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A Founding Father of Forensic Psychiatry

A Founding Father of Forensic Psychiatry

Jonas R. Rappeport evaluated thousands of criminal defendants.

Questioning and evaluating would-be presidential assassins became something of a specialty for psychiatrist Jonas R. Rappeport (faculty, psychiatry, 1964–2020).

In his four-decade career, Rappeport assessed the mental state of Arthur Bremer, who shot Alabama Governor George Wallace while he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972; studied Sara Jane Moore, who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975; and interviewed John W. Hinkley Jr. after he shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Considered among the founding fathers of forensic psychiatry as the first president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, which he helped create in 1969, Rappeport trained many future forensic psychiatrists at Johns Hopkins during his tenure as an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Park E. Dietz ’75, of Newport Beach, California, one of Rappeport’s protégés, told The Baltimore Sun that his mentor “was perhaps the most generous and kind person I’ve ever encountered.”

“As a medical student, he invited me to his home, to meet his family and to go fishing…. He also had the ability to tell you when you were wrong, and he disagreed with you without giving offense.”

Rappeport died on September 8, 2020. He was 95.

A protégé of Manfred S. Guttmacher ’23 (1898–1966), Rappeport succeeded Guttmacher as chief medical officer for what now is the Circuit Court for Baltimore City upon Guttmacher’s death. Rappeport examined and evaluated thousands of criminal defendants over the next 26 years.

Rappeport was president of the Maryland Psychiatric Society from 1965 to 1966. Before being elected to that post, he said he would go to meetings and “sound off,” adding, “If you sound off enough, they either kick you out or make you president.”
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