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File | AP
EMS personnel speak with Cody Cousins after detained in the shooting. (The Journal & Courier | John Terhune)

Insanity defense is a longshot for Purdue shooting suspect

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A northeast Indiana man charged in the fatal shooting and stabbing of a Purdue University teaching assistant could face a difficult task proving he was insane at the time of the slaying.

Cody Cousins of Warsaw is charged with murder in the Jan. 21 death of Andrew Boldt, 21, inside a classroom filled with Purdue electrical engineering students.

Cousins, 23, told Tippecanoe Superior Court Judge Thomas Busch last month that he was taking medication for treatment of schizophrenia. His public defender, Lafayette attorney Kirk Freeman, has filed formal notice of his intention to use the defense of mental disease or defect.

Such defenses rarely succeed in Indiana, prosecutors and psychologists say.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings told the Journal & Courier ( that the insanity defense was raised in about 10 of the 60 murder cases he’s tried. None was successful, he said.

Cummings said that when the defense is formally raised, the court appoints mental health experts to evaluate the accused. They must determine if the defendant is competent to stand trial and then must reach a conclusion about the defendant’s sanity at the time of the crime.

Don Olive, a clinical psychologist in Indianapolis who specializes in forensic psychology, said experts typically review court documents and police reports and talk with witnesses to determine competency and a defendant’s mental status at the time of the crime. They also usually speak with the suspect.

“In some cases, you can get a fairly clear sense that they appreciated the wrongfulness of their conduct,” said Olive, who is not involved in Cousins’ case.

Olive said it becomes more difficult to determine the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the crime as time passes, especially if the accused wasn’t hospitalized shortly after arrest as in Cousins’ case.

Fran Watson, a professor at the Indiana University McKinney Law School, said a “preponderance of the evidence” must show that the defendant is insane or didn’t appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the offense in order to succeed with an insanity defense.

If a jury decides that Cousins was insane at the time of Boldt’s death, Cousins could be found either not guilty due to mental illness or guilty but mentally ill.

“The ‘guilty but mentally ill’ really means guilty,” said Larry Landis of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

A not guilty verdict due to mental health reasons, however, doesn’t mean the defendant simply walks out of court a free man.

Instead, the defendant is detained to determine if he is a danger to himself or others and whether commitment to a mental institution is appropriate.