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R. Christopher Barden Defeats Junk and Pseudoscience in the Courtroom

September 23, 2011

Update: The testimony of Colin Ross, including his cross-examination, is now available. Click here to read it. The devastating cross-examination of Dr. Ross by DA Bobby Bell begins on p. 57 of the transcript.

It is encouraging to see that sometimes the good guys do win in the courtroom, in terms of defeating pseudoscience in mental health practice and diagnosis. Attorney and Psychologist R. Christopher Barden is known for his consistent track record as an expert witness, for defeating junk and pseudoscience in the courtroom. The latest defeat of junk science involves the Texas case of the “twilight rapist”, alleged serial rapist of older women, Billy Joe Harris who tried to get off on the insanity defense, claiming multiple personalities (called Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID in the DSM). Psychiatrist Colin Ross testified as an expert witness for the defense, but was defeated when Harris was found guilty of sexual assault of a 59-year old disabled woman, after a very brief  jury deliberation. In other words, the jury did not buy the multiple personality defense. A recent press release states:

September 21, 2011 
National law and science expert R. Christopher Barden said,  “great teamwork with the Texas Rangers and Jackson County District Attorney Bobby Bell led a Texas court to exclude an insanity defense based upon “dissociative identify disorder (DID)”, a theory expert witness Barden told the jury was “unreliable, junk science.”   With the DID defense excluded, the jury convicted Billy Joe Harris,  believed to be a serial rapist, in five minutes.  Dr. Barden noted that,  “this case demonstrates the power of science-law teams in protecting the legal system from junk science testimony.”  The case received national attention due to a series of Associated Press articles. 
Over the past 20 years,  Barden managed hundreds of lawsuits in more than 30 states against “repressed memory” and “multiple personality disorder” therapists. Working with teams of national science experts and local litigators, this wave of successful lawsuits largely ended the “repressed memory-MPD” movement.  Barden also testified as an expert witness for Colorado prosecutors to end “rebirthing therapy” by convicting two leaders of the movement in a case involving the negligent death of a young patient.  Barden was also appointed a Special Assistant Attorney General of Utah in licensing prosecutions that ended one of nation’s largest “attachment therapy” clinics.  Over the past 20 years, Barden has worked with Attorneys General and licensing boards in over 20 states to restrict or revoke the licenses of many of the leaders of the “repressed memory-MPD” movement. and other practitioners of dangerous “quack” therapies.
District Attorney Bell called R. Chris Barden to the stand.  Barden, a psychologist and attorney from Minnesota, is involved in assisting the legal system with mental health and science issues….  “to get junk science out of the legal system we rely on the relevant scientific community,” Barden said. “these multiple personality notions are highly controversial and clearly not accepted as reliable by scientists.”  Barden cited at least a half dozen articles published in professional journals concerning the rejection of dissociative identity disorder and multiple personality disorder
Here are some more excerpts from news articles about the case:
Ex-Texan prison employee convicted of rape  by Associated Press September 21, 2011   HOUSTON CHRONICLE,  Edna, Texas – A former Texas prison employee suspected of a being a serial rapist who targeted older women was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting a disabled woman. Jurors rejected claims by Billy Joe Harris, 54, that he suffers from multiple personality disorder and found him guilty.   Investigators believe Harris is “The Twilight Rapist,” so dubbed because most of the attacks happened just before dawn. The attacks rattled so many women that older volunteers at a Yoakum library in Southeast Texas began locking the doors during business hours and organizers at one community meeting gave away pepper spray as door prizes. Authorities found evidence of careful planning at the many crime scenes, including cut phone lines outside homes.
    Accused Twilight Rapist Convicted  A jury Wednesday in Edna convicted suspected serial rapist Billy Joe Harris, 54, on charges stemming from the sexual assault of a disabled woman, rejecting Harris’ claim that he suffers from multiple personality disorder….Jurors found Harris guilty after just five minutes of deliberation Wednesday on two sexual assault charges and one burglary charge in the rape of a woman in Edna. Authorities believe Harris is the Twilight Rapist, who’s linked to attacks of elderly women, most of which occurred just before dawn.
Texas man suspected of raping older women claims he suffers from multiple personality disorder  by Associated Press,  WASHINGTON POST, National Desk  Sept. 19, 2011    Edna, Texas — Billy Joe Harris, 54, a Texas man suspected of being a serial rapist who targeted older women told jurors Monday that he was abused as a child and suffers from multiple personality disorder…. 

