HBO documentary delves into the psychology of serial killers

Next month Lisa Montgomery, who strangled a pregnant woman and then disemboweled her to steal her baby, will be the first woman to be executed by the United States government in 67 years. Is she crazy or not? Does she deserve to die for the crimes she has committed? The debate around capital punishment and mental illness is at the heart of the documentary “Crazy, Not Insane”, broadcast since Wednesday by the HBO channel, which follows the career of the famous psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, specialist in serial killers.

Lisa Montgomery, 52, was sentenced to death in 2007 by a federal court. Donald Trump’s administration decided to resume executions at the federal level last summer, and a court refused to recognize criminal irresponsibility linked to insanity. There is therefore nothing to prevent the 50-year-old from receiving a lethal injection. “You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that this woman is very, very mentally disturbed,” Dr Lewis told AFP. “Because, after all, so many things about her are psychosis”, indignant the expert, who says she is “appalled” by the decision to execute her. “I don’t understand, where this incredible thirst for blood comes from,” she blurted out. Dorothy Otnow Lewis spoke to no less than 22 serial killers and founded a clinic for young criminals. She argues that the disorders that lead to violence and murder are usually the result of extreme childhood abuse and neurological problems, not the expression of an “innate” urge to do wrong. To avoid the death penalty, Lisa Montgomery’s lawyers had also extensively cited the sexual abuse she had suffered in her youth as well as head injuries. The HBO documentary reviews numerous serial killers, ending with one of the most sinister patients Dr. Lewis has examined: Ted Bundy, who confessed to a series of rapes and at least thirty murders. He terrorized the United States in the 1970s and has become for many a symbol of pure evil. Mr. Bundy says he had a most normal and very happy childhood. But Ms Lewis believes the killer suffered from dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder, brought on by the violent upbringing instilled by her grandfather Sam.

In the HBO documentary, the psychiatrist shows love letters written by Ted Bundy but signed “Sam”. However, individuals suffering from this type of disorder frequently assume the identity of those who have abused them, to protect themselves, she says.

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