Return to Transcripts main page
CRIMES OF THE CENTURY
John Lennon's Assassination
Aired February 1, 2014 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NARRATOR: One was world renowned. Among the greatest musicians of the 20th century.
JOHN SCHEINFELD, DIRECTOR, "THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON": John Lennon had charisma.
PAUL GORESH, PHOTOGRAPHER/BEATLES FAN: He was just special.
ALAN J. WEISS, FORMER PRODUCER, WABC-TV NEWS: John Lennon was my favorite Beatle.
NARRATOR: The other was a lonely kid from Georgia. With no particular talents and no real direction in life.
DET. RON. HOFFMAN, NYPD (RET.): Everyone said he was a nice person.
KIM HOGREFE, FORMER MANHATTAN ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He wanted to bring attention to himself.
NARRATOR: They were as different as night and day. Two men on intense personal journeys that converged in a single shocking act.
MARK DAVID CHAPMAN, JOHN LENNON'S ASSASSIN: I took five steps and fired five shots.
DR. STEPHAN G. LYNN, ST. LUKE'S ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL CENTER: I literally held John Lennon's heart in my hand.
NARRATOR: It was an unthinkable crime that left millions in mourning.
"The Murder of John Lennon," next.
It's a chilly night at around 10:45 p.m. Police respond to a report of a shooting at the Dakota, an exclusive apartment building on Manhattan's upper west side.
OFC. STEPHEN SPIRO, NYPD (RET.): When we drove up to the Dakota, there was a man standing in the middle of the street pointing into the archway saying, that's the man doing the shooting. We get out of the car. We approached the archway on each side of it. Looked in and saw a man with his hands up.
NARRATOR: Five shots have been fired. All but one found their target.
SPIRO: So I grabbed the guy around the neck. The doorman, Jose, said, he's the one, he's the only one. He shot John Lennon. I was totally shocked. I threw him up against the wall and I said, "You did what?"
NARRATOR: Former Beatle John Lennon has been shot with four hollow point .38 caliber bullets at close range. Police officers rush Lennon to nearby Roosevelt Hospital, but it's too late. Shortly after 11:00 p.m., the emergency room doctor pronounces John Lennon dead.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in front of his exclusive Manhattan apartment --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Four bullets ending the life of a folk hero --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- building where he was gunned down as he entered the gates --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And the news gripped the shock waves. John Lennon shot and killed in the Dakota Apartment building --
SCHEINFELD: It was really shocking. Forty years old, John Lennon of the Beatles. How could he be dead? How could this have happened?
WEISS: The city was in shock. Not just people of my generation that grew up listening to their music in the '60s. I think just about everybody felt that on so many levels it was wrong.
GORESH: It was terrible. I mean, I think just the way so many people that didn't even know John felt, and it just hit home with me much more because he befriended me, and he didn't have to be friendly.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In New York, CNN investigative reporter Laura DiDio has come up with some new facts about John Lennon's accused killer.
NARRATOR: The killer was identified as Mark David Chapman, a 25-year- old fan and drifter from Hawaii.
HOFFMAN: Nothing in his background set off or would have caused to set off any alarm bells whatsoever on Chapman.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Chapman apparently was well liked by most of the people he knew. The most common description we heard was open, friendly, a hard worker with a ready smile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I've ever seen him like mad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't believe it was Mark. Just didn't seem the type of person.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Normal, regular. Everybody here liked him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was very peaceful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he was just a fine young man. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Most of those can't believe he's the same person charged with killing John Lennon.
HOFFMAN: Everybody that we interviewed, and there were a lot, every one said he was a nice person, not capable of doing something like this.
NARRATOR: It was a tragic conclusion to an extraordinary life. John Lennon, co-founder if the legendary Beatles, was gone.
During the 1960s, the Beatles were the biggest rock group in the world. Their influence and popularity were unparalleled.
SCHEINFELD: I think that Beatles spoke to young people in the '60s in a way that no other band did. And they influenced people in so many different ways, not just musically, but socially, politically and culturally. They were the touchstone for everything that was going on in the '60s.