Expert: Texas man accused in rapes mentally ill  by JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Updated 07:20 p.m., Tuesday, September 20, 2011  EDNA, Texas (AP) — A Texas man suspected of being a serial rapist suffers from multiple personality disorder likely brought on by abuse, a psychiatrist told jurors Tuesday….  Billy Joe Harris has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity….  Colin Ross, a psychiatrist testifying on behalf of Harris, told jurors he believes Harris’ multiple personality disorder was probably brought on by abuse he experienced as a child. …   Robert Christopher Barden, a psychologist and attorney, testified on behalf of prosecutors, telling jurors that scientists consider multiple personality disorder  “junk science” and he has worked for years to keep such unreliable notions out of the U.S. and state legal systems.  “The idea of multiple personality disorder is really a bizarre theory. It’s highly controversial. Most scientists and psychiatrists are quite skeptical of these ideas,” Barden said.  
Expert witnesses disagree on validity of multiple personality disorder by Sonny Long,  September 20, 2011  Edna, Texas  … Billy Harris, 54, is on trial for sexual assault of a disabled woman and several other rapes and burglaries in Central and South Texas beginning in 2009. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. …. psychiatrist Dr. Colin Ross, of Richardson, was on the stand and testified that Harris has multiple personality disorder…. District Attorney Bobby Bell began his cross examination of Ross by getting him to agree that the areas of dissociative identity disorder and multiple personality disorder are controversial… Bell called R. Chris Barden to the stand.  Barden, a psychologist and attorney from Minnesota, is involved in assisting the legal system with mental health and science issues….  “to get junk science out of the legal system we rely on the relevant scientific community,” Barden said. “these multiple personality notions are highly controversial and clearly not accepted as reliable by scientists.”  Barden cited at least a half dozen articles published in professional journals concerning the rejection of dissociative identity disorder and multiple personality disorder.  He also said the DSM diagnostic manual Ross referred to is simply a dictionary or catalog so that psychiatrists and psychologists are “using the same language.” … “National experts in science condemn MPD as the worst kind of junk science and a danger to the public. Controversial and experimental theories should not be allowed to contaminate the legal system,” said Barden. 
This just goes to show that not all the internet promotion and smear campaigns against critics in the world, can change what happens in the courtroom. Let’s hope that this can extend to the mental health profession in general and more of those who are practicing junk and pseudoscience and harmful therapies can be held accountable and in that way, through completely legal means, bringing the days of therapy gurus who no one dares to question, to an end.
5 Comments
  1. Only people ignorant of what d.i.d. truly is would suggest “insanity” is involved. Pop culture and even “promoters” of this disorder seem to be truly clueless about what it really is which gives detractors like you reasonable fodder for attacking the legitimacy of the disorder. I’m glad d.i.d. wasn’t allowed as a defense because that’s not what the disorder is about…

    Sam

  2. Hi Sam, You may be interested to know that one of the top DID experts in the country, Colin Ross, was the expert witness for the defense. Do you consider Dr. Ross “ignorant of what DID truly is”?

  3. Hi Monica,

    are you against the d.i.d. diagnosis or just the typical treatment given to people who have it?

    I don’t know anything about Ross other than his name so I don’t want to say much good or bad. But what I will say is if someone reads my blog and then reads almost any other blog on wordpress that has to do with d.i.d. the “tone” of mine is entirely different (irrespective of the fact that I don’t have d.i.d. and my format is obviously different).

    What I am doing with my wife means we don’t need any drugs (3+ years and only for 3 dentist appointments and only because others pushed her to use them). We have NO suicide issues. I just asked two days ago in case I was reading the girls wrong. Nope, no suicide issues. Self harm issues were minimal at their worst (biting that never broke the skin). Now they rarely happen. Trigger events are rare at this point and I can completely end them within an hour. Coping skills aren’t really needed as I teach the inside girls life skills.

    Recovered memories? Our approach is just the opposite of “standard” practice. The host has recovered NO memories but the insiders have “owned” (i.e. recovered) the host’s.

    I don’t know what Ross and the others at ISSTD are pushing, but from what I read that is filtered through those subjected to treatment from these people, it is NOTHING like what we are experiencing. Based on the healing I have seen in my wife (host and insiders) over the last 3 years, she will be more emotionally healthy and stable than most people when we are done. I don’t see any hope of that in the other’s whose blogs I read. I hope I’m wrong in that assessment.

    Maybe Ross “really” understands d.i.d., but it’s not how I do, and that’s made ALL the difference in my wife’s life and healing journey.

    Sam

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. NPR Again on Multiple Personalities: This time on Sybil « Potentially Harmful and Other Questionable Therapies
  2. The Jodi Arias Case: Controversial Theories and Junk Science in the Courtroom | Potentially Harmful and Other Questionable Therapies

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