Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme

Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme’s competency was evaluated after she sought to represent herself in the 1975 attempted murder of President Gerald Ford. Under the legal standard at the time, one had to be nearly “a babbling idiot” to be found incompetent, in the words of the prosecuting attorney. In May 2014, nearly 40 years later, the

Thomas A. Shay

Thomas Shay was one of two men convicted in a 1991 bomb explosion that killed one Boston police officer and maimed another. Prosecutors contended that the bomb was intended for Shay’s father. Shay was a troubled 20-year-old from an unstable background when he underwent a competency evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. Although he

Jose Padilla

José Padilla, the suspected “dirty bomber,” was detained for almost four years in a military prison as an “enemy combatant.” His attorneys claimed that during those years he was tortured, subjected to stress positions and forced hypothermia, and administered mind-altering drugs. They argued that as a result of his torture, he suffered from posttraumatic stress

John Salvi

John Salvi III carried out two fatal attacks on Massachusetts abortion clinics in 1994. Prior to his trial, a four-day competency hearing was held. Three experts, including Dr. Phillip Resnick, testified for the defense, saying that Salvi was mentally ill and obsessed with an “international conspiracy” against Catholics. The prosecution’s expert, Dr. Joel Haycock, who

Steven Hayes

Only a small proportion of defendants referred for evaluation are found incompetent to stand trial. Most are floridly psychotic. It is a rare defendant who is found incompetent on the basis of depression, no matter how severe. Attorneys declared a doubt as to Steven Hayes’ competency when the suicidal defendant declined to participate in jury

Mike Tyson

There are many types of competency outside of the criminal arena. Indeed, in some professions — law enforcement, medicine and commercial aviation, among others — one must also be fit (or competent) to practice. In 1998, at the behest of the Nevada Athletic Commission, Mike Tyson underwent a series of evaluations to determine whether he

Scott Panetti

Although competency to stand trial is the most commonly assessed competency in the criminal arena, competency to be executed is another type. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone who does not understand why he is being put to death. Scott Panetti, a Texas man with

Ralph Tortorici

The case of Ralph Tortorici provides another classic example of what happens when an incompetent defendant is allowed to stand trial. Tortorici was psychotic in 1994 when he injured a fellow student during a hostage takeover at the State University of New York. He underwent competency restoration treatment and was eventually deemed competent to stand

Colin Ferguson

Colin Ferguson, on trial for his Long Island Railroad massacre, rejected the insanity defense proposed by his attorneys. After a report from a court-appointed psychiatrist, the trial judge found Ferguson competent to stand trial and allowed him to represent himself. [Note that this outcome may have been different today, in light of the U.S. Supreme

Ted Kaczynski

Theodore Kaczynski objected to his attorneys’ strategy of using a mental illness defense at his trial, so he asked to represent himself. The court appointed Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist Sally C. Johnson, M.D. to evaluate the confessed Unabomber’s competency to stand trial. Dr. Johnson concluded that Kaczynski was competent. The news media was able to