Forensic Psychologists play a significant role in studying the behavior of criminals, the nature of the crime, and finding the reason behind their motive to commit crimes. Solving a crime is a great deal in society to provide justice to the victim and halt such further attacks by the perpetrator.
Many cases require the help of psychologists, mostly in cases of serial killers, mass murderers, people with mental health conditions, and high-profile cases. They can help narrow the number of suspects among a group based on their behavior and response to specific events.
Here, in this article, we will acknowledge the top 5 case studies of the United States that required the help of psychologists in capturing the actual suspect.
1. Patty Hearst Case
This is one of the oddest FBI investigations ever. On February 4, 1974, a group of armed men and women kidnapped Patty Hearst, a 19-year-old college student, beat up her fiancé, dumped her in the trunk of their car, and fled. She had been kidnapped by a group of armed radicals known as the Symbionese Liberation Army or SLA, as it was quickly determined.
The SLA, commanded by a hardened felon named Donald DeFreeze, desired nothing more than to launch a guerrilla war against the United States government and overthrow the “capitalist state.” They had already killed one Oakland school official and gravely injured the other with cyanide-tipped bullets.
The cause for Patty’s kidnapping was her money and celebrity, particularly her grandfather’s, which drew the entire country’s attention. The SLA began circulating audiotapes demanding millions of dollars in food donations in exchange for her release. Meanwhile, they started beating and brainwashing their captive, allegedly in the hopes of turning this young aristocrat from society’s upper echelons into a poster child for their forthcoming revolution.
On April 3, a recording was released with Hearst proclaiming she’d joined their campaign to liberate the oppressed and had even changed her name. A dozen days later, she was caught on bank security cameras carrying an assault weapon throughout an SLA bank heist, yelling commands to bystanders and showing support for the robbers.
An SLA hideout was uncovered, and members were shot, save for Patty and a few others who managed to flee but were later captured on September 18, 1975, in San Francisco. This famous lawsuit coined the term “brainwashing” and established attorney F. Lee Bailey famous. It also offers an intriguing look at two expert witnesses who struggled to point out Hearst’s mental condition. Despite her accusations of manipulation, she was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in jail by the jury. President Jimmy Carter shortened Hearst’s sentence after two years. Later, she was forgiven.
2. Charles Manson Case
Charles Manson was a clan leader in the United States. He founded the Manson Family, a group based out of California, in the late 1960s. In July and August 1969, Manson’s followers executed nine people. Because of the picture Charles was able to paint, Manson’s followers felt that they were fighting for a worthy cause.
When he needed to, Manson had such a captivating personality that he could obtain his heart’s desire effortlessly by using persuasion. Charles Manson was a cognitive empathy expert. He was able to take advantage of this. He was well conscious of what his admirers were thinking, but he didn’t mind. As a result, he exploited the sentiments of his followers.
Through the use of terror, Manson manipulated situations to frighten his followers into action. It didn’t worry Manson since he had a completely different response to fear than other people. Manson’s fear was never totally present in his mind.
He was found guilty of first-degree homicide and criminal conspiracy murder in 1971 for the murders of seven people, all of whom were killed on his instructions by members of t
he gang. Manson was also found guilty of first-degree murder in the murders of two other people. In the trial, a psychologist was also consulted who clarified the two most basic questions and revealed his cognitive empathy thinking, which he used to brainwash his so-called Manson family. He said that Manson was capable of giving the impression of being at ease.
The attractiveness of cults is based on emotional security. When people require comfort, they seek individuals who can alleviate their insecurities. Through words, Manson successfully calmed his followers’ fears and concerns.
Manson was a genius at persuasion through language. He would go out of his way to find neglected or alienated folks. Manson knew how to lure his followers with feelings of acceptance and compassion.
3. Ralph Tortorici Case
Tortorici was born in 1968 and was brilliant, athletic, a chess enthusiast, and well-liked. However, he grew increasingly hostile and unfriendly with family members during adolescence.
In his thirties, Tortorici began to display signs of schizophrenia, believing that the authorities and various family members were tracking him via microchips put in his brain, teeth, and penis; in actuality, Tortorici had a defective urethra that took three operations to correct.
Following his return from surgery, he was referred to a psychologist following a false claim of microchip implants during surgery. Tortorici became addicted to narcotics, particularly marijuana, due to his delusions and increasing instability.
His mother took him to Albany County Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with cocaine abuse, suicidal thoughts, and depression following an evaluation. He was detained for minor cocaine possession on November 29.
