Legal insanity definition challenged

Posted: Tuesday, December 07, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Two Anchorage residents charged with first-degree murder are challenging Alaska's legal insanity law, among the strictest in the nation.

Cynthia Lord, accused in the fatal shootings of her three sons in March, and Mark Rocereta, accused in the fatal shooting of a stranger in 2002, contend they suffer from mental diseases that caused them to kill. But prosecutors contend the shooters understood they were killing human beings and intended to do so, and that's all Alaska law requires to hold them responsible.

Lord, 42, had a history of mental illness before her sons were shot at the family apartment. She called police and surrendered. According to an affidavit by police, Lord said that she bought a 9 mm pistol months earlier, that she planned to kill the boys and that she killed them to save them from the evil of the world.

In most states, Lord would be considered not guilty by reason of insanity, said her attorney, Gary Soberay.

In the 2002 case, Rocereta is accused of shooting Robert B. Wall on a stairwell of a bar. According to the court file, witnesses told police they saw Rocereta shoot Wall in the stairwell. No one saw a fight or heard an argument between the two.

Police picked up Rocereta near Girdwood. He was headed for Homer and had shaved off his beard after leaving the bar. He agreed he was near the dead man when the shots were fired but denied doing the shooting.

His attorney, Dan Lowery, wants to argue to a jury that Rocereta, 52, is not guilty by reason of insanity because he didn't know he was doing wrong, that he killed Wall in "delusional self-defense."

Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman contends Rocereta has never been diagnosed as mentally il but made a bad decision while influenced by beer.

Attorneys Soberay and Lowery have asked judges in their separate cases to declare Alaska's insanity law unconstitutional, saying it too narrow and at odds with centuries of legal practice.

Superior Court Judge Mike Wolverton has already ruled against the defense in the Rocereta case, and Lowery has petitioned the Court of Appeals to review that decision before trial.

Superior Court Judge Philip Volland has scheduled argument in the Lord case for Wednesday.

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