Attorney for UT stabbing suspect says jailhouse interview affects chance for fair trial

Booking photo of Kendrex Jermaine White. (Photo courtesy: Austin Police Department)

Attorneys for the University of Texas stabbing suspect are now lashing out at a Houston TV station for airing an interview with Kendrex White.

They say White lacks the mental capacity to understand the purpose of the interview and that it affects White's chance for a "fair and just" trial. White gave the TV station a rambling interview in which he claimed he did not remember actually stabbing anyone.

White's mental state has been a focus since he was arrested immediately after the stabbings, and both the National Alliance for Mental Illness Texas and the criminal defense attorney most famous for using the insanity defense agree that White and his attorneys have a tough road ahead.

"It's a difficult case. It's an uphill case," said criminal defense attorney George Parnham via FaceTime. Parnham represented perhaps the best known defendant to use the insanity defense. Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in 2011 while suffering from postpartum psychosis. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity in her second trial in 2006, and was sent to a mental hospital. She remains in a low-security mental hospital in Kerrville.

"The nature of the accusation of often horrific. All right? The stabbing. The taking the lives of five children," Parnham said, referring to one of the difficulties White's defense will face with a jury. Parnham was not surprised that White said he doesn't remember stabbing anyone. "That is not unusual, as a matter of fact that's an earmark of mental illness," he said.

But what makes the insanity defense so hard is the standard in Texas. "The standard in Texas is whether or not knew what they were doing was right or wrong," said Greg Hanch, the public policy director for the National Alliance for Mental Illness Texas. "Our insanity defense is extremely narrow and it's extremely difficult for individuals to successfully use that," he said.

Meantime, Parnham says White's attorneys have a lot of work ahead. "It is the probably toughest defense to have and to persuade a jury."

White's attorney may also argue that he is not competent to stand trial, if that's successful, there would likely be an attempt to medicate him to make him competent to stand trial.