Trials: Redefining Insanity

The jittery, harmless-looking little man in steel-rimmed spectacles was accused of murder, and he had long since confessed. Now, after four days of testimony and five hours of deliberation, the jurors had reached a verdict. They found the defendant, Howard Pierson, 49, not guilty by reason of insanity.

Thus last week in Austin, Texas, ended a murder trial that had been delayed for 28 years while the State of Texas waited, with inexhaustible patience, for Howard Pierson to recover his reason.

Pierson's belated acquittal was likely to contribute to a legal controversy that has raged for more than a century: What...

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