The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) generally would require the pension plan to pay the benefits to the woman, because she was the surviving spouse. However, Illinois has a “slayer statute” that bans a person from financially benefiting from the murder of another.
The federal court of appeals ruled that ERISA doesn’t preempt Illinois’ slayer statute. The Seventh Circuit agreed with the courts that have held that ERISA doesn’t preempt state slayer laws in North Dakota, New York, and Nevada. Most states have adopted these statutes, but the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen not to address the issue at least twice.
The Seventh Circuit noted that the notion that an individual who kills a plan participant can’t recover plan benefits, “is a well-established legal principle which predates ERISA.”
The Seventh Circuit also rejected the woman’s argument that the Illinois state law didn’t apply to her because she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. However, based on a decision by an Illinois appeals court, the judges held that the Illinois slayer law does apply to bar recovery by individuals who commit a killing but are found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
What exactly did the woman do? She intentionally stabbed her husband in his sleep, then she intentionally hit him with a bat to keep him from calling the police, the judges said. Although she was not able to understand the criminality of her conduct, she intended her actions, the Court of Appeals said. Judge Joel M. Flaum issued the opinion, which was joined by Judges Michael S. Kanne, and Ilana Diamond Rovner.
It seems to me that the untold story here is the sad state of mental health care in this, one of the richest nations in the world. Why would an obviously insane woman, who posed a danger to others, not be receiving treatment for her mental illness?