verne gagne turns 83 today
i've been hesitant to blog about the verne gagne case until it made the national news, since the story just breaks our hearts in minnesota. that said, the account is useful for understanding homicide and culpability.
verne gagne was a fine wrestler, both real and professional. he won the state tourney at robbinsdale, then two ncaa championships at the minnversity as an undersized heavyweight. he then went on to the '48 olympics and a long and surprisingly distinguished career as a pro. after working the circuit for about a decade, mr. gagne formed the AWA in 1960, holding the title and dispatching all challengers every saturday morning throughout my formative years.
mr. gagne favored real or technical wrestlers, which meant that he freakin' hated the idea of skill-deficient bodybuilders like hulk hogan becoming champions. growing up, i recall mr. gagne as a perpetually middle-aged curmudgeon from about 1960-1995. hulkamania, of course, won the cultural battle. so, today's professional wrestlers bear little resemblance to the ncaa champs of mr. gagne's era (but see lesnar 2000).
today, mr. gagne is in the later stages of alzheimer's, a disease associated with anger, fearfulness, verbal outbursts, and physical violence. on january 26th, he tossed his 97-year-old roommate to the floor. mr. helmut gutmann, who worked at the VA and taught chemistry at the minnversity, died shortly thereafter. what are the police and prosecutors supposed to do with a case like this?
without question, the case is a homicide -- one human being killing another -- but mr. gagne will not be prosecuted. without getting into the state-by-state specifics of the insanity defense and culpability standards, criminal prosecutions of alzheimer's patients have been exceedingly rare. they might be able to determine right from wrong at the time of the act, but their memory problems make it all but impossible for them to participate in their own defense. by all accounts, mr. gagne simply cannot remember what happens from moment to moment. i suppose mr. gutmann's family could sue the home for negligence, but it doesn't appear that mr. gagne will be prosecuted.