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JAMA 100 Years Ago
August 15, 2012


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2012;308(7):652. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.9533

Wisconsin can, with good reason, feel proud of the record she has established in trying and disposing of John Schrank, who on October 14 attempted to assassinate Colonel Roosevelt, and on November 25, exactly six weeks later, was committed to the insane asylum. Those who have complained of the law's delays, the endless technicalities, the jarring “expert witnesses,” the motions for new trials and the appeals on flimsy pretexts that have characterized most criminal prosecutions of late years, will read with relief and new hope the record of the simple, sane and thoroughly dignified procedure followed by the trial judge. The court appointed a commission of five well-known alienists to examine the accused and report to the court as to his sanity. As noted last week in our news columns, the commission, after careful investigation, reported unanimously that Schrank was suffering from insane delusions, that he was insane at the time of examination and that he was unable to conduct his defense intelligently. As a part of the report, they submitted a statement prepared by Schrank to be read to the jury, which statement alone contained sufficient internal evidence of Schrank's mental irresponsibility. According to the newspapers, Schrank showed keen disappointment in not being allowed to pose as a martyr, to the satisfaction of his paranoiac delusions and the inspiration of other insane cranks. The entire procedure is in gratifying contrast to some of our “celebrated” murder trials and is an unanswerable reply to the argument that such spectacles are necessary to protect individual rights or are unavoidable under our laws. Judge A. C. Backus, the trial judge, deserves the approbation of all good citizens, and especially of all practitioners of medicine and law, since it is on these two professions that the scandal and disgrace of the abuses of expert testimony have fallen most heavily. . . .