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Billy Milligan and the Multiple Personality Disorder Defense

written by: Dawn Salamon • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/27/2011

In the late 1970s, Billy Milligan pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for a series of rapes committed on the Ohio State University campus. His lawyers argued that Milligan suffered from multiple personality disorder and was not criminally responsible for his actions.

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    The Case Against Billy Milligan

    Over the course of one week in October 1977, three women from the Ohio State University campus were abducted at gunpoint and raped. After the rapes, the women were then robbed of their checks and/or credit cards. One victim was even forced to cash the check for her abductor. All three women were released without additional injury, but the abductor asked for personal information about their families and threatened to harm them if they spoke of the attack.

    On October 27, 1977, Billy Milligan, 22, was arrested after a victim identified him through his mug shot and he was charged with nine counts of rape, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping. Upon search of his home, police found a gun, handcuffs and other items that linked him to the rapes. His fingerprint was also found on a victim's car.

    Milligan had been arrested and convicted twice before - once in 1972 for rape and again in 1975 for the robbery of a drugstore. His first conviction earned him a six month sentence at an Ohio youth camp while the second landed him in prison for almost two years. Six months after his release from prison, the Ohio State University rapes began.

    What came next made national headlines. Billy Milligan's public defenders decided that he should plead not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming that he suffered from multiple personality disorder as a result of alleged severe physical and sexual abuse as a child by his stepfather. They stated that two of his other personalities, also known as "alters", committed the crimes he was accused of.

    Although he had physically committed the crimes, they argued that he was not criminally responsible because the main personality -- Billy -- was unaware of carrying them out. The prosecution did not contest the plea, making Billy Milligan the first person in the United States to effectively use multiple personality disorder as a defense.

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    Billy Milligan's Alters

    The first sign of Milligan's alter personalities appeared in the patrol car as he was transferred to police headquarters. The policeman who transferred him later remarked that he "couldn't tell..what was going on, but it was like (he) was talking to different people at different times." After numerous interviews with his attorneys and several psychiatrists, it was determined that Milligan had ten different personalities, including his own host personality. The majority of the personalities were adult males, but two were female and two were children. According to the psychiatric report submitted to the court, the attacks were initially planned as robberies by an alter named "Ragen" who was a 23-year-old Yugoslavian man. However, the robberies turned to rape as another alter, "Adalana", took over from Ragen. Adalana was a 19-year-old lesbian who claimed to commit the rapes in an attempt "to feel close to someone."

    Milligan was sentenced to a mental health facility where he would be re-evaluated every two years (after an initial review 90 days after his commitment) to determine if he was sane enough to be released. While he was committed, psychiatrists discovered that Milligan had an additional 13 alters that had not been allowed to reveal themselves previously. During treatment, he was able to fuse all of his personalities together into an alter named "The Teacher" and was allowed extended furloughs from the hospital he was being treated at.

    In 1988, Milligan was deemed sane because his alters had been successfully fused and he was released under supervision from his mental health facility and released completely from supervision in 1991.

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    What is Multiple Personality Disorder?

    Multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder (DID) as it was renamed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), is a rare disorder that causes an individual, known as the host personality, to have at least two distinct personalities or identities existing within them. Each personality or alter, has their own gender, age and race as well as their own thoughts, emotions, and physiological reactions. Some alters have been known to have different accents and/or different abilities to the host - for example they may paint or sing well, something that the host might be incapable of doing. When an alter is in control, the individual is generally unaware of what that alter is doing or thinking. Individuals with DID have at least two identities but can have as many as 100 with ten being the average number.

    It is believed that dissociative identity disorder occurs as a way to cope with severe childhood trauma, such as physical and/or sexual abuse. In order for a child to deal with the trauma, he or she detaches or dissociates themselves from the memory in order to protect themselves psychologically. This detachment can become so extreme that it develops into separate and distinct personalities that can emerge in response to further psychological stresses. However, there is some controversy as to whether DID is a real disorder, even though it is listed as such in the DSM-IV-TR. Many psychiatrists question its validity as a disorder for a number of reasons - only 3% of psychiatric hospital patients have been diagnosed with it; the majority of child abuse victims never develop the disorder, and many DID sufferers were never abused as children.

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    References

    Maher, John, "The Strange Case of Billy Milligan's Jigsaw Psyche", http://www.columbusmonthly.com/articles/2010/10/07/cm_classics/doc4ba3d05163ead245187390.txt

    MedicineNet.com website, http://www.medicinenet.com/dissociative_identity_disorder/article.htm

    National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Helpline&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=20562

    Phillips, Jeb, "30 Years Later, Multiple-Personality Case Still Fascinates", http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2007/10/28/BILLY.ART_ART_10-28-07_A1_EV89AGB.html?sid=101