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A, a paranoid schizophrenic, is temporarily institutionalized and placed under the care of two psychiatric workers, B and C. Soon after, A’s paranoia convinces him that B and C are ancient reptilian creatures, posing as humans and plotting to take over the earth, and that A’s duty is to stop them. To that end, A plans to stab B and C with a knife he stole from the institution’s kitchen. But A does not intend to kill B and C; A believes that stab wounds will not harm the reptiles. Instead, to A’s mind, a chemical reaction between the reptiles’ blood and the metal constituting the blade will force the reptiles to shed their human disguises and retreat to their kingdom at the center of the earth.
One afternoon, completely confident that B is a lizard, A stabs B. To A’s great surprise, B dies instantly. A is dismayed to find that B’s blood is red, not reptile green. A thus hesitates before stabbing C, recognizing the risk that C may not be a reptile. Nevertheless, A concludes that even if C herself is a human being, she is clearly cooperating with the lizards. To prevent a reptilian takeover of Earth, A also stabs C, killing her.
Assume that the prosecution can prove the above facts at A’s trial. Also assume that A’s severe paranoid schizophrenia is well-documented and amounts to a mental illness.
A is arrested and charged with two counts of murder, in a common-law jurisdiction that defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. In this jurisdiction, evidence of mental illness can be offered both to negate the mens rea of the charged crime and to offer an affirmative defense of insanity. Finally, this jurisdiction has adopted the M’Naghten test for insanity.