Cary Stayner and the insanity defense

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Readers who have been following the trial of Cary Stayner for three murders near Yosemite National Park know the issue is not whether he did it, but whether Stayner was insane when he did.

The 40-year-old former handyman already has pleaded guilty to a fourth murder and been sentenced to life without parole. The trial going on now could decide whether he gets the death penalty.

The Stayner case is followed closely here not only because of the fear the murders created at Yosemite but because two of the victims, Carole and Juli Sund, have connections to Carson City.

The insanity defense remains a topic of heated debate, and Stayner's psychological profile puts his case in the center of the storm. Consider some of the details about Stayner that have come out so far:

-- An above-average IQ but trouble recognizing emotions in other people.

-- An obsession with Bigfoot and Nostradamus.

-- Since age 4, a compulsion to pull out large chunks of his hair. He has a misshapen skull.

-- He was reportedly sexually abused as a child by a relative.

-- The kidnapping of his younger brother Steven, whose eight-year ordeal at the hands of a pedophile became a made-for-TV movie, traumatized Stayner at age 11.

-- A malfunction of the portion of the brain that controls impulsive behavior.

After the jury heard Stayner's chilling confession in which he tells FBI agents the woman and two young girls were "easy prey," the trial has focused on everything that is wrong with Stayner -- everything that may make him ultimately not legally responsible for the murders, at least to the degree that would lead to lethal injection.

In short, this is one of those cases that could get appealed over and over and fuel debate over the stickiest issue of the death penalty -- the insanity defense. We think one simple maxim should prevail, however, and cut through all the psychological speculation: Actions speak louder than words.


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