views updated May 23 2018






Roughly 1 in 15,000 people is murdered in the United States each year (Stolinsky and Stolinsky 2000). Computed over a seventy-five year life span, this equates to a 1 in 200 chance of being murdered at some point in an Americans lifetime (Ghiglieri 1999). Homicide rates vary predictably from culture to culture (Wilson and Daly 1997). In the United States the rates of killing are much higher than in many industrialized nations, exceeding those in Canada, many western European nations, and Japan. In many other countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, and South Africa, homicide rates exceed those in the United States by as much as a factor of ten (United Nations 1998). Among those nations that currently exhibit low homicide rates, murder rates were much higher in the recent past, suggesting that the relative absence of homicide is a fairly new societal invention (Ruff 2001; Dower and George 1995). All of these within-culture rates of homicide do not include casualties of warfare or genocide.

The homicide rates in industrialized nations are much lower than in many non-industrialized cultures. Homicides account for roughly one in ten deaths of adult men among the Huli of Papua New Guinea; one in four deaths among the Mae Enga also of Papua New Guinea; and one in three deaths among the Dugum Dani of the Highlands of West New Guinea and the Yanomamo of central Brazil (Chagnon 1988). In a 1993 study Douglas T. Kenrick and Virgil Sheets found that homicidal fantasies among people in the general population are even more frequent than actual killings.

Despite the fact that tens of thousands of murders are committed worldwide each year, the psychology of homicide is not well understood. For our understanding of homicide to be complete, we must explain, for example: (1) why men are vastly overrepresented among murderers (87 percent); (2) why men are also overrepresented among murder victims (75 percent); (3) why women commit some kinds of homicide more than men (e.g., infanticide of own children); (4) why people kill in qualitatively distinct conditions, leading to predictable motives for murder; and (5) why people experience murder fantasies in circumstances that turn out to correspond closely to the contexts in which people actually commit murder.

The majority of theories that have been used to explain homicide were not designed specifically for that purpose. They are general theories of behavior regarding all crimes, or all violent crimes. For this entry these explanations will be considered as they apply to murder specifically. Unfortunately space limitations prevent an exploration of all relevant theories of murder.


Different theories of homicide need not be competing. They often address different levels of explanation and are often complementary, capable of contributing unique insight to the explanation of why a person commits murder.

According to 1973 and 1977 studies by Albert Bandura cultural and social theories of homicide rely on fundamental principles of learning theory. These theories propose that learning from the social environment is responsible for differences in homicide rates between groups, including differences in mens and womens propensities to kill. The specific environmental source identified as the causal force behind murder differs from theory to theory (Cullen and Agnew 2006; Walsh and Ellis 2006). For example some theorists suggest disorganized communities lead to crime (Bursik and Grasmick 1993; Sampson 1993; Shaw and McKay 1969); others argue that crime is learned through differential association with deviant peers (Akers 1973; Sutherland and Cressey 1978; Sykes and Matza 1957); while others argue that the gap between desires for a better lifestyle and lack of legitimate means to fulfill them creates strain that fuels crime (Cohen 1965; Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Merton 1938; Messner and Rosenfeld 1994). Each of these theories argues that murder is the product of learning by normal people. Other theories propose that homicide is the result of psychological dysfunction.


Pathology theories of murder propose that people commit murder when their thinking is abnormal. The causes of cognitive malfunctions vary, as do the forms of abnormal cognition they produce. For example suboptimal arousal theory is based on the observation that some people have a preference for intense environmental stimulation. Those who feel most starved for arousal are presumed to be more likely to engage in highly arousing thrill seeking and risk taking activities (Ellis 1987). Criminal behaviors including murder may be committed more often by those who are suboptimally aroused.

Seizuring theories of crime are based on research into the causes of epilepsy. Not all seizures lead to convulsions. If subconvulsive seizures are located in the limbic system, argued Dan Mungas in his 1983 article An Empirical Analysis of Specific Syndromes of Violent Behavior, they may have significant effects on emotions, sometimes resulting in criminal behavior.

Other pathology explanations, such as the one offered by R. J. Lueger and K. J. Gill in their 1990 study Frontal-Lobe Cognitive Dysfunction in Conduct Disorder Adolescents, have argued that failure of the frontal lobes to function properly may disinhibit violent behavior. Frontal lobe damage is associated with increased impulsivity and lack of planning ability that may contribute to some murders.

Another pathology theory is rooted in the observation that one male out of every 700 to 1,000 is born with an extra Y-chromosome, and one male out of every 500 is born with an extra X-chromosome (Hoffman 1977). Both genetic abnormalities result in males who score lower on standard intelligence tests (Horgan 1993) and show an increased likelihood of criminal behavior, including murder. However these genetic abnormalities are likely to explain only a tiny fraction of the homicides committed, since males with an extra chromosome only constitute 1 to 2 percent of the total prison population (Witkin, Mednick, Schulsinger, et al. 1976).


Explanations of murder have not been limited to individual differences so extreme they are considered disordered. Individual differences in personality also have been proposed to contribute to the likelihood that an individual will commit murder. For example people who score high on measures of antisocial personality, low in conscientiousness, high in neuroticism, and low in intelligence have been shown to be more likely to engage in criminal activities, including murder (Plomin, DeFries, McGuffin, and McClearn 2000; Hodgins 1992; Monahan, Steadman, Silver, et al. 2001).

Individual differences in personality may also lead to the differential activation of cognitive mechanisms that produce homicidal tendencies in other ways. Personality leads people to experience the same environments differently, seek out different environments, and be excluded from a certain subset of social environments (Rowe 1994; 1996). People with personalities that lead them to occupy environments characterized by high levels of interpersonal conflict may be more likely to encounter contexts that predictably lead to murder.

Another group of explanations for murder propose that individual differences may make homicide more adaptive for some people in terms of evolutionary fitness. Cheater theory argues that two alternative reproductive strategies have evolved in human males. One type of male is law abiding and loyal. Male cheaters, conversely, are argued to adopt strategies of criminality, including murder, in contexts of social exchange to obtain resources and short-term mating strategies in mating relationships.

David Rowes alternative adaptation theory points out that criminals typically devote more effort to mating than they do to parenting (Rowe, Vazsonyi, and Figueredo 1997; Rowe, Vazsonyi, and Flannery 1995). Furthermore Rowe argued that criminality is a strategy that can only thrive when there are others to exploit. As the number of criminals in a population increases, the effectiveness of criminal strategies like murder will decrease.

Conditional adaptation theory attempts to integrate adaptive individual difference theories and learning theories. It proposes that everyone has the same genetic potential to exhibit criminal behavior at birth, and early life experiences cause individuals potentials to change. Children who witness poor, unstable relationships between their parents and live in relatively resource-scarce environments are argued to be more likely to adopt short-term, opportunistic mating strategies as adults and riskier strategies for obtaining resources, including theft, violence, and murder (Belsky 1997). While the preceding adaptive individual difference theories suggest that murder may be adaptive for some people, other explanations propose that homicide is not evolutionarily adaptive for anyone.

According to Martin Daly and Margo Wilson in their 1988 publication Homicide, homicide may be considered an over-reactive mistake, the by-product of evolved, functional psychological mechanisms (adaptations) designed for nonlethal outcomes. For example the behavior of a teenage mother who abandons her newborn in a dumpster to die may be explained by the failure of her psychological mechanisms for parenting to engage. Despite their contention that murder is a maladaptive by-product of psychological adaptations, Daly and Wilson did emphasize that an evolutionary account of homicidal behavior is extremely important.

The previous explanations of homicide are able to predict some characteristics of who is likely to become a criminal and identify some broad features of situations that may trigger criminal behavior. However they share many of the same weaknesses, including: (1) no comprehensive explanation of the patterns of homicide; (2) no predictions about when homicide, instead of some other criminal behavior, is likely to occur; (3) no explanation for a large number of the observed patterns of homicide; (4) failure to provide an explanation for why people who are not pursuing a general strategy of criminality would ever commit homicide; (5) an inability to explain why the majority of ordinary people report experiencing homicidal fantasies; and (6) failure to explain the prevalence and patterns of peoples homicidal fantasies.

David M. Buss and Joshua D. Duntley proposed a new theory that humans possess adaptations for murder that addresses these weaknesses. Although some researchers have suggested the possibility of adaptations for homicide (Ghiglieri 1999; Pinker 1997) and others, such as Napoleon A. Chagnon in his 1988 article Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population, have argued that humans may have an instinct to kill, no other theorists have gone into depth in exploring the likely design of adaptations for homicide (see a notable exception dealing with warfare entitled The Evolution of War and Its Cognitive Foundations by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides).

Homicide adaptation theory (HAT) proposes that natural selection could have favored murder to solve some of the ancestrally recurrent problems that lead to conflict with others. Homicide is unique from nonlethal solutions to conflict because a dead competitor cannot inflict costs on or influence the environment of his killer in the future. According to HAT, natural selection has built in psychological processes that lead us to fantasize about murder and, rarely, kill others when we encounter contexts of conflict that were successfully won by homicide in the evolutionary past.

Homicide adaptation theory does not imply that homicide would have evolved to be the preferred strategy for each or any adaptive problem in all situations. In most sets of circumstances the extremely high costs of committing murder would have outweighed its benefits. The theory does propose that homicidal behavior was sometimes the best of available solutions for rare combinations of adaptive problems and circumstances, which provided selection pressure for the evolution of homicide adaptations.

SEE ALSO Bandura, Albert; Crime and Criminology; Culture; Death and Dying; Morbidity and Mortality; Neuroscience; Punishment


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Joshua Duntley


views updated Jun 27 2018


The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

Murder-Suicide Ruling in Pro-Wrestler Benoit Case

In late June 2007, the professional wrestling world was shocked to learn of the sudden deaths of champion wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife, and young son, all found in the family's suburban Atlanta home. In the few days preceding the incident, Benoit left two strange e-mail messages to a wrestling friend, hinting that his wife and 7-year-old son were not doing well, and advising that his house was unlocked and his dogs were outside. The messages were forwarded to police when concern for Benoit increased.

