Most people have heard of sleep walking. Apparently it’s common among children however no one really knows why it happens. Some research suggests that during deep sleep, when there’s almost no brain activity, the body can mysteriously become aroused. However, that’s just one out of many theories for sleep walking. It’s been linked to seizures and other brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and is purported to occur during times of stress. Sleep walking is generally harmless however sometimes it can accompany scary behaviors. That includes killing. Sleep walking murders, dates back centuries. Here are 3 interesting court cases that have occurred over the decades:
1. Did you know that someone received a not-guilty verdict for a sleep walking murder? The first time it happened was in 1846. Albert J. Tirrell was a wealthy husband to a wife and kids. However, he left them for a beautiful woman, named Mary Ann Bickford, who worked in a brothel in Boston. Apparently, she was very rich, since the brothel was frequented by the states most elite clientele. Tirrell’s affair with Bickford, ended in him slitting her throat and setting much of the brothel on fire. He fled prosecution however was eventually caught on a boat on the Gulf of Mexico. In court, he managed to convince the jury that he had been sleep walking and therefore couldn’t be held responsible for the murder. He also explained that he never grew out of sleep walking, since childhood, yet this was the first act of violence, he’d ever committed. He was acquitted, not-guilty.
2. Another man, named Ken Parks, won a murder case in 1989, using the sleep walking defense. Apparently, in the middle of the night, he drove to the home of his in-laws and killed his mother-in-law and then attempted to kill his father-in-law. He then drove to the police station and confessed to killing two people. In court, he said he didn’t remember any of these events. He didn’t even remember going to the police. He said he had fallen asleep on the couch, watching TV, and must have been sleep walking, which is something he did since childhood. What was interesting about this case is that he was found to be mentally stable, so he walked away a totally free man and wasn’t required to go to any mental institution. There are no known reports of him acting out in violence, since then.
3. A California man, named Stephen Otto Reitz, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2004, despite the sleep walking defense. The 28 year old fisherman apparently threw a flower pot at his girlfriend, Eva Marie Weinfurtner’s head and then proceeded to stab her in the neck. He claimed that they had been drinking and using cocaine and that he had been completely unconscious for the attack. He described acting out a dream, in which he was fighting off an intruder. However, the jury, who saw gruesome images of Weinfurter and was also informed of a history of violence between the couple, was not convinced of Reitz innocence. The judge also discredited the sleep walking defense, saying that the murder involved too much multi-tasking, to have been done while asleep. He was sentenced to a minimum of twenty six years in prison.
What’s interesting about the sleep walking defense is that it’s plausible. Sleep remains incredibly mysterious, yet sleep walking has existed for ages, and many people have reported doing so. It’s considered relatively harmless in children however among adults, there’s a strong association with violence. Up to 60% of adult sleep walkers, either engage in self-harm or hurt those who are around them. Sometimes, sleep walkers even jump out of windows. More research is needed to understand the cause of sleep walking, so that it can be treated, especially among the adult population.