John Lennon's killer gets 20 years in prison


NEW YORK -- Mark David Chapman, who claimed devils forced him to kill John Lennon and God told him to confess, today was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for fatally shooting the former leader of the Beatles.

Chapman, his face pale and his hands clutching a copy of 'Catcher in the Rye,' stood impassive in state Supreme Court in Manhattan as sentence was passed by Justice Dennis Edwards. Earlier, the judge rejected defense motions to throw out Chapman's guilty plea.


Asked if he had anything to say, Chapman stood in the hushed courtroom and read the final passages of the book. He showed no emotion after hearing the sentence.

Before sentencing, defense lawyer Jonathan Marks introduced expert psychiatric testimony that his client was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed the devil made him kill Lennon.

Against the advice of his lawyer, Chapman, 26, withdrew in June his plea of innocent by reason of insanity and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Dec. 8, l980, slaying of Lennon.

Chapman said God had visited him in his jail cell and told him to confess. Marks said his client has delusions and was not mentally competent when he pleaded guilty.


At the time Chapman changed his plea, Edwards said he would allow him to withdraw the guilty plea if Edwards found it necessary to sentence him to more than 20 years in prison.

Dr. Daniel Schwartz, director of forensic psychiatric services at Kings County Hospital, told Edwards he diagnosed Chapman as a paranoid schizophrenic. He said Chapman actually became John Lennon in his own mind, and decided to destroy the real John Lennon because Lennon was 'evil' and 'a phony.'

'He killed the person who to him represented evil and hypocrisy. He killed him (Lennon) physically. He killed himself psychologically,' Schwartz said.

At the start of hearing, Edwards denied defense motions to vacate Chapman's guilty plea and order another psychiatric examination.

Chapman has never publicly discussed his motive for killing Lennon, and Marks said Chapman becomes upset whenever his name is mentioned in newspapers.

After his arrest, Chapman wrote a letter to a newspaper saying the book 'Catcher in the Rye' held the answer to the slaying. J.D. Salinger's novel tells the story of a sensitive young man disturbed by a world full of adult 'phonies.'

Marks said his client tore up his paperback copy of 'Catcher in the Rye' and appeared to be 'at peace' after he decided to plead guilty.


Later, Chapman attacked guards and prison doctors at the Rikers Island detention center and smashed a television set in a rage. Marks said his client had again announced 'he is the 'Catcher in the Rye' of his generation.'

Prosecutor Allen Sullivan said Chapman considered killing a number of celebrities before he shot Lennon.

Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist who interviewed Chapman, said he told her that he 'summoned devils from high places' on the night before the shooting, and the devils forced him to kill Lennon.

Chapman was arrested at the Dakota apartment complex, where Lennon lived, minutes after the singer-songwriter was shot four times in the chest as he walked into the building with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Since then, Chapmen has been held under tight security.

Chapman, who grew up in Georgia, was living in Hawaii and working as a maintenance worker before he traveled to New York.

Chapman's friends have said he was a Lennon fan, who played the guitar and collected Beatles albums. Chapman got Lennon's autograph in front of the Dakota hours before the singer was slain.

On his last day of work in Hawaii, Chapman signed out in a security log book as 'John Lennon.' His wife, Gloria Abe, has been quoted as saying her husband 'is sick and in need of help.'


Latest Headlines