Barbara R. Kirwin, Ph. D.
Barbara R. Kirwin, Ph.D., is one of the New York area's premier forensic psychologists. Brought in to give expert opinion in insanity defense cases, she coined the term "designer defense" and has testified in over 100 homicide cases in the New York City metropolitan area, the Federal jurisdiction and the state of Florida during the past 30 years.
Among the high-profile defendants Dr. Kirwin has examined are Joel Rifkin, the Long Island serial killer who confessed to strangling 17 women; Dennis Sweeny, who shot and killed New York Congressman Allard Lowenstein; Peter Braunstein, an FBI Most Wanted figure who posed as a NYFD fire fighter and held a co-worker hostage in her apartment; and Stephanie Wernick, a twenty-year old college student who was charged with 6 counts of manslaughter in the first degree for the asphyxiation of her infant son.
One of only a few female forensic psychologists in the New York metropolitan area, Dr. Kirwin got her first exposure to crime and law enforcement as a narcotics parole officer.
While studying for her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at The New School for Social Research, Dr. Kirwin interned at the Central Islip Psychiatric Center on Long Island. The year was 1977--the summer of "Son of Sam", aka David Berkowitz, who murdered six people across New York City.
Working with Daniel Schwartz, the forensic psychiatrist who would later examine Berkowitz, Dr. Kirwin found herself fascinated by the subject. She began doing dissertation research on the criminally insane, on detecting malingering in psychopathic criminals who had faked mental illness and successfully used the insanity defense to be acquitted of their crimes. Dr. Kirwin's dissertation, the first systematic collection of data on the subject, was published in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, and marked the beginning of the profession's interest in the field.
In 1979, Dr. Kirwin was hired by the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center as a clinical neuropsychologist diagnosing and treating the mentally ill. Shortly after her arrival, a patient walked out of another nearby psychiatric facility and stabbed his wife to death. The uproar over the escape and crime caused New York State to change its statutes calling for the segregation of mentally ill patients.
Dr. Kirwin was called in to design the State template for Secure Care and was also retained to head a secure unit at Creedmoor for violent and criminally insane patients. She remained in this position for three years, advocating for improved conditions at the hospital. She went on to become Assistant Director of Administration for the entire Creedmoor facility, further exposed to shockingly poor patient care. Dr. Kirwin complained to the State leading to a grand jury investigation, the closure of the Creedmoor unit and several employee indictments.
In 1987, when Dr. Kirwin began working full-time at her private practice, she was immediately sought by district attorney offices around the state and in the federal jurisdiction to conduct forensic evaluations. She soon developed a reputation as a "fake buster", often called in as a last resort to diagnose difficult cases that had stumped other forensic experts.
Years of testifying in court has led Dr. Kirwin to become an experienced public speaker. She is also a frequent presenter at forensic and law enforcement organizations, corporate conferences, community groups and universities across the United States.
Dr. Kirwin has also made over 150 television appearances and has worked as an associate producer on documentaries for BBC, A&E, Canadian National TV, Court TV and The Learning Channel.
She is the author of the highly successful book, The Mad, The Bad and The Innocent: The Criminal Mind on Trial (Little, Brown and Company, 1997) with two other books currently in the works: The Icarus Complex and Beyond Medea: Why Mothers Kill.
Dr. Kirwin lives on Long Island where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy and dual supervision of felony offenders with federal and county probation departments. She is an adjunct professor of forensic science at Adelphi University and is included in Who’s Who in America.
Active in non-profit work, Dr. Kirwin serves on the board of directors of the Independent Living Association - an assisted living program for developmentally disabled adults in New York City, as well as the St. Joseph’s Academy in Brentwood, Long Island.