News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Researcher says convicted murderer predisposed to violence

By Mitch Mitchell | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram | May 15, 2014

Cedric Allen Ricks

Cedric Allen Ricks

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Convicted murderer Cedric Allen Ricks has brain biology that predisposes him to violent behavior, a researcher said at his capital murder trial on Thursday.

Jeffrey Lewine, a neuroscience researcher for the Mind Research Network, a group of scientists who study mental illness, found that Ricks’ biochemical makeup tilts him toward violent responses. Lewine testified that he used several different imaging techniques to study Ricks’ brain.

This is the first time this type of testimony has been used in a criminal case in Texas, Lewine said.

Last week, a jury convicted Cedric Ricks of fatally stabbing his estranged girlfriend, Roxann Sanchez, 30, and her 8-year-old child, Anthony Figueroa. Ricks repeatedly stabbed Sanchez and her son, and then repeatedly stabbed the woman’s older son, 12-year-old Marcus Figueroa.

Marcus Figueroa barely escaped dying by mimicking the last breaths of his younger brother. Prosecutors Bob Gill and Robert Huseman are seeking the death penalty for Ricks.

“We tried everything we could to help him,” Helen Ricks, his mother, testified Thursday. “We tried whipping him, we went to counselors, we did what we could. We never thought we would be in a position like this, where he would be tried for murder.”

Images of Ricks’ brain showed he had one area, the putamen, that was larger than that area in the brains of control subjects, Lewine said. Larger putamens are associated with increased aggression, Lewine said. Ricks also scored high on a psychological exam that rates tendencies toward aggression and violent behavior and low on a test that rates emotional intelligence, Lewine said.

“Ricks ability to form and maintain long-term emotional relationships and read facial cues is impaired,” Lewine said.

Whatever method researchers used to look at Ricks’ brain the findings were the same, Lewine said. Ricks’ biology shows he leans toward violent behavior and biology is difficult to alter, he said.

“Across these tests we begin to see an emerging picture of someone who is biologically predisposed toward increased aggression and violent behavior,” Lewine said.

Testimony is expected to continue Friday in state District Judge Mollee Westfall’s court.

Read the full article here.

More laws, more violence?

By Nancy Gertner and Emily Baker-White | The Boston Globe | April 21, 2014

MORE IS NOT a rational criminal justice policy. Whenever there is a horrendous crime, we respond, without fail, with more — more and more imprisonment, higher and higher penalties. Think Len Bias, the Celtics prospect, whose untimely death from drugs unleashed onerous drug penalties we now know did not make us safer and, worse, created an imprisonment rate which we can no longer afford. Now, it is Jennifer Martel, whose tragic death, allegedly at the hands of Jared Remy, has led to bipartisan shrieks for more punishment. More punishment surely makes us feel better; better yet, it plays nicely on the evening news or in gubernatorial campaigns. More imprisonment, however, does not mean less crime, especially with domestic violence.

In response to Martel’s killing, the Massachusetts House of Representatives fast-tracked legislation that includes measures that may well lead to more violence. It creates new offenses for first-time restraining order violations, first-time assaults and batteries on a household member, suffocation, and strangulation. It also increases penalties — including prison sentences — for these and other domestic violence offenses. It labels many of these offenses felonies. If passed by the Senate, it will surely lead to more people going to prison, remaining there longer, and being disabled by a felony conviction when they get out.

Read the full op-ed here.

When Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear

By Clyde Haberman | April 6, 2014 | The New York Times

As the police and prosecutors in Brooklyn tell it, Kahton Anderson boarded a bus on March 20, a .357 revolver at his side. For whatever reason — some gang grudge, apparently — he pulled out the gun and fired at his intended target. Only his aim was rotten. The bullet struck and killed a passenger who was minding his own business several rows ahead: Angel Rojas, a working stiff holding down two jobs to feed his family of four.

Not surprisingly, the shooter was charged with second-degree murder. Not insignificantly, prosecutors said he would be tried as an adult. Kahton is all of 14.

That very young people sometimes commit dreadful crimes is no revelation. Nor is the fact that gang members are to blame for a disproportionate amount of youth violence in American cities. But it is worth noting that in Kahton’s situation, no one in authority or in the news media invoked a certain word from the past with galvanic potential. That word is “superpredator.” Continue reading »

The Imparity of Mental Health Care in Prison

Trapped-Mental-Illness-in-Prison-034For many, jails are the only place to access mental health care, but once inside, the conditions of prison life may exacerbate mental illness and reduce the likelihood of rehabilitation. Mentally ill people should have access to care in prison, and advocacy for mental health care should extend beyond the concerns of prison conditions.

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The Reckoning

Adam and Peter Lanza

Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates. People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”

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