It was 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 29, 1976. Richard Hilliard Jackson had just taken three hours to explain his theory on the four states of "person" and his concept of death to a detective from the Metropolitan Police Department's homicide squad.
According to a police report, during the interview Jackson claimed that the physical person is guided by a magnet-like, uncontrollable power called The Force. The intellect remains after death, and the soul is the part of the intellect that lives forever. The After Death is a blessing, a state of freedom from pain, heartbreak and defeat.
The Force could do anything, Jackson said, even kill.
The 37-year-old handyman known as "Sweet Pea" and "Slim" was charged with the murder and robbery of an elderly Northeast Washington woman who had been found dead two weeks earlier. Jackson denied any involvement in her death.
Jackson's claims about The Force, his behavior around the time of the slaying and the testimony of six psychiatrists who said he was mentally ill, were recently the focus of an unusually lengthy and complicated trial in D.C. Superior Court. Defense attorneys argued that Jackson was insane on Jan. 14, 1976, when the woman was killed.
The jury, however, did not accept his insanity defense. Last week, after more than 24 hours of deliberation, the jury determined that Jackson was sane at the time of the woman's death.
The case typified the problems that prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors face when law and psychiatry are mixed with the question of criminal responsibility.
In the Jackson case there was a major difficulty "in breaking all this psychiatric testimony down into terms the jury could understand," said one of Jackson's defense attorneys, W. Gary Kohlman. And there is a risk, experts say, that when psychiatric testimony is reduced to layman's terms the significance can be lost.
The psychiatrists "said (Jackson) had a mental problem, OK, we all do," said one juror after the verdict was returned.
The psychiatrists testified that Jackson had symptoms consistent with paranoia and schizophrenia, but, said another juror, "there are other people walking around with these kinds of tendencies who don't commit any violent crime."
"It was really hard to understand," said one juror of the testimony of the psychiatrists. Another juror disagreed.
"It was very understandable," the juror said. The problem, she said, was that the psychiatrists "didn't commit themselves," on whether Jackson was insane or not at the time of the slaying.
Compounding the problems of an insanity defense is jurors skepticism that the defendant may be faking insanity to escape a severe prison sentence.
In Superior Court the defendant has the burden of proving that he was insane at the time the crime was committed. The strategy for the prosecutor is to expose uncertainities in the testimony of psychiatrists for the defense.
For example, assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hardy questioned one psychiatrist who admitted that he was only guessing that Jackson was suffering from a mental illness the day the woman was slain. No witnesses appeared for the government in the insanity trial.
The jurors were instructed in the Jackson case that if they found him not guilty by reason of insanity he would be committed to St. Elizabeths hospital. After 50 days a hearing would be held to determine whether he was a danger to himself or to the community. If he was found no longer to be a danger, he would be released at the discretion of the judge.
Jurors are inclined "to lock somebody up who was crazy for the rest of his life," according to former public deffender Jeffrey Freund. He said jurors may be reluctant to vote for an insanity defense knowing a defendant could be swiftly released. "That's something you've got to overcome," Freund said.
The jurors actually heard two separate trials, which took over a month to complete. The first proceeding was on the merits of the case - whether Jackson in fact murdered and robbed the woman, with the burden of proof being on the government. After the jury found Jackson guilty of second-degree murder and robbery, the same jury then heard a second trial on the issue of whether at the time the offense was committed - Jan. 14, 1976 - Jackson was sane and thus responsible for his act. Otherwise the jury could decide that Jackson was not guilty on the two charges by reason of insanity.
Jackson, a chronic alcoholic who lived out of his 1965 Dodge, went to 1044 Grant St. NE on Jan. 14, in 1976, to repair a fuse box for Dorothia J. King, a 69-year-old cleaning woman. Jackson and a 15-year-old Maryland youth were seen drinking with Mrs. King in her house by a neighbor that evening. The following day Mrs. King was found dead on her living room floor. She had been beaten and strangled.
Jackson claimed that at some point when he was with Mrs. King he blacked out and had no recollection of what happened. The Maryland youth passed out during the evening and remembered nothing.
The medical examiner said Mrs. King died between 3:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Jan. 14, 1976. A neighbor testified that he saw Jackson's car outside Mrs. King's house at 11 p.m. that day. When he was arrested, Jackson had in his possession goods owned by Mrs. King. The Maryland youth testified that Jackson had also shown him other goods which police said were taken from Mrs. King's home.
"If he was insane at the time he committed the crime, why did he steal the property from this lady?" asked one juror. "This is what I think the majority (of the jurors) came around on."
"If he wasn't guilty, why didn't he get up (on the witness stand) and say something?" the juror asked.
On Jan. 16, 1976, two days after Mrs. King's death, Jackson was arrested for disorderly conduct in a Maryland restaurant. According to police, he stood at the salad bar, waved his arms around, and screamed that someone was trying to steal his food. When his money was refunded in an attempt to calm him down, he began to rapidly shove lettuce into his mouth.
On Jan. 29 when he was arrested and charged with Mrs. King's murder, Jackson gave his statement to police about The Force.
"He knew how to become insane at the right times," said one juror, who added that several members of the jury panel thought Jackson was feigning his illness. "I can't say he was faking, said another juror, "but I also thought (Jackson) knew what would be the best defense for him.
Beyond that skepticism, two other factors appeared to militate against the jury's acceptance of the insanity defense.
Jackson had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the death of his 9-year-old stepson in 1969. The child was slain after Jackson, who had been drinking, had an argument with his wife. He spent about two years in prison for the offense.
The Superior Court jury was told about the earlier killing, according to a defense attorney, because defense psychiatrists thought the 1969 incident had some link to why Jackson killed the elderly Washington woman.
But perhaps the most damaging piece of evidence, and the key to the government's argument that Jackson had fabricated his mental illness, was a letter that Jackson wrote to a friend seven months after his arrest.
". . . be sharp and go along with the insanity moves my attorney and I will make and say nothing about anything else," Jackson wrote.
"That did it," said one juror.