Insanity plea is likely for richest killer

In a Pennsylvania town aptly called Media, the trial is getting under way of John du Pont, the millionaire chemical heir who is accused of fatally shooting an Olympic champion wrestler on his estate almost one year ago.

With a straggling white beard and drawn face, Mr du Pont is believed to be richest man ever to face first-degree murder charges in American history. For that reason alone Media is braced for a media assault.

That Mr du Pont, who is 58, killed the wrestler, Dave Schultz, on 26 January last year is not likely to be disputed. The trial, which is set to begin in earnest on Monday and last about a month, will turn on defence claims that Mr du Pont was clinically insane at the time.

The point was made clearly to the court by Judge Patricia Jenkins as the selection of jury members began this week.

"It may be that the dispute underlying this case will be the mental state of Mr du Pont at the time," she said.

Mr Schultz was living on Mr du Pont's extensive Foxcatcher Estate on the outside of Philadelphia where he was employed as a coach in a private wrestling school.

Mr du Pont had a longtime passion for the sport. The defendant shot Mr Schultz, pumping three bullets into his chest from close range, after confronting him outside the wrestler's house.

Witnesses are expected to testify that Mr du Pont had been exhibiting eccentric behaviour for at least four years prior to the shooting. After his arrest, the famous heir was admitted to a state mental hospital and treated for schizophrenia.

Mr du Pont is said in particular to suffer from extravagant delusions that he is alternatively either Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama or the last surviving child of the Russian Royal family.

He has also insisted that he is the target of an international assassination plot.

Lawyers for Mr du Pont have said in court papers that he suffers from "severe paranoid schizophrenia manifested by multiple grandiose and persecution delusions and disorganisation of thought".

Seated in the court yesterday was the widow of Mr Schultz, Nancy, who is expected to remain for the entire trial. For his part, Mr du Pont spent the day yesterday staring vacantly and blankly around the courtroom. He was wearing a "Foxcatcher" wrestling sweatshirt in court.

On Mr du Pont's pay, meanwhile, are jury consultants who worked for O J Simpson. Their role will be to assist the heir's lawyers in trying to pick the best possible jurors for the defence case before the first evidence is presented next week.

Mr du Pont, who was arrested after several days of siege during which he refused to come out of his house, is charged with first- and third- degree murder and related offences.

If he is found guilty of first-degree murder he will face an automatic life sentence.

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