When someone commits a horrendous act, many are quick to suggest he “must be crazy.”
When I responded as a prosecutor to homicide calls in Dade County I sometimes saw body parts floating up on Miami Beach. Old women or young kids might be killed for no apparent reason during a robbery or burglary. The detectives would ask if this particular crime would be a death penalty case. I would answer flippantly, “Normal people don’t do this.”
When Frazier Glenn Miller shot and killed three people (and thankfully missed two others), all in front of Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas on April 13, the same speculations arose. Despite his un-American views of racism, anti-Semitism and dislike of several other groups he finds below his status, “that is not normal” was heard. His smiling upon being arrested and his shouts of “Heil Hitler” seemed to confirm that.
Upon reading the many news accounts of this white supremacist hatemonger, and founder of the Klan affiliated White Patriot Party in North Carolina, a different picture begins appearing. It reminds me of one of the judges I appeared before as a young prosecutor when these purveyors of very violent behavior came before the court. “Let’s order a ‘psych eval’ and see if he’s sick or evil.”
Miller served in the army for 20 years before being discharged for “distributing racist literature.” During the next 35 years, he engaged in such behaviors as setting up paramilitary training camps in the Pacific Northwest and bought military weapons which included anti-tank rockets, mines, and explosives.
His Klan activities included patrolling voting sites in Nazi uniforms and camouflage, while bearing arms, allegedly to protect whites from harassment. Within 7 years after his army career, his followers amounted to 2,500. The self professed armed revolutionary was finally arrested on weapons charges. After testifying against his co conspirators, he served three years in a federal prison. In the past 24 years since his release, what has he been doing?
The white power movement has been investigated by the Department of Homeland Security. Their report suggested that “right wing extremists would attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans” to join such groups and train them, something Miller has done before. After serious criticism by media groups and members of Congress, the report was shelved. It proved most prescient.
Reportedly armed with a shotgun, handgun and an assault weapon, the former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the KKK approached the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, in Overland Park, Kansas. He killed both a doctor, William Corporon, and his 14 year old grandson, Reat Underwood. Reat was to participate in an area wide audition for a singing scholarship that attracted hundreds of high school students.
Then a few blocks away, Miller shot a physical therapist, Terri LaManno, visiting her mother who lived at a nearby Jewish retirement home, called Village Shalom (The Peaceful Village!), killing her as well. According to family members, none of the three victims were Jewish, proving the maxim that hatred is blind. Dr. Corporon and Reat were Methodist, Terri was Catholic.
Miller, aged 73, was charged with three counts of premeditated murder. Hate crimes charges are also being investigated by the federal authorities. What will happen to him?
First the psych evals will be ordered and Miller will be examined and watched, as will his lengthy history. While we can all agree that such a bizarre history of hatred and violence is “not normal,” does it make him insane?
The question will be does he know right from wrong and the nature and consequences of his actions. Another question, easily answered, is does the religion of his victims matter? Miller’s intent was to attack people at a Jewish institution. He went there and fired, thinking, assuming and hoping they would be Jewish. The hate crimes statute punishes him for that intent.
It’s not too far from shooting at someone and missing, and then claiming you didn’t commit a crime as you missed. Our law combines what you did with what you intended, in order to get a just result.
Getting back to the issue of mental illness, there will be those who will say this type of conduct isn’t “normal.” What is normal? Who knows, but if Miller knew what he was doing, and that it was wrong, and that it could get him arrested and put (back) in prison, his conduct is criminal and not excused as caused by mental illness.
What will happen to him? Being 73, not what he deserves. It is unlikely he will live out the appeals. Miller will probably spend his days ranting about the Jews and blacks, the Communists and the immigrants who are ruining this country. However this time, his audience will be limited to his cellmates.
I’m sure the mayor of his home town will visit. He was videoed on CNN a few days later saying Miller was just fed up with the Jewish corporations ruining our economy. Let’s hope the case isn’t tried in that town.
David M. Waksman, J.D., is a nationally known former homicide prosecutor with vast experience in trying violent offenders and a former sergeant with the NYPD. He served for 35 years with the Miami-Dade (Fla.) State Attorney’s Office, primarily in the Major Crimes Division. He teaches Case Preparation and Courtroom Presentation, Police Involved Shootings, Injury and Death Investigation and Criminal Law at the Miami Dade College School of Justice, In-Service Training Unit and at various police departments in South Florida. His specialty is Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues. He has tried almost 200 jury trials, including 79 for first-degree murder. He is the author of the Search and Seizure Handbook, 3/ed. It was cited by the United States Supreme Court in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006), available from Prentice Hall.