I’m sure you recall the deranged antisemite who stabbed five people with a machete at a rabbi’s home who were there for a Hanukkah celebration. It was only one in a string of attacks on Jews in New York City in recent months, but this attack was particularly gruesome in nature. Fortunately, an arrest was made quickly and the detailed investigation began.

At the time, relatives of Grafton Thomas claimed that he had a history of mental illness. We hear that a lot in violent crimes, but as of this week his mental state may be throwing a huge wrench in the prosecution. A psychiatrist has found that the maniac really is a maniac and is not competent to stand trial. (NY Post)

Accused Hanukkah stabber Grafton Thomas was found by a psychiatrist to be incompetent to stand trial on federal hate crime charges for allegedly stabbing five Orthodox Jews last month, his lawyer said Monday.

Thomas’ attorney, Michael Sussman, has asked a federal judge to hold a competency evaluation for his client, the lawyer said Monday in a statement.

The federal court gave the US Attorney’s office two weeks to respond to Sussman’s request.

It’s unclear whether or not the findings of this particular psychiatrist will make the case for the defendant. His own attorney made the announcement, and it’s not hard to find a shrink to go along with your client’s prognosis if it seems at all credible. The prosecutors should be able to review the report and perhaps even request that a second doctor be brought in to conduct a new examination.

This guy is a certified domestic terrorist, but is he really crazy? That always seems to be the conundrum we find ourselves in when dealing with criminals exhibiting excessively warped behavior. Granted, choosing a machete as your weapon of choice to stage an attack on a crowd certainly sounds kind of crazy. But how crazy does one have to be to qualify as too crazy to understand and be responsible for your own actions?

Insanity pleas don’t work all that often, but sometimes they do, at least temporarily. Recall the case of Jared Loughner after the Tuscon shooting involving Gabby Giffords. He too was initially determined to be too psychotic to understand what was going on and assist in his own defense. But over the course of a year, prison medical staff forcibly administered anti-psychotic drugs to him until it was determined that he was fit to stand trial. He then pleaded guilty to 19 counts of various crimes and was put away.

Perhaps the most successful use of the insanity defense was pulled off by Lorena Bobbit, the woman who performed some unauthorized gender correction surgery on her husband. Her lawyers pleaded temporary insanity and the court agreed, sending her to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison. Miraculously, five weeks later she was apparently cured of her mental illness and released.

So with all these examples to draw on, the Hanukkah stabber might get away with a stretch in a mental hospital. But if the doctors there can treat his alleged mental illness to the point where he’s determined to be fit to stand trial, he might not be out of the woods yet.