A Randolph man who has a history of bipolar disorder and neuropsychological defects and who maintains that he was the true creator of several hit animated movies was sentenced to two years in prison Wednesday in a case that speaks to the difficulty federal defendants face in raising insanity defenses.
Jayme Gordon, 51, was by all accounts a doting father who was active in his community — qualities that prosecutors noted in arguing that he was responsible for committing fraud.
With the backing of a law firm, Gordon sued DreamWorks Animation SKG in 2011 and demanded a $12 million settlement, claiming he was the creator of the animated movie “Kung Fu Panda.” The film company spent more than $3 million in legal fees, and federal prosecutors filed criminal charges on the grounds that Gordon’s false claims constituted fraud.
But he maintained his innocence Wednesday, months after his conviction on those charges, leading US District Judge Patti B. Saris to question whether Gordon was a manipulative schemer or a man who daydreamed stories and fell “out of touch with reality” when he claimed the copyrights to “Kung Fu Panda.”
Gordon’s family members wrote letters to the judge that detailed the emotional trauma they say Gordon has suffered — a brother died in an accident, another from a heart attack, his sister was murdered, and he has been hospitalized for depression — and his lawyer said learning disabilities and mental illness were underlying factors.
But the attorney, Jeffrey Denner, said later that he could not raise an insanity defense because of stringent legal standards in the federal court system, standards that were enacted in response to the 1981 ruling that sent John Hinckley Jr. to a government psychiatric hospital rather than prison for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
“The insanity defense as a practical matter doesn’t exist,” Denner said in an interview, explaining that the burden would be on Gordon to prove he was insane and could not know right from wrong, a high burden to reach in a case in which prosecutors proved a scheme to defraud.
Gordon was convicted by a jury in November of wire fraud and perjury for filing the false lawsuit claiming that DreamWorks had copied his drawings and storyline for “Kung Fu Panda.”
Assistant US Attorney Adam Bookbinder sought a five-year sentence for Gordon, arguing that a prison sentence would deter others from falsely claiming copyright infringement.
“Intellectual property is highly susceptible to these kinds of claims,” he said. “People need to know that if you commit a serious crime like this, it causes serious harm . . . and you can go to prison for a lengthy period of time.”
Prosecutors argued during the trial that Gordon, an amateur cartoonist, hatched his scheme after seeing a trailer for the movie in 2008. He revised some of his drawings and altered a storyline from an earlier series he had drawn so that it more closely resembled the film.
But he continued to insist at his trial, and again before he was sentenced Wednesday, that the storyline — as well as those of “The Lion King” and “A Bug’s Life” — were his, leading Saris to question whether Gordon suffers from autism or undiagnosed mental health disorders and what his appropriate punishment should be.
“He’s not some diabolical wolf of cartoon land, he’s not some of the people I usually see in front of me, these cold-hearted fraudsters,” Saris told a crowded courtroom, which included dozens of Gordon’s friends and family members. “I’ve been trying to figure who this is.”
Saris found that “there were truly victims in this case.” DreamWorks Animation claims it lost $3 million in legal fees, and a company representative provided a victim impact statement on behalf of the employees who created the “Kung Fu Panda” storyline.
“Across the board, they felt their talent was being attacked and time was wasted defending this claim,” Christopher Miller, a corporate representative from DreamWorks, told the judge.
Saris told the lawyers that she and her law clerks had wondered during the trial whether the jury would find that Gordon lacked the criminal intent to commit a crime because he had truly believed that he created the storylines.
But he was convicted in November, leading the judge to ponder an appropriate sentence. She sentenced him to two years in prison and recommended that he be held at a prison hospital where he can receive psychiatric care and treatment for alcohol abuse.
Denner, who had recommended that Gordon serve a probation sentence with the condition that he seek psychiatric care, said he welcomed Saris’ decision, noting it was far below sentencing guidelines.
Gordon tearfully told the judge: “I would never set out to write a story that would put me in a situation like this.”Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.