The Sleepwalking Murder Defense Explained

Sleepwalking is a strange but somewhat common phenomenon where the brain gets stuck between a sleeping and awake state. Most people have an anecdote of catching a family member wandering around in a daze or making a midnight snack in their slumber. Yet, some people have more complicated and tragic routines when they sleepwalk, at least, so they claim: There have been murders blamed on sleepwalking.

The sleepwalking defense is a way of pleading not guilty by insanity, where the perpetrator admits to the act but claims they had no control over their actions as they were asleep, only to discover their crimes when awake. According to The Ledger, a Florida man in 2019 named Randy Herman Jr. admitted to stabbing his roommate Brooke Preston around 20 times, but claimed he was asleep during the murder. While Herman reportedly had a history of sleepwalking when he was younger, the jury found him guilty after the prosecution argued that Herman would have awoken during the stabbings. However, the sleepwalking defense has been used before — and sometimes successfully.

Some murderers have been proven to sleepwalk

In 1987, a Canadian man named Ken Parks was going through a tough time as he struggled to come to terms with his gambling addiction (via Toronto City News). He had plans to go visit his in-laws, who by all accounts he was close with, to tell them that he had recently joined Gamblers Anonymous. That night, Parks would turn himself into the authorities, claiming he had killed two people; he had beaten his mother-in-law to death with a tire iron and severely injured his father-in-law. Parks said he was asleep during the whole affair.

No one believed Parks' story, despite the odd nature of the crime given that Parks had immediately turned himself in. However, experts found evidence that the sleepwalking claims could be true. According to Psychology Today, Parks had been suffering from insomnia, anxiety, and stress, which could contribute to sleepwalking. EEC scans, which reportedly cannot be faked, showed unusual brain activity that pointed to sleepwalking. In a highly publicized decision, Parks was acquitted of the murder, despite having supposedly driven a car, beaten someone to death with a tire iron, and attempted to strangle someone all while asleep; if it was fiction no one would believe it, but there's evidence to support that it's reality.