Police entering the residence found the body of Benoit's wife, Nancy, rolled up in a blanket on the floor, hands and feet bound, and slightly bloodied from signs of struggle. The body of son Daniel was found face down in his bed, with no visible trauma. (Several needle marks were found in the boy's arm; it was later revealed that Benoit had been giving his diminutive son growth hormones for some time.) A copy of the Bible was next to each body. Benoit's body was found hanging from a cord attached to a weight machine in the basement. No suicide note was apparently written or found; neither was there any sign of forced entry or burglary . Police ruled the deaths as a double homicidesuicide and announced their findings at a news conference on the following day.

There was immediate speculation that heavy steroid use and its alleged manifestations (including what is called “roid rage”) may have played a role in the tragedy. Officers found several types of prescription medication, including prescription anabolic steroids, in the home. They also found several receipts in the house, indicating that Benoit had received drug deliveries including human growth hormone from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Florida, and the Internet arm of the business, known as According to the District Attorney's Office in Albany, New York, which was investigating the company, six persons, including two owners, had pleaded guilty and 20 more were arrested, including physicians and pharmacists, as part of the investigation.

Toxicology results later revealed that Benoit's body contained ten times the normal level of testosterone, which appeared to have been injected shortly before he died, as well as the anti-anxiety medicine Xanax, and a painkiller, hydrocodone. His body tested negative for alcohol, and no other anabolic steroids were listed in the toxicology results. The state medical examiner also reported that steroids did not appear to play any role in the deaths of Nancy Benoit or Daniel Benoit.

CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta noted, in his coverage, that the drugs found in Benoit's home are synthetic testoster-ones

used to build muscle mass, but there were “known relationships” between such steroids and roid rage. Symptoms included psychosis, anti-social behavior, and depression. Notwithstanding, Gupta stated that there was no way to conclude with medical certainty that they played a significant role in Benoit's behavior.

News of Benoit's death and surrounding circumstances prompted the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to issue a media statement, in which it criticized press reports linking Benoit's alleged murder-suicide to roid rage. The statement further asserted that Benoit had tested negative for steroids in April 2007, as part of a two-pronged Talent Wellness Program started the previous year that also included “aggressive substance abuse and drug testing polic[ies].” Moreover, WWE's statement noted that details and reported findings surrounding the murder site, e.g., the placement of Bibles next to the bodies, and the binding of the wife's feet and hands, indicated that Benoit had acted with deliberation and not rage. Authorities also had concluded that a substantial period of time existed between the deaths of wife and son, followed by another substantial period of time before Benoit allegedly committed suicide. This further undermined any theory that he acted out of rage.

But the statement from the WWE was not enough to assuage family survivors (including two children from another marriage) and relatives. According to Mike Mooneyham of Charleston's Post and Courier, Benoit's estate offered WWE a deal under which it would waive any future claims against WWE in exchange for an up-front settlement of $2 million for Benoit's two surviving children. Liability was ostensibly premised upon autopsy results showing that Benoit's brain was so damaged from repeat concussions that it resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient. Medical experts claimed the damage was the result of a lifetime of chronic head trauma suffered while Benoit was in the wrestling ring. Through an attorney representing the estate, Benoit's father alleged thatWWEknew of the head injuries but failed to provide treatment or rest for any of its performer wrestlers, causing a strain that ultimately contributed to the killings. WWE denied any involvement in the Benoit tragedy and rejected the settlement offer. It also reiterated its formal policy that “prohibits the non-medical use and associated abuse of prescription medications and performance-enhancing drugs.”

Montreal-born Benoit, a 40-year-old, 510, 220-lb. wrestler often called the “Canadian Crippler,” was a 22-year veteran star on the WWE circuit. He won the world heavyweight championship in 2004. Nancy Benoit was a wrestling stage manager. They were married in 2000.

In March 2007, Sports Illustrated reported that eleven professional wrestlers were included in the list of athletes tied to a national steroid probe. At the time, WWE spokesman Gary Davis reiterated to magazine interviewers WWE's prohibitive policy, but refused to say whether any wrestlers had tested positive since the program was introduced. Vince McMahon, chairman of the WWE board, was indicted on steroid-related charges in the 1990s but was later acquitted.

New York Man Convicted of Murder in Internet Hoax Case

A New York jury in 2007 convicted a black man of killing a white teenager during a raciallycharged confrontation in front of the man's house. The man claimed that he feared he was being attacked by a lynch mob, but the jury determined that he should be criminally liable for his death. In March 2008, the judge in the case sentenced the man to two to four years in prison for the crime, leading the father of the teenager to threaten the man's son.

John White moved his family into a 3,000 square foot home on Long Island in New York. His son, Aaron, became the new kid in the neighborhood. Aaron befriended a group of Ford Mustang enthusiasts known as The Blackout Club.

The group reportedly met a certain parking lot to show off their cars, and the boys in the group frequently gathered at each other's homes.

On August 9, 2006, however, a conflict between Aaron and the other boys turned deadly. At a birthday party held for one of the group members, Aaron showed up with another friend. During the alcohol-filled party, the 15-year-old sister of the party's honoree complained that Aaron had threatened to rape her on a MySpace profile. The profile turned out to be a fake, but the messages that appeared on the profile nine months earlier were repeated in a chat room. One of Aaron's friends later admitted to creating the phony profile as a hoax.

The girl told 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro, a recent high school graduate who was a popular member of The Blackout Club. Cicciaro was in a drunken state when he decided to confront Aaron over the rape threats. Cicciaro gathered four friends and drove to Aaron's house. During the ride over to the house, Cicciaro called Aaron and engaged in a shouting match, at one point using a racial epithet. An armed John White confronted the group when the group arrived at White's house. White pointed a gun in Cicciaro's direction, but the accounts differed as to how the gun discharged. When the gun fired, Cicciaro was killed.

Attorneys for White, a 54-year-old asphalt foreman, stressed that he thought a modern-day lynch mob was approaching his home. Newspaper accounts of the incident noted that White had grown up in the Deep South and that his family had been the subject of racial hatred. During the 1920s, for instance, his grandfather's business in Alabama was burned down by the KU KLUX KLAN. White thought the same was happening to his family. “In my family history, that's how the Klan comes,” said a tearful White. “They pull up. They blind you with their lights.”

White's trial began during the fall of 2007. He claimed that the gun that shot Cicciaro had discharged accidentally and that he was sorry for the accident. Prosecutors, however, painted a different picture. They noted that White should have simply locked his doors and called the police instead of confronting the group armed with a weapon. Moreover, the prosecution stressed that White had said nothing about the lynch mob concerns until trial and that the attack on his grandfather's store had occurred 30 years before White was born. According to the police, when White was arrested, he said, “I did what I had to do. You might as well put the cuffs on now. This is the end of me.”

The jury deliberated for four days before reaching a verdict. On December 22, 2007, the court announced that White had been found guilty of manslaughter . The jury was reportedly in a deadlock during a significant part of their deliberations. At one point, they had met for 12 consecutive hours, but jury members were still deadlocked. The jury finally reached a conclusion after the judge told them to continue to meet.

Supporters for Cicciaro's family applauded the verdict, honking the horns of their cars and shouting “Dan-O! Dan-O! in memory of Daniel. Daniel's mother said that her son was “finally vindicated,” stressing that the case “was never about race. It was about individuals and individuals' actions.” Daniel's father also supported the verdict, saying, “Maybe now they'll stop slinging my son's name and stop accusing him of all this racism.”

White's defense attorney, Fred Brewington continued to note that the case was about race, saying that the verdict was “disappointing for African-Americans.” According to Brewington, “You have to survive in Suffolk County, where people can roll up on your house at 11:30 at night, threaten you, threaten your family, curse at you, call you a [N-word], and you've got to take it.” About three weeks after the verdict was announced, the Reverend Al Sharpton joined White at a gathering of supporters. Sharpton said to a group of about 400 that the police focused too much attention on the shooting and not enough on the culpability of the teenagers who approached White's house.

White's sentence sparked more controversy. In March 2008, the judge sentenced White to two-to-four years in prison for manslaughter, far below the 15-year maximum sentence. The sentenced sparked outrage in Daniel Cicciaro Sr., who directed an obscenity at John White's wife and son immediately after the sentence was read. The father of the slain boy claimed that racial politics had played a role in the sentencing.

Cicciaro caused another major controversy when he suggested that Aaron White should be shot. Cicciaro's outbursts led John White to file a complaint for harassment two days after White was sentenced. White has remained free pending an appeal of his manslaughter verdict.

Serial Killer Krajcir Admits to Decades-old Killings

In December 2007, 63-year-old Timothy W. Krajcir, already in an Illinois prison for a rape conviction, confessed to the killings of at least nine women in four states between 1977 and 1982. He also confessed to several other decades-old rapes and related assault charges.

Krajcir had been in continuous state custody for other crimes since 1983. While imprisoned all those years, Krajcir had remained silent about his role in any murders. It was DNA evidence, taken from old tissue samples from a 1982 murder victim, that finally brought him down. Such testing was non-existent at the time of the murder.

After being confronted with the incriminating evidence, Krajcir admitted and/or pleaded guilty to that and other murders in a plea deal to avoid the death sentence. In January 2008, he received two 40-year sentences for two Illinois murders, and in April 2008, after pleading guilty in a Cape Girardeau, Missouri court, he was given five consecutive life sentences for five murders in that state. Krajcir was also indicted for a kidnapping and burglary in Paducah, Kentucky in 1979 (later allegedly murdering the kidnapped victim in Illinois). However, in light of the consecutive life sentences in the other cases, and the fact that the murder was likely committed in Illinois, Kentucky officials announced that they would decline to prosecute Krajcir for the Paducah crimes. Still pending was the indictment for rape and murder of a woman in Pennsylvania.

Krajcir had spent most of his adult life incarcerated as a repeat sex offender. Ironically, most of his killings were committed during brief non-incarcerated periods, and even more ironically, while studying psychology and criminal justice as a student at Southern Illinois University (SIU). He eventually graduated from SIU with a degree in law enforcement. Authorities believed that much of his ability to elude police after the murders was gleaned from what he learned at school.

For example, while at SIU, Krajcir lived in Carbondale, Illinois. But he committed most of his crimes in cities other than where he lived, resulting in detectives focusing on local suspects rather than him. Carbondale was approximately an hour's drive from the locations of several heretofore unsolved murders (dating back to the 1970s and 1980s) in Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Marion, Illinois; and Paducah, Kentucky. Krajcir later told authorities that he often would stake out potential victims in shopping center parking lots in Cape Girardeau. He then would follow them home to ensure that they lived alone, and return several days later to attack them.

