The Insanity Defense Case of
    Marion County Superior Court 5
Indianapolis, Indiana

Tony Kiritsis with hostage Dick Hall
(taken right before Hall was released)
photo (c) by Jim Young & The Indianapolis News

May 24, 2017

    Forty years ago, I happened to serve as chief defense counsel in a case that resulted in the first jury verdict of acquittal broadcast live on nation-wide TV.*  It was in the case of State of Indiana v. Anthony G. (Tony) Kiritsis, in which the defense of insanity was asserted.  I think readers will find the tale instructive regarding the development of insanity defense law (which it profoundly affected), the criminal trial strategies and tactics employed, and the various unique human factors that came into play. 

~Nile Stanton

* Earlier in 1977, in the days before CNN, the verdict in the Ronny Zamora case in Florida was the first one broadcast via nation-wide TV, but Zamora was found guilty.  Zamora had also asserted the insanity defense, and there are two reasons why the verdict in his case happened to be the first one ever broadcast live on nation-wide TV:  The trial took place during the first year that the state of Florida was experimenting with televising trials, and the theory of Zamora's defense was that he was "insane" due to "intoxication" caused by an "addiction" to violence on television.  Such a defense was, quite naturally, irresistible for TV moguls, reporters, and viewers alike.  (Fifteen-year-old Zamora and an accomplice had broken into an elderly neighbor lady's house, where they found some money and a gun. The neighbor returned home while the two youngsters were still in the house.  She recognized Zamora, and he shot and killed her.)  Sadly, in my view, defense expert testimony regarding the impact of TV violence on viewers was excluded at trial.  Today we know to a certainty that TV violence has a strong long-term violence-inducing impact on youth.

    The case of Anthony G. "Tony" Kiritsis was the first of only two insanity defense cases I tried.  As noted above, I served as Tony's chief defense counsel. Co-counsel was J. Richard Kiefer.  We employed six law clerks, two detectives, and two psychiatrists to assist us with the case.  (Yes, the fees and costs were fairly hefty.)  Prosecutors were F. Thomas Schornhorst, Emeritus Professor of Law (now retired) of Indiana University School of Law and Marion County Deputy Prosecutor George Montgomery.  As noted below, the verdict in this case (in conjunction with two or three other insanity cases that went to trial in the late 1970s and early 1980s) precipitated significant changes in insanity defense laws in Indiana and in nearly all other states around the nation. Federal laws were changed as well.

    Tony Kiritsis did not want to assert the insanity defense and did so only very reluctantly and at my insistence.  What follows is a brief summary of some of the more salient and/or interesting facts of the case and some of the legal issues and tactics involved in the trial. 

* * * * * * *

    Tony Kiritsis had obtained a mortgage (from a company headed up by Dick Hall and his father) on land he hoped to develop for commercial use by various businesses. Tony fell behind on mortgage payments, and the Halls repeatedly gave him additional time in which to pay. There came a point, however, when they refused to give him more time; and foreclosure was threatened. Tony was convinced that the Halls had interfered with his efforts to attract businesses to use the property and that the Halls wanted to foreclose on the property in order to sell it themselves, since the value of the property had gone up considerably over the years since Tony had purchased it.

    In early February of 1977, Tony went into the mortgage company's office in the center of Indianapolis. He pulled a pistol on Dick Hall, then wired a sawed-off shotgun around his neck. The safety on the shotgun had been removed, and the wire around Hall's neck was connected to the trigger. Hence, if Hall or Tony fell or Hall tried to get away, the shotgun would blow Hall's head off. From Hall's office, Tony called 911 and told police he had taken Hall as a prisoner, described the shotgun with a "dead-man's line," and said that he didn't want any of them to try to be a hero or Hall would die -- and Tony didn't want that to happen.  He didn't want anyone to get physically hurt.

    Tony, wearing a short-sleeved shirt on a freezing day, walked out of the building with Hall in front of him. Police were everywhere, many with their guns pointed at Tony. Tony warned them not to shoot, else Hall would die too. Tony got in a police car with Hall and ordered the police officer to take Tony and Hall to Tony's apartment. (These actions were broadcast live on local TV, then around the state.) Police were afraid to break into the apartment, since wires could be seen around the windows; and it was learned that Tony knew about explosives. Hall was forced to stay in Tony's bathroom and was fed and treated as a "prisoner of war." During the 63 hours that he held Hall as a "prisoner," Tony repeatedly called a radio talk-show personality, Fred Heckman, who aired much of what Tony said.