NARRATOR: Among the millions of American kids who worshiped the Beatles was a shy, reclusive teenager named Mark David Chapman. He was an especially fervent fan of John Lennon. During the heyday, the Beatles were open about their experimenting with psychedelic drugs. Like his idols Chapman begins experimenting .
HOGREFE: The defendant described that there was periods of time in his life when he was more of the hippie nature, tried experimental drugs as many people during that period of time did.
NARRATOR: But in 1971, Chapman becomes a born again Christian. He quits drugs and rejects rock and roll, the Beatles and John Lennon in particular.
CHAPMAN: Well, I became a Christian when I was 16. And that lasted about a year of genuine walking with him. Through my life off and on, I have struggled with different things as we all do, and at those times, I would turn to the lord.
NARRATOR: Chapman's newfound faith comes into conflict with his feelings about his former idol. According to friends, Chapman was notably bothered by Lennon's songs "God" in which he states, "I don't believe in Jesus," and his hit "Imagine," with the lyrics, "Imagine there's no countries, and religion, too." Chapman even wrote his own words to the song with the altered lyric "Imagine John Lennon dead."
HOGREFE: The defendant claimed that he was offended by the statement that John Lennon had made that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus Christ.
NARRATOR: It was an off-the-cuff comment made during an interview in 1966, but it caused a lasting furor.
SCHEINFELD: A number of people in the bible belt, young and old, took this comment to be, you're bigger than Jesus, you're bigger than god, and this is blasphemy and how dare you say something like this. He was totally misquoted. What he meant to say was that more people paid attention to the Beatles than paid attention to Jesus, and he was only making an observation about that, not putting any context to it or not saying that it was a good thing or a bad thing.
NARRATOR: The Beatles weather the storm. But in 1970, the band breaks up, and Lennon embarks on a solo career with his new wife, Yoko Ono. A year later the Lennons move to New York City and take up residence at the fabled Dakota Apartments.
The Dakota's gothic facade had been featured in the film "Rose Marie's Baby." It was home to some of the world's most famous artists, actors, and musicians.
SCHEINFELD: I think he felt it was time for a change and I think they viewed America as being a breath of fresh air for them at that time. But little did they know what trouble awaits them.
NARRATOR: In New York, John and Yoko adopted a high-profile politically and musically. Perhaps inevitably their anti-war activism drew the attention and ire of the Nixon administration.
SCHEINFELD: In the early 1970, the United States government began a campaign against John Lennon to silence him. They were really concerned that he would influence young people who are going to be voting for the first time in the 1972 election, and they didn't want that to happen.
ELLIOT MINTZ, PUBLICIST/FRIEND OF JOHN LENNON: They were conducting surveillance operations. They were monitoring him. Cars would follow him around. They did the whole intelligence enchilada.
NARRATOR: After Nixon was driven from office by the Watergate scandal, the pressure on Lennon let up, and by 1975, he had withdrawn from the public eye.
MINTZ: He was not in hiding. He was not a recluse. What he was doing was devoting full time to raising his son, Sean. That was his priority.
NARRATOR: During those days, Lennon and Ono became familiar figures in their neighborhood.
MINTZ: He liked the informality of New York. He liked the architecture. He liked the ability to walk.
WEISS: You would hear stories about how John would be walking with his family down the street, and people could walk up to him. And if someone asked about what it's like living in Manhattan, he said people are cool. They bug you.
GORESH: He loved New York because people didn't bother him. In New York, they respected his privacy and like him. They'd say, hey, John, how's things going, then they'd shake his hand, hey, John, I love your music or something, but they -- they didn't pester him.
NARRATOR: In November 1980, Lennon emerged from his retirement with the release of "Double Fantasy," an album he recorded with Ono. Lennon had just turned 40. To many, it seemed that John Lennon had entered a promising new phase, but this image of a happy contented husband and father would only serve to enrage a young man in Hawaii. A once devoted fan, Mark David Chapman.