Police in Cape Girardeau found Krajcir's first victims on August 15, 1977. Mary Parsh, a 58-year-old woman, was found dead alongside her 27-year-old daughter, Brenda. Both were nude and lying side by side on a bed in their home, with their hands tied behind their backs. Both had been shot in the head. The crime went unsolved until Krajcir's confession in 2007.

In November 1977, Southern Missouri University student Sheila Cole's body was found at a rest stop in southern Illinois. She had been kidnapped from a Wal-Mart parking lot and shot to death. Again, the case remained unsolved. Likewise, 51-year-old Virginia Lee Witte's body was found in 1978 in Marion, Illinois Krajcir later admitted he randomly targeted her after both were driving side by side on a main road in the area. In 1979, 51-year-old Myrtle Rupp was similarly killed in her home in Reading, Pennsylvania. It later turned out that Krajcir, who is originally from Pennsylvania, was visiting in the area at that time. Investigators believe that 29-year-old Joyce Tharp was robbed and kidnapped from her home in Paducah, Kentucky in 1979, and killed in Illinois before her body was brought back to Paducah.

Eluding police who were investigating the murders, Krajcir was nonetheless jailed in Illinois in 1979 for having sex with his landlord's 13-year-old daughter. He was conditionally released in 1981.

A few months later, in January 1982, 57-year-old Margie Call was found dead in her Missouri home, raped and strangled, with her hands apparently bound. Several weeks later, 65-year-old Milfred Wallace was found nude and shot in the head. Her hands were also tied. Police again focused on local potential suspects such as old friends, classmates, or past lovers of the women.

Later in 1982, area residents were frightened when Southern Illinois University student Deborah Sheppard was found raped and strangled in Carbondale. Shortly thereafter, Krajcir moved from Carbondale to Pennsylvania. He was arrested months later on yet another sexual assault charge, and served five year in prison there. In 1988, he was transferred back to Illinois to resume his previous prison term (for having sex with his landlord's daughter), having violated the parole terms of his original conditional release.

Meanwhile, Cape Girardeau investigators were piecing together key links in the various murders committed within a 50-mile radius. Although Krajcir had left some incriminating evidence at the crime scenes, no DNA national databases had existed in the early 1980s; neither could investigators find any of his fingerprints in a national database. Similarly, police found a palm print matching Krajcir's at one crime scene, but in the early 1980s, palm prints were not being tracked.

Fast-forwarding to 2007, advances in DNA technology led Illinois investigators to test a small DNA sample from Deborah Sheppard's Carbondale murder. It matched Krajcir, who by now was in a database and still incarcerated in Illinois. When questioned about Sheppard's murder, Krajcir denied his involvement. However, when confronted with the DNA results, he confessed on December 3, 2007.

The confession sparked the interest of the Cape Girardeau investigators, just 45 miles away. Another DNA test matched Krajcir's in samples taken from the Wallace murder (Missouri). Krajcir again denied involvement. It was not until Cape Girardeau prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty that Krajcir admitted killing Wallace and four other women in Missouri. He later admitted to killing Tharp, the Paducah, Kentucky woman. His indictment for the 1979 rape and murder of 51-year-old Myrtle Rupp of Reading, Pennsylvania, was still pending.

Klansman James Ford Seale Convicted for Role in 1964 Deaths

In June 2007, a federal jury convicted 71-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale of kidnapping and conspiracy for his partic-ipation in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi. The beaten and badly decomposed bodies of 19-year-olds Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee were found in the Mississippi River near Tallulah, Louisiana, two months after they disappeared from Franklin County, Mississippi on May 2, 1964. The teenagers were found by random chance during an unrelated search by U.S. Navy divers for three missing civil rights workers (part of the “Mississippi Burnings” case which drew more media attention at the time). Their bodies were identified by personal effects, including a belt buckle given to Moore by his brother.

Old files and documents from the time show that Seale, along with Charles Marcus Edwards, had originally been identified by the FBI as suspects and were arrested. According to FBI interrogators, Edwards admitted that he and Seale had heard rumors that Black Muslims were bringing guns into the area and were planning an armed insurrection in rural Franklin County. Edwards further admitted that, after Seale picked up the two hitchhiking teens, he and Seale drove them into the woods for a beating. Edwards claimed both were alive when he left them.

An informant told FBI interrogators that Seale's brother and another Klansman took the unconscious men to the river, weighted them down with an old Jeep engine block and pieces of railroad track, and dumped them over the side of a boat. (The Klansman and informant have since died.)

At the time of the incident, the FBI was overwhelmed with a series of violent crimes related to the civil rights movement and general unrest in the South. Its resources had been heavily consumed by the search for the three missing civil rights workers, so it turned the case of the teens' deaths over to local Mississippi authorities.(The bodies of the three missing civil rights workers were later found in an earthen dam in Mississippi.)

Shortly thereafter, a local justice of the peace dismissed all charges against Edwards and Seale (who was a sheriff's deputy in the county and a reputed Klansman) without presenting evidence to a grand jury . This was notwithstanding 1960s FBI documents indicating that Seale, when confronted by authorities, was quoted as saying “Yes, but I'm not going to admit it. You are going to have to prove it.”

In 2000, the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Unit reopened the case, but encountered

problems finding living witnesses and credible evidence. Moreover, for years, family members had repeatedly told reporters and investigators that Seale was dead. FBI files indicated that the case was again closed in 2003.

Then in 2005, Thomas Moore, brother to one of the victims, was contacted by a Canadian documentary filmmaker, David Rigden, about photos and documents in the “cold case.” Although originally at arms' length, the two eventually bonded and agreed to continue efforts on their own to revive interest in the case and seek justice. They were able to locate both Edwards and Seale, old and sick but living just a few miles from the scene of the original abduction.

After finding the men, Rigden and Moore contacted authorities, and the case was again reopened by the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT in 2005. The resulting investigation represented the corroboration and incorporated work of current FBI agents working with five former FBI agents originally assigned to the matter during the 1960s, as well as the Franklin County Sheriff's Office and the Mississippi Highway Patrol. The FBI premised federal jurisdiction on information and documents indicating that the beating had occurred in the Homochitto National Forest, as well as the fact that the victims were transported over state lines.

In January 2007, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a Justice Department news briefing to announce the indictment of Seale by a federal grand jury on two counts of kidnapping resulting in death and one count of conspiracy. When asked why Seale and Edwards were not charged with murder, Gonzales responded that “… we looked at the evidence, we looked at the law, and we believe that the indictment reflects the charges that are appropriate here and the charges that we can prove.” Seale, reported by his attorney to have cancer, pleaded not guilty and further denied being a Klan member.

At trial, the prosecution's key witness was Seale's cohort, Edwards, now 72 years old. Edwards testified, inter alia, that he and Seale belonged to the same Klan chapter that was led by Seale's father. According to his testimony, the beaten teens, still alive, were stuffed into the trunk of Seale's car and driven to a farm. Seale later told him that Moore and Dee were driven across the Mississippi River into Louisiana and dumped into the river with heavy weights attached to them.

In return for his testimony, Edwards was not charged. During closing arguments, prosecutors acknowledged to the jury that they made “a deal with the devil” but argued that it was necessary to achieve justice. Although Seale's public defender argued to the jury that Edwards was a “liar … out to save his own skin,” prosecutors reminded the jury (through the testimony of a retired FBI agent) of Seale's own prior words, taunting the FBI interrogators that they had to “prove it.”

Seale was sentenced on August 24, 2007 to three life sentences in prison. David Rigden continued to work on his documentary film about the deaths, to be called Mississippi Cold Case.

Mistrial and Retrial in Phil Spector Murder Case

Following a jury deadlock in September 2007, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler declared a mistrial in the criminal case against music mogul Phil Spector, accused of killing Lana Clarkston at his California mansion on February 3, 2003. The jury had deliberated for twelve days before advising the judge that they were unable to reach a verdict. Media stations reported that the 10–2 split was in favor of conviction, and reporters later interviewed several jurors. Counsel for the Clarkston family, John C. Taylor, supported prosecution's decision to retry the case.

Clarkston was a 40-year-old aspiring B-movie actress (best known for her role in Roger Corman's cult film “Barbarian Queen”). She was working as a hostess at the House of Blues in West Hollywood when she met Spector, 67, in the lounge's VIP room. He invited her to go home with him that night. At approximately 5:00 a.m. the following morning, Clarkston died of a single gunshot wound fired inside her mouth while she was seated in the foyer of Spector's Alhambra mansion. During the trial, prosecution argued that Spector had a history of threatening women with guns, while the defense argued that Clarkston shot herself, either accidentally or by suicide.

A new trial was initially scheduled for early 2008, but was later rescheduled for September 2008. The primary reason for the delayed retrial was to accommodate Spector's new legal team, put in place after the September 26 mistrial. Only one attorney, Christopher Plourd, remained from the original defense team, the others having either resigned or been fired by Spector. Plourd was involved in two capital punishment cases and was unavailable for the Spector retrial until the autumn. Deputy District Attorney Pat Dixon, although eager to commence the retrial as soon as possible, conceded the necessity of reconciling any conflicts with Plourd's schedule. Moreover, new defense counsel from San Francisco, Doron Weinberg, advised the court that he would need several months to review and study 10,000 pages of the trial transcripts.

Another cause for delay was a 44-page motion filed by Weinberg to disqualify Judge Fidler from residing over the retrial. The motion listed numerous acts on the part of the judge during the first trial, which, according to Weinberg, constituted improper bias and prejudice to Spector. These included a gag order imposed upon both Spector's wife and a potential defense witness, and the judge's decision to withdraw a jury instruction in favor of a newly worded one, following the first announcement of a jury deadlock. Weinberg argued in his motion that these acts of bias, to Spector's detriment, evidenced Judge Fidler's desire to counter public perceptions that celebrities were often given special or deferential treatment in California courts. (Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, and O.J. Simpson were all acquitted in the same downtown criminal court.)

In his response, Judge Fidler declared the motion untimely because any objections to his decisions or rulings from the bench should have been raised when they occurred during the trial. Notwithstanding, the judge also addressed the merits of Weinberg's motion by signing a declaration that denied any bias or prejudice against any party in the case. Weinberg told reporters that he would seek appeal.

