Interview with Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, M.D.: Part Three

Renowned Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner Shares Insights on the Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping Case and What It Takes to Succeed in Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, and Disaster Medicine

Michael Welner, M.D. is a renowned forensic psychiatrist and the founder and chairman of The Forensic Panel. Criminal Justice Degree Schools provides more background on Dr. Welner's distinguished career in the first installment of our interview.

What was your role in the case against Brian David Mitchell (the fundamentalist accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart from her Utah home in 2002)?

Many people do not realize how close Brian David Mitchell came to getting away with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. Federal prosecutors came to me in 2008 after Mitchell had been repeatedly found incompetent, ready to dismiss charges and release Mitchell to a hospital. As I had been asked in the Andrea Yates case and in others, I was asked to take a definitive look at Mitchell and to advise whether he was incompetent to stand trial. (more…)

Interview with Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, M.D.: Part Two

Renowned Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner Shares Insights on the Role of Media in Mass Shootings, the Andrea Yates Case & How His Career Has Evolved

Michael Welner, M.D. is an experienced and well-known forensic psychiatrist. He is the founder and chairman of The Forensic Panel and a professor at two different universities. Criminal Justice Degree Schools provides more background on Dr. Welner's distinguished career in the first installment of our interview.

What role does the media play in the mass shooting phenomenon?

The media plays a critical role. Mass shooting is a copycat crime. Those alienated losers who blame everyone else for their failures and low achievement consume television and pop culture – again, because their lives are empty. Sadly, the news media responds to mass killing by hyperfocusing on the killer and his self-serving grievances. Most people are puzzled, horrified, and saddened when they watch of a person’s pain, magnified. The press amplifies this killer’s inner experience to suggest to us that he was the most rejected, the most hurt and provoked person in the whole wide world. He wasn’t. But he succeeded in drawing in the press to take the bait because of the “achievement” of his body count. (more…)

Interview with Forensic Psychiatrist Michael Welner, M.D.: Part One

Dr. Welner Shares In-Depth Reflections on the Richard Baumhammers Case and How to Develop a Career in Forensic Psychiatry

Michael Welner, M.D., a renowned forensic psychiatrist, is often asked to provide expert analysis of complex and cutting edge cases such as that of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper and Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr. He is the founder and Chairman of The Forensic Panel, which introduced peer-reviewed oversight in a national forensic science practice. Constantly innovating in the field, he strives to create and upgrade protocols such as his efforts with the Depravity Standard to establish an evidence-based measure for the worst of crimes. He is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NYU’s School of Medicine, an Adjunct Professor of Law at Duquesne University School of Law, and a consultant to ABC News and frequent Good Morning America contributor.

You analyzed the insanity defense claims of Richard Baumhammers, an unemployed lawyer who killed six people of different ethnicities during a shooting spree in Pittsburgh in 2000. At his trial, you diagnosed him with delusional disorder, but distinguished it from the choices he made. How does that fit the paradigm of a mass shooter?

Richard Baumhammers had delusional disorder. He was a low functioning son of two dentists who had graduated law school but never practiced to any meaningful degree as a professional. Like mass shooters before him and since, Baumhammers had high expectations of himself, but could never launch and was burdened by reminders of his disappointing prospects. At some point he fashioned an anti-immigration agenda and began positioning himself for a political career. But he was a social incompetent who could draw no one to his political party, and lived off his parents. He lived with his parents and would pay escorts to come and merely sit with him. He vacationed in Asia, where sexual gratification is only a greenback away. The anticlimactic trigger preceding his decision to embark on the shooting was a prospective date who cancelled on him.

Baumhammers killed his longtime Jewish neighbor, scrawled swastikas on a nearby synagogue, then drove to a Chinese restaurant and shot and killed two, then drove to an Indian grocery where he shot and killed one and paralyzed a second man who later died. He then drove to a karate studio and killed a black man there. In Pittsburgh, where I grew up, you have to go out of your way to target non-white multi-ethnicities. The question became, how could this son of parents who had patients from a variety of cultures carry out a crime with the earmarks of hatred unless his illness was driving it?

