mad from the bad." It's a grueling task consisting of ten or more hours of face-to-face interviews, hours of standard psychological tests, meetings with family and friends, interviews with families of victims, and a study of case files, press clippings, along with medical, employment and school records as far back as kindergarten. Kirwin exposes the increasing abuse of the criminal insanity defense, with an entire chapter devoted to the problems raised by the "designer defense," a carefully fabricated insanity plea tailored to present the defendant as victim. She also comments on "media irresponsibility" and reviews some of her own cases (like Long Island serial killer Joel Rifkin) but also comments on the Menendez brothers, Susan Smith, Colin Ferguson and Jeffrey Dahmer in her discussions. The problem is that just when the reader gets hooked on one of these profiles, Kirwin suddenly shifts gears and moves to another subject. She has a polished, clear writing style, but in-depth insights into abnormal psychology and the criminal mind are abbreviated, barely tapping into the files one assumes she assembled on these subjects. A lengthy expansion of just three or four cases could have benefited this book. An NBC-TV movie on Kirwin's experiences is in development. (Sept.)