When Kendrex White appears in court for a hearing Thursday, he is expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
His attorneys filed the notice of intent to raise the insanity defense at the end of February. KXAN reached out to White’s attorneys on Wednesday asking about whether they would raise the insanity defense on Thursday, they responded saying they are not commenting on the case.
White, 21, is charged with murder and aggravated assault in the stabbing spree on the University of Texas at Austin campus last spring. Three students were injured and one student, Harrison Brown, was killed.
In June of 2017, White was told by two doctors that he was competent to stand trial and his motion to be tested for insanity was denied. However, prosecutors have also used their own experts to evaluate White for sanity.
Harrison’s family members have been watching developments in this trial closely.
“Of course I was upset, but not surprised, think we were expecting that,” said Harrison’s mother Lori. However, Lori believes justice will prevail. “And they [prosecutors] will prove the defense wrong, [White] knew what he was doing that day, he knew exactly what he was doing.”
She and Harrison had a very close relationship. He would call to tell her he loved her often and even asked another student to call his mom for him as he was dying.
Lori said she’s glad to see the case is moving forward. It’s been a long stretch waiting and processing her grief after losing her son, then her husband in June of the same year. She’s come to understand the judicial process will take more time than she anticipated.
Beyond the court system, Lori is also looking for other ways to honor her son’s memory and bring him justice — whether it’s bringing more safety to the general public or university campuses.
In a jailhouse interview last May, White said he had no memory of stabbing anyone, which is also what he told police the day of the May 1 stabbing attack. “I have had problems with my mind, but I didn’t think it would be to the point of interaction with someone, lethal interaction,” said White, who was a UT junior at the time.
Pleading insanity as a defense is very rare, explained Travis County Judge John Wisser, who has no connection to the case. In the more than 100,000 cases he’s seen in his 43 years of work as a judge, Wisser said he’s only seen 12 cases where insanity was used as a defense.
Of those, he only saw two cases where the prosecution contested the insanity plea from the defense, prompting a jury trial.
“Usually when people are insane, it’s obvious, any person can see if a person is clearly insane,” Wisser said. “There are not very many [cases] where the district attorney would say we think he’s sane and the defense attorney would say we think he’s insane. All over the country, it’s very rare.”
What can happen next
Now that White has been found to be competent to stand trial, his attorneys will have to prove that he was insane when the stabbing happened–meaning whether he knew what he was doing was wrong, Wisser clarified.
According to Wisser, it all depends on what the prosecution thinks about the insanity plea. If the prosecution agrees, Wisser explained that it will likely result in a short, administrative hearing
“If the district attorney and the defense agree they’re insane, I think the judge almost always will go along with that,” he said.
After that, the judge will send the defendant to the North Texas State Hospital to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
But if the prosecution or judge disagree and feel that White is not insane, the case will go to a jury trial. Jurors will be faced with medical evidence, health records and expert testimonies. They could decide that White is guilty, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity.
“Often these things become a battle of the expert witnesses, whose experts are better whose are more persuasive, who can convince the jury,” Wisser said.
If he is found to be guilty, he will be sent to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, Wissen said. But if White is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he’ll be sent to a state mental hospital that’s designated to handle the criminally insane for evaluation.
Wissen added that if a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, that doesn’t mean they are set free to be in the public. Defendants remain under the supervision of a judge and mental health professionals for the duration of the time their sentence would have been if they were sent to jail.