Yoder case needed better defense

Southeast Missourian, Dec. 10, 2002
By Scott Moyers

It’s hard to nitpick the decision made by the Randolph County jury last week in the case of Rodney Yoder, the mental patient who has been held against his will at Chester Mental Health Center for nearly 12 years.

After all, several highly lettered psychiatrists told the six-person jury during the trial that Yoder suffers from delusional disorder, persecutory type. That’s a fancy way of saying that Yoder is detached from reality and believes that everyone is out to get him.

During his testimony, Yoder seemed to confirm that, talking about his “captors,” and “political enemies.”

Bad move, Rodney.

The jury also saw that Yoder is a bit off-center. He’s easily aggravated and loud. He’s angry. He tried to tone it down when he testified last Thursday, but Rodney is Rodney. He was testy, condescending and sarcastic. He came out of his seat once under cross-examination. Let’s face it, he’s a little weird.

Being weird or crazy or even mentally ill is not enough — and shouldn’t be — to, as Mr. Yoder would say, deprive him of his liberty. But Yoder also has a history of violence. He punched an ex-girlfriend in the face, possibly breaking her orbital bone. A decade later, he smashed a table leg over his ex-wife’s head during a drunken stupor.

There were also those damaging letters. While in Chester, Yoder wrote more than 130 letters, promising to do all sorts of horrific things, from bombing airports to filling circuit judges full of holes. People are afraid of Rodney and want to be warned if he’s ever released.

Yoder says he was writing those letters so he would be indicted by the federal government and placed in prison, where he would have a set release date, an end in sight. But does that sound rational to you? Does it sound like something a sane person would do?

The jury didn’t think so.

And Rodney and his defense lawyer gave the jury no reason to come to any other conclusion than the one they did. That’s because they put “psychiatry on trial,” arguing that there is no such thing as mental illness. They compared it to the Dred Scott case and lined up people who held those same beliefs.

Rodney’s Chicago-based lawyer, Randy Kretchmar, is a Scientologist. He relies on the teachings of their founder, L. Ron Hubbard, who scorned psychiatry and wrote that any apprentice of his mental health practices “knows more and can do more about the mind than any psychiatrist.”

Hubbard died in 1986, but his anti-psychiatry zeal has been passed on to his followers. As I watched the proceedings over four days last week, I couldn’t help but wonder what Mr. Kretchmar was really trying to accomplish. Was he trying to free Rodney or did he want to use the limelight to spread the word that psychiatry is a myth?

It certainly seemed to me to be the latter. Doesn’t it make more sense to play the game, to sit Rodney down and give him a talking to: “Rodney, you will not be released based on that argument. Get it out of your head.”

I would have never allowed Rodney to testify, for one. I would have argued that Rodney has done some things he’s ashamed of, but who hasn’t? He served his time in prison for those batteries — deplorable acts, I’d say, but he’s remorseful — and now he’s been in the mental hospital for 12 years. How much is enough?

The threatening letters were written in another lifetime, and the treatment at Chester has been so valuable that now Rodney is much better. I’d also say that Rodney wanted to continue treatment for his mental illness once released to make sure he stays grounded.

Let’s give this man another chance, I’d say. I’d certainly never mention Patch Adams or L. Ron Hubbard.

To Rodney, my argument would sound crazy, but certainly no crazier than his.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 12, 2002.
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