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John Lennon - Murder Without a Trial

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 19 / 1 / 2024

John Lennon - Murder Without a Trial

The story of 40 year-old John Lennon's murder in New York 43 years ago on 8 December 1980, seems so familiar to many of us that it is extraordinary to discover how much about it has never actually been revealed. There were many people who were never asked for their testimony. But in a three-part documentary ‘John Lennon: Murder Without a Trial’, just released by Apple TV + and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, we learn of the reason for this. As the programme's title tells us, there was never a trial. That's because Lennon's killer, the 25 year-old from Hawaii called Mark David Chapman, pleaded guilty to murder – against the advice of his defence team who had expected him to claim he was “not guilty by reason of insanity”. Consequently no trial took place – though Chapman's insanity is clear with one policeman relating in the documentary how he accompanied Chapman to the toilet at the precinct police station and asked him, “Do you know what you've done?”. And Chapman replied, “Yes, I killed myself; I am John Lennon”. Chapman had related a different fantasy to his defence lawyers, saying he thought the murder would transform him into the hero of his favourite book: cynical teenager Holden Caulfield in J D Salinger's ‘The Catcher In The Rye’. And Chapman explained to the judge that he had changed his plea because God had spoken to him in his cell. By 1991, Chapman was permitted to give his first TV interview – to American talk show host Larry King. Throughout the interview Chapman talked about himself in the third person. The more he has insisted that he is now mentally healthy, the clearer it has become that he is deranged – and he has never been released from prison. Childhood friends of Chapman provide a possible clue to the source of his psychotic delusions. He had a miserable upbringing and was beaten brutally as a young child by his father. He sought escape using drugs including opium, LSD and mescaline and also tried to become a born-again Christian. Chillingly, the documentary also includes newly-released tapes of Chapman's conversations with his lawyers as he undergoes hypnosis and vividly relives the murder. There is also an account by RKO radio producer Laurie Kaye of recording Lennon's last-ever interview on the day he died. With tragic irony, Lennon had said to Kaye, “My work won't be finished until I am dead and buried – and I hope that's a long, long time away”. Kaye describes how she and Lennon had been badgered outside Lennon's Dakota apartment on the morning of the murder by a weird, pushy and distracted fan. They had both ignored him and she had just walked away. But the man - Chapman - simply waited all day until Lennon returned in the evening and then shot him dead, firing five bullets. For the first time, Jay Hastings, the concierge of the Dakota building, gives his eye-witness account of the murder. He describes how Lennon ran a few steps past him gasping, “I'm shot” with blood streaming from his mouth before he collapsed. ‘John Lennon: Murder Without a Trial’ is at times a macabre watch. But it is nevertheless fascinating to at last hear the many detailed accounts from those closely involved that have never been heard publicly before.

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John Lennon - Murder Without a Trial

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Nick Dent-Robinson assesses a new three-part documentary from Apple TV+ about the murder of John Lennon.

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