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Mentally Ill Man Kills Mother and Still Wants Inheritance

In 2010, John Armstrong killed his eighty year old mother, Joan Armstrong, by bashing her head in with a brick and then stabbing her body repeatedly to drain the body of blood. However, despite this gruesome crime his attorney is arguing that he should still get his part of his mother’s inheritance. He is one of five children of Ms. Armstrong, who enjoyed success as an artist before her death and included all of her children in her will. His attorney is challenging the state’s slayer rule based on mental illness and incompetence.

No one disputes that Mr. Armstrong killed his mother in 2010. On August 7, the Ocean Springs Police Department responded to a call from Ms. Armstrong friend who said that when he knocked on her door, Ms. Armstrong showed up at the door covered in blood. Ms. Armstrong was found on her back in the apartment with a large open wound to her forehead. John Armstrong told police that he killed his mother because he didn’t want her to leave and go to the pool in the complex. In his mind, he thought she was abandoning him by going to the pool.

A mental exam in 2012 found John “seriously and persistently mentally ill,” and the recommendation of the psychiatrist was that “it is not clear that, even with treatment with antipsychotic medications, Mr. Armstrong can be restored to competence to proceed legally.”

The Slayer Rule

Mississippi, like most of the other states in the nation, has what is known as a “slayer rule.” It states that a person cannot profit from an inheritance if they caused the death of the person that they are inheriting from. In essence, a killer is prohibited from inheriting any property from a person that the killer murdered. The courts treat the killer as though he predeceased the victim of the crime, thereby forfeiting any rights in property interests. However, this rule only applies if the killing was “knowing and intentional,” so a crime like involuntary manslaughter would not qualify under the doctrine.

Issues in this Case

The Mississippi Supreme Court will decide whether Mr. Armstrong should be allowed to inherit from his mother’s estate. The attorney for the estate says that he should not be given his portion of the inheritance. “The results of this case is that John is not prosecuted or punished for his unlawful act, but neither does John gain from causing the death of his mother . . . Though it hadn’t been mentioned, the decedent’s other beneficiaries, her children, have been deprived not only of the assets of her estate but also her love and companionship. It would be a perversion of law and justice to allow John to inherit from his mother’s estate to the detriment of his siblings.”

This case is different because the court has never had an issue where the killer has been deemed incompetent to stand trial. There have been other cases where the defendant has been found not guilty by reason of insanity, but this differs. Most likely, the decision will be rendered on the interpretation of the state’s language. In Mississippi, the state law uses the word “kill” and not “murder,” which could bar inheritance under the slayer rule.

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