A Crime of Insanity
It’s just another day of class, at least which is what is going through your head. You think schools are a safe place, not a place where you can get shot or killed at. What is going through your mind when you’re their sitting in class? Nothing other than what is going on. But it was all different for these students that day. On December 14, 1994, 26 year old Ralph Tortirici walked into a history class at State University of New York. Underneath his clothes he had a hunting knife and a Remmington 270 hunting rifle with which he took the classroom hostage.
One of the hostages said he told everyone to stand up and get to the side of the classroom. Tortirici also told the professor to leave the classroom. He wanted everyone to know he was serious by firing off a round from his rifle and used a fire hose to tie the doors shut. Tortorici told the hostages in the classroom he had a computer chip in his brain and penis and wanted to see the president. If everyone cooperated nobody would get hurt, but 19 year old, Jason McEnaney, rushed the gunman and it discharged. McEnaney was seriously injured, shot in the leg and groin.
Once arrested, Tortorici repeatedly said, “I did what I had to do. ” They took Tortorici to Albany Medical Center to be treated for a knife injury he got during a struggle with the students. He also tested positive for cocaine. Afterwards he was released into police custody and taken to the Albany Court jail and charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault, and attempted murder. His lawyer claimed not guilty by reason on insanity. Larry Rosen, presiding judge, had to decide if he was even competent to stand his own trial. His brother Matthew Tortorici said Ralph suffered from delusions for many years.
His delusions led to a conspiracy theory that he told his father and Matthew that the cops were out to get him. Ralph was born with a defective urethra and went through a series of operations to fix it. After a while he became convinced that during one of the operations the government had put a tracking device in his body. When Tortorici was 24 years old he went to the University Health Center and complained that a microchip was put in his penis. When X-rays were found negative he was convinced that the doctors were in on the plot. Tortorici turned to drugs thinking they could help him escape and it made his mother concerned.
One day she called the medical center concerned that her son was suicidal and that he locked himself in the restroom and was smoking crack. They evaluated Tortorici and he was diagnosed with cocaine intoxication, suicidal ideation, and depression. That is when 10 months later he took the students hostage and since he thought the government put a microchip in his brain he wanted attention and for it to stop. The prosecutors could not find a psychiatrist expert who would testify, no one wanted their name associated with Ralph Tortorici. They wanted to plead the case out and get him sent to a secure psychiatric hospital.
Two days into the jury selection Cheryl Coleman found Dr. Lawrence Seigle to become the expert. She started getting onto the Dr about him being a Jew and how she should know him and what he is going through. This was the first time Cheryl Coleman came face to face with Ralph. Ralph claimed that the government had developed sound waves and mind waves to control people’s minds and he was part of an experimental project. He was the Anti-Christ and the trail was his graduating party. If you are not there mentally, it is not fair for you to stand trial.
The judge moved forward with the trial without wanting to have another competency hearing. Had the judge held off, and in that time, the prosecutor had no evidence and could have found evidence. Coleman was uncomfortable because a prosecutor’s job is not only to win cases, but to make sure justice is done. On January 3 Tortorici announced he wouldn’t be present for his trial, that he would wait it out in a holding cell in the basement. He thought the court was not just to decide and that the government was behind it and that there were airwaves in the court and everyone knew what was going on and in on it.
Ralphs lawyer thought he could win without him being there. Lawyers don’t think if you are right or wrong, they think of winning a trial. Jason McEnaney was the student who rushed Ralph and was shot. One of the jurors passed out when McEnaney was testifying in details about his injuries. Defense had many witnesses and four experts who testified that he was legally insane at the time of the crime he committed. The fact he laid out all the bullets saying he had enough to kill a lot of people. The fact he had the doors tied. The fact he knew the cops were going to be called.
The jury never set eyes on him; Ralph was carrying out a mission. Defenses say this case is a case of simple mental illness. He was operating under a delusion from the voices in his head. Sure, he committed these crimes, but he was legally insane. The prosecutors closing sentence closed with a rush of emotion directed at the victim. “You’re not taking me seriously, Bam! ” He knew what he was doing. Eight days of testimony with 31 witness’s, case was handed to jury. By law the judge couldn’t say what would happen if found innocent from insanity.
He would spend the same time in prison as in a mental hospital. A month later Tortorici returned to the courtroom to be sentenced, this time he actually entered the courtroom. Before sentence the judge allowed Ralph to speak. He embarrassed himself by the things he said. Tortorici was sentenced 20 to 47 years in prison and sent to Sullivan Correctional Facility in his own cell in the mental facility. Only in prison for 3 weeks, he tried hanging himself in his cell by his bed sheet. Three years passed and an appeal was filed and denied.
Tortorici was shuttled between prisons and psychiatric facilities. His family would say he was doing, but he wasn’t. Three weeks later on August 10, 1999, Ralph Tortorici was found dead hanging from his bed sheet in his cell. Prosecutor Cheryl Coleman questioned herself when she found out the news on Tortoricis death. She had convicted him and she was feeling guilty and responsible. She had lost a child herself and felt the pain Ralph’s mother and family must have felt. Was justice done? In my opinion I think Ralph Tortorici should have got help and been sent to an insane asylum under surveillance.