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1981 – Mark David Chapman pled guilty to killing John Lennon

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Do you remember? Hard to believe more than 30 years have gone by, but it was on this date back in 1981 that Mark David Chapman submitted a guilty plea for the murder of John Lennon.  Chapman was charged with second degree murder. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric examination. The conclusion was that, while delusional, he was competent to stand trial. Nine psychiatrists/clinical psychologists were prepared to testify at his trial – six of the clinical opinion that he was psychotic and three of the clinical opinion that his delusions fell short of the necessary criteria for psychosis.  Lawyer Herbert Adlerberg was assigned to represent Chapman but, amid threats of lynching, withdrew.  Police feared that Lennon fans might storm the hospital and they transferred Chapman to the Rikers Island jail.

At an initial hearing, in January 1981, Chapman’s new lawyer, Jonathan Marks, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.  In February, Chapman sent a handwritten statement to The New York Times, urging everyone to read The Catcher in the Rye, calling it an “extraordinary book that holds many answers.”  The defense team sought to establish witnesses as to Chapman’s mental state at the time of the killing.  It was reported that his defense team was confident he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity, in which case he would have been committed to a state mental hospital and received treatment.  However, in June, Chapman told Marks he wanted to drop the insanity defense and plead guilty. Marks objected with “serious questions” over Chapman’s sanity, and legally challenged his competence to make this decision, requesting a further assessment of his mental state.  In the pursuant hearing on June 22, Chapman said God had told him to plead guilty and that he would not change his plea or ever appeal, regardless of his sentence.  Marks told the court that he opposed Chapman’s change of plea, but that Chapman would not listen to him.  Judge Dennis Edwards refused a further assessment, said Chapman had made the decision of his own free will, and declared him competent to plead guilty.

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