Autry Basham and Jared Loughner

Autry Basham grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed to death his wife, Marie, on August 27, 2007. After stabbing Marie, he attempted to slit his own throat. Autry Basham was 85; Marie was 83. They had been married 64 years.

The Bashams were longtime upstanding citizens of Mansfield, Arkansas. Autry was the Santa Claus of Mansfield. Every year, he would dress up as Santa Claus and visit local schools and ride in the hometown parade. Friends of the couple say they were a loving couple who just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary and were involved in the community and the First Baptist church. He was a peaceful man, never known to have any violent tendencies.

Marie was a victim of dementia. She had short-term memory loss and was plagued with other Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Autry was her caregiver. Caring for a person with dementia is difficult. Study after study tells us that caring for a person with dementia can diminish a person’s own physical, mental, and emotional health.

Autry had his own health problems at the time of the murder. He was suffering from pneumonia, sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea, and was on Paxil and other meds for depression and anxiety. Plus, he was 85 years old.

What a formula for disaster – an 85-year-old man in poor physical and mental health, suffering from lack of sleep, his state-of-mind possibly altered due to a mix of meds, and his loving wife of 64 years incessantly asks the same question for hours at a time.

Despite the many overwhelming factors that would cause any aging man to suddenly snap and attack the woman he loved for over 64 years, Autry Basham was tried for first degree murder in October 2008. After a five-day trial, the jury came back with no verdict. Eleven of them voted in favor of first-degree murder, and the 12th declined in favor of a lesser charge. Autry is to be re-tried for murder; an appeal for dismissal on the basis of mental incompetence was struck down by Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV, on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Autry will, again, be tried for murder.

Jared Loughner shot to death six people and left 14 others injured, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords on January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. He was indicted on 49 counts by federal grand juries in Arizona.

Prior to that, Jared had a few skirmishes with the law. He held unusual political views and was unhappy with Rep. Giffords. He was an unhappy person.

Jared bought his first weapon for the shooting three months earlier. He sent a cryptic goodbye voicemail to his friend the night before the shooting, and posted another goodbye message to his friends on MySpace that morning. Then he drove to Walmart, bought ammunition, and took a taxi to the place of the killings. Every aspect of the murders was planned.

Jared Loughner won’t be tried for first-degree murder. He won’t be tried for any type of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, or any other act of aggression. In fact, Jared isn’t even going to trial. You see, a Federal judge decided on Wednesday, May 25, 2011, that Jared is mentally incompetent. His delusional beliefs and irrational thought processes destroyed his capacity to appreciate the moral significance of his actions. Therefore, Jared is not fit for trial.

It’s a good thing for Jared Loughner that he wasn’t an aging, distraught, upstanding senior citizen who suddenly snapped and did something totally out of character; otherwise, he might have ended up with the same awful fate as the gentleman Mr. Basham.

I don’t pretend to understand all the nuances of each of these cases, nor am I qualified to challenge the validity of their individual rulings. However, when using each as a balance for the other, you can see that something has gotten terribly out of kilter.