The original jury instruction in question, called “Special Instruction 3,” advised the jury that prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Spector pointed a gun at Clarkston and the gun ended up inside her mouth while in Spector's hand. After jurors sent questions to the judge, deliberations were suspended for two days while attorneys argued over new jury instructions explaining prosecutors' contention that Spector committed an act that resulted in Clarkston's death. Judge Fidler then provided the jury panel with updated instructions, which included a clause giving several scenarios in which Spector could be found guilty of Clarkston's murder, including “forcing her to place the gun in her mouth.” This further angered defense counsel, who objected that no such evidence had been presented to the jury during trial. However, Judge Fidler ruled that the new language was reasonable based on evidence presented.

The flamboyant Spector, a gold-standard music producer famed for his “Wall of Sound” recording technique, was accused of shooting Clarkston in the mouth with his snub-nosed .38-caliber Colt Cobra in the wee morning hours of February 3, 2003. This followed a night of alleged heavy drinking, both at and after they left the House of Blues. Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that in the wee morning, Spector's chauffeur heard a loud pop, testifying that Spector then came to the back door with a gun in his hand and said, “I think I killed somebody.”

Notwithstanding, three jurors who appeared at a news conference after the mistrial asserted that the hung jury was the result of doubts concerning prosecutors' ability to convince all 12

jurors that Spector's hand was on the gun, and the failure of authorities to complete a psychological profile on Clarkston (the defense had argued that she was suicidal.) A few jurors also expected to see evidence of more blood on Spector, and were somewhat concerned about language barriers involving Spector's chauffeur, for whom English appeared to be a second language.

Although the prosecution declared its intention to retry Spector for murder, proescutors also had the option of offering him a plea bargain, as well as dropping the case entirely. If convicted of second-degree murder, he faced 15 years to life in prison, plus the possibility of an additional ten years for the use of a firearm. In the interim, Spector was free on $1 million bail.


views updated May 14 2018


The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

Murder is perhaps the single most serious criminal offense. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the killing, a person who is convicted of murder may be sentenced to many years in prison, a prison sentence with no possibility of parole, or death.

The precise definition of murder varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Under the common law, or law made by courts, murder was the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. The term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing, or that he or she felt malice toward the victim. Generally, malice aforethought referred to a level of intent or reck-lessness that separated murder from other killings and warranted stiffer punishment.

The definition of murder has evolved over several centuries. Under most modern statutes in the United States, murder comes in four varieties: (1) intentional murder; (2) a killing that resulted from the intent to do serious bodily injury; (3) a killing that resulted from a depraved heart or extreme recklessness; and (4) murder committed by an accomplice during the commission of, attempt of, or flight from certain felonies.

Some jurisdictions still use the term malice aforethought to define intentional murder, but many have changed or elaborated on the term in order to describe more clearly a murderous state of mind. California has retained the malice aforethought definition of murder (Cal. Penal Code § 187 [West 1996]). It also maintains a statute that defines the term malice. Under section 188 of the California Penal Code, malice is divided into two types: express and implied. Express malice exists "when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature." Malice may be implied by a judge or jury "when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart."

In Commonwealth v. LaCava, 783 N.E.2d 812 (Mass. 2003), the defendant, Thomas N. LaCava, was convicted of the deliberate, premeditated murder of his wife. LaCava admitted to the shooting and the killing, but he claimed that due to his diminished mental capacity, he could not form the requisite malice when he committed the killing, so as to be convicted of first degree murder. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found that Massachusetts law permits psychiatric evidence to attack the premeditation aspect of murder. However, the judge's instructions to the jury regarding the definition of murder was sufficient to render the error harmless, according to the court.

Many states use the California definition of implied malice to describe an unintentional killing that is charged as murder because the defendant intended to do serious bodily injury, or acted with extreme recklessness. For example, if an aggressor punches a victim in the nose, intending only to injure the victim's face, the aggressor may be charged with murder if the victim dies from the blow. The infliction of serious bodily injury becomes the equivalent of an intent to kill when the victim dies. Although the aggressor in such a case did not have the express desire to kill the victim, he or she would not be charged with assault, but with murder. To understand why, it is helpful to consider the alternative: When a person dies at the hands of an aggressor, it does not sit well with the public conscience to preclude a murder charge simply because the aggressor intended only to do serious bodily injury.

Some murders involving extreme recklessness on the part of the defendant cause extreme public outrage. In People v. Dellinger, 783 P.2d 200 (Cal. 1989), the defendant, Leland Dellinger, was found guilty of the murder of his two-yearold stepdaughter. The primary cause of the child's death was a fractured skull caused by trauma to the head. However, other evidence showed that the child had large quantities of cocaine in her system when she died. Moreover, her mother discovered that the defendant had fed the child wine through a baby bottle. Due to the defendant's "wanton disregard for life," the verdict of murder was proper, according to the California Supreme Court.

A person who unintentionally causes the death of another person also may be charged with murder under the depraved-heart theory. Depraved-heart murder refers to a killing that results from gross negligence. For example, suppose that a man is practicing shooting his gun in his backyard, located in a suburban area. If the man accidentally shoots and kills someone, he can be charged with murder under the depraved-heart theory, if gross negligence is proven.

In Turner v. State, 796 So. 2d 998 (Miss. 2001), the defendant, Jimmy Ray Turner, was convicted of the murder of his wife. The couple had contemplated divorce, but had apparently reconciled. After their reconciliation, they went together to the defendant's parents' house to return a borrowed shotgun. As they walked to the parents' house, the defendant, who testified that he did not think the shotgun was loaded, demonstrated to his wife how he carried the gun with his fingers on the trigger and walked with his arms swinging. His wife stopped suddenly, bumping into the defendant. The shotgun fired, killing the wife. Although the defendant was not charged with premeditated murder, he was indicted and convicted of depraved-heart murder due to his gross negligence in handling the shotgun.

Most states also have a felony murder statute. Under the felony murder doctrine, a person who attempts or commits a specified felony may be held responsible for a death caused by an accomplice in the commission of the felony; an attempt to commit the felony; or flight from the felony or attempted felony. For example, if two persons rob a bank and during the robbery one of them shoots and kills a security guard, the perpetrator who did not pull the trigger nevertheless may be charged with murder.

The felonies that most commonly give rise to a felony murder charge are murder, rape, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and arson. Many states add to this list. Maine, for example, adds gross sexual assault and escape from lawful custody (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17-A, § 202 [West 1996]). Generally, felony murder liability lies only if the death was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the felony, a felony attempt, or flight from the crime. For example, courts have held that death is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of armed robbery.

Most states divide the crime of murder into first and second degrees. In such states, any intentional, unlawful killing done without justification or excuse is considered second-degree murder. The offense usually is punished with a long prison term or a prison term for life without the possibility of parole. Second-degree murder can be upgraded to first-degree murder, a more serious offense than second-degree murder, if the murder was accomplished with an aggravating or special circumstance. An aggravating or special circumstance is something that makes the crime especially heinous or somehow worthy of extra punishment.

California lists some 20 different special circumstances that can boost a murder from second to first degree, including murder carried out for financial gain; murder committed with an explosive; murder committed to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest; murder to perfect or attempt an escape from lawful custody; murder of a law enforcement officer, prosecutor, judge, or elected, appointed, or former government official; murder committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel fashion where the killer lay in wait for, or hid from, the victim; murder where the victim was tortured by the killer; murder where the killer used poison; or murder where the killing occurred during the commission of, aid of, or flight from certain felonies. These felonies include rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, arson, train wrecking, sodomy, the performance of a lewd or lascivious act upon a child under age 14, and oral copulation with a child under age 14 (Cal. Penal Code § 190.2 [West 1996]).

If a murder does not qualify by statute for first-degree murder, it is charged as second-degree murder. A second-degree murder may be downgraded to manslaughter if mitigating factors were involved in the killing, such as adequate provocation by the victim, or the absence of intent or recklessness on the part of the defendant.

Maine has simplified the law of murder. In Maine, a person is guilty of murder if he or she intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another human being, engages in conduct that manifests a depraved indifference to the value of human life and causes death, or intentionally or knowingly causes another human being to commit suicide by the use of force, duress, or deception (Me. Stat. tit. 17-A § 201 [1996]). Maine also has a felony murder statute. It does not divide murder into degrees.

Sentencing for murder varies from state to state, and according to degrees in the states that have them. Second-degree murder usually is punished with more than 20 years in prison. A person convicted of second-degree murder in Minnesota, for example, may be sentenced to prison for not more than 40 years. Some states, such as California, allow a sentence up to life in prison for second-degree murder.

In some states that have a first-degree murder charge, the crime is punished with a life term in prison without the possibility of parole. In other states, first-degree murder is punishable by death. A defendant's criminal history may affect sentencing for a murder conviction. The greater the criminal history, the more time the defendant is likely to serve. The criminal history of a murder defendant may even cause a murder charge to be upgraded from second degree to first degree. In California, for example, a murder defendant who has a prior conviction for murder faces an automatic first-degree murder charge.

The strongest defenses to a murder charge are provocation and self-defense. If the defendant acted completely in self-defense, this fact may relieve the defendant of all criminal liability. If it does not relieve the defendant of all liability, self-defense at least may reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter. Provocation rarely results in complete absolution, but it may reduce the defendant's criminal liability. For example, suppose that a family is being tormented by a neighbor for no apparent reason. The neighbor has damaged the family's property, assaulted the children, and killed the family dog. If the father kills the neighbor and is charged with murder, the father may argue that the provocation by the victim was so great that if he is to be found criminally liable at all, he should be found liable for manslaughter, not murder.

Women Murdered on the Job

The workplace can be a dangerous environment, exposing workers to hazards that can cause accidents, disease, and sometimes death. But the workplace also is a place where murders are committed. Statistics indicate that there is a large difference between the number of men and the number of women killed on the job. Fifteen percent of men who die at work are murdered, whereas 35 percent of female workplace deaths are the result of homicides.

It is believed that the high number of female workplace murders is based in part on the kinds of jobs women take in the economy. Many work in retail jobs, clerking at late-night convenience stores where robberies often occur and where security is often lacking. Analysts also believe that male perpetrators select retail stores where they believe that they can easily overpower a female employee.

Other workplace murders of women are committed by former boyfriends and husbands who are upset over a separation. Some psychologists believe that these men associate the woman's job with independence and the breakup of their relationship. Murdering a former wife or lover is a way for a man to reassert his dominance.