My journey led me to closely investigate the Latvian background of Baumhammers’ older parents, who characterized themselves to the press as World War II refugees. Ultimately, I learned that his family had in fact exceptionally thrived during the Nazi occupation that witnessed the extermination of over 90% of Latvia’s Jews. Baumhammers actually descended from the youngest Supreme Court judge ever in Latvia – a Nazi appointee. The picture came into clearer focus with history that Baumhamers had burned a cross on a black neighbor’s lawn when he was a teenager, and long before anyone contemplated that he had mental illness.

When I studied his internet traffic prior to the shootings, I found that he had been visiting white supremacist websites. He was attempting to form online romances with like-minded women such as “Aryan Princess.” Baumhammers’ hatred and xenophobia ultimately came into clearer understanding as a passion of his that had been nurtured over many years and likely over generations. Delusional disorder was a real part of his life, but so was his xenophobic ideology.

What motivates people like Richard Baumhammers to shoot and kill people indiscriminately?

Mass shooting is carried out by a man who wants to create a spectacle and draw attention to himself. The shooter is a person of high personal expectations who recognizes that his life is going nowhere and never will. Schizophrenia is common in mass shooters, as is great difficulty coping with the diagnosis and the personal shame of having a condition that affects one’s function, sociability, and potential. However, most mass shooters do not have schizophrenia; it is the expectations of how the community will respond that drives the spectacle crime.

Mass shooters are invariably sexual incompetents and social losers. The despair they feel over the sense of being a sexual outcast is overpowering. When their escape from their own disconnect includes guns or other violent imagery or entertainment, mass shooters are those who identify destruction with a sense of power and manhood. The news and entertainment media’s role in making mass shooters larger than life reinforces the perverse stature attributed to destructiveness.

Paranoia is also a key element in mass shooting. A person who recognizes he does not fit in becomes progressively alienated from more and more of his community. The risk for violent cataclysm grows the more the person becomes invested in that alienation. For mass shooters, alienation progresses to contempt. Contempt is a necessary ingredient to power righteous indignation – the feeling that victims deserve to die. This is why mass shooting is such an exceptional event relative to the number of people who may fantasize about it. You have to hate everyone to kill anyone.

The more distinctive component to Richard Baumhammers’ mass shooting was his ideology. As it happens, Buford Furrow and Naveed Haq being examples, ideological mass shooters are typically unaffiliated and have only tenuous history within hate organizations such as the white supremacist or anti-secular Muslim organizations. They are social wannabees within these hate groups just as they are social failures otherwise. The spectacle crime pushes them to the spotlight of respect among others who may do no more than promote hate literature or raise funding, yet are quietly delighted when they learn of the bloodbath one man can create.

Joseph Paul Franklin, whom I also interviewed, took it upon himself to kill as many as he could in mixed-race relationships. He murdered well over 20 and could have killed scores more if devious plots to blow up a synagogue and to poison thousands of Chicagoans were successful. He prided himself in the spectacle he created that even leaders of Aryan Nation could not.

Is there a common educational path you suggest and if so, why?

You have to get educated in what fascinates you and what will keep you up at night reading and researching. My best advice to training students is to train up in your passion; inhale it, inhabit it, and sit in the front row of life. If you then just concentrate on performing your techniques as well as possible, you will figure out how to develop a nice career for yourself within forensics.

I know medicine from my own experience and recommend it to all. Medical school is four years but that time goes quickly and you grow up in the best of ways. The flexibility for career development and contributions to society that a physician has are enormous.

Read Part 2 of Dr. Welner's Interview
Read Part 3 of Dr. Welner's Interview

California Paralegal Requirements And Career Advice: An Interview with Stacey G. Hunt

We recently interviewed Stacey G. Hunt, the president of the Central Coast Paralegal Association in California to learn about how to become a paralegal in California and advice on having a successful career in the paralegal field.

