Narrated by Sean Braswell
Explore history's interlocking lives and events. Turn back the clock, one story at a time. Discover how various strands are woven together to create a historic figure, a big idea or an unthinkable tragedy. From OZY Media. History. Unwound.SUBSCRIBE NOW
Shortly after midnight on July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, a man in dark body armor and a gas mask entered a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises with a tactical shotgun, a high-capacity assault rifle, and a sidearm. He threw a canister of tear gas into the crowd and began firing. Soon twelve were dead and fifty-eight were wounded; young children and pregnant women were among them.
The ultimate act of revenge or the act of a woman driven so crazy by domestic violence that she could not comprehend what she was doing? It seemed crazy to raise that defense given the deliberateness of the act, the fact her husband was asleep at the time and more. And prosecutors thought the defense had no chance: they were ready to argue that Lorena was not insane and one sign of that is that she acted out of revenge. Revenge, the prosecution argued is a rational act, not an irrational one.
In 1981, on his way to visit the actress Jodi Foster in college at Yale, where he had been stalking her, John Hinckley Jr. stopped off in Washington DC and ended up shooting U.S. President Ronald Reagan out front of the Hilton Hotel. Hinckley claimed he was trying to impress Foster, with whom he was infatuated. He later described the incident in a letter to The New York Times as "the greatest love offering in the history of the world. ... I am Romeo and she is Juliet."
It was a grand time to be a rich New Yorker. The wealthy architect Stanford White was responsible for designing several iconic public, institutional and religious buildings in the city in a decadent beaux arts "American Renaissance" style, including the original Madison Square Garden, which he owned. White, more than any other man, was responsible for the look of what was quickly becoming the wealthiest city on Earth. This week, we tell the story of the murder of Stanford White. White's killer was an eccentric businessman from Pittsburgh named Harry Thaw. Thaw's wealthy family was prepared to pay a million dollars to spare him from the electric chair. They were also prepared to embrace an unorthodox legal strategy. Harry Thaw's murder trial, and his temporary insanity plea, shook America to its core.
Francis Scott Key, the pro-slavery lawyer and amateur poet who penned "The Star-Spangled Banner" after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry 200 years ago, was famously inspired by the resilient spirit of a young nation. Forty-five years later, Key's other notable creation, his only son Philip Barton Key II, would experience an entirely different side of American life when he was slain in 1859 by a U.S. congressman and disgruntled cuckold named Daniel Sickles.
The 2015 conviction of Aurora gunman James Holmes really begins almost two centuries earlier in England, with the attempted assassination of the king. This episode explores how the insanity defense challenges lawyers, judges and juries in their pursuit of justice, and how it speaks to things that all of us hold dear, such as moral responsibility, free will and even our own sanity.
What is it about The Catcher in the Rye that prompted two of the world's most infamous assassination attempts? In Season 4 of The Thread we saw how the acquittal of President Ronald Reagan's attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr. on grounds of insanity helped change the landscape of American criminal law. But Hinckley's story also connects with Season 1 of The Thread and another early 1980s murder by a deranged 25-year-old.