Guilty: Sane or Insane

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Guilty: Sane or Insane?

9th grade English students will read Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado.” While reading, students will take notes w/the understanding that the narrator, Montressor, did commit murder. The question remains as to whether he is guilty of homicide or if he is innocent by reason of insanity. Students will then work in pairs to research insanity pleas for real cases and compile notes for those cases that set precedence in such instances. Case information will be combined with evidence from the story. The final evaluation will be a mock trial on behalf of Montressor. It must be argued and decided whether he is guilty or innocent by reason of insanity.

R 9.9.2

Identify specific ways an author accomplishes purpose, including organization, narrative, and persuasive techniques, style, literary forms or genre, portrayal of themes, tone, and intended audiences.

IR 12.9.4

Use a variety of electronic sources to access information.

IR 12.9.11

Summarize, paraphrase, and/or quote relevant information.

IR 12.9.12

Create research products such as

Oral presentation



That structure ideas in a sustained and logical fashion.

W 4.9.8

Revise content writing for central idea, elaboration, unity, and organization.


  • While there may be many arguments to be found on the internet and in textbooks for Montressor’s guilt or innocence, it is rarely argued from the sane/insane point of view.

  • The research involved for actual court cases requires students to compile one set of notes from many sources. Working with such non-fiction texts will include lessons on research skills…paraphrasing to source documentation and everything in between.

  • Students will be required to create a survey (probably on to poll others about their opinions on the innocent by insanity plea and its use in court cases in the U.S. This will require students to compile original information.


  • People of all ages are very concerned about what is “fair.” We, teachers especially, are famous for saying that life isn’t fair, but what is fair according to the law?

  • Most students are interested in the “strange” or “interesting” cases that would require a plea of insanity.

  • Any adult citizen could be called to jury duty at any time in the U.S. Analyzing facts and placing judgment on peers is a reality that students could face as adults.

  • Making decisions based on facts is a life skill in the workplace or the educational realm. Whether a person is studying up to purchase a new cell phone plan, lease a new car, or plan a change of career, analyzing facts and making decisions based on those facts is a must.

  • To accomplish any and all of the above, students will need to be able to read, comprehend, and pin-point important information in non-fiction literature. Students are accustomed to reading the traditional narrative, but balk at the prospect of working with “boring” or “plain” literature. This activity will assist students with successfully navigating the world of research and information break-down in non-fiction texts.

*Students will have already completed activities on selecting reliable internet resources, collecting citation information, and will have discussed plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Day 1:
Read along with “The Cask of Amontillado” text as a class while listening to the reader on the CD (provided w/textbook). On provided worksheet, students will take notes about specific instances in the story where it could be argued that Montressor is sane or insane for performing certain actions.

Classes will discuss notes collected during reading and compare opinions of sanity or insanity of specific actions on the part of the main character, Montressor.

*Stess to students that the question is not whether or not a crime was committed, but whether Montressor is guilty or innocent by reason of insanity.
Day 2:
Students will take notes on, identify, and practice using persuasive writing strategies.
Hand out copies of “Persuasive Strategy Definitions” note sheet. At the website , you will find a PowerPoint presentation to show on the overhead projector. Have students fill in “example” column on note handout as PowerPoint is discussed. *From the local Times Record newspaper, I read examples of each strategy from random articles and advertisements.



Claim – your main point

Big Names – experts and important

people that support your side of

the argument

Logos – using logic, numbers, facts, and data

to support your argument

Pathos – appealing to your audience’s emotions

Ethos – making yourself seem

trustworthy and believable

Kairos - building a sense of urgency

for your cause

Research – using studies and

information to make your argument

seem more convincing; you can use

words, graphs, tables, illustrations

Homework-Day2: Students will complete the “Persuasion Is All Around Us” handout, also from the Read, Write, Think website on persuasive writing.

Day 3:
Review homework handout (persuasive strategies used in print and/or television).
Practice persuasive strategies by providing writing prompts. In groups of three, have students respond to the prompt of their choice in a paragraph, using one of the persuasive writing strategies discussed in the notes from day two. *Everyone should be practicing on the same strategy at the same time. It will be possible to practice at least two in one class period. *
Allow students to confer w/their group members in order to complete the practice activities. As students create practice drafts, the teacher should monitor group progress and complete the “Observations and Notes” sheet for each class. This will allow the teacher to track progress and address mistakes as students practice using the strategies.

After practicing each strategy, the teacher should review observation notes with the class and redirect mistakes as necessary.

