There’s nothing new about a criminal defendant playing the crazy card in order to avoid a conviction or a sentence. Some, like the late Genovese crime family godfather, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, go all out and pretend to be cracked in public. That trick worked for a few decades. Others, more conventionally, claim they were crazy at the time the alleged offenses took place. Gwendolyn Hemphill fits into the second category. Unfortunately for her, she’s not terribly convincing – at least according to federal prosecutors.
Hemphill, 64, for years served as office manager for the Washington Teachers Union, a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Last August she and ex-union treasurer James O. Baxter II each were convicted on nearly two dozen charges in relation to their role in a theft and money-laundering scheme that cost the union up to $5 million during 1995-2002. Their fate virtually was sealed with the testimony of their former boss, ex-WTU President Barbara Bullock, now doing a nine-year stretch in federal prison. Hemphill understandably is seeking leniency come sentencing in May. To make her case, she’s asserting that during those years she suffered from a mental disease which included among other things, a recurring psychotic episode in which she is confronted by “a small dark-skinned person with a thin Roman nose, small lips and a spear, who is dressed like a native African.”
Hemphill’s claim is backed up by a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Blumberg, hired by defense attorney Nancy Luque. The prosecution isn’t buying it. “The fact that she lacks a prior criminal history is undermined by the simple fact that she was a felon for many years before she got caught in this case,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney James W. Cooper in a memo filed February 6. “Every cent that was pilfered, and every cent that was laundered, occurred with her direct handwritten direction, participation or authorization.” Ms. Luque has countered that prosecutors’ comments about her mental state were “unseemly and without merit.” Hemphill is banking on a sympathetic audience in U.S. District Court. Under federal sentencing guidelines, she stands to receive a prison sentence of 19 to 24 years. (Washington Times, 2/10/06).