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Indonesian "Psychopath" Seeks Stay of Execution

Posted: 09/30/11 02:39 PM ET

A 31-year-old Indonesian man facing execution for committing 11 murders is now seeking a stay of execution on the grounds that he is a psychopath and mentally unfit for execution. Verry Idham Henyansyah (who often goes by nickname of "Ryan") was arrested in 2008 for a series of gruesome murders .

Following his arrest, Henyansyah became known as the "singing serial killer" after releasing an album of pop songs while in prison. Often known for giving recitals from his cell while wearing flowing white robes and matching skullcap, Henyansyah also wrote an autobiography titled The Untold Story of Ryan which included maps to the graves of his various victims in his parents' backyard.

Henyansyah was arrested in 2008 following the discovery of the dismembered body parts of one of his victims, Herry Santoso, was found on a Jakarta roadside. His confession to the police led them to the graves of 10 other victims in the backyard of his parents' home in Jombang Regency, East Java. Openly homosexual, Henyansyah admitted to killing Santoso following a sexual proposition to Henyansyah's boyfriend at the time. In describing Santoso's murder, Henyansyah stated:

"I can't explain how it happened. I was furious and jealous. I only realised he was dead after I saw cut-up pieces of his flesh on my lap... the blood, the bad smell .Suddenly I was gripped with extraordinary fear. All I wanted to do was to get rid of him."

While most of his other victims were homosexual men, one of his victims was a young woman who had allegedly attempted to seduce him. He also killed her young daughter for being a potential witness.

While impressing other inmates with his charismatic manner, there was no question concerning Henyansyah's guilt in the murders given his confession. When a forensic examination ruled out an insanity defense, an Indonesian court sentenced him to death by firing squad. While awaiting execution at Kesambi Penitentiary, Henyansyah has continued to generate headlines with his repeated attempts to seek a presidential pardon for his crimes and his surprise engagement to a female drug dealer whom he met in prison. Claiming poor health, including liver problems, Henyansyah has recently appeared at an appeal hearing at Depok District court where his lawyers presented the case that he should be found insane on the grounds that Henyansyah is a psychopath. In presenting the evidence, lawyer G. Nyoman Rae told the court that his client was a psychopath and that a Canadian psychiatrist had formally diagnosed him based on Henyansyah's lack of remorse or sensitivity.

While not a formal DSM disorder (antisocial personality disorder is the closest DSM equivalent), psychopathy is listed as a personality disorder by the ICD-10. Most commonly assessed using Hare's Psychopathy Checklist, psychopathy is characterized by glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, lack of remorse, pathological lying, lack of empathy, impulsivity, poor behavioural control, and other factors linked to aggressive narcisism and a socially deviant lifestyle.

While not considered a major mental illness by most mental health professionals, prisoners in England and Wales who are diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorder (a diagnostic category equivalent to psychopathy used in the U.K.) have been sentenced to maximum-security psychiatric hospitals as an alternative to prison. While U.S. case law allows for the detention of sexually violent predators in psychiatric hospitals, the use of psychopathy as an insanity defense remains controversial in most jurisdictions. Prior to the Henyansyah's case, the use of the psychopathy diagnosis as an insanity defense has never previously been presented in an Indonesian court.

Talking to reporters outside the courthouse, he stated that "To be honest, I never knew what a psychopath was, but after the hearing, I'm now 100 per cent sure". His father, Ahmad Masykur, also said that he was hopeful that the court would accept the evidence and allow his son to be released.

Mental health experts remain skeptical over Henyansyah's self-diagnosis, especially given the forensic examination he had already received while awaiting trial. Even if he succeeded in avoiding the death penalty, Henyansyah would likely be sentenced to a mental hospital for life. The appeal hearing is continuing.

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