Group members: ___________________________________________________________________


Check the strategies that group members are using to build their argument. Jot down their reasons in the Notes section to use as examples later.

_____ Claim – Students state what they are trying to convince the audience of

_____ Authorities or “Big Names” – Students cite well-known authorities or experts to get the audience to believe their argument

_____ Logos – Students use facts, data, statistics, or numbers to support their argument

_____ Pathos – Students appeal to the audience’s emotions

_____ Ethos – Students try to gain the audience’s trust and show their credibility and honesty

_____ Kairos – Students try to build a sense of urgency and convince the audience that they must act now

_____ Research – Students cite research (websites, articles, experts) to build their arguments; they show graphs, tables, or charts to help persuade


Copyright 2006 IRA/NCTE. All rights reserved. materials may be reproduced for educational purposes.

[Locker Searches/Personal Searches] The principal at your school has instituted random locker and backpack/book bag searches to check for guns, knives, and other weapons. Anyone caught with these weapons will be immediately suspended. The principal argues that the random searches will not only guard against illegal weapons at school but will also will help students feel safer. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper stating your position and supporting it with three convincing reasons.
[Online Schools] The state department of education has provided funding for an experimental online school. All the classes will take place on the Internet, using email, online chat, and the World Wide Web. The students taking classes at this new online school will never meet each other face-to-face. They will only interact online with each other and with their teachers. The state is hoping this program will provide fairer educational access to students in outlying, rural areas. Opponents of the program argue that because of their lack of interaction with other students in a traditional classroom, the students who attend this online school will not develop the social skills that should be a component of their education. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper stating your position on this issue and supporting it with three convincing reasons.
[Computers in the Classroom] As part of a new technology initiative, your local school district is increasing the number of computers in every school. The district plan provides for two computers in every classroom. Teachers at your school are lobbying instead to place all the computers together, creating two computer-based classrooms so that all students in a class can work at the computers together, rather than only one or two students at a time. The district is worried about the additional cost of creating and maintaining these special classrooms and is concerned about how access to the classrooms can be provided fairly and efficiently. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper stating your point of view and supporting it with three convincing reasons.
[Bilingual Education] As part of a proposed educational initiative in your state, local school districts are responsible for providing required courses in both English language and Spanish language in order to increase the success of their programs. Because your state has a large population of Spanish speakers, the state education department believes that teaching these students in their first language will help them learn better and more quickly. Because of the limited budget, however, the local school board is concerned that they may not be able to provide the additional teachers or training needed for this program. They fear that they will lose state funding and accreditation even though 90% of the district's students pass their achievement tests on the first try. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper stating your point of view and supporting it with three convincing reasons.
[Grade Scale Change] One of the biology teachers at your school has decided to change from a ten-point grade scale (100 to 90 is an A, 89 to 80 is a B, etc.) to a seven-point grade scale (100 to 93 is an A, 92 to 85 is a B, etc.). The teacher is trying to encourage students to put more effort into their classes by raising the requirements. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper stating your position and supporting it with convincing reasons.
[Litter] A litter problem has developed on your school's campus. Students are throwing trash on the ground, leaving empty soda cans and bottles outside on benches, and dropping napkins and other trash on the cafeteria floor rather than carrying them to the trash can. Your principal has asked students to take more care, but the litter problem persists. The principal has reacted by cancelling all after-school activities until the problem is taken care of. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper stating your position and supporting it with convincing reasons.

[Curfew] The mayor of your city is trying to decide if a 9:00p.m. curfew on weekdays for children under the age of 16 is needed. What do you think? Write a persuasive essay to the mayor [Mr. Baker] to convince him to enact or not to enact, the curfew. Give at least three reasons to support your position.

Day 4/5:
Library research for persuasive essay, students working in pairs:
In the library, review “Cask of Amontillado” notes with students. Provide list of reliable websites for researching the insanity plea in court cases.

The Insanity Defense: A Closer Look

By John P. Martin Staff Writer

Friday, February 27, 1998

April 1, 2002

Psychiatric Times. Vol. 19 No. 4

Does the Insanity Defense Have a Legitimate Role?

James F. Hooper, M.D., F.A.P.A., and Alix M. McLearen, M.S.
PBS: Frontline

An important distinction: "Not guilty by reason of insanity" and "diminished capacity"

*American Psychiatric Association*

Questions and Answers on
Using “Insanity” as a Legal Defense

How can a person who admits committing a crime be found "not guilty by reason of insanity?"