    Tony, via the radio, told the public that he had made a "preemptive strike" against the Halls because they were trying to take his land. He said he wasn't crazy and "I'll get my fucking revenge." Etc., etc. Finally, a civil lawyer acting for Tony said that the Halls (and a prosecutor, I believe) had signed a document agreeing that they had mistreated him, promising to pay him $5 million, and assuring that he would not be arrested or prosecuted. Thereupon, Tony exited his apartment (with Hall wired to the end of the shotgun once again) and made a statement that was broadcast live on TV. The TV audience heard some words used for the first time ever on television. (Tony called the Halls "cocksuckers," said they had "fucked him over," etc.  Inappropriate stuff for family viewing.)  It was an emotion-filled rant, and it started to look -- as Tony got all teary-eyed -- that he might blow Hall's head off on live TV; so, most stations, but not all, ended the broadcast. After making his statement, Tony unwired the shotgun from Hall's head. Then, he went to a nearby window and fired it, just to prove to everyone it had in fact been loaded. He was immediately arrested.

   State criminal charges against Tony were for the kidnapping of Dick Hall and the policeman, extortion, and related offenses. After a two-week jury trial, Tony was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" on all counts. The verdict was broadcast live on nation-wide TV.  In fact, the judge, whom had been off drinking somewhere and had difficulty getting his robe on, held off on going into court to receive the verdict until prime-time news had begun.  The judge had a statement prepared to read, one colorfully calling for "law and order," condemning Tony, and praising the jury for its guilty verdict.  Needless to say, in view of the acquittal, the judge never read the statement he'd prepared.

    1. Burden of Proof -- At the time of Tony's trial, the burden of proof (where an insanity defense was interposed) was on the state to prove that the accused was sane; and the state (in Indiana, but few other states) had to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. This had been the law in Indiana for about 160 years. Although that was a very high burden for the state to meet, few people had ever found "not guilty by reason of insanity." At the next meeting of the Indiana General Assembly, in 1978, however, the insanity defense laws of Indiana were substantially revised. Primarily due to the Kiritsis verdict, the same verdict in a Michigan case, and due to John W. Hinckley's acquittal on insanity grounds for the March 30, 1981, attempted assassination of President Reagan, nearly all states changed their insanity defense laws over the next few years.  Most places, the burden of proof was changed from requiring the state to prove sanity on the preponderance of the evidence to mandating that the defense prove it by that same standard.  Some states completely abolished the defense.

    2. Jury Selection -- Trial Judge Michael Dugan would not allow prosecutors and defense lawyers to personally ask questions of prospective jurors but asked that proposed questions be submitted to him in writing. We of the defense submitted many proposed questions, and the judge asked most of them in the form we drafted them; and we had spent many hours framing the questions in such a way that would deeply instill into jurors the importance of their duty to follow the law. (I personally wondered how on earth anyone could ever be proved "sane beyond a reasonable doubt," let alone Tony!!) In my view, the questions we submitted powerfully inured to the benefit of the accused. The judge asked such questions as: "Raise your hands if you can assure me that you will follow the law requiring the state to prove the defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt whether you like that law or not." "Raise your hands if you can assure me that you will base your decision solely on the facts presented to you in this courtroom and the law as I give it to you and not on emotion or your sense of public opinion." These may not be the exact words, but these reflect the tenor of several questions.

    3. Theories of the Prosecution and Defense -- Based on Tony's belief and statements to the effect that the Halls had cheated him, the state elected to present evidence that the Halls' dealings with Tony were strictly on the up-and-up. (The state need not have presented any such evidence.) The Halls were painted as fine, decent businessmen who never cheated Tony at all. The state had assumed that the defense would contend that the Halls had cheated Tony and that this had made him go crazy. Actually, what the state did fit in nicely with our theory of defense. We never disputed that the Halls' dealings were less than honorable. In effect, we were saying, "Yes, look how nice they were to him. He must have been nuts to believe otherwise."

    4. Testimony of Psychiatrists -- Several psychiatrists testified at the trial. (The one who said he didn't think there was anything wrong with Tony at all was found by the jury to be incredible.) In my view, the most compelling psychiatric testimony came from Dr. Iver Small, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the I.U. Medical School. (He was one of three court-appointed psychiatrists that examined Tony and testified.) Small had published several books and articles and had other impeccable credentials. He spent a lot of time talking with Tony and was a potent witness, firm in his views, and able to explain them well in common language. Small stated that in his opinion Tony was indeed suffering from a mental disease or defect at the time of his actions and that this made it such that he could not conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. (Keep in mind that "insanity" is a legal term, not a psychiatric term; so the psychiatrists never said, "Tony was insane at the time.") Small said that Tony was in a "paranoid delusional state" -- a psychosis. The main defense psychiatrist, Dr. Larry Davis, agreed. Davis had also spent many hours talking with Tony and was able to explain his views well.

