By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
If that’s what he intended, he didn’t go about it very efficiently. Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Mire, a veteran of the child-abuse department, asked Patrick to estimate how fast the car was going when it went off the road. “About 20 miles an hour,” he said, adding, “I didn’t see him push down on the accelerator.”
Following the testimony, Gyamfi filed a motion for dismissal of the attempted murder charges and reduction of the child-abuse charges to misdemeanors. Considering the irrationality of Mandla’s words and actions, she argued, it was clear that he’d been too addled to form a specific intent. “This really appears to be a car accident that someone has while in a particular mental state,” she said. “This does not seem to be something that is willfully done.”
Mire countered, “What we understand is that he said ‘I’m going to kill you’ and proceeded to engage in behavior that would accomplish that goal.”
When Judge Jane Godfrey denied the defense motion, Gyamfi requested a reduction of bail, citing Mandla’s family and community ties. Godfrey nixed that as well, maintaining that his foreign citizenship made him a flight risk. Mandla was led away again, and his supporters filed into the hall. They clustered around Lindiwe, who was wearing a tan coatdress painted with the slogan “Set the captives free” and sobbing quietly. “Mandla always says at times like this, you’ve got to put stones in your stomach,” she said, attempting a smile. “I’ve got so many stones, I don’t know what to do with them.”
Lindiwe needed all the ballast she could get. When she got home, she found a padlock on the door; behind on her rent, she had been evicted yet again. She and the boys spent several weeks in a fleabag motel, until they were rescued by her older sister Nomusa, who arrived from Atlanta with her own three children. The families moved together into an apartment in Crenshaw.
By now, Mandla was in a new jail, the Wayside facility in Saugus. He led his fellow inmates in prayer circles; murderers and rapists confessed their childhood sorrows, he said, and wept in his arms. But it was harder for his family to visit him there, and as he learned of their troubles, he felt increasingly desperate. Through the fall and winter, the wheels of justice barely turned. The case was assigned to a new judge, Marcia Revel, and there were more hearings, but neither the prosecution nor the defense attorneys felt ready to go to trial. “You don’t want to go in unprepared,” Gyamfi said. “If the bullet doesn’t miss you entirely, it tends to kill you.”
By early February, the defense’s psych report was in hand. Submitted by USC forensic psychiatrist Kaushal K. Sharma, who had visited Mandla in jail, it was a relatively encouraging document. “The defendant’s behavior at the time of the . . . crime is consistent with a person who was having a psychotic episode,” Sharma wrote. Despite Mandla’s alleged statements to his passengers, the psychiatrist continued, “the defendant does meet the criteria for legal unconsciousness given the fact that his behavior was unlike his usual behavior and he had nothing to gain by his actions. He had no animosity towards his children or towards his two guests.”
Sharma also noted, however, that Mandla admitted to smoking marijuana on occasion, and that at the time of his arrest his blood had tested positive for THC. “It appears unlikely that the defendant’s behavior can be explained on the basis of marijuana use alone,” Sharma wrote, citing Mandla’s insistence that he had not gotten high for several days before the crash. (Tests cannot establish when a user took his last toke.) But he declined to speculate on what other factors might have been at work. Gyamfi hoped to find an expert who could fill in those blanks, and the prosecution wanted to commission its own psych report.
There may in fact be a scientifically plausible, drug-free explanation for Mandla’s bizarre behavior in Griffith Park, as I later discovered during an Internet search. During World War II, a University of Minnesota scientist named Dr. Ancel Keys (inventor of the K-Ration) wanted to know how food shortages might affect populations in the battle zone, so he put 36 volunteers on a semistarvation diet for six months. The results of the Minnesota Experiment, as it came to be called, were shocking. Many participants experienced hyperirritability and a feeling of dissociation from reality. Some were consumed with aggressive urges. One developed suicidal impulses and had to be hospitalized. Another chopped off three of his own fingers.
Similar symptoms, as well as auditory hallucinations and megalomaniac and persecutory delusions, were later reported among crash dieters and anorexics. UCLA biological anthropologist Daniel M.T. Fessler, who has applied these findings to the study of religious mystics and hunger strikers, theorizes that disrupted serotonin levels are to blame. And when I spoke to him about Mandla’s episode, Fessler thought it sounded eerily familiar. “That’s right there in the literature, that kind of behavior,” he said. Mandla’s five-day fast might have been enough to unleash years of pent-up anger in a psychotic burst.