Four Spooky Legal Defenses People Actually Argued

Your honor, a demon made me do it
Four Spooky Legal Defenses People Actually Argued

Something horror movies never address is what happens afterward, specifically in the courtroom. After all, a whole bunch of people are about to be found dead, raising a whole bunch of legal questions. Like, can supernatural creatures be charged with murder? What if the murderer was possessed at the time? What if the victim presented as a threatening entity via a trickster demon? Some of these arguments have actually been made by the world’s ballsiest lawyers.

Arne Cheyenne Johnson Said the Devil Made Him Do It

If you’ve tolerated the Conjuring Universe long enough to get to the third one, you know about Arne Cheyenne Johnson, but for everyone we’d trust on a jury, the movie is about the possession of Johnson’s girlfriend’s little brother and subsequently of himself. (There’s also witches and stuff, but that’s obviously Hollywood flavor.) Specifically, it depicts Johnson’s stabbing of his landlord, Alan Bono, in 1981. Even more specifically, it depicts Johnson as possessed by a demon when he stabbed Bono. It’s not even an implication — we see the demon pass from the boy to Johnson by way of cloudy contact lenses.

All the Conjuringverse movies are based on alleged true stories from Ed and Lorraine Warren’s ghostbusting days, so the stabbing really occurred, but the part where they encourage him to claim in court that he was possessed at the time? That can’t be real, right? Based on the title of this article, you know it can. In what became known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” Case, providing a handy title for the movie, Johnson’s lawyer entered a plea of not guilty by reason of demonic possession, which was struck down immediately by the judge because that’s not a thing. It turns out the Warrens aren’t legal scholars but are enormous frauds. Johnson still only got five years in prison, though, so maybe give it a shot.

Roland Kashney Claimed Devil Cops Made Him Do It

Before “not guilty by reason of demonic possession,” however, there was “coercion by the demonic possession of others.” After Roland Kashney signed a written confession to armed robbery and murder, he initially claimed the officers interrogating him had beaten the confession out of him. We’ve all seen Making a Murderer, so we know this happens, but the courts seriously doubted it happened to Kashney, mostly because he’d been asked previously if the cops had beaten him. Also, he immediately switched tacks under the slightest heat, and the tack he switched to was demons.

Kashney had been declared unfit to stand trial for a time, but once he got on the stand, he proved that he probably still wasn’t by testifying that he’d only signed the confession out of fear of the demons possessing the interrogating officers. The defense called expert witnesses in demonology to support this statement, though their testimony basically consisted of “Yep, people believe in demons.” Again, this wasn’t an insanity plea, under which this tactic might work. Kashney and his lawyers were saying he didn’t do it and just needed to explain why he said he did. The jury was unconvinced, and Kashney got 30 to 60 years. Should have called in Eddie and Lo-Lo.

Francis Smith Claimed He Thought He Shot a Ghost

In 1803, people of the village of Hammersmith in England started reporting sightings of a pale figure who appeared every night at 1 a.m. to antagonize people. That could describe most English college students, but this was 1803, so people immediately leaped to “ghost.” Some did suspect the Hammersmith ghost was just some troublemaker (which turned out to be true), and local men began patrolling the streets in search of them, which is how Francis Smith found himself face-to-face with a man dressed all in white on January 3, 1804.

When the man failed to respond to Smith’s commands and kept walking toward him, Smith panicked and shot at the man, because even though he had become convinced that, holy shit, this was actually a ghost, he was also somehow convinced that bullets could stop said ghosts. Unfortunately, the man turned out to be a local bricklayer, Thomas Milwood, in his standard white uniform. Milwood had been warned before to cover up his clothes at night because “mistaken for a ghost” was a real danger in 19th-century London.

Nevertheless, the judge didn’t quite buy the claim, telling the jury that “however disgusted (they) might feel in their own minds with the abominable person guilty of the misdemeanor of terrifying the neighborhood, still the prisoner had no right to construe such misdemeanor into a capital offense,” but also, he was an idiot “to conclude that a man dressed in white was a ghost.” They still tried to go easy on him, convicting him of manslaughter, until the judge informed them that they actually can’t invent their own charges, at which point they had no choice but to convict him of murder. Even then, Smith enjoyed so much royal support that he received a royal pardon in less than a month. Just something for the Innocence Project to keep in mind.

Edward Shue Questioned His Dead Wife’s Ghost

The death of Elva Zona Heaster Shue in 1897 was sus from the get-go. Her body had been found in her home by a neighbor boy sent by her husband, Edward Shue, to deliver a message, and by the time the coroner got there, Mr. Shue had already redressed his wife in a high-collared dress and refused to let go of her, specifically her head. The coroner couldn’t find anything wrong with the rest of her body but found nothing shifty about Shue’s highly localized despair, recording the cause of death as “everlasting faint,” which we’re pretty sure was a Smashing Pumpkins song.

That was it until Elva’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, claimed to have been visited by the spirit of her dead daughter, who told her Shue was a habitual abuser who’d broken her neck. Heaster went to the police, who did her the courtesy of asking Shue’s friends and neighbors if they’d noticed anything off, and they were like, “Come to think of it, he was real weird at the funeral. Kept adjusting her head and neck and putting veils and scarves on her.” Then the coroner did another examination and found that, indeed, her neck was broken, her windpipe was crushed and she had bruising on her neck consistent with choking. So that didn’t look good.

When the case went to trial, the prosecution explicitly avoided Heaster’s ghost story because even in 1897, it was hearsay at best, but the defense pounced on the opportunity to make Heaster and the prosecution look stupid. Unfortunately, Heaster’s testimony of her daughter’s ghost (hereafter known as the ghostimony) was both consistent and convincing, and Shue was sent to prison for life. 

Moral of the story: If you’re going to take pot shots at the afterlife, make sure the jury agrees with you. Also, don’t kill your wife.

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