Monday, July 12, 2010

Serial killing - it's all in the mind.

I don't know if you saw this piece of news last week, but the California police believe they have caught the serial killer dubbed the Grim Sleeper. Here's the story.

And this happened just after I'd been listening to a series on NPR about serial killers, about how their brains work differently from "normal" people. One of the most interesting excerpts involved interviewing a researcher who figured out that scan would show anger and a lack of empathy in the brains of these guys -- and after discovering his family's murderous past, he scanned himself and guess what? He showed the same brain abnormalities as his serial killer subjects.

Yeah, he was pretty surprised about that. He surmised that one last building block, present in most serial killers, was absent for him: childhood abuse. But still, to find out you are almost a serial killer? Weeeiirrdd.

You can read the story or sit back and listen to it right here. It's almost enough to make me start contributing to those fine folks. Again.

But one of the interesting issues they discuss is "neurolaw" and how defense lawyers are using these scans as mitigating evidence for their serial killer clients. Their argument is, dumbed down by me, essentially: "He has a physical abnormality and is not able to help himself. Don't punish a guy for being disabled."

The case they cite where that argument was used didn't go well for the defendant, I guess the prosecution's response was, "Look, lots of people have this brain abnormality, and not all of them are out slicing and dicing prostitutes." The "it's-not-me-it's-my-brain" argument also fails to address the central question posed by the law: Did the defendant know that what he was doing was wrong? And even if they suffer a compulsion or lack of control, there seems to be little argument on this point: when serial killers kill, they know it is wrong to do so.

Just ask Hannibal Lecter.

1 comment:

  1. Great post and fascinating links! I'd be curious to know if neurolaw would sway you, as a prosecutor, to seeking a lesser charge in any of your cases.


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