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What can we learn from "twilight rapist" conviction?

Oct. 22, 2011 at 5:22 a.m.


As reported in the Victoria Advocate, on Sept. 21, the jury found Billy Harris guilty of rape, and on Sept. 30, they sentenced him to life in prison.

I testified as an expert for the defense in the case and would like to make a couple of comments on the conviction and the sentence.

First, I agree with the jury. Billy Harris is clearly too dangerous ever to be let out of jail. During the trial, the district attorney's strategy was to discredit the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder (officially called dissociative identity disorder). Obviously, the strategy worked and got the job done. However, at the trial, nobody asked me if I thought Mr. Harris qualified for the insanity defense. My answer would have been, "No."

Nobody asked me if I agreed with the insanity defense as a concept. I don't. I think all mental health testimony should be excluded from the guilt phase of a trial, and only introduced after a guilty verdict to determine treatment needs during incarceration, but not length of incarceration. However, the insanity defense is on the books in Texas. Nobody asked me if I think dissociative identity disorder is grounds for an insanity defense. My answer would have been, "No."

In my treatment programs, I hold people with dissociative identity disorder responsible for the behavior of all their alter personalities, and I think the same rule should apply in the courts.

However, I do think that Billy Harris has dissociative identity disorder, although I could be wrong. Why is that important? I have a piece of information for the citizens in Texas, for law enforcement and for the criminal justice system. That information is in my notes and my written report that were produced at trial, but nobody asked me about it. The information is in the public domain. It is not protected by doctor-patient privilege, and it is not a violation of doctor-patient confidentiality for me to talk about it. I have never treated Billy Harris. Also, the judge in the trial told me that after the trial was over, I could talk to the media.

During the trial, nobody asked me about an important point. It is true, as stated at trial by the other defense expert, that it is highly unusual for someone to begin a series of violent rapes in his fifties, with no prior crimes. During my interview, the alter personality, Bobby, told me about another personality named Thomas Simpson, who was going to become a serial killer after his planned escape.

Billy listened to my conversation, and after Bobby was finished talking, Billy told me he is concerned that Thomas Simpson may already have been operating as a serial killer because on eight occasions Billy has come back to awareness with blood on his clothes and there has been another notch on the handle of his knife.

I think there is a possibility that Billy Harris has been operating as a serial killer in Texas with at least eight victims.

I feel it is my civic duty to point this out. On the other hand, it could be just one more fantastic story told by Harris. But we know he is a violent, vicious rapist.

We know it is very unusual for such a long series of violent crimes to begin so late in life. I think there is a good possibility that neither Billy nor Bobby knows more than the tip of the iceberg on Billy's childhood trauma history or his criminal history. I think the fantastic stories he tells are a psychological defense for Harris, to deflect attention away from the horror deeper within.

I think there are many unsolved crimes and cold cases committed by incarcerated people with undiagnosed dissociative identity disorder in the United States, many of whom will eventually be released.

If everyone agreed that dissociative identity disorder is not grounds for an insanity defense, then experts in the disorder might be more likely to interview criminals and obtain some of this information, since they wouldn't be perceived as trying to help criminals avoid responsibility for their behavior.

This would be a good thing for the victims of violent crimes and their families.

Removing the insanity defense from the criminal code would help in this regard.

Dr. Colin A. Ross is president of the Colin A. Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma in Richardson. He is past president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.

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