Insanity Defense - History, Colin Ferguson, Is There A Need For The Insanity Defense?, Consequences, Defendants' Rights

*Students will also be searching school-sponsored databases such as EBSCO.

Students will be researching to address the following questions:

1. What is the legal definition of insanity?
2. How does the insanity plea change a court case?
3. What is the history of the insanity plea in court cases?
4. How often do defendants plead legally insane?
5. How successful, historically, is the insanity plea?
6. Why do defendants or their defense team choose the insanity plea?
*Reviewing your notes on Montressor’s behavior, do you believe his case qualifies for a legal insanity defense? Why or why not? Use the answers to the above questions to help support your position.

Day 6-9:
Beginning with the “prewriting” (“make your case” tab) at the Scholastic web site, students will begin to formulate their persuasive essay, arguing either for or against the insanity plea for Montressor’s case.
Students will be lead through the persuasive writing process on the overhead projector and will work in groups to provide needed support. Each student must submit their own paper.
*See Persuasive Writing Rubric below.
Individual grades will be taken on the following pieces of the essay in progress:
-Outline (student choice of format)

-Thesis statement

-Introductory paragraph

-Body paragraphs

-Concluding paragraph

-Works cited page

*Approximately two-three days will be provided between each step. It is at teacher discretion to add or subtract days necessary to complete each item.

*Students will work in class with teacher and peer feedback to guide progress toward final copy of essay.

*Upon completion of final copy, students are provided two days in class to type their essay if desired. My students have access to two desktop computers, eleven Palms, and five AlphaSmarts.

Persuasive Writing Scoring Guide









Takes a clear position and supports it consistently with well-chosen reasons and/or examples; may use persuasive strategy to convey an argument.

Takes a clear position and supports it with relevant reasons and/or examples through much of the essay.

Takes a clear position and supports it with some relevant reasons and/or examples; there is some development of the essay.

Takes a position and provides uneven support; may lack development in parts or be repetitive OR essay is no more than a well-written beginning.

Takes a position, but essay is underdeveloped.

Attempts to take a position (addresses topic), but position is very unclear OR takes a position, but provides minimal or no support; may only paraphrase the prompt.


Is focused and well organized, with effective use of transitions.

Is well organized, but may lack some transitions.

Is generally organized, but has few or no transitions among sections.

Is organized in parts of the essay; other parts are disjointed and/or lack transitions.

Is disorganized or unfocused in much of the essay OR is clear, but too brief.

Exhibits little or no apparent organization.

Sentence Fluency and Word Choice

Consistently exhibits variety in sentence structure and word choice.

Exhibits some variety in sentence structure and uses good word choice; occasionally, words may be used inaccurately.

Most sentences are well constructed but have similar structure; word choice lacks variety or flair.

Sentence structure may be simple and unvaried; word choice is mostly accurate.

Sentences lack formal structure; word choice may often be inaccurate.

Sentences run-on and appear incomplete or rambling; word choice may be inaccurate in much or the entire essay.


Errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation are few and do not interfere with understanding.

Errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation do not interfere with understanding.

More frequent errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but they do not interfere with understanding.

Errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation sometimes interfere with understanding.

Errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation interfere with understanding in much of the essay.

Errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation prevent reader from fully understanding essay.

Day 10:
Students will use their research findings and the arguments presented in their papers to put Montressor on trial. A judge is to be appointed, a jury selected, defense and prosecution will be prepped with student research findings, and Montressor himself will make an appearance. Based on research evidence and the defendant’s behaviors, the jury must decide whether Montressor is guilty of homicide, or innocent by reason of insanity.

Take a Poll!

As a part of your research for the insanity plea report, you are required to survey at least thirty (30) or your friends, family, and/or acquaintances about their opinion of the insanity plea in criminal cases. You are to create three questions in reference to this topic, to be cleared by your teacher prior to actually performing the survey. Once your questions have been approved, you will ask each participant to answer all questions on your survey. When you have at least thirty participants, you will chart the answers to your questions. The results should be used to support your argument, either for or against the insanity plea, in the case of Montressor.

Guilty: Sane or Insane?

(A researched report)
*Reviewing your notes on Montressor’s behavior in “The Cask of Amontillado,” do you believe his case qualifies for a legal insanity defense? Why or why not? Use the answers to the provided questions to help support your position.
1. What is the legal definition of insanity?
2. How does the insanity plea change a court case?
3. What is the history of the insanity plea in court cases?
4. How often do defendants plead legally insane?
5. How successful, historically, is the insanity plea?
6. Why do defendants or their defense team choose the insanity plea?
In addition to the school-sponsored data bases available to you in the media center, the following web sites have been pre-approved for your use: (You must have at least two sources)

“The Insanity Defense: A Closer Look”

By John P. Martin

Psychiatric Times

“Does the Insanity Defense Have a Legitimate Role?”

