By Scott North
Word arrived this week that the world is rid of one truly twisted individual. Or if you believed William Bergen Greene, his death marked the end of as many as 24 different people who shared the same violent criminal’s body.
Greene, 58, died Oct. 6 at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he was serving life.
He was a three-strike sex offender from Everett. In 2005, Greene also was convicted of the 1979 rape and murder of Sylvia Durante. A team of cold-case detectives found DNA that linked Greene to the Seattle waitress’ killing.
About a decade ago, Greene was making headlines and drawing the attention of a national TV news magazine for what could be called the ultimate attempt at the “some other dude did it” defense. Then on trial for a 1994 assault and kidnapping, the convict claimed he was innocent because his body actually was host to as many as two dozen identities. He suggested one of his “alters,” not Bill Greene, had committed the crime.
Greene earlier had been convicted of the attack, but acting as his own attorney, he convinced the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that his trial was flawed because jurors weren’t told that he’d been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, sometimes referred to living with “multiple personalities.” In this instance, he claimed that a child identity named Tyrone actually committed the crimes, and Greene, the man, should be found innocent by reason of insanity.
The legal questions at play intrigued and challenged judges. In a 1999 ruling holding Greene accountable for his actions, state Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson noted that one mental health expert had testified he was “not sure who Mr. Greene is.”
The comment “reflects the fundamental nature and difficulty of the question with which we are presented,” Johnson wrote. “That is, when a person suffering from (dissociative identity disorder) is charged with a crime, the question becomes, ‘Who is the proper defendant?’”
Greene got his chance to make his case. During his five-week trial in 2003, experts disagreed on whether he really had such a disorder, and some were skeptical that such a condition exists.
It made for some great TV, though, including an interview that featured Greene supposedly slipping in and out of his various identities.
The jury didn’t buy it. There was a similar result at trial in King County, where the evidence offered no innocent explanation for how Greene’s DNA had wound up on Sylvia Durante’s battered body 26 years earlier. He’d been in her stained glass-making class. She died at just 25.
We were told of Greene’s death by a member of Durante’s family in Spokane. State corrections officials referred questions about how Greene died to the coroner in Walla Walla. I asked enough questions to deduce the circumstances weren’t suspicious.
Good riddance, two dozen times over.