Did Alex Arnold kill Betty Gail Brown? I have been asked that question hundreds of times and have never found it easy to answer. My difficulty with the question began almost as soon as I saw Arnold for the first time, in a jail cell in Lexington two or three days after he had confessed to the killing and been charged with murder. Although Arnold was not at the time hallucinating about mind-reading machines or talking to creatures on the walls of his jail cell, he was quite obviously still suffering mental impairments. He had lost his access to alcohol a little more than a week earlier and had been sitting alone in jail for most of that period; he seemed to have passed through the worst of his withdrawal symptoms, but was not even close to a total escape from the consequences of at least ten years of drunkenness. He had lost the “good feelings” he gained from drinking (elevated mood, self-confidence, and nonexistent inhibitions) and had found in their place high anxiety, low energy, some disorientation, and a crystal-clear desire to be left alone. It was under these conditions, speaking very softly and seeming almost to be talking to himself, that he said, “I killed her.” Had he made this statement under normal circumstances, in a clean and clear state of mind, it would have been easy to believe that the state had found the killer of Betty Gail Brown. But the circumstances under which the statement was made were far from normal, although they were much closer to normal that those that prevailed a few days earlier when he signed the confession that led to his prosecution for murder....
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