"What would be the worst that could happen to me? Would they hang me?"
-- Mary Bell
The conviction was obvious -- Mary would get either Murder or Manslaughter. Although there was more sympathy for Norma, it was still unclear how severe her punishment, if any, would be. The defense needed to show that Mary was disturbed, and couldn't help herself, nor understand the enormity of her actions. After the children's testimony, the defense called the psychiatrists who had examined Mary. Dr. Robert Orton testified that "I think that this girl must be regarded as suffering from psychopathic personality," demonstrated by "a lack of feeling quality to other humans," and "a liability to act on impulse and without forethought."
Legally, this was a question of "Diminished Responsibility." Judge Cusack explained the concept to the jury: "In 1957 there was an Act of Parliament and it said that... 'where a person kills, or is a party to the killing of another, he shall not be convicted of Murder if he was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind, or any inherent causes, or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts."
When the time came for the closing arguments, the prosecution characterized Mary as a fiend. Poor Norma was herself a victim of "an evil and compelling influence almost like that of the fictional Svengali," said Lyons. "In Norma you have a simple backward girl of subnormal intelligence. In Mary you have a most abnormal child, aggressive, vicious, cruel, incapable of remorse, a girl moreover possessed of a dominating personality, with a somewhat unusual intelligence and a degree of cunning that is almost terrifying." In attempting to rescue Mary from being cast off as a demonic "bad seed," the defense posed broader questions: Why did this happen? What made Mary do it? "It is... very easy to revile a little girl, to liken her to Svengali without pausing for a moment to ponder how the whole sorry situation has come about..."
The jury, which consisted of five women and seven men, took under four hours to return a verdict. Norma was thrilled when she was found "not guilty" of Manslaughter on both counts. Mary Bell was found "guilty of Manslaughter because of Diminished Responsibility" in both Martin's and Brian's death. Justice Cusack pronounced a sentence of "Detention for Life" while Mary cried, uncomforted by her family. Her detention would be for an indeterminate amount of time.
Norma Bell was later given three years probation for breaking and entering the Woodlands Crescent Nursery, and placed under psychiatric supervision.