My father, mental illness and the death penalty | Clive Stafford Smith | TEDxExeter


Translator: Ellen Maloney
Reviewer: Denise RQ Well, hello. I feel really at home here, you know, because I’ve been to Guantanamo
many times, 34 times. So being in a very small enclosed area, and the bright interrogation lights,
not allowed food or water, I mean, it’s just like home to me. (Laughter) I wanted to start out by being rude
to the TEDx people, obviously, but what I really wanted to begin with was a little tribute to my aunt
who just died very recently. My auntie Jean, she was 94,
she had a very good innings. But one of the things about auntie Jean
she chose the wrong time to be born. She was born in 1920. She, as the daughter in the family,
got very few opportunities. She was a very brilliant,
very sharp woman, but it was my dad, her younger brother,
who got all the benefits; went to go to Cambridge and got
a first there; all that good stuff. My aunt didn’t get that, and I used
to tease her that if she had, – she was quite a Tory – she probably would have run
the country and wielded her handbag more effectively than Margaret Thatcher,
which I found quite terrifying. My father, as I say, was the one
who had the opportunities, but he, unfortunately, was blighted
all his life with bipolar disorder. So even though he was very intelligent
himself, and had all those opportunities, it was very difficult
for him to do things. I wanted to tell you a couple stories
that were occurring to me recently. One was when I was seven years old
and this is just to illustrate, I love my dad dearly,
it’s not to denigrate him in anyway. When I was seven, he called me
into the library, and he said, “Clive, your generation has just kept
juvenile for too long, immature. Frankly, you’re seven now, and it’s time
for you to go and live by yourself.” (Laughter) “Here is £200, now buzz off.” Now, you know, it was confusing. My pocket money at the time
was a shilling a week, and I don’t think I calculated it then, but I calculated it last night
coming over here; 80 years of my pocket
money, he had just given me! Nonetheless, I didn’t feel
I was quite ready to go out and about, and fortunately, as ever,
my mother came in and solved the problem by taking the money away
and sending me to bed. These sorts of things would happen
rather regularly with my dad. There was another story I was remembering,
a little later on in life, when I was trying a death penalty case
in southern Mississippi. My dad had come over to help,
and as ever with dad, he decided I was total rubbish, and so he managed to hitchhike his way
up to Jackson, Mississippi, he managed to get in
to the Governor’s mansion, where he told the Governor that he felt that not only should
my client be executed but they’d be doing the world a favor
if they’d execute me at the same time. (Laughter) There were many people
in the authorities of Mississippi who agreed with him on that, but it was slightly confusing
for me at the time. What really helped me, ultimately, actually it ended up
doing death penalty work was a comprehension of my dad,
and that some of these things he would do, were not necessarily
the product of a rational mind. But sadly, a lot of people would see
some of the things my dad would do, and hate him for it, and would feel
he was a fraud or something worse. Indeed, he did do some extraordinarily
bizarre things over the years. One of those actually was my aunt. My aunt Jean was an immensely
compassionate woman, but she simply couldn’t understand,
or accept, perhaps, is a better word, that her blue-eyed younger brother
was mentally ill. So she would always feel
that what he was doing was bad, rather than the product
of his mental illness. Which is very sad, because I feel
that perhaps if my dad had been recognised earlier,
he would have got help. He was only ever sectioned once,
and he only ever got treatment once. That sort of ruined his life. Which brings me,
naturally, to Ricky Langley. Ricky Langley is a guy
I represented in Louisiana. And Ricky Langley is a pedophile,
who’s molested a lot of children, and who ended up killing a six year old
child called Jeremy Guillory. I ended up taking on his case
way back in 1993, for the first time. His story goes back, far back,
to before he was born even. I want to tell you about his story because it leads to a woman
called Lorelei Guillory, who was the mother
of the child who got killed, who is one of my great heroes in life. Before Ricky was born, his mum and dad
were driving along on this road, with their two kids in the back. Alcide was driving, and he was drunk and he drove off the road,
and hit a telegraph pole. One of the kids in the back was this tousle-haired little child called
Oscar-Lee; blonde hair, six years old. Lovely little kid, who was the apple
of his parent’s eyes. He was killed instantly, and his sister, a little younger than him
was decapitated and killed. Dreadful, dreadful stuff. And Betsy, the mother, was thrown through the front windscreen,
and very badly injured herself. She ended up in Charity Hospital
for most of the next two years. She was in a body cast
from her neck to her ankles. At the trial, I had an Australian
volunteer of ours model this, which should warn you never
to come and work as a volunteer for a reprieve, I dare say. But when she was in this body cast,
she became pregnant. This, of course, had something
to do with Alcide, her husband’s rather regressive views
about the roles of husbands and wives. No one believed she was pregnant,
because how could she be? Although that was another thing
we demonstrated at the trial, to the amusement of the judge at least,
