Christine Gorman's new piece on the Scientific American website is the strangest science story I've read in a long time, and I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had told me it was written by Alfred Hitchcock.
Here's how Gorman begins:
Sometime after 2 A.M. one Sunday morning in May 1987, Kenneth James Parks, then 23, left his house in a Toronto suburb and drove 23 kilometers to the apartment of his wife's parents. He got out of the car, pulled a tire iron out of the trunk and let himself into the older couple's home with a key they had given him. Once inside, he struggled with and choked his father-in-law, Dennis Woods, until the older man fell unconscious and then struggled with and beat his mother-in-law, Barbara Ann Woods, stabbing her to death with a knife from her kitchen.
The following year, a jury deliberated for only nine hours before acquitting Parks. His defense? He was sleepwalking. The acquittal was later upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court, Gorman reports.
Experts concluded that Parks was asleep when he attacked his wife's parents, and thus he could not be criminally responsible. More accurately, part of Parks's brain was awake, and part was asleep.
Gorman's story is paired with a piece in the current issue of Scientific American entitled "What Sleep Crime Tells Us About Consciousness," by James Vlahos. (You can see a preview here; only subscribers get the whole story.) The story by Vlahos underscores the idea that the brain does not all fall asleep at the same time. He builds his story around another case of a possible sleepwalking murder, this time with a different outcome.
I recommend them both, and I hope that SciAm will put the whole Vlahos story on the web so you can read them together.