Insanity defense prevails as jury returns verdict

Alexander Ervin
Alexander Ervin

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A jury decided Alexander Ervin’s mental illness kept him from knowing right from wrong the night his father, Scott, was stabbed to death. Because of that decision, he will spend time in a hospital rather than prison.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Insanity Plea

The standards for using the insanity defense vary across the country, and some states even outlaw it.

Here in Texas the defense is based on the M’Naghten Rule. It dates back to an 1843 case where an Englishman named Daniel M’Naghten shot and killed the secretary of the British Prime Minister. The court acquitted M’Naghten by reason of insanity.

Queen Victoria was outraged and ordered a standard be applied for such pleas.

A rule was created that required a presumption of sanity. Then the defense had to prove the defendant did not know what he or she was doing at the time of the act.

The 22-year-old was charged with murder for stabbing his father to death in the Horseshoe Bend home on Sept. 18, 2013. But after hearing two different mental health experts testify, hearing testimony about previous battles with mental illness, and observing Ervin’s own behavior on the witness stand, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

It was the verdict Ervin’s family wanted.

“It is horrible it took this tragedy, but I believe that this is the best outcome for (Alexander) because now he can get the help he really needs,” his mother Leslie Ervin said. “Scott and I loved all four of our children unconditionally.”

In Texas, the insanity defense is extremely rare. The defense has the burden of proving by preponderance of evidence that the defendant did not know right from wrong when they committed the crime.

Ervin will be placed in a State Mental Health hospital and undergo an evaluation. A hearing next month will determine what treatment is appropriate. Leslie Ervin said the final result is something even Scott Ervin would have wanted.

“We take comfort from the belief Scott is at peace.”

Past Travis County Cases

The insanity defense is rarely used and even less likely to work. We checked our archives and found only two cases in Travis County where it succeeded.

In 2005, prosecutors said University of Texas music student Jackson Ngai killed his professor with a meat clever.

The defense claimed he was insane at the time and thought the teacher was a “robot with a computer chip in her head.” He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors also called a 2011 case even more surprising. That’s because both defense and state experts agreed that Javier Benitez was insane.

He shot and killed a woman and then stabbed her husband in East Austin. A judge ruled last year he was not guilty by reason of insanity. But, Benitez did not go free. He’s currently under mandatory commitment at the North Texas State Hospital.

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