Insanity Plea: Suspect May Go Free

Mother, Insanity care
CBS/The Early Show
"I'm outraged. I'm frustrated. I will not sit still and be unheard," says Robbin Trowbridge-Benko.

Her 23-year old son was killed in 2001 and the man accused of doing it could be released from a Nevada mental hospital as early as Friday.

The case has brought to light the issue of how the courts handle mentally ill criminals, and Trowbridge-Benko is fighting for reform.

She tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, "I would like to see change that the doctors that testify at the trial must be involved in the evaluation, when looking at whether or not to release someone who has been found to be mentally ill.

"In this instance, these trial doctors have not been asked for their opinion. It's just been the doctors at the mental institute. I would also like to see the doctors at the mental institute be involved in the trial. In this case they were not."

John Trowbridge was stabbed to death by a friend at a party. A Nevada jury found his accused killer, Michael Kane, not guilty by reason of insanity. Kane who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic was committed to a state mental facility. But 10 months after his acquittal, he's off his medication and doctors say he's no longer a threat.

Asked if she believes Kane is or was insane, Trowbridge-Benko says, "I honestly don't believe that at the time of the killing he was insane. But at the trial, there were many doctors who testified he was paranoid schizophrenic and used terms as extremely psychotic. So if he is currently, or if he was at the trial, I have to defer to those psychiatrists, and believe that he is paranoid schizophrenic."

"He's greatly improved," Kane's attorney, Scott Coffee, says. "He was psychotic after this incident, meaning he was so psychotic, it would be evident for anybody who saw him to be able to tell that he was having mental problems. And that's certainly gone. He's certainly improved from that stage."

For Kane to be released, the court would have to reach the same conclusion as his doctors: that he is no longer mentally ill.

"These are doctors that are hired by the state of Nevada," Coffee says. "They're trained professionals. They've got him under 24-hour surveillance. I think these doctors probably know what they're talking about."

Trowbridge-Benko is skeptical. She points out that, from the very beginning, Kane contended that he needed to defend himself from her son.

"My son was laying on a bed reading a magazine," Trowbridge-Benko says, "Michael Kane stabbed him in the neck; then ultimately jumped on my son's back and stabbed him six more times. That is not someone who feels threatened, that is someone who is attacking."

So why did the jury send Kane to a mental institution rather than jail?

"I believe that one of two things happened," Trowbridge-Benko says. "Either the jury did not understand that they were to look at whether or not Michael Kane was insane at the time the crime was committed, and they didn't understand that. Or they felt that he was so psychotic, as he sat before them, they felt that he would be in a mental institute for the rest of his life - as the defense attorney had told them."

A hearing is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 5. If the judge believes there is enough information to make a decision at that time, he could rule that Kane be released, re-evaluated, or recommitted.

"This was a tragedy for everybody involved," Coffee says. "He's as remorseful as any client I've ever seen. And he understands the system's going to take some time to work through an issue like this. But he's excited about the prospect of perhaps getting his freedom."

Asked how she would like her son to be remembered, Trowbridge-Benko says, "I would like him to be remembered for the loving, young man that he was, and he remains to be in my heart.

" And I would like people to know that he was in a situation because he was very loving and caring. His last words were: 'Why did he do this to me?' He didn't understand; he wouldn't understand; he was not a violent person. And he deserves a voice."