JAMES R. GAINES, JOURNALIST: It was in the house, sitting naked in front of his stereo, listening to really loud Beatles music, and invoking Satan to help him have the power to kill John Lennon.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was shortly before 11:00 Monday night --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: John Lennon was gunned down in front of his exclusive Manhattan apartment.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Former Beatles and his wife --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The suspect is identified as Mark David Chapman.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As the assailant waited with a .38 caliber.
NARRATOR: On the night he shot John Lennon, Mark David Chapman was just 25 years old. It had been 25 years of almost painful anonymity.
HOGREFE: There was nothing that we learned from the extensive interviews and investigation of the defendant's background that suggested that he was much different than any other 25-year-old person.
NARRATOR: At least on the surface. Chapman grew up in Georgia, the older of two children in what seemed like a typical suburban family.
HOGREFE: The defendant claimed in interviews with psychiatrists that he had a rough childhood and has a less than ideal relationship with his father, but there is nothing in his background of such an extreme or extraordinary nature that would suggest some kind of latent insanity or mental disease or defect caused by some childhood trauma.
NARRATOR: After high school, Chapman begins to drift through a series of jobs and half-hearted attempts at college. In 1977, he flies to Hawaii where he plans to kill himself. He reportedly tries twice but fails. Chapman stays in Hawaii. Over the next three years, he is hospitalized at least once, gets married, takes a job in a print shop, then quits, and goes to work as an unarmed security guard at a luxury high-rise condo.
He's obsessed with J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," the classic novel of adolescent angst. Chapman identifies closely with the book's protagonist, Holden Caufield who rails against the phonies he encounters. Chapman would later claim that by the summer of 1980, he was coming unhinged.
LARRY KING, TV HOST: J.D. Salinger, who has not been heard from in years -- he's reclusive -- wrote "Catcher in the Rye," a book read by millions, admired by millions. I wonder what he must be thinking as he, if he is, watching this?
NARRATOR: In 1992, Larry King interviewed Mark Chapman via a remote feed from Attica prison.
KING: Mark, why are you blaming a book?
CHAPMAN: I'm not blaming a book. I blame myself for crawling inside of the book. And I certainly want to say that J.D. Salinger and the "Catcher in the Rye" didn't cause me to kill John Lennon. As a matter of fact, I wrote to J.D. Salinger. I got his box number from someone and I apologized to him for this.
NARRATOR: In October, 1980, Chapman turns his resentment against phonies, towards John Lennon, when he reads an article about the upcoming release of "Double Fantasy."
CHAPMAN: This thing started, Larry, when I got angry at Lennon. I found the book in the library that showed him on the roof the Dakota and you're familiar with the Dakota. It's a very nice, sumptuous building. And I find myself, I'm angry at seeing him on the Dakota, and I say to myself, that phony, that bastard, I got that mad, I took the book home to my wife and I said, he is a phony.
GAINES: This is his calendar from September '79 to December of '80. And it leads you all the way right through his manic months before Lennon's death.
NARRATOR: Writer Jim Gaines spent hundreds of hours between 1984 and 1985 interviewing Mark Chapman.
GAINES: And you could it becomes crazier and crazier with crossings outs and the things to do.
NARRATOR: Chapman told Gaines that for years his mind had been like a war zone occupied by opposing forces he described as the big people and the little people.
GAINES: He had a whole population of little people living in his head to whom he gave instructions, who had meetings about what his activities should be. I mean, it was extreme.
NARRATOR: Seething with anger, Chapman buys a five-shot .38 caliber charter arm special revolver.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The gun used to kill John Lennon was traced by New York authorities to JNS Enterprises, a gunshot a block away from the Honolulu Police Department. A sales receipt shows the gun was purchased by Mark Chapman on October 27th of this year. It shows Chapman paid $197 in cash for the gun.
NARRATOR: Just before buying the gun, Chapman had quit his job as a security guard. When he signed out for the last time he inscribed the name John Lennon in the condominium's logbook then crossed it out. Six days later on October 29th, Mark Chapman flies to New York City, armed with the gun he bought in Hawaii.