James F. Hooper, M.D., F.A.P.A., and Alix M. McLearen, M.S.

PBS: Frontline

An important distinction: "Not guilty by reason of insanity" and "diminished capacity"

*American Psychiatric Association*

“Questions and Answers on Using ‘Insanity’ as a Legal Defense”

You are to determine whether you believe Montressor’s actions, as outlined in class notes, are due to crafty human planning, or simply a lack of mental capacity (insane).
Once you have decided which way you plan to argue, use the databases and websites to find information that supports your ideas. Individual behaviors identified in your notes should be used in conjunction with the information you locate in your research.
*You must provide source citation information for every single resource you use!
In the media center databases, source information is provided for you in every article. For the World Wide Web sites, refer to This is an online guide to in-text (parenthetical) citation and crediting sources on the works cited page.

Essay Checklist:

  • Are you for or against the insanity plea for Montressor’s crime?

  • You must have at least two sources to support your argument.

  • All sources must have citation information both in the essay (in-text) and on the works cited page (follows the essay on separate paper).

  • Your essay must be at least one page typed, two pages hand-written.

  • If you choose to type, follow these guidelines:

12-point font

Times New Roman font only!

Black ink only!
*You will be researching with a partner, but each of you will be responsible for your own notes, work, and essay. You must do your own work to produce the final copy!

Example of final copy:
Guilty: Sane or Insane?”

In Edgar Allen Poe’s tale of horror, The Cask of Amontillado, the lead character, Montressor, carried out a foolproof plan to inflict revenge upon his “friend,” Fortunato. Whatever may have occurred between these two gentlemen, homicide was committed by Montressor. Although Montressor was guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, the question remains about the stability of his mental state at the time. Would it have been possible for Montressor to have claimed the insanity plea as a means of defense, if he had been caught in his crime? I think not.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, legal insanity, in reference to a criminal trial, does not mean that a person did not actually commit the crime in question. “’Not guilty’…means that when the person committed the crime, he or she could not tell right from wrong or could not control his or her behavior because of severe mental defect or illness” (2003, para. 1). I will prove that Montressor was aware of the wrongful nature of his actions, based upon his premeditated plan.

Montressor designed his entire plot of treachery on the fact that he knew Fortunato had a single weak point…Amontillado, the rare fine wine. He used this weakness of Fortunato’s to devise a specific time, place, and method of dispatch of his associate.

The fine details of Montressor’s obsession were revealed throughout the plot of Poe’s classic tale. Montressor planned to meet Fortunado on the very occasion he was certain his friend would be inebriated and compliant…carnival. After the initial meeting, Montressor lured him down into the family catacombs on the pretense of tasting the beloved Amontillado. These actions were curiously unobserved by the manor staff, whom Montressor counted on being away for the evening. As these men traveled further and further underground in pursuit of the fictional Amontillado, Montressor continually offered Fortunato other drinks, causing him to fall deeper into his drunken stupor.

As the men continued to the proposed location of the Amontillado, Montressor made a jest in reference to his own trowel, the tool of the mason, the bricklayer. Fortunato did not understand, but soon would. Finally having arrived at the end of the catacombs, Fortunato was led to the wall, chained around his waist, and prevented from escape. Amazingly, or not so, Montressor revealed his pre-placed stack of bricks, hidden from view by a stack of old bones. All of these odd coincidences lead to a simple conclusion – Fortunato’s premeditated murder.

“Some states also allow defendants to argue that that they understood their behavior was criminal but were unable to control it. This is sometimes called the ‘irresistible impulse’ defense (Martin, para. 5). Montressor clearly cannot be held to the standard that he had some sort of “uncontrollable impulse.” The elaborate detail of his plan plainly reveals evidence that must have taken months, maybe more, to perfect.

While it could be argued that Poe’s heinous character, Montressor, was nothing more than a mad man, I have provided proof that he was simply a murderer, in his right mind, who could have easily been tried and found guilty in a court of law. As they say, it was Montressor, in the catacombs, with the trowel.

Works Cited

Martin, John P. The Washington The Washington Post. February 27, 1998. February 4, 2009.
“Questions and Answers on Using ‘Insanity’ as a Legal Defense.” American Psychiatric Association. September, 2003. February 4, 2009.
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