Dupont Murder Case Begins
One of the richest murder defendants in U.S. history goes on trial Tuesday in a case that will determine not whether John E. du Pont shot wrestler David Schultz, but whether he was sane when he did it. "If he's insane, he should not be punished," said Thomas Bergstrom, attorney for the 58-year-old du Pont.
But legal insanity goes much further than proving du Pont suffered from delusions of being the Dalai Lama and Jesus Christ. The defense must convince the jury that his mental illness -- paranoid schizophrenia -- made du Pont unable to recognize that pulling the trigger was wrong.
Instead of forcing prosecutors to prove the defendant guilty, the burden of proof rests on the defense, and the burden is so heavy few attorneys choose the insanity argument. "Most people are uncomfortable with the insanity defense because they have a hard time believing if someone's telling the truth," said Amiram Elwork, director of the law-psychology graduate program at Widener University. "The typical response that people have is, `What do you mean he didn't do it? We saw him do it.'"
Last Jan. 26, du Pont and his bodyguard drove to a home on the edge of du Pont's 800-acre Foxcatcher estate where Schultz, his wife Nancy, and their two children had been living for years. Schultz, 36, one of du Pont's few close friends, was training at du Pont's elaborate amateur wrestling facilities in hopes of repeating his gold-medal-winning 1984 performance at the Atlanta Olympics. Schultz, working on his car, met du Pont with, "Hey, coach." Du Pont replied, "You got a problem with me?" He then shot Schultz once in the arm and twice in the chest. Mrs. Schultz watched in horror as the last bullet was fired.
Du Pont retreated to his mansion and stayed inside with his gun collection for two days while SWAT team negotiators tried to coax him out. He was captured while trying to fix a boiler system that police had shut off outside the mansion. Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Jenkins initially found him incompetent to stand trial. Then after a two-month stay in Norristown State Hospital, where he was treated with the anti-pychotic drug Haldol, he was ruled competent to aid his attorneys in his defense.
Prosecutors have offered no motive and have refused comment.
In Pennsylvania, defendants can be found guilty but mentally ill, in which case they must undergo mental treatment and then, if deemed cured, serve a prison sentence. Juries can also opt for an innocent by reason of insanity verdict, which allows defendants to go free if they are cured.
Du Pont is a great-great grandson of E.I. du Pont, the French-born industrialist who founded the chemical company. He is one of hundreds of heirs to the family fortune, Since the shooting, his siblings have sought guardianship of du Pont and control of his estate, estimated at $250 million.
For years, du Pont's erratic behavior had been chalked up to the "eccentricities" of a rich man. He once drove around his estate in a tank and reportedly drove two Lincoln Town Cars into a pond. He has identified himself as the Dalai Lama, Jesus, the last Russian czar and the target of international assassins.
Edward Ohlbaum, a Temple University law expert who has been following the case, said du Pont's guilt or innocence will rest on his state of mind before, during and after the shooting. "What did he say when this was going on and why did he say it? Ohlbaum said. "This guy was absolutely bonkers months before this happened and was, in a sense, a homicide waiting to happen, according to some."
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