Civil and Human Rights

High court rejects Idaho killer’s appeal

By Joel Mills


MOSCOW – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of the Idaho man who claimed that his killing spree across the West was to exact revenge against “psychic vampires” who had stolen his aura.


John J. Delling killed two college students in Idaho and wounded a third in Arizona before police captured him near Reno, Nev., in 2007. He was unable to invoke his paranoid schizophrenia as a defense because Idaho is one of four states that does not allow for an insanity defense.


A Boise judge sentenced Delling to life in prison without the possibility of parole after he pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in 2009.


In petitioning the high court, Delling challenged the Idaho law as a violation of his 14th Amendment right to due process.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were in the minority in saying they would have heard the case.


Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson Jr., who led the case against Delling for killing University of Idaho student David Boss in Moscow, said he was pleased the court let the law stand.


“I think it’s certainly something within the purview of the state to make those decisions,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, we’re now one step closer toward getting closure for all the victims’ families.”


Thompson said that while Delling has apparently been successfully treated at the state penitentiary’s psychiatric facility in Boise, his mental illness is so severe that life behind bars is the only way to ensure he never kills again.


“The primary goal has to be the protection of society, and the fixed life sentence is the only way to realistically accomplish that,” he said.


Attorneys with the Constitutional Accountability Center, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the notion that defendants have a constitutional right to an insanity defense, said they were disappointed by the high court’s decision not to hear Delling’s case.


Courts dating from ancient Greece have held that the integrity of the criminal justice system requires an insanity defense, Constitutional Accountability Center attorney Elizabeth Wydra said in a prepared statement.


“The court should have taken Mr. Delling’s case to make sure that every state in the nation respects this long history of legal and moral tradition and provides constitutionally-mandated due process of law,” Wydra said.


Delling began a violent, 6,500-mile road trip in March 2007 when he shot and wounded former high school classmate Jacob Thompson in Tucson, Ariz.


Delling then drove to Moscow, where he killed childhood friend Boss with a shot to the back of his head. Two days later he killed Boise State University student Bradley Morse after stalking him in the park where he worked.


While Delling had previous personal relationships with Boss and Thompson, he knew Morse only through online video game chat rooms. Four other people were allegedly on Delling’s hit list, according to court records.


The shootings triggered a manhunt across the region, with authorities finally catching Delling by tracking his cellphone location.


According to the psychiatrists who examined and treated him in jail, Delling had delusions that people he knew were stealing his personal “aura” or energy. Prosecutors alleged the shootings were revenge for perceived offenses during childhood.


The Idaho Supreme Court had previously upheld Delling’s life sentence in 2011.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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