Thursday, February 18, 2021

Mendenhall Chronicles: Part Six

Ten years ago, I wrote “The Mendenhall Chronicles,” a five-part series that provided background for what led to Attorney August “Auggie” Mendenhall’s strange encounter with attorney and Indiana state representative Ed Delaney, a confrontation that led to Mendenhall’s conviction for attempted murder.  The Chronicles though stopped at the point a Motion to Correct Errors set to be filed in the case.

Sadly, last Mother’s Day 2019, Auggie took his own life in his prison cell.   The time is long past to update the Chronicles.

After the failure of the Motion to Correct Errors, Mendenhall took a direct appeal of his convictions for attempted murder, felony murder resulting in seriously bodily injury, aggravated battery, criminal confinement and resisting law enforcement.  The appeal claimed it was error not to order a mistrial after a police officer testified that, after being advised of his rights, Mendenhall had refused to speak to him without an attorney.  The direct appeal also challenged the order of witnesses, claimed the court improperly allowing rebuttal testimony and asserted that one of the convictions was barred by Indiana’s prohibition on double jeopardy.  Mendenhall lost every issue on appeal, except the one related to double jeopardy, a victory which reduced his robbery conviction from an A felony to a C felony but had no effect on 40-year sentence Mendenhall received for his attempted murder conviction.

Auggie Mendenhall

Next up Mendenhall tried to overturn his convictions through a process known as post-conviction (PCR) relief.  This process included a review of whether Mendenhall’s convictions were the result of ineffective counsel.    Mendenhall’s trial counsel was former Lake County Prosecutor Jack Crawford who, following his resignation as the first Hoosier Lottery Director, built a successful practice as a criminal defense attorney.

Attorneys representing defendants on PCRs are hampered by court rulings that sharply limit any challenge to trial counsel’s strategy even if another strategy may well have produced a better outcome.To succeed in challenging strategy, Mendenhall’s PCR counsel Adam Lenkowsky would have had to demonstrate that Crawford’s representation amounted to a “farce” or a “mockery of justice” that is “shocking to the conscience of the court.”>This incredibly high standard often results in PCR attorneys, pursuing other grounds on behalf of their clients.

The strategy Crawford pursued on behalf of his client was insanity.  It had the advantage of Auggie possibly being acquitted on all charges.  The insanity defense though might be characterized as the “Hail Mary” pass of legal defenses, a strategy employed when defense attorneys have no other options to secure an acquittal.   Studies have found the strategy is used in only about 1% of cases and in only a quarter of those cases did the strategy work. 

In particular, Crawford employed a particular type of insanity defense – “shared psychotic disorder” – which may be the hardest type of insanity to prove.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information defines shared psychotic disorder (Folie a deux) as an “unusual mental disorder characterized by sharing a delusion among two or more people who are in a close relationship.  The (inducer, primary) who has a psychotic disorder with delusions influences another individual or more (induced, secondary) with a specific belief.”

Thus, an attorney advancing the shared psychotic disorder insanity defense, basically must show the defendant (the induced, secondary person) is delusional, which delusion he got from another person (the inducer, primary person) with whom he had a close relationship.  In this case, that meant showing that Auggie’s father, Burke, was delusional in believing that DeLaney was at fault for the cascade of litigation which broke Burke emotionally and financially.

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