Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Addicted to Luxury: The Pampered Killer

A Wrench in the Works

Superior Court of Riverside, California
Superior Court of Riverside, California

Dana Sue Gray entered an insanity plea in the Superior Court of Riverside, California on March 10, 1995.  According to Braidhill, Gray told a psychiatrist that it had taken her a year to understand what she had done and what her state of mind had been.  She'd initially resisted the idea of insanity but now she accepted it.  During the time she was in prison, she had gained a reputation for assaulting people, including prison staff.

Stuart Sachs stated in court that the mental problems from which Gray had suffered at the time of the murders were no longer an issue for her, but back then they had contributed to her behavior.  At that time, psychiatrist Michael Kania had spotted her stress and depression, and had believed her reports that she'd felt dissociated during each crime and was unable to remember the details.

After Gray changed her plea, two psychiatrists were hired to evaluate her. The defense expert, Dr. Lorna Forbes, the second one to evaluate Gray for Sachs, concurred with the original diagnosis.  Gray had told her that Dora Beebe had reminded her of her mother when she was dying of cancer, and it had badly affected her. (She also told each of the three experts a different rendition of events, as recorded by Braidhill, as if seeking what would most impress each one.) After killing in response to feelings of nausea generated by each victim, Gray stated, she felt an overwhelming need to shop, which comforted her.  She claimed it was all just a cry for help.  Forbes's report stressed that Gray had no awareness of the significance of her actions during the times she committed each offense.

Before the murder spree, the defense experts said, she had abused alcohol and stopped taking her medication (although she claimed that the doctor had failed to properly monitor her).  In other words, according to Gray, murdering elderly women had been her doctor's fault; she should not be held accountable. 

However, the prosecution's expert, Dr. Martha Rogers, said that Gray, who claimed to have been provoked into the killings by belittling comments the victims had made, certainly did know what she was doing at the time of the crimes.  Despite stress, she had planned, prepared for, and carried out the crimes in full awareness that they were wrong.  Thus, she'd been sane, even if alcohol abuse had exacerbated her impulsivity.  She did admit to having Jason in the car when she killed June Roberts, and then taking him right away to lunch and on a shopping spree.  She also blamed June for what happened, taking no responsibility.  Rogers attributed Gray's crimes to three primary motives, says Braidhill: "a desire for money, a desire for power and domination, and displaced family anger."  In short, it seemed that she was an impulsive narcissist who went after what she wanted, regardless of the expense to others.  She sought power and comfort.  There were plenty of behaviors during and after the murders to indicate that she'd been aware that her acts were illegal.

Once Gray had entered an insanity plea, both sides knew they'd have to prepare for a lengthy proceeding, potentially involving three separate phases: the guilt phase, the insanity phase, and the sentence, if it went that far. Bentley had a wealth of evidence: Gray's use of the credit cards, clerks who had seen her directly after each murder, handwriting experts who identified her signatures on various items, and a surviving witness whom Gray had attempted to kill.  For psychological evidence, they also had a similar MO and continuity in the crimes, in terms of timing, area, and victim type.  Given Gray's viciousness, it was likely that jury members would be concerned about her getting back out among them any time soon.  Nevertheless, Bentley knew it would be awhile before they got into court.  But once they did, it was over in a flash.

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