The Naples Daily News reports
A Brevard County woman claiming to be God’s messenger has been charged with attempted murder after reportedly shooting at a family on their back porch.
The sheriff’s office reports that 47-year-old Kathleen Aceto showed up with a gun and began shooting Friday morning. A man in the house grabbed a gun and fired back, and Aceto ran away.
Deputies responded and arrested Aceto, who lives a block from where the shooting occurred. She reportedly told the deputies that God told her to do it.
Aceto was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, armed burglary, shooting into an occupied dwelling and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
She was being held without bail, and her mental health was being evaluated.
If she really thought that God told her to shoot the neighbors (to judge the probability of this one would have to know the neighbors) and she had been a better shot, should she be found guilty of murder? Or should she be sent to a theological reeducation camp like St. Luke’s in Suitland?
In 1913 a priest from Germany, the Rev. Hans Schmidt, killed his pregnant mistress. The police, after finding her dismembered body in the Hudson, suspected foul play. A pillowcase (of all things) let them to Schmidt, and he immediately confessed he had killed her, but that God had appeared to him in the chalice and told Schmidt to offer her as a love offering, in the same way God had appeared to Abraham and commanded him to sacrifice Isaac.
The State of New York did not believe Schmidt, and tried him for murder. Schmidt put on a good show of insanity at the trial, confessing to everything up to and including necrophilia. The jury at the second trial thought he was acting and convicted Schmidt, who was sentenced to death.
Schmidt then appealed his conviction on the grounds that he was only pretending to be insane. Schmidt admitted that he had accidentally killed his mistress in the course of giving her an abortion, but he had not intended to kill her. The penalty for abortion in New York was draconian, and Schmidt wanted to protect his accomplices. Schmidt assumed he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity, put in a comfy asylum for a while, and then deported to Germany.
Justice Cardozo heard the appeal. He told Schmidt that he was entitled to a new trial only if evidence not known at the time of the trail came to light. But Schmidt knew the evidence and lied to the court. Therefore Cardozo refused the appeal.
Cardozo, not letting well enough alone, went on to create the “deific exception.” Cardozo said that if Schmidt sincerely thought that God had commanded him to kill his mistress, Schmidt would not be guilty.
But what of the Moslems who tell courts that God told them (in the Koran, or elsewhere) to kill promiscuous daughters? This defense has been used in honor killing cases.
What Cardozo should have said that if Schmidt sincerely believed that God wanted him to kill his mistress he should also remember that God had established the secular power to do justice and therefore wanted Schmidt to suffer the consequences of his actions in the electric chair. Schmidt is the only priest ever executed in the United States and Canada.
Therefore, even if Ms. Aceto sincerely believed that God wanted her to shoot her neighbors (and I have had neighbors who needed shooting), she should also believe that God wanted the secular authorities to carry out their God-given task of disarming and incarcerating Ms. Aceto.
Incarceration is usually shorter than treatment. Our legal system has not yet determined how to deal with criminals who we are almost certain will commit another crime after their release. In general, it is not good to punish a person for a crime he might commit, and civil commitment to an asylum is in reality punishment.