He stakes out the Dakota, waiting for his chance to take revenge on the hero he believes has betrayed him. But John Lennon is not the only potential victim. Chapman, it seems, has backups. HOGREFE: So he brought the gun with him and came to New York, and had planned at that point to kill someone who was a celebrity in order the bring attention to himself.
HOFFMAN: Lennon wasn't his only target. He had a list of substitute targets if you will. If he couldn't get to Lennon, then he would have attempted to kill Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, George C. Scott, Jackie Kennedy Onassis or Marlon Brando. Any of these people were his potential targets after Lennon. Lennon was his first choice.
NARRATOR: Even so, Chapman's agenda included a wild scheme to kill Scott while the actor was on stage in a Broadway show.
HOGREFE: The defendant said he had front row seats, and his plan was to stand up in the middle of the show, take his gun and fire into the -- into the body of George C. Scott. It wasn't a particularly a droit plan because when he went to the gun store to buy bullets in order to have ammunition for his gun, he was told that in New York you cannot bullets for your gun.
NARRATOR: After two weeks in New York, Chapman flies back to Hawaii. He reveals to his wife that he is obsessed with John Lennon and plans to kill him. She convinces Chapman to make an appointment with a psychologist, but he doesn't keep it.
In early December, Chapman flies back to New York. Stopping over in Atlanta to procure five .38 caliber hollow point bullets.
HOGREFE: This was not someone who is interested in causing serious physical injury or assaulting someone. This is someone intent upon committing a murder.
NARRATOR: On the morning of December 6th, 1980, Mark David Chapman, the man who would soon kill John Lennon, arrives in New York City. He goes to the Dakota shortly before noon and joins a small group of fans hovering near the entrance. Chapman will spend the next two days waiting for John Lennon.
KING: Who was mark David Chapman?
CHAPMAN: On December 8th, 1980, Mark David Chapman was a very confused person. He was literally living inside of a paperback novel, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." He was vacillating between a suicide, between, catching the first taxi home, back to Hawaii, between killing as you said an icon.
NARRATOR: Around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of December 8th, Chapman checks in with his wife back in Hawaii. After hanging up, Chapman takes his bible from his suitcase and turns to the New Testament "Book of John." He writes the name "Lennon" after the words the Gospel according to John. Around 8:00 a.m. he heads back to the Dakota.
CHAPMAN: As some type of premonition that this was the last time I was going to leave my hotel room. I hadn't seen him up to that point. That's what makes it interesting. I wasn't even sure he was in the building. And then I left the hotel room, bought a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye," signed it, "To Holden Caulfield form Holden Caulfield."
And wrote underneath that, this is my statement, underlining the world "this," the emphasis on the word "this." I had planned not to say anything after the shooting.
NARRATOR: That morning Chapman meets another fan named Paul Goresh. Goresh, an amateur photographer had come to know Lennon personally. One of his photos was later used as the cover for Lennon's posthumous single "Watching the Wheels."
GORESH: When I got there, there was a -- the guy standing outside the archway on the right side as you went into the Dakota. He was standing there holding a copy of "Double Fantasy" in his left arm, and this guy approached me, and he said to me, are you waiting for Lennon? So I said yes. And he said, do you work for John? And I said no. And he said, oh, he said my name is Mark. He said, I'm from Hawaii.
What struck me strange is when he said that he had a southern accent. So I said, well, if you're from Hawaii, how come you have a southern accent, and he said, well, originally, I'm from Georgia. And I said, oh. So I then said, where were you staying while you're in the city, and with that he turned to me and said, why do you want to know?
NARRATOR: Sometime before 5:00 p.m., Lennon and Ono leave their apartment to go to Lennon's last recording session. Chapman and Goresh are both on the sidewalk upfront. Chapman silently hands Lennon his copy of "Double Fantasy."
GORESH: The guy Mark came up on John's left and held up the album. And John turned and looked at him, and said, do you want me to sign that? He nodded. John took the album. John said, do you have a pen. He handed him a pen. John started to sign the album, I had my camera on my neck. It looked like a good picture so I looked through the view finder and I took the photo. That was the photo of John signing the album for his killer.