who was a bit of a pervert. (Laughter) Lovely guy, actually. So she was pregnant,
but for five months, no one believed her. And during those five months,
Ricky who was that fetus, was subjected to his own private
Hiroshima of x-rays and all of these drugs that she was taking that should never be given
to a pregnant woman, and one of the drugs, bizarrely,
has been linked with pedophilia. If you expose a fetus to that drug, then that individual is much more likely
to become a pedophile later, and it’s so bizarre,
we didn’t present that to the jury because I think they would have thought
we made it up, but it’s true. Anyway, five months in, the doctors
finally accepted she was pregnant, they cut her body cast off,
there was a big old whoosh. They said to her,
“You’ve got to have an abortion. There’s no two ways about it, after all we’ve done
to you and that fetus.” But Alcide, the husband, said,
“No, , that’s not going to happen. I’m Catholic, we don’t do abortions.” So Betsy carried Ricky to term. When he was born, it was obvious
he wasn’t the blonde, blue-eyed, little Oscar-Lee, the apple of their eye. He was strange looking, that’s I suppose,
the best one can say about it. I am sure they said that
about me as a child and still do. But Ricky had obviously
suffered immensely in there, and it was pretty obvious fairly soon
that there was something going on. He wasn’t Oscar-Lee, his dad would tease him horribly
about him not being Oscar-Lee. He was molested himself. He then, at age eight, starts sleeping
on gravestones in the local cemetery. At ten, he puts a notice
on his school notice-board saying, “I am not Ricky Langley, I am Oscar-Lee,” who you will recall, was the dead brother. Ricky was already
developing this psychosis that he was his dead brother, Oscar-Lee, or Oscar-Lee was his alter-ego,
who was his tormentor, who made him do things
that he didn’t want to do. Ricky started molesting other children,
no question about it. He had no understanding
at that time what was going on. He ultimately was banged up
in the prison system of Georgia for molesting a child,
actually the child of his cousin. This was the first time
he ever got counseling, and the counselors told him, “You’re a pedophile, you’re mentally ill,
we can’t treat it, it’s untreatable. You are going to carry on offending.” And indeed, under that theory,
which is a slightly bizarre one, about a year after
we set you free from prison, you will inevitably molest another child.” Now Ricky, like my father,
Ricky was a very intelligent guy. There is often this stereotype
that if you’re really bright, you can’t suffer from mental disorders,
which are obviously silly. And Ricky, when he was told this, said,
“Look, you’ve convinced me.” And he wrote a letter to
the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles saying, “Look, don’t let me go then,
for goodness sake. Put me in a mental hospital
where I belong.” But bureaucracy being
what bureaucracy often is, they ignored him, they let him go. Sure enough, about a year later,
he ends up killing a small child, Jeremy Guillory, six years old,
who was the child of Lorelei Guillory, the woman I mentioned before. You know, when I first talked to him,
and he told me about it, he said, “I thought it was Oscar-Lee, my tormentor,
I was trying to get rid of him!” Obviously, one of the great challenges
of dealing with a case like this is you’re trying to tell
to arguably rational people, something that is irrational;
it’s incredibly hard to understand. But one of the little insights
we had into Ricky was there was a picture of Oscar-Lee and a picture of Jeremy Guillory, and Oscar-Lee’s own aunt
couldn’t tell them apart. Perhaps that was a little insight
into what Ricky was feeling or seeing. But no question he killed this poor child. He was sentenced to death,
first time round. The jurors accepted he was mentally ill. They said, “Yeah, but he’s dangerous,
we better kill him.” We got him a new trial, and before the new trial,
I got to know Ricky a lot better, and I got to know Lorelei, the mother
of the small child who had been killed. Lorelei was a fascinating,
fascinating character. She was a recovering alcoholic,
very little education, but full of the most immense compassion. What she wanted most of all,
as the mother of a victim. was to understand “Why?”;
to understand why this had happened. I was talking to her and I was saying, “Look, if you really want to understand,
you are very welcome to talk to Ricky. I know that would be difficult,
but Ricky would love to talk to you; to apologise because he knows
he took the life of your child, but to explain a little bit
about how mentally ill he is. I think if you do that,
it won’t totally explain everything, because it was an irrational act,
but it will help you.” And it was immense tribute,
I think, to Lorelei, that she said, “Yeah, I’m going to do that.” So she goes down to the jail,
all by herself, to see Ricky. I’d said, “Look, talk to Ricky, if you don’t like what he says, you can testify against him,
I don’t mind, this is just for you.” So she goes in there,
she had always called him “Langley”. Obviously, she had it in
for him at the beginning. She sat down, Ricky explained all of his
life history and he apologized to her. At the very end of three hours talking to the person
who had murdered her six-year old, she says to him,
first time calling him “Ricky”, she says, “Ricky,
I’m going to fight for you!” And she leaves that jail,
she goes down to the DA’s office, I’m not going to mention who it was,
I really didn’t like the guy, and goes into his office,
