Lambertus, Vidinhar Cases Pose Difficult Issues
By Ken K. Gourdin
Aza Vidinhar, age 16 at the time of the crimes and age 17 now, recently was sentenced for slaying his two younger brothers, ages 10 and 4. Prosecutors had agreed to leave Vidinhar in the juvenile system until he turned 21, until Vidinhar assaulted a fellow detainee while in juvenile detention. Vidinhar reportedly has shown neither remorse for his crimes nor sympathy for others victimized by them (such as their parents). See the story in the Deseret News here (last accessed May 20, 2015):
I commented on the difficulties inherent to achieving justice in the case as follows:
There are two types of psychiatric diagnoses: Ones in which a person who does something wrong while under the influence of the illness recognizes that what he’s done is wrong and, with proper treatment, can be given the tools necessary successfully to alter his behavior; and others in which a person who does something wrong recognizes that what he’s done is wrong, but doesn’t care (e.g., psychopathy or sociopathy). As much as I hate essentially writing off anyone who is so young, it does seem as though this young man is in the latter category. If a person (even a relatively young person) is disinclined to feel empathy or to alter his behavior accordingly, unfortunately, the best that can be done is to put him where he will not hurt anyone else.
In a related vein, following a disagreement with his mother, Apollonia Lambertus’s son (who has not been named in media coverage because of his age) hit her with her vehicle as the son, who has no driver’s license, attempted to leave in the vehicle following a disagreement between the two. Lambertus’s son has behavioral health, substance abuse, and cognitive issues. See Deseret News coverage here, last accessed May 20, 2015:
I commented as follows:
This young man has a complicated constellation of problems that will be difficult to address. In order adequately to address the problems of someone with a behavioral health issue, that person must: (1) know he has a problem; (2) want help for it; and (3) believe he can be helped. Unless all three of those conditions are met, treatment is unlikely to be successful. In that case, as unfair as it might seem to the person with the issue [especially a young person], the best thing society can do is put him in an environment where he is least likely to harm anyone else, and the young man’s right to treatment needs to be balanced against society’s need for safety.
I don’t envy anyone who will have a role in passing sentence on this young man. Solomonic wisdom will be required, which is a capacity few, if any, humans possess.
I have commented on the line between illness and willfulness elsewhere on the blog (see the following address, which was last accessed May 22, 2015: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/on-illness-willfulness-and-alienation/). In part, I said:
It seems to me that there’s a big, big difference between being “a few fries short of a happy meal,” which seems to imply that some condition (mental, psychological, what have you) prevents someone from relating relatively normally to other folks on the one hand, and simply being a narcissistic, manipulative, perhaps sociopathic user who values other people only for what one can get out of them on the other hand. (While my indictment of the latter group might seem extreme, far too many people in this world value things and use people, rather than using things and valuing people.) . . .
Calling someone “a few fries short of a happy meal” when there might well be much, much more to it than that seems like an attempt (wittingly or not) to justify bad behavior by attributing it, essentially, to illness rather than to willfulness. It does a disservice to those whose dysfunction in relating to others is attributable to the former rather than to the latter. (To be fair, the line between illness and willfulness often is very, very indistinct, and it makes for special problems: you want to help the person on the one hand because s/he is ill, but you don’t want to risk being manipulated on the other).