Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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IF MICHAEL KANE ISN'T NUTS, SOMEONE ELSE IS

Back in 2001, a dangerous loony -- am I now required to call him a “former dangerous loony”? -- named Michael Kane was playing a violent video game with some friends at a house near Flamingo Road and Boulder Highway, in Las Vegas.

Young Kane was reportedly under the influence of two hits of LSD when he plunged a dagger into the chest of fellow player John Trowbridge, 23, killing him. (A “hit” of LSD in the 1960s often tested out at 300 micrograms, though they’d sell the stuff claiming it went to 800, at which point the visual field can fragment like a kaleidoscope. Police labs today say the street “hit” is often as light as 20 to 80 micrograms, which wouldn’t be debilitating to most people.)

I haven’t been able to find out what the score of the game was when Kane decided to “go to the next level.”

Prior to the slaying, one witness testified, Kane voiced suspicions that the victim Trowbridge might be an undercover police officer because he was “too nice.”

Three psychologists, including one called by the prosecution, agreed that Kane was mentally ill. They cited instances in which he was seen chewing on his own shoulder while restrained at the Clark County Detention Center. In another instance, one of the psychologists testified that while Kane was being flown to a Northern Nevada mental health facility for an examination, he became convinced he was being kidnapped by government agents.

Since he was indeed in the custody of government agents, who were presumably taking him somewhere he hadn’t asked to go, I don’t quite see the relevance of this reported “delusion” to any diagnosis. For that matter, I would think the real question was whether anyone meeting him before he killed John Trowbridge would have immediately known he was nuts.

“He thought he was part of a government experiment where they were trying to gas him ... so he would put his head in the toilet and flush it,” psychologist John Paglini testified during Kane’s trial.

Given that young Kane was indeed trying to avoid becoming part of a government experiment in which they tried to gas him -- some of us call it “execution” -- I’d like to know what kind of behavior Dr. Paglini and his pals would diagnose as “acting nuts to try and escape the death penalty.”

Regardless, a Clark County jury last year found Michael Kane not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was shipped off to the filbert factory ... where a new and even better set of shrinks have now decided he’s “not mentally ill any more,” which means Michael Kane could be released as early as next month.

What are they going to do, hand him a clean set of clothes, 10 dollars bus fare, a new Game boy and a dagger?

Have they patented his treatment regimen? This could be worth millions. Was it the creamed chipped beef?

Now, it’s commonly believed the kind of crime indulged by Michael Kane is an argument against re-legalizing drugs. But it’s nothing of the sort.

Current drug laws absurdly classify LSD as an addictive substance (it’s not -- and many hallucinogens have legitimate and totally peaceful uses, including the religious ceremonies of the Native American Church and other peyote churches.) They also punish its possession more harshly than many rapes and murders. Did this stop the pathetic dweeb Michael Kane from laying hands on all he wanted, at a modest price? Clearly not.

What may well have influenced his jury, however, is the notion -- directly inherited from the kind of hysteria that brought on the witch-burnings of the 16th Century -- that drugs are “demons” in an almost literal sense, that once someone has been “possessed” by such agents of evil they’re pretty much doomed, and cannot be held accountable for anything they do while under the influence.

Wrong.

We are no more going to get rid of drugs than the king in the fairy tale could rid his kingdom of sewing needles. We can’t even keep them out of the jails and prisons. They’re here to stay. Are we really going to hang a “Get Out of Jail Free” card on anyone who doses up?

But meantime, any Drug War makes unfortunate outcomes more likely.

In 1918, this was overwhelmingly a nation of wine and beer drinkers. But once alcohol was Prohibited in 1919, it became far more profitable for bootleggers to fill their small boats with rum and whisky than with wine and beer. So all you could get in the local speakeasy were cocktails. America became a nation of hard liquor drinkers -- some of whom actually went blind from drinking products from sources which could not be held accountable in any lawsuit for criminal negligence, since the whole commerce was underground.

Ever since alcohol was re-legalized in 1933, the percentage of alcohol consumed as hard liquor in America -- as opposed to alcohol in the form of wine or beer -- has been dropping. Drinkers know the alcoholic content of what they buy, feel reasonably confident of its purity, and choose to get less blotto. Fewer surprises.

Can street buyers of LSD today have any confidence in its dosage or purity, or that the stuff hasn’t been adulterated with strychnine or speed or other things whose affects they may not properly anticipate? No way.

Which is not to excuse young Kane’s behavior. We don’t let people off for murder because they were drunk -- even though alcohol is by far the drug most likely to be in people’s systems when they kill and maim.

Adults have a responsibility to know what they’re consuming, and how it’s likely to affect them. With freedom comes responsibility, and this is supposed to be a free country, in which the central government is barred from regulating drugs or medicines by the Ninth Amendment. If you’re already feeling a bit paranoid, dropping LSD and then playing violent video games with daggers lying around goes beyond “unwise behavior.”

The only circumstances in which we might forgive deadly or criminally negligent behavior “because he was on drugs” is when someone is dosed with a powerful drug against his or her will or without his or her knowledge, or perhaps when a prescribed drug being used for the first time has an effect which the user wasn’t warned about.

But homicide is homicide. And in this case, the proposal of John Trowbridge’s mother, Robin Trowbridge Benko of Chesterton, Ind. (herself a lawyer), sounds about right. She says the solution is to inform jurors that they can find such defendants “Guilty But Insane” -- a verdict that would allow psychiatric or neurological treatment, but then transport the culprit to a prison to serve out the rest of their sentence, should they at some point be ruled “no longer mentally ill.”

I hope those psychiatrists take young Michael Kane out to dinner at a nice steakhouse to celebrate his release. I’d buy the appetizers. LSD, maybe.

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