A former University of Texas-Austin student charged in a deadly campus stabbing spree last year has been found not guilty by reason of insanity. State Judge Tamara Needles issued that ruling this week to 22-year-old Kendrex White, after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed with a doctor's assessment that White was mentally ill and did not know right from wrong at the time of the attack. The May 2017 attack killed Harrison Brown and left three others wounded. In the days leading up to the attack, White had been examined after having suicidal thoughts and had spent nine days at a mental hospital.
Getting a successful insanity judgment in court is not easy, especially in Texas. "There are approximately 44 different insanity standards," says Houston defense attorney George Parnham. "They all have common denominators, which are severe mental illness and the inability to understand the nature and consequences of your actions, which we don't have in Texas."
Parnham tells KTRH the insanity standards and definition have changed a lot since John Hinckley Jr. successfully pled insanity after shooting President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Hinckley was released from a mental institution in 2016. "There was a great outcry when Hinckley was acquitted, to change the standard and make it less simple for a defendant to plead insanity," says Parnham.
Now, defendants must meet a high burden of proof to be declared insane. And despite what you may have seen in movies or TV shows, you can't plead temporary insanity. "A lot of people talk about temporary insanity, a spur of the moment action," says Parnham. "I'm sure factually that's true, but legally there's no such animal."
White has been ordered to a state mental hospital, where his attorney says he likely won't be allowed out "anytime soon."