Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ralph Tortorici's Legacy.

This is part seven and probably the last of a series of posts on Ralph Tortorici. In 1994, Ralph Tortorici held a class hostage at the University at Albany. Tortorici suffered from delusions associated with his diagnosis of schizophrenia. One student was injured in the struggle to disarm him, and Ralph was convicted in 1996 of kidnapping, attempted murder and other felonies. On August 10, 1999, Ralph Tortorici committed suicide in the Sullivan County Correctional Facility. Just this month his family finally reached a financial settlement with the State of New York due to the State’s failure to provide adequate treatment for Tortorici.

From Frontline’s interview with Dr. Lawrence Siegel, who was hired by the prosecution to examine Tortorici, it is clear that Ralph Totorici’s trial has had an impact on the judicial system. The trial has made it even more difficult for a person to use a mental illness defense when charged with a crime, as the following excerpt from the interview shows.

Are attorneys now using the Tortorici case to not argue for competency hearings?

No. They're using the Tortorici case to argue that even though the guy is sick and may say a lot of crazy things; if he knows the date and he knows what a judge does and a jury does, you could find him fit [to stand trial]. ...
Those types of arguments are being made, I think in part based on this decision.

Why is that so dangerous?

Again, it's because the legal system requires a person to be competent so they can properly defend themselves. ... I was taught that that's how the system works. This is not an inquisitory system, where we're trying to figure it out. It's an adversary system, and the prosecution is going to use everything to their advantage. ... The defendant has to have that degree of minimal skills and minimal abilities to be able to assist in his defense in a reasonable and rational manner.
And Tortorici is being used to say, "Well, he doesn't have to have everything. If he knows what's going on, that may be enough." ... I don't know that that's what the court meant to say, but I think that's the way it may be used.

Read the entire Frontline interview with Lawrence Siegel, M.D.


  • As a sad P.S. to this series of posts, Ralph Tortorici's mother, Bernadette Elizabeth Di Pace-Tortorici, died on Wednesday (April 26, 2006) of this week at the relatively young age of 61.

    By Blogger Dan Weaver, at 8:23 AM  

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