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In the End, Jury’s Decision May Depend on One Issue: Control With AM-Dahmer Trial

February 8, 1992

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ In the end, the decision of jurors in Jeffrey Dahmer’s sanity trial may depend on their gut response to one issue: control.

Testimony opened Jan. 30 with a detective reciting from Dahmer’s confession, detailing how the serial killer slayed, skinned and dismembered 17 young males.

Witnesses disputed whether Dahmer ate flesh, how many corpses he had sex with and if he drilled holes into his victims’ heads before death, to turn them into zombie-like sex partners, or after death, to facilitate removing brains and other matter as he boiled their skulls.

In the words of prosecutor E. Michael McCann, ″The issue in this case is control.″ McCann contends Dahmer was in control at all times and could have chosen not to kill.

But defense attorney Gerald Boyle said Dahmer should be found insane because he suffers from necrophilia and couldn’t control his impulse to have sex with corpses.

″I accept the responsibility of proving to you this was not an evil man,″ Boyle said in his opening statement. ″This was a sick man whose sickness rose to the level of mental illness.″

If jurors believe three psychiatrists who backed Boyle’s claim, Dahmer would meet the requirements of Wisconsin’s insanity law, which calls on him to prove he suffered from a mental disease that made him either unable to conform to the law or unable to know right from wrong.

All the defense psychiatrists agreed that Dahmer knew the slayings were wrong but said his compulsion to have sex with the dead drove him to kill.

McCann has launched a two-front attack, arguing necrophilia is a personality disorder, not a mental disease under Wisconsin law, and that Dahmer was not compelled to kill, but simply gave in to selfish impulses he could have chosen to control.

″Wouldn’t we all be in trouble if we followed all our sexual desires, regardless of what those desires were,″ McCann asked defense psychiatrist Dr. Carl Wahlstrom.

On two occasions after the defense rested its case last week, McCann asked Judge Laurence C. Gram Jr. to end the hearing immediately by directing the jury to find Dahmer sane.

″We are permitting the (American Psychiatric Association) to dictate to the courts of Wisconsin″ what mental illness is under state law, McCann said.

McCann argued that by allowing Dahmer’s defense, the court was opening the door for rapists and child molesters to claim they, too, suffered from mental diseases they couldn’t control.

Boyle called the claim ridiculous, saying the issue is whether Dahmer’s sickness grew to the degree where he could no longer control it.

The prosecution continued its case Saturday, calling a psychiatrist who discussed his jailhouse interviews with Dahmer.

For the defense, psychiatrists testified about Dahmer’s state of mind, details of his childhood and plans he told them he had for some of his victims’ body parts.

Police found skulls, severed heads, genitalia and other body parts in Dahmer’s small, one-bedroom apartment the night of his arrest last July 22.

Defense psychiatrist Dr. Fred Berlin testified that Dahmer told him he saved the body parts to create a ″temple to either the devil or to himself.″

Psychologist Judith Becker expanded on the theory, giving elaborate details of the temple and showing jurors a sketch Dahmer had drawn for her that illustrated how he planned to place 10 skulls on a black table, arrange a skeleton on each side and install blue globe lights.

Wahlstrom, the final defense witness, testified that Dahmer explained he wanted to build the temple in hopes it would bring him special powers to ″get financial gain, perhaps success in the real estate market.″

″That sounded pretty delusional to me,″ Wahlstrom said.

Dr. George Palermo, a psychiatrist appointed by the court to testify as a neutral witness, saw the details a bit differently. He told jurors he believed Dahmer embellished his accounts of the temple, cannibalism and the crude lobotomies.

″Nobody can deny that Jeffrey Dahmer is a sick person. (But) he is not psychotic,″ Palermo said.

His diagnosis could deal a blow to the defense. Boyle acknowledged jurors are more likely to believe court-appointed witnesses because they view them as unbiased.

As the trial enters what was expected to be its final week, McCann promised the parade of psychiatrists and psychologists will end with testimony proving Dahmer was not insane and could have chosen not to kill.

Boyle, who saw his witnesses were attacked for lack of trial experience and work with killers, said he plans to similarly assault the credentials of two prosecution psychiatrists.

″How many doctors have worked with necrophiliac serial killers?″ he asked.

If Boyle can’t prove both prongs of his defense to jurors, they are required to find Dahmer sane and sentence him to a life prison term for each of 15 slayings with which he’s been charged in Milwaukee County. If found insane, Dahmer would be sent to a mental institution.

Boyle said he plans to continue building his case through cross- examination. Already, Boyle got a neutral witness, psychologist Samuel Friedman, who examined Dahmer at Palermo’s request, to testify that Dahmer’s ″severe personality disorder″ was a mental disease.

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