    5. Tony on the Witness Stand -- In my view, Tony was an outstanding witness in his own behalf. It was clear that he sincerely believed that the Halls had cheated him and that he was extremely paranoid. It was also obvious that he had very high ethical standards. He was always helpful and kind to his neighbors, a hard worker, and a strict law-and-order sort of man. It helped that he had several good friends on the police department. I spent countless hours talking to Tony and got to know him very, very well. I knew what to say or ask to trigger various emotional responses from him: I could make him laugh, cry, or be serious -- at my will. A newspaper account said that I "played him like a harp," and I agree. Tony testified that what he had done was wrong and that "no person should have to go through what I put Dick Hall through." Tony was embarrassed that he had done so and felt terrible about it. One way in which we proved that Tony was obsessed with the idea that the Halls had cheated him was this: Tony had asked a woman friend of his to type up of hundreds of 3"x5" cards with a few words on each about some alleged slight to him by the Halls. (Tony couldn't type; had a hard time going upstairs; alternated between being constipated and having diarrhea, etc., in the time before he took Hall captive. These were all physical manifestations of something terribly wrong in his brain. Psychiatrists called it "decompensation," and these physical manifestations strongly buttressed the insanity defense in my view.) Anyway, back to the cards: In preparing for trial, of course, I read them all; and I asked Tony about several of them. I was almost always amazed at how his explanations demonstrated his obsession and paranoia. Hence, while Tony was on the stand, I selected a few to ask him about, then -- as the jury could obviously see -- would draw a card out of the pile at random. One card read, "Dick laughed at my sports coat." I asked Tony how he thought that meant the Halls were cheating him. Sure enough, Tony came up with some off-the-wall explanation for it.

    6. Dick Hall on the Witness Stand -- Dick Hall, it seemed to me, came across to the jury as an honest man. But he seemed cold and uncaring. Furthermore, since lay testimony on the issue of sanity is admissible in court in Indiana, I asked Hall his opinion on the matter. He said he didn't have one, that it was up to the experts.

    7. Sundry Other Matters --

(A) Since Tony had several law enforcement friends, we were able to call some police officers as lay witnesses on the issue of insanity. The general thrust of their testimony was this: "Tony is a really good guy and believes in following the law. Tony really couldn't have been in his right mind when he did what he did."  This was just one aspect of Tony being a really "good" guy.  Evidence of prior conduct  -- indeed almost everything in a person's life -- is generally admissible into evidence when one asserts the defense of insanity.  Tony had no prior crimes, had been a hard worker all his life, was helpful to his neighbors, and polite to women; and, Tony had Old Testament biblical moral values and ethics.  That he had broken into the very closed community of police was simply one more thing about his life that inured to his benefit.

(B) An amazing thing that happened during the trial was this: As the jurors were eating lunch one day in the cafeteria of the City-County Building (where they were segregated from others and supervised by a bailiff), one of the jurors started to choke on a piece of food. Another juror tried to perform the Heimlich maneuver but wasn't doing it right. From the other side of the cafeteria, Jimmy Kiritsis (Tony's brother, who was running for election to be Sheriff of Brown County) saw what was happening. He ran over, pushed aside the juror that was incorrectly applying the Heimlich maneuver, and proceeded to do it properly -- thereby saving the juror's life in the full view of all the other jury members! When the trial resumed after lunch, the judge asked the jurors if they could be impartial when they would later hear Jimmy Kiritsis testify. All said they could, and the trial proceeded. When Jimmy testified, of course, one juror had to be thinking, "That's the man that saved my life!" The fluke of this happening certainly didn't hurt Tony's chances. Still, I do believe the jurors based their verdict on the facts as they found them and the law as it existed at the time.  I further believe that had the burden been on the defense to prove insanity on the preponderance of the evidence, the same verdict would have been returned.

(C)  The composition of the jury?  We had a Coca-Cola commercial type jury -- young, old, and multiracial.  The jurors were, however, more highly educated than the population as a whole.  If I recall correctly, the average juror had at least two years of college education.  Several were college graduates.  Most were blue-collar workers.