After 10 months from the consultation sessions, he went to SUNY-Albany with a rifled gun and knife in a bag with two rounds of ammunition. He entered an auditorium where a particular class was going on, and he took hostage everyone present there, releasing two students because of crying after a while.
Then he sent a message via two students and the professor for Bill Clinton and some other officials, and due to the commotion, the whole school was stunned, and classes were canceled. With the plan going well and smoothly, Ralph asked a student to stand behind the barricade, who instead rushed towards Ralph’s rifle and mistakenly fired some bullets that hit his lower leg, genitals, and other parts.
To kill him with his knife, Ralph ran towards him, who was stopped and cornered to the wall. Police officials surrounded and arrested him, taking the injured student to the hospital. This case experienced a lengthy trial. A few times, the prosecution was overturned due to his insane behavior.
He was sent to psychiatric correctional houses, where he initially refused to take medicines but eventually followed all rules. After some time, seeing his improvement, he was taken to the trial, where several psychologists were also called to analyze his mental health. They stated him to be insane during the commission of the crime.
Another psychologist claimed to postpone the judgment but was denied, and Ralph was sentenced to 20-47 years imprisonment. During his sentence, he tried to commit suicide using a bedsheet but was saved by officials and was again shifted to Sullivan Correctional House for another therapy session.
Meanwhile, there were claims to consider the psychologist’s argument during the trial but were denied by the courts. After being released from the correctional house, he was discovered hanging by a bedsheet in the cell one day.
4. The Twinkie Defense
Another rare case in criminal history stated murder because of an overdose of junk food. Several other cases noted the cause of murder to be cough syrup or caffeine, which makes the case meaningless unless a psychiatrist worked upon it.
This case is about Dan white, a supervisor who shot dead Mayor George Moscone, and another supervisor, Harvey Milk, in 1979 in the office. When interrogating White’s colleagues, they described him as a normal person with a smooth background who worked hard for the company but suddenly resigned from the job and started having junk food, leading to depression.
There were no conflicts between Mayor, the gay supervisor, and Dan White, as they even suggested that he come back if he changed his mind. They saw Dan with a .38 revolver and bullets in jacket pockets with which he went to the office from the backside to avoid the metal detector.
He loaded the gun and shot Mayor in the chest and forehead, reloading the weapon and killing Milk. When put on trial in front of the court, attorneys mentioned the act was due to heat of the moment and claimed dan to be mentally ill due to the consumption of twinkies he sugar level increased, which in turn increased his depression and caused him to commit the murder.
Defense attorneys claimed it to be a premeditated murder as he was in his sane mind and went to kill them as he reloaded the gun before killing Milk. With the court adjourned, judges asked for a psychiatric consultation conducted by Marin psychiatrist Martin Blinder who described Dan as suffering from ‘diminished capacity and committed the crime because of the heat of the moment.
After intense discussion and arguments, the jury found Dan White guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder and sentenced 8 years of imprisonment instead of the death penalty as other attorneys claimed the act to be murder. The jury closed the case saying that the crime was committed due to twinkies’ ill effects, which increased the arteries’ sugar level, driving him crazy.
5. John Hinckley Case
Following a rare case, this is one of the most famous cases of a presidential assassination attempt. John Hinckley attempted to kill US president Ronald Reagan in 1981 to impress an actor Jodie Foster after watching her violent movie depicting the assassination of a president.
In this attempt, he killed a cop Thomas Delahanty, press secretary James Brady, and a Secret Service Agent, Tim McCarthy. Before his shot, he was stalking both president and Jodie Foster to accomplish his goal of impressing her.
John lived a normal childhood but got obsessed with a movie named Taxi Driver, and the film’s, one of the characters Iris Steensma (played by Jodie Foster). This disturbed his mind, and he was already under the prescription of an anti-depressant caused by the dumping of his girlfriend, Lynn Collins.
He also started possessing weapons, for which he was once arrested while trailing Jimmy Carter, a President in Nashville. He attempted to shoot Ronald Reagan but only wounded him, but he killed three other people, a cop, a secret agent, and a press secretary. After psychiatric analysis, the jury acknowledged his severe mental disorder during the trial.
The psychiatrist revealed his disorder and described him to be suffering from schizotypal personality, borderline personality, narcissistic personality, major depression, and schizoid personality, due to which he was not found guilty and was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for treatment from where he was released on 2016 with specific prohibitions in his lifestyle. Currently, it is revealed that he is continuing his songwriting career and is maintaining a youtube channel.