Du Pont is guilty but mentally ill

Jurors decide on 3d-degree murder

Originally published Feb. 26, 1997

At precisely 5:09 p.m. yesterday, John Eleuthere du Pont, a multimillionaire heir to the DuPont Co. fortune, became a convicted murderer.

Standing straight at the defense table, wearing the same blue Foxcatcher Wrestling sweatshirt he has had on since his trial began Jan. 21, du Pont was pronounced guilty of third-degree murder but mentally ill in the Jan. 26, 1996 shooting of Olympic wrestler David Schultz.

Du Pont, 58, showed no emotion. Nancy Schultz, David's widow, let out a sigh. Thomas Bergstrom, the lead defense attorney, slapped the table, took off his glasses, and began rubbing his face as his eyes moistened. When Delaware County Judge Patricia Jenkins asked whether he wanted the jury polled, he was unable to answer for about 15 seconds.

A few minutes later, as jurors filed out of the room, du Pont turned to Bergstrom and said, "thank you." "Another of his attorneys, Taras Wochok, said du Pont said to him, "So it's third degree." Wochok, though, said he wasn't sure whether the meaning had registered.

"Hopefully, in the next day or two, I'll be able to smoke that out,"he said.

None of du Pont's relatives was in the courtroom at the Delaware County Courthouse in Media.

The verdict carries a maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years, but the minimum is five years because the crime was committed with a gun. Jenkins set sentencing for April 22. Prosecutors Joseph McGettigan and Dennis McAndrews will push for the maximum.

"There's a tremendous sense of relief because John du Pont will probably never walk out of prison because he should be facing a very, very lengthy time of incarceration,"said McAndrews.

The defense said it would push for a sentence of 5 1/2 to 11 years for du Pont.

"Early on we hoped he would be able to spend at least some time at home sometime in his life,"Wochok said. "At least that possibility exists at this time. "

Du Pont last night returned to Norristown State Hospital, where he has been undergoing treatment since late September for paranoid schizophrenia. Because the jury found him to be mentally ill, Jenkins could decide to keep him at Norristown for the first part of his sentence until he's deemed well enough to go to prison.

"I'm pleased with the verdict, frankly,"Bergstrom said. "It could have been a lot worse. . . . This was a case with little winners. It's tragic for the Schultz family, it's tragic for du Pont. "

District Attorney Patrick Meehan said he, too, was happy with the outcome but called it a "shallow victory because it came at the loss of a great person."

"It's a shame because over the last month we saw a tremendous amount of resources, especially of a psychiatric nature, that was available to this man, and many people who alleged to be his friends,"Meehan added. "And it's tragic there wasn't some intervention before the killing of David Schultz because the criminal justice system was left to pick up the pieces. "

Du Pont was also found guilty but mentally ill of simple assault for pointing a gun at Patrick Goodale, his security expert who sat in a car with him as the shots at Schultz were fired. However, the jury found du Pont not guilty of the same charge of pointing his gun at Nancy Schultz as she stood in the doorway of her house.

The jury reached the verdict on its seventh day of deliberation after a trial that lasted four weeks.

After the trial ended, all 12 jurors came into a room for a press briefing, but the foreman, a 47-year-old SEPTA conductor, simply announced there would be no comment. They were then led outside to a van and returned to their hotel in Chadds Ford, their home for the past week.

In reaching its verdict, the jury rejected du Pont's plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, despite the testimony of four defense psychiatrists who declared him insane at the moment he fired three bullets into Schultz. To find for insanity, the jury needed to agree that du Pont was so mentally impaired that he did not understand that killing Schultz was wrong.

That defense testimony was contradicted by two forensic psychiatrists hired by the prosecution. They acknowledged that du Pont suffered from mental illness, but contended he was aware of what they called the "wrongfulness"of killing Schultz.

The jury agreed. The third-degree finding signaled that although jurors weren't positive the murder was premeditated, they were convinced that du Pont knew his actions could result in Schultz's death.

Schultz, a world-class wrestler who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, was slain in the driveway of the large home where he lived with his wife and two children on du Pont's 800-acre Foxcatcher estate in Newtown Square.

Du Pont had driven into the driveway and, without warning, fired three bullets from a .44-caliber magnum revolver into Schultz. The final shot, which Nancy Schultz witnessed from the doorway of the home, was put at point-blank range into David Schultz's back as he lay on the ground.

The jurors appeared to have trouble sorting out and agreeing on the differences between first- and third-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter, the three possible verdicts they had to consider once they rejected the insanity defense. They returned to the courtroom last Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday so Jenkins could read the instructions again.

Yesterday, jurors could be heard shouting at each other from the small, windowless room where they have been deliberating since 4 p.m. on Feb. 18. About 4:30 p.m. yesterday, they asked for the court crier, who quickly went in and out of the room. A verdict had been reached. Courtroom 1 filled quickly as word spread.

The verdict capped an extraordinary 13 months in du Pont's life. In the days after the shooting - which made headlines around the world - du Pont's private life was laid bare, his words and bizarre beliefs chronicled in sometimes tragic, sometimes comic detail. Friends, police officers and employees told, in both court testimony and privately, of a man who at times could be arrogant and ridiculously narcissistic, then generous and caring.

Gradually, a picture emerged of a person who for years was slipping into dementia, paranoia and schizophrenia.

As far back as 1992, Wochok, who has represented him for nearly a quarter-century, called a meeting with three psychiatrists to see whether du Pont could be involuntarily committed. But Pennsylvania has strict laws on commitment, and nothing could be done if du Pont wasn't a danger to himself or others.

According to trial witnesses, du Pont likely compounded his problems by abusing alcohol and cocaine.

To show that du Pont was mentally ill, the defense called a series of witnesses - some former workers, others still employed at Foxcatcher - to relate incidents of du Pont's bizarre actions and beliefs. Jurors were told that du Pont saw aliens in his windows and thought mechanical trees were on his property. He lined his walls and attic with razor wire to thwart intruders, searched for hidden underground tunnels, and dug up his grounds looking for the bones of a chambermaid he thought was his mother.

To others, du Pont said he was the Dalai Lama, the Holy Child, the president of Bulgaria, and the last czar of Russia.

Defense psychiatrists Phillip Resnick and Robert Sadoff depicted du Pont as obsessed by an international conspiracy directed against him, leading him to see incidents involving Schultz as part of the conspiracy. In du Pont's mind, the defense said, Schultz was an enemy agent and his killing was thus justified. That, his psychiatrists said, demonstrated his insanity.

The prosecutors argued that du Pont's mental illness was not the equivalent of legal insanity. They discounted the theory that du Pont was irrationally afraid of Schultz, and insisted instead that he felt a growing animosity toward Schultz that led to the murder.

Accordingly, prosecutors insisted the killing of Schultz was not on impulse but was premeditated and cold-blooded.