California Paralegal InterviewCan you summarize the requirements for becoming a paralegal in California?

California law provides three paths to become a paralegal: (1) a certificate of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal program; (2) a certificate of completion of a paralegal program or degree from an accredited postsecondary institution that requires the successful completion of at least 24 semester units in law-related courses; or (3) a baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree on any subject plus a minimum of one year of law related experience under the supervision on a California lawyer who has been practicing at least three years. California paralegals must complete four hours of general law CLE and four hours of ethics CLE every two years. (more…)

Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Scott Thornsley Shares His Career Path and Views on the State of our Correction Systems

An experienced state government executive and now Professor and Criminal Justice Department Chair discusses his two distinct careers, his approach as a teacher and the outlook of a stressed prison system. We talked with Dr. Scott Thornsley, Associate Professor & Chair of the Criminal Justice Administration at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.

How did you get into the criminal justice field and how has your career evolved from Corrections to Professor?

I spent 19 years in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections before entering the academic community. I was the Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs. Essentially, I was a lobbyist appointed by the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office and acted as a liaison with the state prison system and Pennsylvania General Assembly. I was a senior level executive, and represented the Governor’s Office and state Department of Corrections prison on legislative issues. I never actually worked in any prisons directly. I did the analysis on the bills, although the budget office and legal staffs were tapped as needed. I would build relationships and build momentum around this legislation. All my undertakings were policy related issues. For example, I orchestrated the change in the manner of execution from electrocution to lethal injection. For a decade, I worked on efforts to release prisoners early for undertaking efforts in education, vocation and treatment programs. I was also unsuccessful in getting private sector prison industries to be able to operate within our state prisons. I believe Oregon and other states did this with Federal support. The goal was to provide the inmates with a real life work experience for their resumes — it is a stabilizing influence as inmates with those jobs get paid a bit better and they don’t want to lose that position.

Stepping back, I started in undergrad in political science and criminal justice.  I took an internship at a prison in Pennsylvania, and was exposed to policy.  I really enjoyed prison policy and this aspect of criminal justice.  When I graduated in ‘73 from Mansfield State College, I immediately went to Sam Houston University and studied Corrections for graduate work.  I then went to work in Planning and Research for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and then eventually moved to the lobbyist position. (more…)

Dead Birds and Fish In Arkansas Raise Eyebrows, Suspicion

Dead Birds in ArkansasSpeculation abounds regarding the death of thousands of red-winged blackbirds in the town of Beebe, Arkansas, with some blaming lightning, hail, tornadoes and even fireworks set off by New Year’s Eve revelers.

Now, concerns are growing as some hundred thousand dead fish were discovered in the Arkansas River following the initial New Year’s Eve occurrence. Although the incidents were not similarly located and do not appear to be linked, superstition has met suspicion in the small Arkansas town and beyond.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) is officially heading up the investigation, and the most recent lab reports from the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission have determined that the birds died of massive trauma found in the breast tissue, along with clotting and internal bleeding. (more…)

8 Sheriff Career Interviews

Criminal Justice Degree Schools interviewed 8 Northwest Sheriffs to learn their advice for aspiring police officers and their observations of the changing landscape of the law enforcement profession. They also share their thoughts about the importance of a criminal justice degree in having a successful career in law enforcement.