Finally, some murders of women appear to be committed out of resentment over the loss of a job at the workplace and the perception that women are to blame for the job loss. Roughly five percent of all the murders committed in the workplace, male and female, are committed by former or current employees.

A defendant's subjective belief that he or she was under attack by a victim at the time of a killing may be a basis for a claim of self-defense. In Henderson v. Texas, 906 S.W.2d 589 (Tex. App. 1995), the defendant, Sherri Henderson, was convicted of the murder of a victim whom she shot outside of a nightclub. The victim had engaged in a fight with the defendant's sister inside the club, and the fight later moved out-side. The defendant carried a gun that she had purchased a few days before, apparently for protection from her estranged husband. The facts in the case were in dispute, but the defendant found her sister bleeding from the head when she went to the parking lot. She claimed that she saw someone reach for a weapon, and she fired into a crowd, hitting and fatally wounding the woman who had fought her sister. The jury apparently believed the prosecution's claim that the defendant had intentionally shot at the victim after seeing her sister on the ground, and Henderson was convicted of murder. However, the Texas appellate court reversed the trial court's conviction, holding that evidence of the defendant's subjective beliefs regarding her attacker's identity and evidence of prior attacks on the defendant by her husband were relevant to her claim for self-defense.

Insanity is another defense to a murder charge. If a defendant was suffering from such a defect of the mind that he or she did not know what he or she was doing, or the defendent did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong, the defendant may be found not guilty by reason of insanity. In some states, the defendant may be found guilty but mentally ill. In either case, the result is the same: The defendant is confined to a mental institution instead of a prison.

The insanity defense has many critics, and it especially comes under fire when a defendant commits an atrocious killing. In 2001, the nation was shocked by the story about Andrea Yates, who drowned each of her five young children in a bathtub. The children's ages ranged from six months to seven years old at the time of the killings. Yates was estranged from her husband and contacted him shortly after the killings. She subsequently confessed to the crime but claimed the defense of insanity. Her counsel argued that because she suffered from schizophrenia, which had first surfaced several years earlier, she did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the killings. According to testimony, she had considered stabbing her first child shortly after his birth. The insanity defense failed, however, and Yates was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The modern law of murder is relatively static, but minor changes are occasionally proposed or implemented. Some legislatures have debated the idea of striking assisted suicide from murder statutes. Some have considered proposals making doctors liable for murder if they perform a third-trimester abortion. Many have made changes with respect to juveniles. Juveniles accused of murder used to be tried in juvenile courts, but in the 1980s and 1990s, legislatures passed laws to make juvenile murder defendants over the ages of 14 or 15 stand trial as adults. This change is significant because a juvenile defendant convicted in the juvenile justice system might go free upon reaching a certain age, such as 21. A juvenile defendant who is tried in adult court does not have such an opportunity and may be sentenced to prison for many years, or for life without parole. A juvenile may be put to death upon conviction for murder but only if he or she was age 16 or older at the time of the offense (Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815, 108 S. Ct. 2687, 101 L. Ed. 2d 702 [1988]).

Mass Murders and Serial Killings

The public is often fascinated, although also horrified, by stories of mass murders and serial killings. This fascination is evidenced by the popularity of such films as Natural Born Killers and Silence of the Lambs. When a mass murder or serial killing occurs, it often receives considerable media attention. Stories are revisited for years following the incidents, as experts and novices alike try to determine the causes of why these tragedies occur and how they can be prevented. Although statistics show that mass murders and serial killings are more common now than they have been in the past, this type of killings is still rather rare.

Criminologists and other experts distinguish between a serial killer and a mass murderer, although the profiles of these perpetrators are often similar. A serial killer is most often a younger, white male, who targets specific strangers near his work or home. This type of killer is typically a sociopath who kills to satisfy delusional personal needs and desires through killing by physical force. Serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy are household names. A mass murderer is likewise often a young, white male, who acts deliberately and methodically in carrying out his killings. One of the most celebrated mass murderers was Charles Joseph Whitman, who in 1966 climbed a tower at the University of Texas at Austin and engaged in a 90-minute shooting spree. He shot 44 people, killing 14, before being fatally shot by a police officer. The motivation of either a serial killer or a mass murderer obviously varies by the killer, but experts note that it is often terror, power, revenge, or profit.

The United States and several other countries have been especially horrified by a number of school shootings in the past decade. One of the most horrific of these shootings occurred at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Two teenagers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, went on a shooting rampage throughout the school, killing 12 students and injuring more than 20, before finally killing themselves. Since 1996, more than 25 schools in the United States have suffered from school shootings, as have schools in such countries as Canada, Sweden, Scotland, and Germany. Because the perpetrators of these murders are usually teenagers, experts have investigated these shootings closely, in order to identify potential signs that an unbalanced student might consider resorting to violence.

further readings

Fox, James Alan, and Jack Levin. 1998. "Multiple Homicide: Patterns of Serial and Mass Murder." Crime and Justice..

Hobson, Charles L. 1996. "Reforming California's Homicide Law." Pepperdine Law Review 23.

LaFave, Wayne R. 2000. Criminal Law 3d ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.


Capital Punishment; Criminal Law; Death and Dying; Felony-Murder Rule; Homicide; Insanity Defense; Juvenile Law.


views updated May 18 2018


The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

Wisconsin Man Exonerated Through DNA Evidence Subsequently Convicted of Murder

Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was exonerated in 2003 after spending 18 years in prison for attempted murder and sexual assault, returned to prison in 2007 after being convicted of the murder of a photographer. Even more disturbing was the charge against Avery's 16-year-old nephew for participating in the murder. The case represented the first time in U.S. history that a person has been convicted of murder after being freed through DNA testing.

Avery was convicted in December 1985 with the attempted murder and sexual assault of a 36-year-old woman on a beach in Manitowoc County in Wisconsin. At his trial, 16 alibi witnesses testified on behalf of Avery, but a jury still found him guilty based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. Avery received a 32-year sentence in 1986. He appealed his conviction, but the Wisconsin court of appeals affirmed his conviction and the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to review it.

Ten years after the conviction, Avery requested DNA testing of fingernail scrapings taken from the victim. Although the tests showed genetic markers that were consistent with both Avery and the victim, and so the laboratory that conducted the test could not exclude Avery as the perpetrator. At the same time, however, the tests revealed the DNA of person other than Avery. Despite this evidence, Wisconsin courts refused to order a new trial based on this new evidence.

Avery's case caught the attention of Wisconsin Innocence Project, which was founded in 1998 at the University of Wisconsin's law school. This project investigates certain cases where a person may have been wrongly convicted of a crime by working to complete testing of DNA evidence from various cases. Lawyers working for this project obtained a court order to test one of the hairs that had been collected from the victim using technology that was more powerful than the technology used in 1995. These tests showed that the hair belonged to Gregory A. Allen, who was then serving a 60-year sentence for a sexual assault committed after the Manitowoc woman was assaulted.

Avery was released in September 2003 after this evidence proved his innocence. He was the third person in state history to be exonerated of a crime through DNA evidence and the 137th person to be freed nationwide. He was the first person who was freed through efforts of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and his story and photograph were prominent on the project's website. Avery's story received extensive coverage by newspapers and television stations in Milwaukee and elsewhere in Wisconsin.

According to several news reports, Avery had a difficult time adjusting to life after prison. Under Wisconsin law, he was entitled to receive only $25,000 in compensation for the time he spent in prison. His wife at the time of his conviction later divorced him, and he was estranged from his two youngest children. He returned to work at his family's auto salvage yard, but admitted in newspaper accounts in 2003 that he frequently would become frustrated and angered about his situation. He even talked about thoughts of returning to prison.

In October 2005, Avery was questioned in connection with the disappearance of Teresa Halbach, a photographer who worked for Auto Trader magazine. Halbach had an appointment to take a picture of a car at Avery's home on the day of her disappearance. Five days after officials questioned Avery, police found Halbach's car hidden underneath brush at Avery's family salvage yard. Police also found charred remains of a body on Avery's property. On November 15, DNA tests showed that the remains belonged to Halbach, and Avery was charged with the murder.

Avery was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, which carries an automatic life sentence. Police found the DNA of both Avery and Halbach in Halbach's car. Officers also found the key to Halbach's car in Avery's possession and with Avery's DNA on it. Due to the circumstances of the case, much of the state of Wisconsin followed the case closely. The Wisconsin Innocence Project eventually removed most of the pictures of and references to Avery, later saying that the nature of the story was such that the organization did not want to upset the victim's family.

In March 2006, prosecutors charged 16-year-old Brendan Dassey, Avery's nephew, with helping Avery to sexually assault and kill Halbach. According to the criminal complaint filed against Dassey, the boy received a note from Avery when the former returned home from school. He went to Avery's trailer, where he heard screams from a woman inside. Avery allegedly asked Dassey if the boy wanted to have sex with the woman, and the boy then sexually assaulted Halbach. Subsequently, Avery and Dassey stabbed and then strangled Halbach, before finally shooting her at least 10 times. She was burned with other debris behind the trailer. Avery covered her car at the salvage yard, removed the license plates, and hid the key to the car.

Avery was convicted on the intentional homicide charge on March 18, 2007. He became the second person in U.S. history to be convicted of a serious crime after being exonerated through DNA testing. He was also the first person to be subsequently convicted of killing another person. The jury additionally convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm, but acquitted him of mutilating Halbach's corpse.

In October 2004, Avery filed suit against officials in Manitowoc County, asking for $36 million for his wrongful conviction. He filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. He later settled the case for $400,000, though the proceeds he received went to lawyers fees for the homicide trial. Avery claimed that he would be exonerated again, and his lawyers filed a motion for a new trial.

Virginia Tech Massacre

Virginia Tech is the commonly-used name for Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, located in Blacksburg, Virginia, southwest of Roanoke, and home to more than 25,000 full-time students. On the morning of April 16, 2007, a deranged student, Seung-Hui Cho, opened fire in a dormitory and crowded class-room on Virginia Tech's campus, killing 27 students and five faculty members before committing suicide.

Although the funerals and memorial services took place in the ensuing weeks following the unspeakable tragedy, the legal fallout was just beginning. Could this have been prevented? What did school officials know, or should have known, about Cho's medical and/or mental health history? What about campus security? What about emergency warning systems? What about gun control, on campus and in general?

