Local Professor Speaks Out About Arizona Shooting

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A sociology and criminal justice professor from Lindsey Wilson College is speaking out about the shooting in Arizona.

We spoke to Daniel Phillips about mental illness and those who commit violent crimes.

Professor Daniel Phillips says when he first heard of the shooting, he worried it may be an organized crime that would continue.

Then his thoughts turned to something else.

"When they started talking about it possibly being a guy with a mental illness I was concerned because sometimes there can be a backlash against people who have mental illnesses," said Phillips. "The vast majority of people who have mental illnesses, don't commit violence."

In 2007, Phillips put out a book titled Mental Health Issues in the Criminal Justice System.

He says many people have called the shooter in Arizona "deranged."

"They want to suggest that he has a personal problem, but they don't want to suggest so much that it would give him some kind of way to get off on insanity plea," said Phillips. "What people need to realize is that many, many people who commit major crimes have serious emotional problems or psychiatric disorders, but it's a far jump to go from there straight to insanity. In fact, Arizona has one of the strictest insanity defense laws in the United States."

Phillips used to live close to Tuscon and says it's difficult to plead insanity in Arizona.

"In some states, historically it's been possible to be locked up longer in a psychiatric facility for a crime than what you would have done in prison or something like that," said Phillips. "My guess is that he will go to jail and then to prison and receive psychiatric treatment there, so he'll be convicted of murders and he will get treatment."

But he adds you never really know why a person commits a crime.

"What's scary is you don't know what goes through someone's mind," said Phillips. "You don't know what causes somebody to murder or not murder that day. Even psychiatrists who are asked to deal with violent offenders and see if they'll do it again are very, very bad at predicting it."

But if a plea of insanity in this case were to be used successfully that would mean one thing for the shooter in Arizona.

"In our society and historically, you cannot execute somebody who is quote insane or mad, and so this could be something that kept him from being executed for instance," said Phillips.

Phillips says he is now concerned that this violent crime will cause our lawmakers to retreat further from their people.

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