Insanity ruling for driver in death of rabbi

Insanity ruling for driver in death of rabbi

Judge cites a history of mental health issues

Rabbi Jim Diamond 
Rabbi Jim Diamond 

The driver of the car that killed Rabbi James Diamond, the retired director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life/Hillel, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Eric Maltz, 22, had faced up to 30 years in prison on charges of aggravated manslaughter, assault by auto, and death by auto, according to the Times of Trenton.

Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier ruled that Maltz met the legal definition of not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the 2013 crash, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Maltz was committed to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. The court cited a history of mental health issues.

Diamond, who retired from the center in 2003, was killed March 28, 2013; he was 73. Maltz was said to be driving in excess of 80 miles per hour down a residential street when he swerved into a parked car on the other side of the street. That car rammed into the one the rabbi was entering after attending a breakfast Talmud study group; Diamond was hit by the car door, thrown into the street, and died soon after. The driver of the parked car, Rabbi Robert Freedman, who also attended the study group, was hospitalized with injuries.

The fatal accident happened a day after Maltz was released from Princeton House Behavioral Health, where he had been taken after displaying irrational behavior during an argument with his father over marijuana use. He was released because he was deemed no longer to be a danger to himself or others, according to a report by Dr. Steven Simring of Princeton House.

The court cited Maltz’s lengthy mental health record, which started at age four and included a long history of serious bipolar disorder episodes and depression. Maltz was removed from the Princeton schools in fourth grade and finished his education in a special school, according to the medical report summarized by the judge. 

Billmeier, summarizing the medical evidence for insanity, said that on the morning of March 28, Maltz was aware that his father, the custodial parent, had left for work very early. Maltz allegedly went to the family garage, got in the car, turned on the motor, kept the garage door closed, and passed out, none of which he recalled. The next thing Maltz said he remembered was speeding down Riverside Drive, with a propane tank next to him on the front seat. The judge suggested that the defendant was suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning as well as depression on the day of the crash.

The judge determined that Maltz met the criteria for a psychiatric evaluation to see if he could be released without danger to himself or others, and to assess whether or not he required supervision. At the end of the hearing, Maltz was handcuffed and taken to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital for no more than 30 days for the evaluation. 

Prior to announcing his decision, the judge took the unusual step of allowing statements by Diamond’s widow, Judy, and his brother, Gary (who also read a written statement by Diamond’s son Etan in Israel), and Freedman.

Acknowledging that Maltz did not intend to kill her husband or injure Freedman, Judy Diamond suggested that nonetheless his guilt in doing so was irrefutable. “One aspect of growing up, even for a kid with special needs, is learning to take responsibility for your actions. It is learning that there is a limit to what you can do and walk away from without worrying about the consequences,” she said in her statement.

She wondered about what sort of crime Maltz would have to commit “to be held accountable” and “forced to take responsibility for his actions.”

Freedman shared his memory of the instant before Maltz’s car hit the car in front of Freedman’s: “I remember seeing Mr. Maltz’s vehicle come at high speed and it swerved into the vehicle,” he said. “It seemed to be under control.” Freedman contended that the judge was incorrect in suggesting that Maltz “did not know the nature and quality of the act” and hence was not responsible.

Gary Diamond was unhappy with the court’s decision. “Temporary insanity,” he said in his statement to the judge, “is a feeble legal excuse to ensure the defendant is not responsible for his actions. Surely someone must take responsibility for such barbaric behavior.” 

In the statement read by Gary Diamond, Etan Diamond blamed Maltz for “taking my father’s life through selfish recklessness. Perhaps he is mentally unstable but to call him not guilty is a lie.” He urged Maltz “to admit that he killed my father and take responsibility for his actions.”

Etan wrote that “rehabilitation without responsibility” merely delays a repetition of misconduct and asked the judge not to accept Maltz’s plea. 

Diamond was the director of the Center for Jewish Life from 1995 to 2003. He also served as executive director of the Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis from 1972 to 1995, and at Indiana University from 1968 to 1972.

With reporting by JTA

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