1. Sheriff Gary Raney of Ada County in Idaho

2. Sheriff Glenn Palmer of Rural Grant County in Oregon

3. Sheriff Steve Boyer of Kitsap County in Washington

4. Sheriff Rick Grimstead of Skagit County in Washington

5. Sheriff Bill Elfo of Whatcom County in Washington

6. Sheriff Dave Brown of Skamania County in Washington

7. Sheriff Frank Rogers of Okanogan County in Washington

8. Sheriff Mark Nelson of Cowlitz County in Washington


Criminal Justice Thought-Leader, Professor and Veteran Sheriff Gary Raney Discusses The State of Law Enforcement

Sheriff Gary RaneySheriff Raney joined the Ada County Sheriff's Office in 1983 and rose through the ranks until he was elected Sheriff in 2004. His agency is recognized locally and nationally for its best practices in planning and organizational leadership, and often hosts leaders from visiting agencies who look to Sheriff Raney's team for advice. Ada County is the most populated county in Idaho. His department has more than 600 employees and a 1,217-bed jail. Sheriff Raney is an adjunct professor for Boise State University and Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety, a guest speaker and trainer-consultant.

Why and how did you get into law enforcement and become a Sheriff?

By the time I was 14 I knew I wanted to be involved in the community, but I lived on a farm, so participating in traditional activities like organized sports wasn't easy. I was at an event one day and saw some kids wearing police uniforms as part of an Explorer Program. That planted a seed. Three weeks later, I joined a new Explorer Program in our community. I trace my interest in law enforcement directly to that. I then went to Boise State University where I studied Criminal Justice. While in college, I networked with local law enforcement officers and also served as a Reserve at a small department when I was 19. I found that the approach at the Sheriff's Office suited me best with its focus on service. At 21, I was able to apply to be a full-time deputy and got my first job working in the Ada County Jail as a detention deputy. Later I worked in patrol and as a detective. I solved a case that ended with a conviction for the only woman on death row in Idaho. (more…)

Rural Grant County Oregon Sheriff Glenn Palmer Interview

On November 2nd, Criminal Justice Degree Schools interviewed Sheriff Glenn Palmer on His Career, Issues Facing Grant County and Career Advice. Sheriff Palmer is a third-term Sheriff in rural Grant County Oregon. Like other rural counties dependent on timber and tourism, it faces challenges that impact how the Sheriff Department pursues its mission.

Why and how did you get into law enforcement and become a Sheriff?

My Mother was a 911 dispatcher for 20+ years and so I had exposure to law enforcement. I was in the Air Force from 1980-1984. Just after returning, I had 3 or 4 part time jobs including in the timber industry until a group of us was laid off due to being snowed out for the season. As I was in job search mode, I happened to poke my head in the Sheriff's office to ask about a job. On the spot, I was asked if I could work that night in the jail and I did after receiving some basic instructions. So, it was a fluke of sorts, but the next day I was sworn in as a Correction Deputy and a reserve patrolman in the city of John Day Oregon. I will say that night was not great as I had never been in a jail before. But over the next 15 years I went from part-time corrections officer, to Deputy Patrol, to Senior Patrolman and finally to sheriff. (more…)

Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer Interview

On October 18th, Criminal Justice Degree Schools interviewed retired Washington State Trooper and current Kitsap Sheriff Steve Boyer on his views on law enforcement. He provides his insights as someone with a strong view on what needs to change for local law enforcement agencies to effectively deliver on their missions. He also suggests some great resources for coping with stress as well as thought leaders on the direction of law enforcement.

Kitsap County Sheriff BoyerYou have been Kitsap County Sheriff since 1998. Your career has spanned being a State Trooper for 27 years and then as Sheriff for the last 12. How did you get started in law enforcement and how did your law enforcement career progress?

From age 15-21, I worked at a gas station in Bellevue, Washington near I-90. There I got to know some of the state troopers as they stopped by the station. I was also stopped by Highway Patrol in my '67 Fastback a couple times, but the experience with them was always positive. It seemed an honorable profession to me at an otherwise turbulent time. I joined in the early 70's and progressed over time to Lieutenant. I was promoted to Captain but then reconsidered the promotion, as I didn't want to move. I had a long career at 27 years and started considering other options. I was thinking of running for Sheriff and some people suggested I should. There were a lot of issues at the time and I felt it would be a good challenge. I was elected in 1998 and have been Sheriff of Kitsap County since. (more…)

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