Two tough cases closed
Violent acts by two deeply disturbed men were addressed in a different manner by the courts.
Two serious cases involving spontaneous acts of violence and serious mental illness were resolved this week in Champaign County Circuit Court.
In one case, a Fithian man who slashed a stranger's throat in a racially motivated attack, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In another case, an obviously deranged Champaign man who called himself "Son of Satan" and tried to strangle an elderly woman, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and will be sent to a state mental hospital for evaluation.
While 26-year-old Joshua Scaggs is certain to be incarcerated for many years, it's unclear just how long 40-year-old Aaron Munds will be hospitalized or under what strictures he might be released.
Such is the dilemma the courts face in dealing with cases involving insanity — a lack of appreciation of the criminality of one's behavior — and seriously disturbed conduct that does not rise to the level of insanity.
Although the two cases have similarities — unprovoked attacks on total strangers — they were different in one key respect.
After initially being found mentally unfit to stand trial, Scaggs ultimately took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty to the attempted murder of the 44-year-old law professor. Munds went to trial and was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a bench trial conducted by Circuit Judge Heidi Ladd.
The facts in both cases were egregious. Expressing resentment over the professor's ethnicity, Scaggs attacked A.U. Dhammika "Dom" Dharmapala at the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign, slashing his throat in the process.
Munds approached the home of a stranger in rural Thomasboro, announced he was the "Son of Satan" to a woman who answered the door and tried to strangle her. It's amazing that neither attack ended with a homicide.
Munds' condition apparently stems from serious long-term mental issues, a completely different circumstance from those of Scaggs. His problems stem from drug abuse and growing up in a dysfunctional home environment.
Under Illinois law, Munds is to be hospitalized, and Judge Ladd will receive periodic updates on his condition. Depending on his progress, Munds may be released sooner or later. That's probably not a comforting prospect to the public, but it's what the law commands when defendants are found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Having been found not criminally responsible for his conduct, Munds is entitled to be treated in humane, medically appropriate surroundings with the goal of restoring his mental health and, eventually, his freedom.
On the other hand, Scaggs was found criminally responsible for his actions, so he must pay the price.
From the outside looking in, the results of these two cases may look inconsistently inappropriate. But justice — however imperfect it may be — has been served.