Mock Trial Saves Joan of Arc

Sat May 4, 2002


Associated Press Writer BALTIMORE

Joan of Arc would have escaped burning at the stake by reason of insanity if her fate had been in the hands of a jury of doctors in Maryland. The saint's claim of hearing voices from angels was enough for a majority of participants at a University of Maryland School of Medicine alumni conference to spare the French heroine.

"She's not responsible for criminal conduct because of a mental disorder," said Roger Adelman, a prominent Washington attorney who argued her case at a mock trial on Friday.

Roughly 200 people gathered in a converted Gothic downtown church to hear Adelman argue against Herbert Better, a prominent Maryland prosecutor. Participants were asked to decide if Joan of Arc was criminally responsible for violating church law of her era.

"It was Joan of Arc who decided to disobey church law in her zeal to help the King of France, not the voices or anyone or anything else," said Better, who said he spent between 50 and 100 hours preparing for the trial.

Judge Lynne Battaglia of the Maryland Court of Appeals presided over the trial in a black robe. A bailiff stood by her side, and a court stenographer cranked out a transcript in shorthand throughout the program, which included musical performances. William Carpenter, a psychiatric researcher who testified for the defense, said Joan of Arc suffered from a severe "delusional disorder," which caused auditory hallucinations for years.

"She could not appreciate the wrongfulness of this," said Carpenter.

Robert Phillips, who acted as an expert witness for the prosecution, argued that the young woman was not insane, but extremely committed to a political cause.

"She was fully capable of appreciating the criminality of her conduct," said Phillips.

Joan of Arc was executed in 1431 at the age of 19 after being condemned as a heretic. When she was in her teens, she claimed to hear divine voices urging her to aid the French dauphin, who was kept from the throne by the English and their allies in the Hundred Years War. She took part in military campaigns, was captured in 1430 and sold to the English, who placed her on trial in Rouen by a pro-English clergy.

A previous conferences held by the University of Maryland School of Medicine concluded that rabies killed poet Edgar Allan Poe, who is buried outside the building where Friday's event was held.