A blog about forensic psychology

Multiple Personality Excluded in Twilight Rapist Insanity Case

As the battle over dissociative identity disorder's existence heats up, a serial rapist's attempt to claim insanity based on that condition fell flat in Texas. Read More

Twilight Rapist

Dr Franklin

I found your article of interest and hope this will create a forum
for further discussion on DID and its use in the court room setting.

The issue of my administering the examination to my client took on
a sinister spin from the way it was interpreted by Dr Barden when in fact it was nothing more then my hand carrying it to the jail and passing the sealed envelope into the hand of a deputy who then gave it to my client. The transaction took less then a minute. I remained in a attorney booth with my client who spent four hours answering the self administered questions. When he completed the exam he placed the results in an envelope and sealed it. He then handed the envelope to a deputy who then gave it to me. That transaction took less then a minute.

I personally carried the test to the jail so that the contents would not be examined by either the sheriffs department or the prosecutors office since Mr Harris was under extremely tight surveillance and the results of the test would/could form the basis of our defense. I could not jeopardize the results of the
exam being compromised by falling into the "wrong hands".

Test administration ethics and standards

Mr. Cohen,

Thanks for writing to clarify the circumstances of the test administration. I have seen other cases in which psychologists have had third parties administer psychological tests, or have given prisoners tests to fill out and return at their leisure. While the intermediary who delivers the test is not doing anything sinister, from the standpoint of professional ethics and practice there are several problems with such practices.

First and foremost, if a test is standardized - that is, if it has norms to which an individual is being compared - then such procedures violate the standardized administration and may invalidate the results.

Second, such procedures violate test security.

Third, they prevent the expert from ensuring the adequacy of testing conditions, or of observing the individual as he performs the tasks; observation by skilled examiners can be an important component of one's ultimate opinions. Relatedly, sitting with the test-taker allows the examiner to assess for adequate comprehension, and answer any questions that may come up.

When Dr. Barden testified that it was unethical for the attorney to administer the tests, he was likely referring to the Ethics Code for psychologists, as well as the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing ("The Standards") promulgated by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education. As noted in the introduction to the Standards:

The improper use of tests can cause considerable harm to test takers and other parties affected by test-based decisions. The intent of the Standards is to promote the sound and ethical use of tests and to provide a basis for evaluating the quality of testing practices.

Collectively, the Ethics Code and the Standards require that:

  • All test administrators receive proper training (Ethics Code 9.07; Standards 12.8)
  • Tests not be administered by unqualified persons (Ethics Code 9.07; Standards 12.8)
  • All examinees receive proper informed consent (Ethics Code 9.03; Standards 12.10)
  • Test data be kept confidential and secure (Ethics Code 9.04; Standards 12.11)
  • Assessment techniques be protected from disclosure to the extent permitted by law (Ethics Code 9.11; Standards 12.11)

Again, I appreciate your taking the time to write. I have taken the liberty of cross-posting your comment and my reply on my professional blog.

"Psychological Tests"

I'd like to clarify a couple of more things about the "psychological tests" and other matters in the Billy Harris case. They are not psychological tests like the WAIS or Rorschach - they are all self-report measures: the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), the Self-Report version of the Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule (DDIS) and the Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation (MID). Neither the DES nor DDIS require any rater judgements and neither code any kinds of clinical observations. The MID is computer-scored. The DES, DDIS and MID were given to Billy Harris by Mr. Cohen before I agreed to be an expert in the case as a preliminary screen, and for no other purpose. At this point, the court had only approved $1500.00 for all defense expert witness time and costs. There is no evidence that DES, DDIS or MID results are skewed by someone other than a psychologist or psychiatrist "administering" them. In any case, these "tests" are not "administered" like the WAIS or Rorschach - they are just handed to the person, which doesn't require any training. I did not "concede" anything about the DES, DDIS or MID results at trial - all my comments about the possibility of exaggerating symtoms were included in my pre-trial written report. I did not say that inclusion of dissociative identity disorder in the DSM proves validity in and of itself. I said that the American Psychiatric Association membership is the relevant scientific community, that inclusion of DID in the DSM represents the official (but not conclusive) position of the Association that DID is valid, and that the DES and DDIS are included in the American Psychiatric Press' Handbook of Psychiatric Measures. Also, I said, I personally have published a series of data-based papers on dissociation and DID in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the flagship journal of the Association. All these facts weigh in favor of the validity of DID and against its being "junk science." Calling DID "junk science" is like saying that Mitt Romney belongs to a cult: it's an insult not an analysis. There is an evidence base on the reliability and concurrent validity of DID and dissociation involving a wide range of measures, samples, statistical analyses and methodologies - the stats include taxometric analysis, receiver operating curves, regression and factor analyses, discriminant function analyses, and analyses of variance, as well as t tests, chi squares, Pearson correlations, and so on. These findings have been published in dozens of different psychology and psychiatry journals. There is controversy about all DSM disorders - the existence of a vocal group of extreme skeptics does not prove a given disorder is "junk." In any case, the standard required of DID at the trial was that there must be scientific evidence that an expert witness can accurately determine the mental state of a criminal on a given day months or years earlier - there are no reliability or other data showing that any mental health professional can make such a determination for any disorder or type of mental state. By this criterion, all testimony about mental state would be excluded, not just testimony about DID. Similarly, testimony about all DSM disorders would be excluded if the existence of "controversy" was all that was required. No DSM disorder has scientifically proven biomedical validity and there are always conflicting schools of thought about everything in psychology and psychiatry.

