By noon, the temperature had risen to the high 80s in eastern Arkansas, and the mosquitoes were swarming clouds in the humid, fetid air. As church services at Ellis Chapel concluded, Dixon Platt, the pastor of the United Methodist community in the town of Wynne, wondered why 80-year-old Lillian Wilson, one of the most devoted of his flock, hadn’t shown up to worship that morning. It was all the more curious because he had agreed to have lunch with her.
Platt tried to track her down, but no one knew her whereabouts. Eventually, he made his way over to the Central United Methodist Church, where the group sometimes met on Sundays, and where Wilson had been working earlier that week, putting together disaster buckets for folks in need. He opened up the doors of the church, and there, underneath a pew, a few feet from the entrance was a body, a female, with blood on her pants.
Wilson had been murdered, and it didn’t take much for the police to figure out what had happened.
In the trial of Rene Patrick Bourassa Jr., the defendant and his attorneys made no effort to deny he had killed Wilson. Bourassa even walked the authorities through the murder, re-enacting it for them. He had been sleeping at the church that week, first outside, and then in the chapel, presumably to escape the heat and mosquitoes. When Wilson walked into the church that morning, Bourassa picked up a brass cross from the Communion table, beat her to death, and stole her car.
The crime could have been set in 1930 or 1970; most of the details seemed familiar, almost old-fashioned. But what was decidedly modern was the question of moral culpability that arose during the trial: The lawyers didn’t argue over whether Bourassa had committed the crime; they argued over whether his brain made him do it.