Nobody’s Child: A Tragedy, a Trial, and a History of the Insanity Defense

Susan Nordin Vinocour. Norton, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-65192-8
As Vinocour, a clinical and forensic psychologist, writes in this moving, well-researched account of the insanity defense, she really didn’t want to get involved in the case of the woman she calls Dorothy Dunn, a poor black woman with mental health issues accused of killing her three-year-old grandson, but she agreed to do a psych evaluation. Vinocour, herself a victim of child abuse, was skeptical at first that Dunn wasn’t guilty. But through the course of the evaluation, she came to realize Dunn wasn’t competent to stand trial for second-degree murder because she was not coherent; despite Vinocour’s testimony, the jury disagreed, and the woman was sentenced to 25 years to life. Vinocour explains that the insanity defense is rarely used because it’s too difficult to explain to a jury. She also examines cases showing the history of the plea, including that of the man who tried to assassinate Andrew Jackson in 1835, one of the few times the defense worked, and that of Daniel M’Naghten, who tried to assassinate the British prime minister in 1843. M’Naghten’s insanity plea was denied, however, because the law proved that he knew, but did not understand, the act was wrong. And that was what ultimately doomed Dunn, whose sad story constitutes more than half the book. Vinocour does a fine job explaining the defense in layman’s terms. Sterling prose helps make this a page-turner. Agent: Jennifer Herrera, David Black Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/09/2020
Release date: 03/24/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68457-703-3
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