November 16, 2018
In Missouri, a jury is being asked to consider whether murder is justified in retaliation for a long history of child abuse by a domineering mother.
The only catch is that the killer was not the victim of abuse, but rather the autistic online boyfriend of the victim.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard lived with her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, in Springfield, Missouri. Gypsy had reportedly been battling several chronic diseases since childhood including Muscular Dystrophy and cancer. She was confined to a wheelchair since the age of seven. In June 2015, Dee Dee Blanchard was found dead in her home. She has been stabbed 17 times and her chronically ill daughter, Gypsy, was missing.
Within days, to everyone’s shock, Gypsy was arrested for Dee Dee’s murder in Big Bend, Wisconsin, along with her online boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn.
Police soon revealed that Gypsy was perfectly healthy. She could walk and never had cancer. Her ailments had been the product of her mother’s imagination. Gypsy’s mother suffered from a rare disorder known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP).
The name MSbP is derived from Munchausen Syndrome, a different though related condition. People with Munchausen Syndrome have a profound need to assume the sick role, and exaggerate complaints, falsify tests or inflict illnesses on themselves directly. With MSbP perpetrators fulfill their need for positive attention by hurting their own child, thereby assuming the sick role onto their child — by proxy.
The case had all the ingredients of a prime-time crime drama — mental illness, child abuse, sex, matricide and a gory crime scene.
According to the Washington Post, the murder created a media sensation around Gypsy’s arrest. She appeared on the “Dr. Phil Show.” HBO featured a documentary on the case. Hulu is set to produce a scripted series based on the events.
Godejohn is on trial for first degree murder in Missouri for his role in the killing. He allegedly did the stabbing. Gypsy, 27, is serving a 10-year sentence in Chillicothe Correctional Institution in Ohio. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She will be eligible for parole in 2024, at the age of 32.
In the trial’s opening statement, Godejohn’s lawyer portrayed him as an autistic man with few friends who only had one real job in his life, holding a sign outside of a pizza shop, and spent most of his time on the internet, reported the Springfield News-Leader.
Godejohn fell in love with Gypsy online. The two shared salacious text messages. Gypsy revealed the abuse heaped on her by her mother.
Gypsy formulated the plan for the killing, stole the murder weapon and arranged for Godejohn to come down to Springfield from his home in Wisconsin.
Godejohn’s defense is to show that he wasn’t able to formulate the requite intent to commit first-degree murder because of diminished capacity — his autism spectrum disorder.
According to Christine N. Cea in Autism and the Criminal Defendant, autism is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed through the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A fundamental criterion for autism is a “persistent deficit in social communication and social interaction.”
In a stunning turn of events, Gypsy testified for the defense this week at Godejohn’s trial. She said she planned the murder — she used Godejohn because “I didn’t believe I could do it — I’m too squeamish.”
Gypsy testified about her mother’s abuse, her isolation from the outside world and being forced to portray herself as wheelchair-bound and sickly. A sad story to be sure, but is it a defense for Godejohn?
At the trial’s end, the jury will decide whether Godejohn is guilty of first-degree murder — the intentional and deliberate killing of Dee Dee Blanchard — or a lesser charge like second-degree murder. That decision will have a major impact on how Godejohn spends the rest of his life.
First-degree murder in Missouri carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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