Should This ‘Rain Man’ Have Known Right From Wrong?


The article about Billy Cottrell (“Burned,” by Vince Beiser, April 10) is very upsetting. It is incredible that an American judge would withhold from the jury the fact that a defendant has Asperger’s syndrome.

His condition would have prevented him from assessing the criminal aspect of his actions. But because his form of autism was not known to the jury, he was found guilty. From what we know about his early school days, serving time side by side with other convicts does not bode well for him. This brilliant scientific “Rain Man” should be allowed to do research rather than languish in prison.

Trudy Gardner



For such an intelligent adult, it is too bad he did not know right from wrong.

Ken Keller



Poor Billy Cottrell. Obviously a victim of society? Please give me a break. What he never learned in his educated life was to respect the property of others. The property of the auto dealer is no different than the SUV sitting on the street. He is no better than any run-of-the-mill arsonist--no matter what syndrome he supposedly suffers from.


Dave DeWitt



Surely a long sentence for Cottrell would be pointless. He seems like a minor threat to society. Besides, as Beiser writes, he “was shunned and picked on as a child.”

Also noteworthy are the several thousand boys and girls housed in juvenile detention facilities. The majority have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned. Some have committed victimless crimes, others have been accomplices, and a relative few acted in violence. If found guilty, they, like Cottrell, should pay the price--but with their lives?

Beiser describes Cottrell as “handsome, fit and white . . . almost comically out of place in his orange jumpsuit among the shaved-head gangbangers. . . .” Some of Cottrell’s fellow inmates, though perhaps less attractive, are likely to be less guilty--especially the very young. I would suggest that they, too, should receive special consideration under the law for the syndromes from which they suffer.

F. Christine Goethals

Detention Ministry Volunteer

Archdiocese of Los Angeles