In his recent law review article about Jeffrey Dahmer and the insanity defense, Marquette University Law School Assistant Professor Gregory J. O’Meara, S.J. cited Thomas Aquinas, William Shakespeare, and philosophers Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault – along with the police blotter and courtroom transcripts.
O’Meara and ADA Carole White second-chaired former Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann in the 1992 prosecution of Milwaukee’s most infamous case, State v. Dahmer.
After Dahmer’s arrest for the gruesome murders of 16, a legal commentator observed, “If Dahmer isn’t crazy, who is?”
The defense made a compelling case to that effect. But the prosecution team successfully argued that the unusual sexual triggers underlying Dahmer’s actions did not exonerate him, in light of his meticulous planning.
After two weeks of trial, the jury agreed with the State.
Later that year, O’Meara left the D.A.’s office to enter the Society of Jesus, the largest religious order within the Roman Catholic Church. While studying theology, he served as an expert witness for the defense on the issue of prosecutorial misconduct in State of Oklahoma v. Terry Nichols. The prosecution was dismissed by the trial court and overturned on appeal.
Nichols did not receive the death penalty.
After ordination, he joined the Marquette Law faculty. The Jesuits are a teaching order; plus, he’s had prior experience in academia and believes his talents are best-utilized there.
Almost 18 years after Dahmer, O’Meara still ponders Dahmer’s motivations and the insanity defense in modern-day criminal law, and wants others to think critically about it, and the law generally. He says, “Part of the Jesuit tradition asks of students is to hold in tension, and integrate where possible, the medieval synthesis with the condition of post-modern man.
That’s what I try to do in my teaching.”
O’Meara, who teaches criminal law, evidence, ethics and contemporary legal theory, has received the Ghiardi Award for teaching excellence twice during his eight-year tenure at Marquette, in addition to working on numerous educational and bar-related committees. Most recently, he became chair of the Criminal Law Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin.
He also wants students to see law as a profession that serves society and makes the world better. This, too, is part of the Jesuit tradition: to reflect upon what is happening in your daily experience, and to find God in all things.