CHAPMAN: And he looked at me, and he said, is that all? Do you want anything else? And I felt then and now that he knew something subconsciously that he was looking into the eyes of the person that was going to kill him.
NARRATOR: Once Lennon and Ono leave for the recording studio, only Chapman, Goresh and the Dakota doorman remain. Around 8:00 p.m. Goresh calls it a night.
GORESH: The guy Mark came over to me and said, are you leaving? And I said, yes. He says, well, I don't know if I'd leave, you might not see him again. And I said, what are you talking about? I see him all the time. And he said, well, you never know, he might go to Spain or something. And you'll never see him again.
CHAPMAN: I wanted him to stay because I wanted out of there. There was a part -- a great part of me that didn't want to be there. I -- KING: To might have killed him the next day.
CHAPMAN: I would have probably come back.
NARRATOR: After Goresh leaves Chapman remains in front of the Dakota. He waits patiently for some 2 1/2 hours.
CHAPMAN: I was sitting at the inside of the arch of the Dakota building, and it was dark, it was windy. Jose, the doorman, was out along the sidewalk and I see this limousine pull up, and I said, this it is. And I stood up, and Yoko got out. John was far behind, say, 20 feet, and he got out.
I nodded to Yoko when she walked by me. John came out and he looked at me and I think he recognized, here's the fellow that I signed the album earlier. And he walked past me. I took five steps towards the street, turned, withdrew my charter arms .38, and fired five shots into his back.
CHAPMAN: I didn't even know if the bullets were going to work. And when they worked, I remember thinking, they are working. They are working.
NARRATOR: Five bullets. The first misses hitting a window of the Dakota. The next two strike Lennon in the left side of his back, two more hit his left shoulder. Mortally wounded Lennon staggers up five steps to the reception area and collapses.
CHAPMAN: I stood there with the gun hanging limply down on my right side, and Jose the doorman came over, and he's crying. And he is grabbing my -- he's shaking my arm, and he shook the gun right out of my hand and he kicked the gun across the pavement, had somebody take it away.
And I was just -- I was stunned. I didn't know what to do. I took the "Catcher in the Rye" out of my pocket. I paced, I tried to read it, I just couldn't wait until those police got there. I was just devastated.
NARRATOR: The first policemen are on the scene within two minutes and take control of Chapman. Just after two more officers arrive and immediately rush to aid Lennon.
SPIRO: Officer Frommeburger and Palmer carried him out to a radio car to take him to the hospital. Of course there was no ambulance on the way at the time. And my partner and I took Chapman and put him in the radio car to take him to the station and that is where we read him his rights.
NARRATOR: Dr. Stephan Lynn is on call at Roosevelt Hospital. LYNN: Two police officers came rushing through the front door of the Emergency Department, literally carrying over one of their shoulders a limp body. They said, Dr. Lynn, we can't get any vital signs.
NARRATOR: Also in the emergency room was Alan Weiss, a young news producer for WABC in New York, who had been in a motorcycle accident.
WEISS: A police officer ran, yelling we have a gunshot. Gunshot in the chest. The doctors -- I'm positive -- someone replied, when is he coming in? It's hitting a door now was the answer. At that moment a stretcher was wheeled in. Six to eight police officers around. They're trotting. I remember running as fast as I could.
LYNN: We rushed into the trauma room. There was no pulse. There was no blood pressure. We had an unresponsive patient.
WEISS: And they brought him literally into the room that I am lying outside of. The doctor ran in. Some other medical people ran in. And they closed the curtain.
LYNN: We didn't know who our patient was at that moment of time. It wasn't until the nurses took his wallet out of his pocket as they always do in the process of identifying. And somebody said, this is John Lennon.
WEISS: One police officer stood next to another police officer and whispered, it's John Lennon.
LYNN: And we looked at the body in front of us, and all of us said, this can't possibly be John Lennon. But in fact it was.
WEISS: So I hear sobbing behind me. And when I look behind me, and I can see this woman is being brought in by a police officer. I asked the police officer who is that and they said it is Yoko Ono.