and explains all of this. Says, “I think Ricky Langley
was mentally ill, and I don’t want
this death penalty nonsense. It’s just going to put me through
the pain again, dreadful stuff, not going to solve anything.” And the DA says to her, she says, “Miss Guillory, you’re a very strange
criminal defendant, I mean, victim.” And then, he proceeded to seek
the death penalty again, anyhow. Indeed, the authorities tried to take
away her other child, because she was an unfit mother,
because she took a strange approach to the person
who had killed her first child. Anyway, we get to the trial,
and one of the lovely things – I love about doing
capital trials in America is you get to ask people
all sorts of questions – I would love to do it to you, “You’re under oath, you have to answer
whatever I ask you.” It’s great fun. (Laughter) Great fun for me,
not for you, it really is. So I was picking this jury,
and they were lovely people. We got 12 people
who’ve had close family relatives who had serious mental disorders, who really understood a lot of it. And they laughed
at the pathetic weak jokes I would tell, so I was confident that the outcome
was going to be okay at this trial, because they really
didn’t like the prosecutor. So I talked to Lorelei; and in a death penalty case
in America, there are two trials. The first is whether you are guilty
of capital murder or not, and only if you are guilty
of capital murder do you get to the second,
which is life or death; do you get the life sentence
or the death penalty. I said to Lorelei, “Look,
these people are nice people, they are not going to convict him
or capital murder, You won’t get the chance you wanted
which was to testify at the penalty phase, to say that the death penalty
would have a dreadful impact on you. You are just not going to get that chance. I just need to tell you that, because
I’m afraid that’s what is going to happen. I’m very happy, but I’m sorry for you.” So she went away that night,
very religious, and she prayed, and she came back
the next morning, and she said, “The logic of my position, is…” She said it in a much more
Southern Louisiana accent, “The logic of my position
is that he’s mentally ill, he shouldn’t be in prison;
he should be in a mental hospital. I want to testify that he should be found
‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ because he was insane
at the time he killed my child.” I said, “Alright.” She said, “One thing I really need
though, is a guarantee; that he’ll never be released
from the mental hospital to harm another child.” I said, “That’s easy.” Ricky only wants that. He wanted to be a guinea pig because he knew what he was,
in a way, what he’d been made, One of the things about this,
not withstanding, what the “News of The World”
used to always do, is there’s no one who hates Ricky Langley
more than Ricky Langley. And he wanted to be a guinea-pig
so he could be studied, so that other people wouldn’t suffer
what he had suffered, and that other children
wouldn’t suffer what he had caused. So, he signed off on whatever
he had to sign off on, and I said to Lorelei, “What do you want
me to ask you as a witness?” And she says, “Just ask me one question.” So I did. I’m sorry, this stuff always
makes me a bit chokey, when I talk about this with Lorelei
because it was a remarkable human moment. She’s on the witness stand,
and I ask her one question, “Miss Guillory, do you have an opinion
as to whether that man over there who killed your six-year old child
was mentally ill at the time he did it?” And she turns to the jurors, and she says,
“Well yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I think that Ricky Langley has been crying
out for help since the day he was born. For whatever reason, his family,
society, the legal system; just won’t listen to him. As I sit on this witness chair, I can hear
the death cries of my child, Jeremy. But I can still hear that man
crying out for help. I think he was mentally ill
at the time he killed my child.” Now, when you are doing a closing
argument in a death penalty case, – and I’ve done many – it’s tough; it’s quite a responsibility. It’s not nearly as much fun
as the earlier bit, which is interrogating you lot. But this was easy, right?
I just talked to the jurors, I say, “Listen to what the lady says,
I can’t put it any better than that.” And sure enough, they did acquit him
of first-degree murder, though we still are fighting both his’
and Lorelai’s battle for true justice. The reason I tell this is two-fold. One is, she’s a victim. One of the horrifying things
about our society today is the way the government, the great teacher for good or for ill,
tries to teach victims to hate. Lorelei is one of my great heroes,
because she tried to understand, and it’s so obviously
the right thing to do. But the other thing
is about mental illness. Ricky understands that he’s mentally ill, which is more than my poor dad
ever really did. But the great thing, ultimately, is even though my aunt was compassionate,
and brilliant, and whatever, she could never understand
my father’s true defense, which was that he was mentally ill. But Lorelei Guillory could. Lorelei Guillory could see
not only that Ricky was mentally ill but that we needed to understand
him, and not just hate him. That was the root, finally
to understand people, and perhaps, to get us to a place
where we might be able to prevent some of these things
happening in the future. That’s the reason
I want to tell that story, because Lorelei Guillory is one
of the great unsung heroes, or heroines in the world, and I wanted to take this time
to tell you her story. So thank you very much. (Applause)

