Yesterday a former biology professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville decided to plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect after he was charged with murder for fatally shooting three colleagues in a staff meeting, according to yahoo news.

The shooter and Harvard trained biologist, Amy Bishop, a 46-year-old mother of 4, is set to stand trial in March of next year. The prosecutor's are going to seek the death penalty.

What Was The Shooters Motive?

Colleagues believe that Bishop opened fire at the school staff meeting as an anger driven response to the school's refusal to grant her tenure. Tenure would have provided her with job security and the school's denial meant that she could be relieved of her teaching duties at any time.

Furthermore, authorities in Massachusetts decided to charge Bishop with murder arising out of the shooting of her teenage brother in 1986. The 1986 shooting was originally ruled an accident after authorities relied almost entirely on family testimony.

Likelihood of the Defense's Success

The mental defect defense is a full defense.

This means that even if the prosecution can prove all of the elements of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, then Bishop has the opportunity to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed these killings as a result of her mental disease.

It is generally hard for defense counsel to succeed in asserting a mental defect defense. One reason is the slippery slope argument. Judges do not want to open the floodgates by allowing all sorts of mental defects to qualify as defenses to criminal acts, especially in a murder case.

The second reason is that it is generally hard for the defense counsel to prove that the defendant was suffering from a mental defect at the time that the killings took place.  This is especially so in cases where the defendant suffers from schizophrenia or is suffering from some other sort of split-personality disorder. In those situations the prosecutor can usually put doubt in the minds of the jury by asserting that the killer was of sound mind at the time that the killings took place.

Accordingly, it is going to be an uphill battle for the defense counsel in this case.

What do you think?