In the aftermath of the incident, details emerged from several witnesses that raised multiple issues and questions. The killings had occurred in two separate incidents on campus. The first occurred at approximately 7:15 a.m. in one of the dormitories. Two students, one male and one female, were fatally shot. The second attack occurred more than two and a half hours later, when Cho entered classrooms in Norris Hall, a science and engineering building. Thirty more people were killed in or near the building, and several more wounded.

Police could not immediately identify Cho as the gunman, as his unidentified body lay among those of victims at the scene after he apparently shot himself in the head. Two handguns were found near his body and investigators immediately began tracing purchase records.

Following the initial shock of the incident, Wendell Flinchum, campus chief of police, held a news conference that evening, under heavy fire to explain why authorities did not act to secure the campus in the two-plus hours following the two dormitory fatalities. Chief Flinchum responded that campus officials initially thought the dormitory shooting was an isolated "domestic" incident, suggesting that it involved people who knew each other. The campus was not shut down because authorities believed the attacker may have left the campus or even the state. However, the involved building and the immediate crime scene were secured. Flinchum told New York Times reporters, "We acted on the best information we had at the time."

Unfortunately, Cho, a disgruntled student with prior mental health problems, had not left the campus or the state. It was later learned that in the two-hour interim between shootings, he video-taped a violent message for the media and loaded bullet magazines for the two automatic high-powered guns he brought with him. Investigators also learned that Cho had taken the time to chain the doors shut in Norris Hall before opening fire inside several classrooms.

At 9:45 a.m., campus police received another 911 call about shootings at Norris Hall, just as university officials were meeting to discuss the earlier dormitory shootings. By the time officers arrived at Norris Hall, the shootings were over and Cho was among the dead. Ballistics analyses later confirmed that the two separate incidents were related, and that Cho was the gunman in both.

In the aftermath of the killings and questions raised, Virginia State Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced that the state would form a panel commission to investigate Virginia Tech's response to the massacre, as well as the circumstances that might have caused it, including Cho's mental health history. He promised the public that the investigation would be fair, impartial, and free of political interference. He named eight experts with various backgrounds in academia, law enforcement, mental health, psychology, and victim services to the panel.

But almost immediately, new questions were raised about the panel's impartiality, muddled with real or perceived conflicts of interest. At the first meeting, a retired state police superintendent who was the panel's chairman held a private meeting with state and federal law enforcement officials, then announced to panel members that they "should be proud" of the response by authorities on the day of the incident, suggesting favorable bias even before the panel's work was done. By June 2007, several victims' families had organized and released a statement to the media, complaining about their lack of representation on the panel and other issues. The statement, released to Associated Press reporters, was presented to the review board and said in part, "We are angry about being ostracized from a government-chartered panel investigating a government-sponsored university, and about how the university has used the names and images of our loved ones to raise millions of dollars without any consultation."

Meanwhile, the media was criticized for focusing on Cho, his background, and his story, while the 32 victims remained virtually nameless and faceless in news stories. One psychiatrist made a public plea on national television, urging the media to stop immortalizing the gunman and instead tell the stories of victims. Cho's violent messages and self-promoting video images soon began to disappear from cover pages and Internet web sites.

In early July 2007, panel members announced that they had received tape recordings and transcripts from Cho's mental health hearing in December 2005. It was revealed that the judge conducting the hearing ruled that Cho was a danger to himself but not to others, and ordered Cho to seek treatment; there was no indication that Cho had ever sought treatment. He had been referred to Virginia Tech's Cook Counseling Center. However, the center did not accept "ordered" treatment of patients and was not required by state law to report to courts whether patients ever received treatments. Cho's personal medical records had not been released, but court records and transcripts were.

In early July 2007, Governor Kaine announced the appointment of Kenneth R. Feinberg, the Washington lawyer who directed the federal compensation program for relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to oversee the $7 million in private donations used to set up the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Feinberg stated that approximately $1 million of the total donations had been designated by donors toward specific uses, but the balance would go to general use. The school announced it would use $3.2 million of the fund to establish 32 separate $100,000 funds to honor each of the victims. The remaining money was to be distributed to victims and their families. Feinberg announced that he would establish eligibility criteria by the end of July. Victims were also likely eligible for funds through the state's compensation fund for victims of violent crimes.


views updated Jun 08 2018


The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

1970s "BTK" Killer Arrested in Kansas

At a packed media conference in February 2005, Wichita, Kansas Police Chief Norman Williams announced, "The bottom line: BTK is arrested." He was referring to the self-named, "Bind-Torture-Kill" murderer who had eluded police since the 1970s, following the first in a series of brutal killings that spanned more than two decades. BTK was later identified as 59-year-old suspect Dennis Rader, a municipal supervisor for the Park City (Kansas) Animal Control Center, married father of two, and one-time president of a local Lutheran church. He was arrested without incident during an afternoon traffic stop near his hometown and held in lieu of $10 million bail pending trial.

In Kansas v. Rader, filed in 18th District Court in Sedgwick County, Kansas, prosecutors charged Rader with ten separate first-degree murders, committed from 1974 through 1991. There is no Kansas statute of limitations for murder charges, as is true in most states. However, prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, which became law in Kansas in 1994, three years after the last known killing linked to BTK.

From 1974 to 1979, BTK regularly sent taunting letters and packages to police and news media, dropping hints and soliciting media attention. In his first letter, following the murder of a family of four, BTK wrote (spelling and grammar as found in the original):

I write this letter to you for the sake of the tax payer as well as your time. Those three dude you have in custody are just talking to get publicity for the Otero murders, They know nothing at all. I did it by myself and no ones help. There has been no talk either. Lets put it straight…

The letter went on to explain in chilling detail the nature and method of the killings, to the extent that investigators were convinced that none other than one who was present or who had committed the murders could have written it. In that same letter, the writer added a postscript message: "P.S. Since sex criminals do not change their M.O. or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code words for me will be…Bind them, Torture them, Kill them, B.T.K., you see me at it again. They will be on the next victim."

And they were. Over the ensuing years, BTK left behind his special symbol on correspondence, often including photocopies of murder scenes and personal items such as victims' driver's licenses. Then, all went quiet for the next 25 years, and police believed BTK might have died. But in March 2004, BTK resurfaced with new correspondence, claiming responsibility for another murder, and again taunting police. But this time, the common thread in his letters hinted at wanting to be identified and caught. BTK began sending cryptic messages with clues, such as word puzzles that included a grouping of letters spelling "D. Rader" and "6220," his street address. (Many of these details were not revealed until Rader was in custody, to prevent copycats from leading officials astray in their investigations.) Quietly, police and FBI officials began to focus on Rader without his knowledge.

A key clue came in early 2005, when Rader came to his Lutheran church pastor with a floppy disk, asking to run off copies of the church council's agenda on the printer. An electronic imprint in a disk sent to a Wichita television station was traced back to the church. Police also claimed to have DNA samples, surveillance evidence and other items seized from Rader's work and residential premises.

Prosecutors won an important decision in May 2005 when the district court judge ruled that the probable cause affidavit would remain sealed until trial. The motion was brought by an attorney representing six Wichita media outlets, arguing the public's right to know of evidence that caused the state to believe Rader was responsible for the murders, and the public's right of access to court records. But Judge Gregory Waller agreed with prosecutors, ruling that the right of the public to know did not extend to the news media.

On June 27, 2005, Rader pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder, calmly describing to the judge how he went about comitting several of the murders. In a television interview broadcast shortly thereafter, Rader blamed his problems on internal conflicts, saying "I actually think it's a demon that's within me." Rader's wife was granted an immediate divorce from Rader at the end of July 2005, claiming her mental health was in danger if she remained married to him. Rader did not contest the divorce; he and Paula Rader had been married for 34 years. Rader will be sentenced on August 17, 2005.

Scott Peterson Sentenced to Death in California

On November 12, 2004, jurors in San Mateo County, California, found former fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson guilty of first-degree murder of his wife, Laci Peterson. Peterson was also convicted of second-degree murder of the death of the couple's unborn son. Laci Peterson was nearly eight months pregnant when she disappeared in December 2002.

The jury recommended the death penalty for Peterson in December 2004. On March 16, 2005, San Mateo Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi accepted the jury's recommendation and formally sentenced Peterson to death. Peterson was placed on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

The prosecution contended that Peterson had strangled or suffocated Laci Peterson on December 23 or 24, then dumped her body into the San Francisco Bay while fishing on December 24. According to the prosecution, the motive for the murder was Peterson's desire to be free of any entanglements.

In November 2002, Peterson began an affair with Amber Frey, a massage therapist who had met Peterson on a blind date. It was not Scott Peterson's first extramarital affair. Peterson first told Frey that he had never been married. Then, not long after the relationship began, he told her that he had recently lost his wife. He said that the upcoming holiday season would be his first without her. This conversation took place about two weeks before Laci Peterson disappeared. It was around that time that Peterson bought a used fishing boat.

In the first few days following December 24, Amber Frey did not see or read any news stories about the missing Laci Peterson. In fact, Frey thought that Scott Peterson was in Europe. She was becoming suspicious that he was not being truthful about his marital status, however. In order to confirm or deny her suspicions, she asked a police officer whom she knew with the Fresno Police Department to check Peterson out. She was with friends on December 29 when the police officer called to tell her what he had found—that Peterson was married, that his pregnant wife was missing, and that Peterson was a suspect.

Frey contacted a police tip line. Authorities went to her home to interview her and to obtain photographs and other evidence of Frey's relationship with Peterson. Working with police, Frey began to secretly tape many hours of phone conversations with Peterson during the weeks following Laci's disappearance.

In those taped calls, Peterson further entangled himself in lies. At first, Frey pretended that she did not know that he was married and that his wife was missing. Peterson claimed that he had been in Paris celebrating the New Year near the Eiffel Tower. In fact, he had been in Modesto, California, where he had attended a candlelight vigil for his missing wife.

Later, when Peterson was aware that Frey knew about his missing wife and was cooperating with police, he continued to call and to ask to

meet her. On her birthday, February 10, 2003, he told her he had hidden a present for her near a children's hospital. Frey went and retrieved the gifts, including an amber necklace and a Norah Jones CD, "Come Away With Me".