24 Comments

  1. I am truly fortunate, indeed blessed, to know Clive Stafford Smith personally and consider him a dear friend. One of the most decent and dedicated human beings I have had the great pleasure to have ever known. He gives me hope. Many thanks, Clive, on behalf of everyone in the Working Group. You know precisely who I'm referring to, of course…

  2. this guy is a genius defense lawyer to get whats best for his client. But, in a way i thinks its all makes sense. win win

    to understand and relate is very important to understanding that getting upset and irrational is pointless. your only getting mad or upset about a situation that the other person has not yet experienced or possibly is in denial of comprehending. so really, your just getting mad and upset with yourself.

  3. Love his description of the victim as "the child who got killed" as if the child was to blame, and not as if the murderer Ricky the piece of human garbage killed him. If this SOB had a shred of honesty he would have said "the child Ricky murdered". I find defense lawyers to be beneath contempt. Mental illness does not make people murder, but evil people who have mental illness use their illness as an excuse for their criminal acts. There is no way to prove that mental illness was the reason they killed. There is no way to establish a causal link, but this stupid assumption is cooked into the injustice system and these bastards get away with everything from rape and murder to pedophilia.

  4. This is me giving Clive Stafford Smith a standing ovation. What a remarkably poignant and riveting presentation.

  5. If there was any way I could tell you thank you for sharing this is would, it was interesting and heart warming as well as insightful. Thank-you

  6. he is a decent man and seems genuine about the people he represents " and I agree with him about the death penalty

  7. I'm so pleased that we have this amazing man in our world. Clive, you have won your great place in Heaven! I would LOVE to have the honour of meeting you. Thank you x

  8. I think our justice system is full of mentally ill individuals. Judges, prosecutors, and more. When this mentally ill person is more logical than the supposedly mentally healthy society he lives in, all is lost. Get me out of here.

  9. end of the day he was mentaly capable of killing a little boy, so he should be put down,, we kill ill dogs, whats the diffl. he chose to do that, it was his choice

  10. this guy is illuminating, he made me understand more my brother than any other including many psychologists , I can't thank him enought.

  11. i just learned about clive stafford smith earlier today as he appeared in an episode of a series on the american cable tv channel HEADLINE NEWS titled DEATH ROW STORIES. i've been checking out some of hie youtube videos and have observed that he's a remarkably intelligent, endearing, and earnestly compassionate human being. it's too bad the criminal injustice system he's up against tends to be the exact opposite, and that, as some of the comments here show, there are also many individuals who tend to be the exact opposite.

  12. it truly saddens me that this video has so few comments, and many of them blmaing the guy for doing the wrong thing.
    I have been trying – on another YouTube video – to make some people who still believe that families of victims can be justified for killing the murderer of their loved one, that their view is wrong. I wrote a pretty good piece, I think, but now I see I could've just posted this video in the comment section instead.
    great talk. mad-inspired right now.

  13. This man I have followed his career over many years. I consider him not just a genius, but a man of compassion and understanding from all perspectives. So many people like Clive could have chosen an easier life. – he did not.

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