The act itself was insane--but was he?

In the span of 18 hours in May 1998, a gun-toting 15-year-old in Springfield killed his parents, then killed two of his classmates and wounded 25 others in the Thurston High School cafeteria.

Before going to trial, the notorious Kipland P. Kinkel pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 111 years, which he is now serving at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn. Now, WW has learned, Kinkel has retained a prominent Portland lawyer who is asking for the trial Kinkel never had--a chance to prove that Kinkel is insane, and therefore should not be in prison.

Kinkel's new attorney, Larry Matasar, won't discuss the case, but in a Dec. 17 filing in Marion County Circuit Court he contends that Kinkel was provably insane and his defense team knew it. He also states that Kinkel's defense attorneys, as well as the trial judge, failed to subject Kinkel to a mental-health evaluation to see if he was competent to stand trial or enter a plea. They also failed to secure the consent of the minor's legal guardian, his aunt Claudia Jurowski, to the plea deal.

Kinkel's trial attorney, Mark Sabitt of Eugene, declined to comment. But a lawyer who previously worked on the case agrees that Kinkel's deal was odd. "The more you looked into the [issue of Kinkel's sanity]," says Salem lawyer Jesse Barton, who handled Kinkel's earlier, unsuccessful appeal, "the more egregious the life sentence seemed to be and the more strange the guilty plea seemed to be."

In Barton's mind, there's little doubt that Kinkel was insane. For example, during his confession and later, in an examination by a psychiatrist, he talked of hearing voices in his head. After shooting his mother, he told police, "I shot her again so she wouldn't know that I killed her."

Kinkel's trial lawyers did raise the sanity issue--but only after Kinkel pleaded guilty, when they asked for leniency at sentencing. They didn't get it. In his sentencing remarks, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Jack Mattison accepted that Kinkel might be insane--and then sentenced him to life in prison anyway, arguing that it was justified to protect society given the uncertainty over whether Kinkel could be cured.

"The ethical sense that underlies our whole criminal justice system is that the insane are not punished--they are treated," says Barton. Imprisoning the mentally ill with no chance of treatment, he adds, is "cruel and unusual punishment."

Barton feels sympathy for Kinkel's victims, but he also says his case is "emblematic" of the way the mentally ill are handled today--in prisons rather than hospitals. "It's a very sad situation," Barton says.

Now that Matasar's motion has been filed, the state attorney general's office must respond, leading up to depositions and a civil case. If Kinkel gets a new trial and wins a "guilty but insane" sentence, he will be housed at the Oregon State Hospital and eventually could be released if deemed no longer dangerous.