nonfiction / review / true crime

Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder by Mikita Brottman

I really enjoyed Mikita Brottman’s previous book about teaching in a men’s prison and I was not surprised to see that she dipped back into prison life for Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder. She is local to me so I am familiar with some of the places and cases she talks about which is interesting. I, too, feel like our criminal justice system is very broken. I felt like his case was interesting because when you hear that someone is sent for psychiatric treatment rather than prison you don’t really expect them to still be there many decades later.

My only fault with the book is how the author sort of glosses over his escape attempts and other disruptions over the years. Yes, the treatment seemed shoddy. Yes, he seemed to be of relatively sound mind but it wasn’t as if he killed his (abusive) parents and then was treated and was a model patient. Bechtold did assault staff twice with a several-year interval of nonviolence in between. I can see why a judge would not be convinced that he wasn’t laying low and planning something else or why a judge would think he was incapable of committing violent acts again.

I did see her points about how innocuous things can be pathologized in the institutional setting—putting paper in your ears is odd until you realize the intent was to make a homemade earplug to aid sleep in a noisy place. Holding that up as a sign of his mental unfitness does seem wrong. However, he did behave in a violent way multiple times after he murdered his parents when in a confined mental hospital. Maybe minimum security mental facilities are the best place for him. It is true that much of psychology is guess work–was he truly schizophrenic? Why are diagnosis so static that once they are in place no one can seemingly escape them?

Would he be able to navigate the frustrations of 2021 America without any follow up services on his own? Where would he work? Live? I don’t have the answers and I guess that wasn’t the point of the book but I did feel like this could have been touched on more fully. I felt like it ended abruptly and while the author seemed to care about him quite a bit and made some good points about how the system failed him, I didn’t feel like she delved into the some of the practical aspects of what his release would mean.

Her greater point of how broken our system is and how few workers there are to handle all of these cases was spot on. It is also horrible that places like halfway houses are shutting down leaving few options if someone is released.

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