Frey's testimony and the taped phone calls between the two were crucial to the prosecution. Another important break came in mid April 2003 when the bodies of the mother and baby washed ashore near the spot where Scott Peterson admitted he had been fishing on December 24, 2002. The baby, who was to have been named Conner, was found one day before his mother. Only Laci Peterson's torso was found; her limbs and head were never recovered. Prosecutors contended that Scott Peterson weighted Laci's body with homemade cement anchors before dumping her in the bay.

Shortly thereafter, on April 18, 2003, Peterson was arrested and charged with the deaths. At the time of his arrest, Peterson had dyed his hair blonde and had nearly $15,000 in cash with him. Prosecutors alleged that he had been planning to flee to Mexico.

The trial spanned 23 weeks and included 184 witnesses. Peterson did not testify. During closing arguments, Mark Geragos, Peterson's attorney, argued that there was no direct evidence that Scott Peterson had killed his wife. Geragos said that someone—a homeless person or a burglar—had framed Peterson. Prosecutor Rick Distaso told jurors that Peterson was the only one who could have done it.

The jury deliberated for seven days. During that time, two jurors were dismissed and replaced with alternates. The final jury of six men and six women deliberated only about seven hours before returning its verdict of first-degree murder in the case of Laci Peterson, and second-degree murder in Conner Peterson's death. The first-degree verdict meant that jurors believed that Peterson had intended to kill Laci and that the murder was premeditated. According to news reports, Peterson showed no emotion as the verdict was read, despite sobbing and cries of joy from Laci Peterson's family and friends.

The case then entered the penalty phase, where more testimony was presented on behalf of the state and on behalf of Scott Peterson. Jurors had the choice of recommending the death penalty or life imprisonment. After the jury had deliberated over the sentence, one juror told reporters that the penalty phase of the trial was much more difficult than deciding whether Scott Peterson was guilty. Peterson did not testify during the sentencing phase of the trial either.

Judge Delucchi was required by law to consider life imprisonment before imposing Peterson's sentence. In a highly emotional hearing held in March 2005, Laci Peterson's mother called Scott Peterson an "evil murderer." Laci Peterson's brother called Scott Peterson a "baby killer." The judge called him "cruel, uncaring, heartless, and callous," and sentenced him to die by lethal injection.

San Quentin State Prison looks out over San Francisco Bay, where Laci and Conner Peterson's bodies washed ashore. Peterson was temporarily placed in a 41-square-foot adjustment cell. During his first weeks in prison, his only contact will be with prison officials. Later, he will be placed in a more permanent cell block with 70 to 90 other death row inmates in his group.

The average appeal of a capital case takes 18 years in California.


views updated Jun 08 2018

murder The act of murder is unique to humanity. While animals kill outside of their own species for food, and may fight, wound, or very occasionally kill within species for territory, it is only within mankind that one person — out of malice or rage, for gain or revenge — takes another person's life by violent means. Though most religions and cultures have gone out of their way to define murder as unnatural (the very use of the words ‘cold blooded’ denotes our need to see it as less than human), its continued presence within our history might, if we were more honest, suggest the opposite.

As a central element in the drama of human life, murder has always figured powerfully within culture, but it is only in the last hundred years or so that it has itself become a recognizable art form: the murder mystery. The timing is interesting. It is surely not coincidental that at the same time as medical advances were lengthening human life, writers were finding themselves more and more obsessed by stories about shortening it. Or that as science was chipping away at the notion of God, the murder mystery was busy perfecting itself as a form which, by definition, always answered certain key questions about the mysteries of life: why is it this person who dies rather than another? And — the biggest question of all — who did it? Murder, the most violent of human activities, became in some ways the most reassuring of reads.

Increasingly, science has been playing an ever more powerful role in solving murder, both real and fictional. Where once the art of detection was as much about intuition as about the careful consideration of evidence (the archetypes here are Miss Marple versus Sherlock Holmes), scientific and forensic advances are now the name of the game. DNA testing is just one of a whole series of breakthroughs that have made the laboratory as important as the scene of the crime and the corpse as communicative as any witnesses. While the question ‘why?’ may still be the preserve of the traditional detective, the ‘who?’ and the ‘how?’ are now being answered by men and women in white coats, and their fictional equivalents, a whole rash of hero/heroine pathologists, are becoming the new superstars of the genre. Through them the dead speak. Which, in its own way, is a kind of resurrection of the body. Maybe that explains why, while as a society we fret continually about rising levels of violent crime, culturally speaking we can't seem to get enough of a good murder.

By definition, a murder is a homicide (the killing of one human being by another) that is committed intentionally, or with malice aforethought. All legal codes classify it as a crime; where the element of intent exists and there are no extenuating circumstances, the penalty may be death or life imprisonment. It is thus important that doctors and legal investigators — those routinely confronted by cases of sudden and unexplained death — have some way to determine whether they are dealing with murder, suicide (self-murder), or an accident.

The problem of determining the cause of sudden or accidental death is one of the most important functions of forensic medicine, the application of medical knowledge to the service of the law and the administration of justice. It is a subject which draws upon a wide understanding of the medical, surgical, and scientific consequences of violent assault, poisoning, and other criminal offences against the person. In cases where the victim has died and a charge of murder may be brought, the law relies upon a detailed forensic examination of the corpse (and the crime scene) by trained experts. A careful medicolegal autopsy, performed by a forensic pathologist, can accurately reveal the sequence of events leading up to death, while forensic scientists are able to link the suspect to the victim on the strength of evidence from bloodstains, fibres, hairs, weapons, wounds, etc. Every contact between victim and murderer leaves a physical trace.

Forensic examinations were performed in medieval China and Europe, where surgeons noted the distinctions between fatal and non-fatal wounds, and those made before and after death; the depth, direction, and location of cutting wounds helped to distinguish between suicide and murder. The differences between burning, hanging, and submersion inflicted before and after death were known, but the principal symptoms and internal signs of poisoning were easily mistaken for those of disease. Despite the growing corpus of medical knowledge, however, courts relied for centuries on crude methods of establishing the guilt of accused murderers, who were subjected to trial by ordeal, or tortured to extract confessions. Cruentation — the supposed bleeding of the wounds of a corpse in the presence of the murderer — was popularly accepted as a proof of guilt until the nineteenth century.

Today, murder is assumed if a corpse shows injuries that raise suspicion or give obvious evidence of criminal violence, as in deaths from gunshot or stab wounds, burning, and bludgeoning. When an individual is battered to death, there will be a lot of blood at the scene and defensive wounds on the victim's arms. The instrument used will often leave a discernible pattern on the body. Murder by burning — which is rare — causes contraction of the muscles; the presence of soot or carbon monoxide in the lungs indicates that the victim was alive when the fire began. Stab wounds show the type of blade used and its length; extensive superficial wounding usually indicates suicide. Bullet wounds can indicate the distance and position from which a gun was fired, thus determining whether a death was murder or suicide. If a weapon is not found at the scene there is a strong presumption of murder, but sometimes the most severe wounds do not cause instantaneous death; suicides are occasionally able to walk some distance before collapsing.

When signs of mortal wounding are lacking, asphyxiation (resulting from inhalation of noxious fumes or smoke, drowning, hanging, smothering, or strangling) and poisoning are considered. Murder by strangulation is done with the hands or with a ligature (throttling). In both cases bodies exhibit blue lips and tiny haemorrhages on the face and eyes (petechiae). Victims strangled by hand have ‘fingertip’ bruises on the throat, and fractures of the hyoid bone of the voice box, while in throttling deaths the ligature is either present or will have left a distinctive groove on the neck. Self-throttling is possible, but self-strangulation by hand is not. Murder by hanging rarely occurs, but bodies are sometimes suspended after being murdered, to simulate suicidal hanging (which is common); when this is the case there will be other marks of violence on the corpse. Signs of vital reaction around the constriction mark on the neck indicate that the victim was alive when hanged. When neither is present, a medical opinion may be difficult to reach.

Drowning deaths are diagnosed by the presence of froth in the air passages, water in the stomach, and ballooning of the lungs; circumstantial evidence is required to distinguish between murder, suicide, and accident. The presence of microscopic algae (diatoms) in the circulatory system and internal organs can help to locate where the victim died, as they vary from place to place. No diatoms are found in the bodies of individuals murdered and then thrown into water. Smothering deaths leave few traces, but there may be evidence of pressure on the face and bloodstained froth from the nostrils; fibres found in the airways of the victim may prove that a specific soft object was used to prevent breathing. Deaths resulting from inhalation of irrespirable gases are usually suicides or accidents; circumstantial evidence may indicate murder. Lastly, only a small percentage of modern murderers use poison, which can be detected by chemical analysis (forensic toxicology).

If a murder victim remains unidentified, so does the murderer. But it is possible to gain a great deal of information from a dead body, or from parts thereof. When all that remains is a skeleton, its age, sex, height, and race can be determined. Bones will show evidence of physical deformities, right- or left-handedness, and sometimes diseases or other medical conditions. Teeth are nearly impossible to destroy, and are thus an ideal means of identification. When murder is suspected only after burial, it is possible to prove even after a number of years have elapsed. Some details will be lost (for example, putrefaction and time destroy all evidence of death from drowning), but cause of death can usually be determined following exhumation and forensic autopsy. In essence, dead men do tell tales.