Thank you, Dr. Ross

Dr. Ross,

Although your comment is unsigned, from the context it appears to be you. Thanks for writing to clarify your position.

Prior to your comment here, I did not know what tests were administered. To the extent that all three of these tests are freely available online,* I guess any concern about test security is moot. Still, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing are meant to apply not just to tests like the WAIS or the MMPI but also to "a broad range of less formal assessment techniques."

As far as your court testimony, since I did not attend the proceedings I relied on news coverage of the case, primarily in the Victoria Advocate. (In response to your comment, I have changed the word "conceded" to "testified," in order to remove any editorial implications.)

I am not familiar with the standard you cite regarding the admissibility of DID at the trial. That is not the legal standard for insanity in Texas, which uses the M'Naghten Standard and the Irresistible Impulse Test.

What makes the case newsworthy for my readers is that the judge, after hearing from both sides, chose to disallow the testimony about DID.

Clearly, DID is a highly controversial condition, more controversial than the majority of conditions listed in the DSM. The statistical techniques that you list are just that, techniques, and in and of themselves say little about the validity of the underlying methodologies, results, or interpretations. I would encourage interested readers to read the various studies and opinion pieces for themselves, and draw their own conclusions.

Again, thanks for writing to clarify and to share your position.

*Readers: You can click on these links to view the Dissociative Experiences Scale, the Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule, and the Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation.

Your Response

Thanks for your reply. I'd be happy to participate in a scholarly discussion of methodology, results and interpretation of research data if you ever have such a forum.


Its good that attorneys are now taking over psychology and mental health also. Obviously attorneys are more tuned into what it means to be human and what human consciousness is all about. As a group they are clearly one of the most human and insightful groups of humans there are. It is a very good thing for society that so many members of Congress and political leaders are
attorneys. That's why society is ultimately in such good hands, minds, and those warm, insightful hearts.

Although this particular person might be a total fake, it is criminal that the whole area of MPD, DID is labeled as hoax. Anybody who has worked with MPD, DID, experiences the process as the most impactful of their careers. Not because it shows how bizarre and different some people are, but rather because it shows us insight into the actual nature of what human consciousness is about for all humans, normal or not. There is much more inside every human than people like to accept. MPD is a window into humanness, not deviance or criminality. But of course the universe of attorneys is well aware of how complex humans are, in mind, body, spirit, particularly of themselves, and especially of their own subconscious minds.

My experience with Dr. Colin Ross, although limited, is that he is a brilliant person, gifted and caring therapist, good writer and insightful mind about the human consciousness. The research has simply not caught up with the reality of actual MPD and DID. It eventually will. Research studies are often far behind "knowing."
Dr. David Illig


DID. No, I do not have it. No, I did not know anything about this case before reading this article, so maybe the guy was faking, I don't know. But do not EVEN try to tell me it (DID) isn't real or that this is 'junk' science. It most certainly is not!

If you have ever been in a room full of people who have it for any length of time...and I have...there would be no doubt in YOUR mind, either. I have many friends who have this ailment, and they SUFFER.

Dr. Collin Ross is a visionary, a pioneer...all the things that Dr. David Illig said, (and may I add, a total gentleman) and all such people are scoffed at...at first. But Dr. Ross, whatever else he may be or not be, has SAVED LIVES and given the hopeless HOPE. Simply for THAT, he deserves respect! He certainly has MINE.

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Karen Franklin, Ph.D., is a forensic psychologist in Northern California.


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