On November 14, 1978, a Texas jury found Thomas Barefoot guilty of the murder of Bell County police officer Carl Levin. Based on the gravity of the crime and the testimony of two psychiatrists who claimed that Barefoot would pose a continued menace to society, that same jury recommended the death penalty.
Barefoot appealed. The psychiatrists, he argued, had no grounds on which to predict his future dangerousness. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his claim, affirming the merit of the mental health experts and denying a stay of execution. On October 30, 1984, Barefoot was put to death by lethal injection.
That’s the question asked by a team of researchers out of the University of Virginia and Sam Houston State University in Texas. And according to their new study out in the journal Psychological Science, not only is the answer a clear yes, but it may be that most evaluators don’t even realize when their work is compromised.
“Sometimes the public or attorneys talk about hired guns, but nobody thinks they’re the hired gun, right?” says lead author Daniel Murrie, who is also the director of the University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy. “But what this research seems to suggest is that many clinicians are vulnerable to some degree after all.”
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