One of the best true crime content being produced is on the YouTube channel JCS – Criminal Psychology, and the latest video published is absolutely fascinating. “What pretending to be crazy looks like” is a study of how humans who have committed a crime behave when they are trying to appear “insane” to the police in the hopes of evading consequences for their actions.
The first clip shows 26-year-old Dawson McGee after he fatally stabbed his own mother because she asked him to move out and get a job. He can be seen visibly changing his demeanor from still and calm to moving his hand, fingers, and head in a strange cadence when he hears a detective open the door. He also seems to be audibly breathing differently.
When the police ask him what happened to his mother, Dawson pretends to have no idea that he killed her. His voice seems “fake,” and he seems to be intentionally stuttering. His act wasn’t convincing for the judge and jury, and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder.
Why do people who commit crimes pretend to be insane
The major motivation for people who perform their idea of insanity comes from a mistaken idea that if a person who commits a crime will have a easier path through the judicial system, or maybe even face no consequences for their actions and be released back into society.
In the U.S., people found “not guilty by reason of insanity” still receive sentences at maximum security mental health facilities, which are usually as long, or sometimes longer, than if they had been found guilty of the crime. These acts of “pretending to be crazy” do get out of murder or another serious crime will not save a person from entering the correctional system. In the U.S., however, it can spare you from the death penalty.
Real Criminal Insanity: the case of Jerrod Murray
The case of Jerrod Murray is used as an example of a real insanity defense, or at least a more convincing case of legal insanity. In 2012 18-year-old Jerrod Murray killed his sister’s boyfriend Generro Sanchez. Murray is currently serving time at a facility in Vinita, Oklahoma.
In Jerrod’s interrogation video, he matter-of-factly describes killing the young man. The detective interviewing him tries to find out why Jerrod committed this murder and is unable to determine a motive that makes sense in the frame of why people usually kill people.
When the detective asks Jerrod what he deserves for doing this, he replies “Death sentence.” His reasoning was that he believed in an eye for an eye. Throughout the interrogation, and a subsequent interview with a reporter he is blank and shows no emotion at all. He says he is neither proud nor regretful of what he has done. Jerrod Murray is exhibiting a true outlier of human behavior. He had no remorse, but yet he did not act in any way to protect himself or his own interests.
The Parkland shooter’s “demon voice”
The main subject of the video was a performance by 2018 Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz (18). He was wearing hospital clothes because he had just come from a medical examination following his mass murder. His gaze stays on the floor until the officers leave the room. He then looks up and sees a camera. Knowing that he’s still being watched, he makes suicidal gestures.
He had already established an “insanity” plea after he was first arrested. When police asked him what happened, his first words to them had been “Demons man, voices.”
Detective John Cursio’s objective is to coerce as much information as he can from Nikolas before he becomes more educated on the legal system and how mental health works within that system. Nikolas is speaking to him inaudibly, so Cursio moves into his personal space and tries to be friendly to him.
He attempts to make him at ease by stating that he will be the last person Nikolas will have to talk to. He’s asking him very basic questions about like his name and birthday, which the police already know. They are trying to build his trust. Cursio also offers him a “cold water” or something to eat. The killer refuses, but the detective leaves to get himself some water.
Left alone, Nikolas buries his head in his hands and then does a gesture which JCS interprets down to the second. He raises his head and, for a brief moment, almost emulates holding his gun like he did during the shooting. He then looks at the camera and moves his hand to his temple and says “kill me.” JCS says that the first few seconds were Nikolas was reliving the shooting in a positive way, but once he remembered he was being watched, his false self mimicked being dejecting and suicidal ideation. He then bites himself, which leaves no marks.
During questioning over what kind of phone he has and his phone number, Nikolas starts hyperventilating. The detective stays calm and tells him that he’s ok, that he has been medically checked out and he just needs to calm down.
Nikolas starts to become more receptive to conversation when the detective brings up his mother, who died the year before. He then opens up about his depression since childhood and his job at the Dollar Tree. When asked what he wanted to do with his life if he wasn’t depressed, he reveals his dream was to be an Amry Ranger. This opens up discussion over his gun collection.
He goes on to talk about being suspended from school after a fight in high school over a girl. He says he stopped going to school after the fight because he was embarrassed. This helped the state establish a motive for Nikolas. Lacking a motive, like in the case with Jerrod Murray, is often at the crux of legal insanity defenses.
The discussion then leads to the demons Nikolas is claiming to hear. He says he’s hearing “another voice, the evil side.” At this point he’s unaware that the things he’s saying to the detective will hurt, instead of help, his insanity defense. It’s later revealed that he has opened up to a detailed discussion with the detective because he believed him to be a psychologist.
He claims the voice tells him to “burn, kill, and destroy.” He says he has burned in a fire pit and killed birds because of the voice. The last time he heard the voice was the night before at his Dollar Tree job. It was telling him to hurt people. He says the voice is his own age.
He tells the detective he was battling the voices and “trying to be a good person.” He has not mentioned hearing voices before, and a deleted video found on his phone shows a confident Nikolas telling a much different story than then the one he is presenting. In the video, he tells exactly what he’s going to do, and seems proud of it.
He admits to the detective that the voice telling him to destroy and kill is himself as well. After learning that the detective is not a psychologist, he asks for one. The detective leaves again, and Nikolas pretends to see things in the room. The act ends as soon as the detective engages with him again.
The demon is just a voice, with no name, telling him what to do. He says the voice told him to buy an AR-15. The detective asks him if he bought the gun because it was similar to what an Army ranger would carry, he denies this. Nikolas says the voice has been telling him to cut himself during the interrogation. The voice apparently doesn’t like the detective.
Detective Cursio tells Nikolas he doesn’t believe that he’s actually hearing voices. He then attacks Nikolas’ position from a theological perspective. He gets Nikolas to reveal that he doesn’t believe in God or angels, which makes his story in a demon who controlled him suspect.
He goes on to claim that his demon picked out “evil songs” for an evil playlist. He also says that smoking marijuana made the demon go away, but didn’t want to smoke it often because it was illegal. The detective questions this strange ethical structure, pointing out that it would be better to smoke an illegal substance than to allow this murderous demon to reign over his thoughts.
He then asks why the demon did not take over when he had the fight at school that humiliated him. Faced with the logical holes the detective has found in his story, Nikolas asks for time to think more about the demon. He
then gets anxious and agitated. The detective tells him that he’s acting like this because what the detective is saying makes sense.
He then asks for an attorney. The detective asks if the demon, or voices, asked for an attorney. Nikolas says yes, and starts hitting his head. He starts asking, seemingly, the demon “Why didn’t you protect me?”
“Stop hitting yourself in the head. The attorney that the demon just requested, I will stop talking to you,” Detective Cursio says. “Does your demon know an attorney? Anyone in particular?” he asks before he exits.
At this point, the detectives have everything they need to combat an insanity defense from Nikolas Cruz, now 22, who is still awaiting trial. He is expected to go to trial this September after delays from the pandemic.