LYNN: The only option, the only way that we could give him any possibility of surviving was to make an incision in his chest and to see if there was some way to stop the bleeding.
WEISS: And the most vivid memory that I have is just John is being -- is just chest open, and it's just blood. Literally saw the doctor's hands inside of his chest.
LYNN: We opened the chest. We found a chest full of blood. All of the blood vessels leaving the heart were completely destroyed. We pumped fluid into the heart. I literally held John Lennon's heart in my hand. We massaged the heart. We tried to restore flow. But there was absolutely nothing that we could do.
We pronounced John Lennon dead on arrival at the Roosevelt Hospital that evening. Silence fell over the Emergency Department. Staff began to cry. We didn't quite know how to respond or how to react. And it became my job to walk down to the end of the hall to talk to Yoko Ono. I walked into the room. I think she knew as soon as I entered the door what I was going to say. WEISS: There is Musak playing and it must have been about 10 after 11:00 the song "All My Loving" starts to play. The song ends a minute, two minutes later, there is a scream, a shrill woman's voice screaming, "No, no, no, oh, no." It went on for about a minute, a minute and a half. It was constantly repeating, and there was silence.
LYNN: And finally the head nurse brought in her husband's ring and gave it to her and she understood the finality of the act that had occurred. And the first thing that she said to me was, please, delay making the announcement, my son Sean is probably at home sitting in front of the TV. I don't want him to find out about his father's death while watching a TV program.
WEISS: I don't think it really hit me until I heard that Musak playing "All My Loving." I called WABC, the newsroom, told them what I knew that John Lennon had been shot. As I understand it, they passed it on to ABC Network and ABC Network made the decision to pass it on to Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, and Howard Cosell made the -- broke the news during "Monday Night Football."
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The news gripped through the air in shockwaves.
NARRATOR: By 11:35 p.m., the word was out. Almost immediately, mourners began gathering outside the Dakota for a candlelight vigil. They sang Beatles' songs and chanted "Give Peace a Chance."
WEISS: I just felt like ,you know, an incredible weight was pressing down on me, and it was extraordinarily, extraordinarily sad.
SCHEINFELD: It impacted all of us so severely. It was as if a friend or a family member had passed away.
MINTZ: I think that one of the reasons that we felt that way about him is that because we had embraced him as our own.
NARRATOR: On December 10th, John Lennon was cremated in a private ceremony. Four days later, on December 14th, millions of people around the world responded to Yoko Ono's request to pause for 10 minutes of silence to remember John Lennon.
Over 225,000 people converged on New York Central Park. For those 10 minutes every radio station in New York City went off the air.
NARRATOR: On the morning of December 9th, Mark Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, was put in a bulletproof vest and taken by van to the New York City Criminal Courts building. While Chapman was awaiting arraignment, police were searching his hotel room looking for clues that might reveal his motive.
HOFFMAN: In the hotel room, we found kind of a display of all of his stuff, and we had a bible, a passport, photos, and a tape by Todd Rundgren, airline tickets, letter of introduction from the Young Men's Christians Association. A placemat with the picture of the "Wizard of Oz" and receipt from the YMCA there. They would stay previously to the sheriff.
The stuff was laying there. Laid out in such a way that he intended for somebody to find it. Exactly the way it was laid out.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you feel about taking this case?
JONATHAN MARKS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I feel good about it.
NARRATOR: Jonathan Marks, a former U.S. attorney is appointed to defend Chapman.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Jonathan Marks was asked about whether or not he might ask for a change of venue for the trial, and his response was certainly not at this point. He said, even if we held the trial in Paris, people would know about it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The fact that a lot of people are angry with Mr. Chapman, the fact that you're going to represent him, how do you feel about this?
JONATHAN MARKS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I am simply a lawyer representing a client.
HOGREFE: This wasn't a whodunit. The defendant remained at the scene. There were witnesses that saw him do the shooting. He made no effort to flee the scene. It was clear from the initial investigation that the defendant was going to lodge an insanity defense.
