18 year-old Isabella Guzman is accused of attacking her mother and stabbing her to death. She is charged with first-degree murder, and according to police documents, she allegedly stabbed her mother 79 times.
She appeared in court yesterday to formally hear the charges against her. She was scheduled to appear in the morning, but she refused to leave her jail cell. By the afternoon, she was cooperating, but a camera in the courtroom caught her doing a number of bizarre things. She stared directly at the camera on several occasions with a sassy and defiant look on her face. At one point, she pointed to both of her eyes while looking straight at the camera. In the raw footage, you can also see redness in her eyes, as though she were holding back tears.
I have not met with or talked to Isabella Guzman. I have certainly not conducted a psychological evaluation with her. I cannot diagnose her from watching a few minutes of courtroom video. But, I can say, in those few minutes, she reminded me of the troubled teens I worked with when I was in graduate school. These were teenagers, mostly girls, whose behavior was so out of control they were sent to a residential treatment facility. Many of them had legal charges. Some of them had mental illnesses. But, most of them were sad kids who were raised in terrible circumstances. Almost all of them had been physically or sexually abused. They put on a mask of bravado and toughness, but just under the surface, they were wounded and fragile.
With good treatment, most of those teens turned out okay. Some of them just outgrew their poor behavior as they aged and matured. Some of them, however, went on to develop full-blown personality disorders.
I don't know what Guzman's upbringing was like, and I do not want to make any excuses for her alleged actions. But, seeing her on camera makes me wonder if she is like those teenagers I used to work with--masking fragility and desperation with bluster and defiance.
Here is a link to the video of Isabella Guzman in court:
Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.
As an aside, Guzman was charged with her crime about a month after her 18th birthday. If she were to be convicted of first-degree murder, she would be eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. If she had committed the alleged murder just a few months earlier (i.e. when she was 17), neither of those sentences would be an option, even if she had been tried as an adult.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.