Sarah Dunant

Katherine D. Watson

See also autopsy; drowning; poisoning; skeleton; strangulation; suffocation.


views updated May 23 2018

456. Murder (See also Assassination, Infanticide, Patricide.)

  1. Abimelech slew his 70 brothers to become ruler. [O.T.: Judges 9:5]
  2. Barnwell, George noble motives cause him to murder uncle. [Br. Lit.: The London Merchant ; Barnhart, 695]
  3. Beaumont, Jeremiah kills the man who had seduced his wife; he is murdered by an enemy and his wife kills herself. [Am. Lit.: Warren World Enough and Time in Magill II, 1160]
  4. Bluebeard closets away bodies of former wives. [Fr. Fairy Tale: Harvey, 9798]
  5. Bluebeard (Henri Désiré Landru , 18691922) executed for murders of ten women (191518). [Fr. Hist.: EB (1972), XIII, 661
  6. Boston Strangler (Albert De Salvo, 1932) strangled thirteen women between 1962 and 1964. [Am. Hist.: Misc.]
  7. Busiris murders predecessor to gain Egyptian throne. [Gk. Myth: Avery, 231]
  8. Cain jealous, slays Abel. [O.T.: Genesis 4:8]
  9. Cenci, Beatrice with brothers, arranges murder of cruel father. [Br. Lit.: The Cenci ]
  10. Claudius murders brother to gain throne. [Br. Lit.: Hamlet ]
  11. Danaides slew husbands on wedding night. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 74]
  12. Donatello throws Miriams persecutor over cliff to death. [Am. Lit.: The Marble Faun ]
  13. Donegild killed by Alla for abandoning his wife and son at sea. [Br. Lit.: Canterbury Tales, Man of Laws Tale]
  14. Franceschini, Count brutally murders his estranged young wife and her parents. [Br. Poetry: Browning The Ring and the Book ]
  15. Gilligan, Amy Archer poisons 48 elderly people in nursing homes. [Am. Hist.: Elizabeth S. Baxter Newington ; Am. Drama: Kesselring Arsenic and Old Lace ]
  16. Griffiths, Clyde young social climber lets his pregnant mistress drown in a boating accident and is convicted of murder. [Am. Lit.: An American Tragedy in Hart, 30]
  17. Hagen stabs Siegfried in back; kills Gunther. [Ger. Opera: Wagner, Götterdämmerung, Westerman, 245]
  18. Hines, Doc kills Joes father; lets mother die in childbirth. [Am. Lit.: Light in August ]
  19. Ibbetson, Peter a confessed murderer, yet a sensitive, romantic man. [Br. Lit.: Peter Ibbetson, Magill I, 736738]
  20. In Cold Blood nonfiction novel about a brutal, senseless murder in Kansas. [Am. Lit.: In Cold Blood ]
  21. Injun Joe stabs town doctor to death. [Am. Lit.: Tom Sawyer ]
  22. Ixion first murderer of a relative in classical mythology. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 142; Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ]
  23. Jack the Ripper killed and disemboweled 9 London prostitutes (18881889). [Br. Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 463]
  24. Julian, St. mistakenly kills his parents in their sleep. [Fr. Lit.: Flaubert The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaler]
  25. Kenilworth intrigue in the court of Elizabeth I. [Br. Lit.: Scott Kenilworth in Magill I, 469]
  26. M motion picture about a child-murderer hunted down by organized criminal element. [Ger. Cinema: Halliwell]
  27. Macbeth became king of Scotland through a series of ruthless murders, but was ultimately slain by his enemy, Macduff. [Br. Lit.: Shakespeare Macbeth ]
  28. Medea murdered her two children. [Gk. Lit.: Century Classical, 684685]
  29. Michele murders wifes lover; hides body under cloak. [Ital. Opera: Puccini, The Cloak, Westerman, 362363]
  30. Modo fiend presiding over homicide. [Br. Lit.: King Lear ]
  31. Mordred, Sir illegitimate son and treacherous killer of Arthur. [Br. Lit.: Le Morte dArthur ]
  32. Orestes commits matricide to avenge fathers honor. [Gk. Lit.: Electra ]
  33. Othello believing false evidence of Desdemonas infidelity, he strangles her. [Br. Lit.: Shakespeare Othello ]
  34. Ourang-Outang brutally kills a mother and her daughter. [Am. Lit.: Poe The Murders in the Rue Morgue ]
  35. Porgy murders Crown, who tried to take Bess. [Am. Opera: Gershwin, Porgy and Bess, Westerman, 556]
  36. Raskolnikov plans and carries out the murder of an old woman pawnbroker. [Russ. Lit.: Crime and Punishment ]
  37. Rogêt, Marie girl assaulted and murdered, her corpse thrown into the Seine. Am. Lit.: Poe The Mystery of Marie Rogêt ]
  38. Rudge murders master and gardener. [Br. Lit.: Barnaby Rudge ]
  39. Sikes, Bill hanged for killing of Nancy. [Br. Lit.: Oliver Twist ]
  40. Smith, George Joseph dispatched wives and lovers in bathtubs in 1910s. [Br. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 274]
  41. Spandrell cynic opposed to fascist Everard Webley attacks and kills him, then commits suicide. [Br. Lit.: Huxley Point Counter Point in Magill I, 760]
  42. Sparafucile his killing of Gilda fulfills curse against Rigoletto. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, Rigoletto, Westerman, 300]
  43. Thuggee religious devotion to Kali involves human strangulation. [Indian Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1080]
  44. Tyrrel, James at the kings behest, arranges the deaths of two young princes in the Tower. [Br. Drama: Shakespeare Richard III]


views updated Jun 27 2018


The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

DNA, Additional Testimony among Key Evidence in Fourth Appeal for Fatal Vision Case

On February 17, 1970, police received a call from former Green Beret and U.S. Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald, who told them his family had been attacked in their Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home by a group of crazed hippies. MacDonald's pregnant wife Colette, 26, and his daughters Kimberley, 5, and Kirsten, 2, had been beaten and stabbed to death. MacDonald was beaten and stabbed multiple times. Because the crime occurred on a U.S. Army base, the military had jurisdiction. They found there was insufficient evidence to prosecute MacDonald for the murders. A non-military trial, however, convicted MacDonald and sentenced him to serve three consecutive life terms.

MacDonald has maintained his innocence in the slayings, sticking by his story of an attack by outsiders, including a woman in a wig, whom his defense attorneys contend was drug addict Helena Stoeckley. An early suspect in the investigation because of her resemblance to MacDonald's description of one of the alleged intruders, Stoeckley testified in the 1979 trial that she could not recall the events of the night in question. Only later, in a 1982 interview with a former FBI official hired by MacDonald, did she claim to have been with a group of Charles Manson-worshipping hippies in the MacDonald home during the murders.

Stoeckley died in 1983, but the discrepancy between her testimony and later statements are a factor in MacDonald's fourth appeal to overturn the conviction. Late in 2005, retired deputy federal marshal Jimmy B. Britt, a member of Mac-Donald's security detail during the 1979 trial, stepped forward to claim he heard lead prosecutor Jim Blackburn threaten to charge Stoeckley with the murders if she testified to being in the MacDonald home during the attacks. Britt, stating under oath that Blackburn lied to the judge and intimidated a key defense witness, said he is trying to clear his conscience. MacDonald's lawyers contend that, had trial judge Franklin Dupree, Jr., known of Stoeckley's alleged confession, he may have permitted testimony from others to whom Stoeckley had made the same statements. Dupree ruled against the proposed testimony because Stoeckley was a known drug user whose story did not match the murder evidence.

Blackburn, who entered private practice shortly after the trial, strongly contests the allegation, saying that Stoeckley never claimed to be in the MacDonald home. Britt has countered by saying that Stoeckley repeated her story as he drove her to the 1979 trial, even describing some details of the MacDonald home. The issue is complicated by Blackburn's disbarment upon his conviction and three-and-a-half-year prison term on charges of forgery, fraud embezzlement, and obstruction of justice in an unrelated case. He currently works as a motivational speaker.

Britt's statements led MacDonald's attorneys to request permission from a federal appellate court in mid-December 2005 to present new evidence to the U.S. District Court in Raleigh. Government lawyers dismissed Britt's claims and asked the federal court to reject the appeal, arguing that Britt's recollections are un-likely to be accurate so long after the events and should not affect the conviction. A similar claim, they also argued, was raised by MacDonald in 1984 and rejected by the federal courts.

On January 13, 2006, a federal appeals court granted MacDonald's request for a fourth appeal based on Britt's testimony. The defense may argue that the ruling lends credence to the appeal, since approving a hearing for a lower trial court requires the appeals court to rule that the evidence presented was not available during the initial trial, and therefore the jurors might not have found MacDonald guilty.

The physical evidence of the murders has also come under scrutiny as forensic technology has progressed since the 1979 trial. Mac-Donald's third appeal, made in 1997, concerned blood and hair evidence from the crime scene, which a judge ordered to be DNA tested by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, one of the foremost investigators of DNA evidence in the country.

The lab released its findings in early 2006, more than eight years after the appeal. Tests determined that a hair found in Colette Mac-Donald's left hand matched MacDonald's DNA, but there was no genetic match available for hair found under Kristen MacDonald's fingernail. DNA from three test hairs from the scene did not match that of MacDonald family members or anyone considered a suspect, including Stoeckley or her boyfriend, Gregory Mitchell.

Focusing on the DNA match for the hair in Colette's hand, federal prosecutors announced on March 10, 2006, that the DNA results did not support MacDonald's claims of a home invasion. The defense, however, contends that the lack of a match for the other tested hairs supports MacDonald's story. Whether or not this evidence, coupled with Britt's testimony, is enough to vacate MacDonald's conviction will be the focus of the as yet unscheduled fourth appeal and any subsequent legal action. Mac-Donald remarried in 2002.


views updated May 21 2018

mur·der / ˈmərdər/ • n. the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another: the stabbing murder of an off-Broadway producer| he was put on trial for attempted murder. ∎ inf. a very difficult or unpleasant task or experience: my first job at the steel mill was murder. ∎ inf. something causing great discomfort to a part of the body: that exercise is murder on the lumbar regions.• v. [tr.] kill (someone) unlawfully and with premeditation: somebody tried to murder Joe. ∎ inf. punish severely or be very angry with: my father will murder me if I'm home late. ∎ inf. conclusively defeat (an opponent) in a game or sport. ∎  spoil by lack of skill or knowledge: the only thing he had murdered was the English language.PHRASES: get away with murder inf. succeed in doing whatever one chooses without being punished or suffering any disadvantage.murder one (or two) inf. first-degree (or second-degree) murder.murder will out murder cannot remain undetected.scream (or yell) bloody murder inf. scream loudly due to pain or fright; make an extravagant and noisy protest: she had tripped and was screaming bloody murder.DERIVATIVES: mur·der·er n.mur·der·ess / ˈmərdərəs/ n.ORIGIN: Old English morthor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch moord and German Mord, from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit mará ‘death’ and Latin mors; reinforced in Middle English by Old French murdre.


views updated May 23 2018

murder get away with (blue) murder succeed in doing whatever one chooses without being punished or suffering any disadvantage.
Murder, Inc. in the US of the 1930s, originally and especially in New York, a network of gangsters controlling organized crime and carrying out assassinations for money.
murder will out the crime of murder can never be successfully concealed; proverbial saying, early 14th century.

See also killing no murder.