NARRATOR: The first order of business is to have Chapman's mental state evaluated.
MARKS: The only issue in this trial really won't be whether or not he was insane at the time of the shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is the prison unit of Bellevue Hospital where Mark Chapman, the alleged killer, a former Beatle John Lennon is being held on a second front cell amidst extraordinary security precautions by the Department of Corrections.
DR. DANIEL W. SCHWARTZ, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: Defense counsel called on me and I asked me if I would help him on the Chapman case. I agreed.
NARRATOR: Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Schwartz interviewed Mark Chapman on eight different cases for the defense.
SCHWARTZ: Clearly, Mr. Chapman knew what he was doing. He used a gun in an all too accurate way. He knew that it was a gun. He knew that it could kill. He pointed it at the intended victim, and unfortunately, it worked.
A serious question in this case is whether or not his mental illness impaired his ability to appreciate that what he was doing was wrong. Simply being mentally ill does not acquit somebody. It's only if this mental illness impairs his ability to know and appreciate the nature and consequence of his conduct or that it's wrong.
NARRATOR: Dr. Schwartz believes that Chapman's mental illness began in childhood.
SCWARTZ: Mr. Chapman became seriously withdrawn at about the age of 9 or 10. It was about that age that he began imagining a whole world of people, little people. In the living room, in the walls of his living room, and he was their emperor, their commander, and it was my clinical assessment that he was both, a paranoid schizophrenic as we understood the definition in those days, and suffering from bipolar disorder.
I truly believe that when he went after John Lennon, he was suicidal. John Lennon was himself had become himself. He believed that if he would kill himself he would be reborn, and in killing Lennon, he was killing himself.
CHAPMAN: Mark David Chapman at that point was a walking shell who didn't ever learn how to let out his feelings of anger, of rage, or disappointment. Mark David Chapman was a failure in his own mind. He wanted to become somebody important, Larry. He didn't know how to handle being a nobody.
Mark David Chapman struck out at something he perceived to be phony, something he was angry at to become something he wasn't to become somebody.
NARRATOR: Former Assistant District Attorney Kim Horgrefe doesn't buy it for a minute.
HOGREFE: If he was obsessed with anything, it was bringing attention to himself. He was narcissistic, he was grandiose. He wanted to bring attention to himself. The fact that John Lennon was the victim here was simply because John Lennon was available, publicly available, and others were not.
He wasn't crazed. He wasn't obsessed. He wasn't entitled to the insanity defense. We felt he was criminally responsible. That he did not have a mental disease or defect, and that whatever his mental state was, it did not prevent him from knowing the nature of his conduct and that it was wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: With the evidence at hand, a grand jury indictment is expected.
NARRATOR: On June 22nd, 1981, just over six months after the murder and the day his trial is set to begin, Chapman changes his plea to guilty against the advice of his defense team.
HOGREFE: When the defendant entered the guilty plea, I was -- I was disappointed by that fact, I was looking forward to the opportunity to prove the facts that we had assembled in a public trial.
NARRATOR: Mark David Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life, and sent to the New York State Penitentiary at Attica. In his interview with Larry King, Chapman claimed to have recovered from the mental illness that had led to his crime.
CHAPMAN: It was me, Larry. And I accept full responsibility for what I did. I have seen places where I am blaming the devil, and I hope that isn't kept going after this interview. I'm not blaming the devil, I'm blaming myself. But in the major sense, it wasn't me, because I'm better now.
I'm sorry for what I did. I realize now that I really ended a man's life. I just saw him as a two-dimensional celebrity with no real feelings. He was an album cover to me.
NARRATOR: In the years since John Lennon's death, many people have tried to make sense of his murder. In the early 1990s, journalist and author Jack Jones interviewed Chapman at length for his book "Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman."
JACK JONES, AUTHOR, "LET ME TAKE YOU DOWN": Mark is an unusual individual. He's a sociopath, but he is much more intelligent than I think most of these people. I think that his mind is capable of almost infinite self-deception. I believe that unlike a lot of people, he tries very hard to empathize with other people. He tries to sense that other people have pain also, but it's mostly intellectual sort of knowledge. He doesn't really feel it. He wanted to hurt the world.
