John du Pont Found Guilty, Mentally Ill
By Debbie Goldberg
Multimillionaire John E. du Pont was convicted today of murdering an Olympic wrestler, but jurors ruled that he was mentally ill, sparing du Pont a possible life sentence.
After seven days of deliberation, the jury found du Pont guilty of third-degree murder, or murder without premeditated intent. The compromise verdict means du Pont may receive psychiatric treatment but would serve his entire sentence -- as much as 40 years -- in a prison or mental hospital.
The jury of six men and six women rejected defense claims that du Pont was legally insane when he shot David Schultz, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, on Jan. 26, 1996, outside the wrestler's home on du Pont's estate, Foxcatcher Farm. At the same time, they also rejected the prosecution effort to convict the chemical company heir of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
An emotional Nancy Schultz, the widow of the 36-year-old wrestler and an eyewitness to the shooting, said: "It is comforting to know du Pont is not above the law and he will be held responsible for David's murder."
Schultz's father, Philip, said the verdict "could be better. But we can live with it."
Defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom said he was "pleased" with the outcome. He said he did not know if his client would appeal.
Du Pont, 58, sat impassively when the verdict was announced shortly after 5 p.m., sporting long, unkempt gray hair, a bushy beard and the same blue sweat shirt he has worn throughout the three-week trial.
Delaware County Court Judge Patricia Jenkins scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 22. While third-degree murder carries a maximum prison term of 40 years, du Pont, who has no prior record, could be freed on parole after as little as five years. A presentencing psychiatric evaluation will be conducted to determine whether du Pont is severely mentally disabled and whether he should be remanded to prison or a psychiatric facility. Du Pont was also convicted of assault for pointing his gun at Nancy Schultz and his security consultant. The sentence also carries a $50,000 fine.
Delaware County District Attorney Patrick Meehan described du Pont as "the wealthiest murder defendant in the history of the United States." Prosecutor Dennis McAndrews added that the verdict "brings justice to the memory of David Schultz" and means that "du Pont should never walk out of a prison."
The lengthy deliberations spawned concerns that the trial might end with a deadlocked jury. The panel apparently discarded early on the defense's contention that du Pont was insane at the time of the murder before settling on a compromise between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The jurors declined to be interviewed today.
During the three-week trial, defense witnesses, including a number of psychiatrists, attested to du Pont's bizarre and delusional behavior in recent years, noting that the millionaire had razor wire installed in the walls and attic of his house to keep intruders out, complained about mechanical trees moving on his property and often referred to himself by such titles as the Dalai Lama and Christ child. Defense attorney Bergstrom said du Pont shot Schultz out of an irrational fear that the wrestler was part of a conspiracy against him.
But lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigen, while agreeing that du Pont is mentally ill, drew a sharply different portrait of the defendant as a rich and arrogant man who had grown increasingly angry with Schultz during the year before the shooting and who thought he could get away with murder.
According to testimony, on the afternoon of the shooting, du Pont drove to the house on his estate where Schultz and his family were living, stuck his hand out the car window, pointed a gun at Schultz, who was in the driveway, and said, "Do you have a problem with me" before pumping three bullets into Schultz, the third one entering the wrestler's back as he lay on the ground.
To find du Pont not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury would have had to believe that du Pont did not know it was wrong to kill Schultz.
The prosecution, however, contended that his actions after the shooting -- retreating to his mansion and holding police sharpshooters at bay for two days, refusing to surrender and asking for his lawyer more than 100 times during that time -- proved du Pont understood it was wrong to shoot Schultz.
Du Pont will remain until sentencing at nearby Norristown State Hospital, a state psychiatric facility where he has been treated since September for paranoid schizophrenia. Jenkins initially declared him incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to get psychiatric treatment, but reversed her ruling after du Pont was treated for two months with anti-psychotic drugs.
The insanity defense is difficult to prove, in part because jurors are concerned that a killer could be free after spending a limited amount of time in a psychiatric facility, noted Temple University Law School Professor Edward Ohlbaum.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company