First Born (John Katzenbach) pdf, epub, doc

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On December 20, 1974, Arnold Zeleznik, age 9, was left momentarily in the hallway of a motel. Arnold's family had stopped there while on their way to a holiday in Central America. That brief instant was to cost Arnold his life, for in the room across from where he waited for his father was Vernal Walford, who was reading his Bible and receiving instructions from God that he should kill a child.

Arnold happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Vernal slit Arnold's throat just as the father returned to retrieve the child. Vernal was apprehended almost immediately, but it was clear to everyone that he would be incapable of standing trial, for even though his actions were those of someone who knew he had committed a crime (he ran from the scene, hid the murder weapon, and tried to escape from the police), his behavior was bizarre and frightening even to his jailors. He would rant, bare his teeth, scream and act totally demented. In fact, one eminent psychiatrist, when asked about Vernal's condition, thought carefully, then replied that Vernal was "the craziest man he had ever seen."

The case became a cause celebre for defense lawyers. What could be more of a challenge than getting someone off who was clearly guilty? They brilliantly manipulated the system. Vernal was declared incompetent to stand trial and placed in a Florida mental hospital. (Originally a minimum security prison, but after protests from nearby residents, he was moved to a maximum security institution). Walford given numerous psychotropic drugs at extremely high dosages to eliminate the "voice of God," and to make him more manageable.

In the meantime, Arnold's father, Carter Zeleznik, discovered this was not Vernal's first commitment. He been previously committed to a Massachusetts mental hospital by a psychiatrist who had diagnosed him as psychotic and dangerous. The staff there had informed Walford of his legal rights who then got his status changed to "voluntary." Walford promptly asked to be released. During his stay he assaulted staff and was placed in seclusion. Despite recommendations of the hands-on staff that he be sent to a maximum security institution, he was released with a prescription for tranquilizers. Since he had been declared a voluntary patient, his request to be released could not be refused.

Carter was furious that the system could have liberated someone so obviously a danger to society, and he resolved to take on the system. In the meantime, Vernal's Florida judge had a problem. Vernal had been declared competent by the psychiatrists as long as he remained drugged, but they admitted that without the psychotropic drugs he would be incompetent. The drugs, however, were literally killing him. He was developing all the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia and organ failure common to patients on large doses of the psychotropic medicines. The judge ruled he could not allow a patient to be pharmacologically maintained sane so that he could stand trial for murder, especially when the drugs were causing such physical harm. He was taken off the drugs and he soon returned to his former uncontrollable and irrational condition.

John Katzenbach chronicles Carter's fight to make the system responsible. His narrative is a terrifying revelation of a bureaucracy "schooled in the ultimate cunning of non-responsibility. No one person is responsible or feels responsible — "the buck stops nowhere," (to quote one reviewer).

Those misguided individuals who wish to ban certain books because of the perceived harm they might do should read this book because a direct link was established between Vernal's Bible reading and the murder. Had he not read the Bible he would not have killed that child. Evil will find encouragement no matter what the source.

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