Chapman told me at one point that he fantasized about getting his hands on nuclear devices and maybe blowing up a small city, injuring or killing thousands if not millions of people.
HOFFMAN: Chapman shot John Lennon because he wanted his moment of glory in the sun. That's it. That's the conclusion that we came to. And I stand by it to this day.
KING: We're back with Jack Jones. How do you react to those who say that we shouldn't do interview the Mark David Chapmans? There shouldn't be television shows or books that we focus attention on the wrong area.
JONES: Probably these are the same kind of people who say we shouldn't be writing about or studying AIDS because it's a very unpleasant, deadly topic. We have an opportunity, particularly with a guy like Mark Chapman who has agreed to open himself up for exploration and study in hopes of preventing other Mark David Chapmans from coming along. And people who criticize journalists for exploring people like that I think miss the point.
SCHEINFELD: It gives him publicity for this horrendous act he committed. The killer has become as famous as the people they killed. And it's really unfortunate.
NARRATOR: As with almost any famous tragic event, conspiracy theories have sprouted up regarding the shooting of John Lennon. The prevailing scenario has Mark David Chapman as a patsy, programmed by mysterious government operatives to kill Lennon. HOGREFE: There was absolutely no evidence suggesting that he was assisted or aided by any other person. He was simply someone that acted alone and without assistance of other people.
SCHEINFELD: I've been through every FBI document in John's file. There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that the U.S. government had the least interest in John after 1972.
KING: What do you make of all the conspiracy theories that have come up in the last 12 years, CIA, mind control, et cetera?
CHAPMAN: Against the death of John Lennon?
KING: No one asked you to do it? No one prompted you to do it, no Kabal, nothing?
CHAPMAN: No. They probably wished they would have had me, Larry. But they didn't. This was me doing it.
NARRATOR: More than 30 years after killing John Lennon, Mark Chapman remains in prison. He first became eligible for parole in the year 2000. He has been denied at least seven times since then.
LYNN: I think it's best for Mark Chapman to stay in psychiatric care as he is. He committed a heinous act. Whether or not he's been treated or cured, I can't tell you. I don't know. He did something that was horribly wrong. He changed the track and the life of the world in my opinion. I think he needs to stay where he is.
GORESH: This guy murdered him. He shot him in the back, which is what people don't realize. He shot him in the back. He is a coward.
SCHEINFELD: I don't think the killer of John Lennon should ever be paroled. The damage that he wreaked on a wife, two sons, Beatles fans around the world, I can't imagine there is anything that he could do or say that would warrant parole.
NARRATOR: John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has repeatedly opposed Chapman's release from prison.
My husband John Lennon was a very special man. A man of humble origin. He brought light and hope to the whole world with his words and music. He tried to be a good power for the world and he was. He gave encouragement, inspiration, and dreams to people regardless of their race, creed, and gender.
For me, he was the other half of the sky. We were in love with each other like the most vehement of lovers to the last moment. For our son Sean he was the world. That was shattered when the subject pulled the trigger. For Julian, it was losing his father twice. For the people of the world, it was as though the light went out for a moment and darkness prevailed. With his one act of violence in those few seconds, the subject managed to change my whole life, devastate his sons, and bring deep sorrow and tear to the world.
NARRATOR: In 1985, New York City dedicated an area of Central Park directly across from the Dakota as strawberry fields for one of Lennon's most famous songs. Countries from around the world donated trees and the "Imagine" mosaic centerpiece was a gift from the city of Naples. Tangible proof that the legacy of John Lennon transcends borders and generations.
SCHEINFELD: I was walking down the street the other day, and I saw a kid probably no older than 16 or 17 wearing a T-shirt with John Lennon's face on it. And I thought this is really interesting. Here it is, he died more than 30 years ago. And for this young person, he still had resonance.
MINTZ: The best way to remember John Lennon is to be inspired by his optimism, his integrity, his clarity, and his love for his family. He was the real deal.