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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 200067 Find in a Library
Title: Different Paths to Death Row: A Comparison of Men Who Committed Heinous and Less Heinous Crimes
Journal: Violence and Victims  Volume:18  Issue:1  Dated:February 2003  Pages:15-33
Author(s): Hyun-Sun Park; Toni K. Johnson; Beverly McPhail; Dorothy Van Soest
Date Published: February 2003
Page Count: 19
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study investigated the lifelong personal and environmental factors that affected 37 men who were executed in 1997 to determine any distinctions between men who committed heinous and less heinous violent crimes.
Abstract: The study focused on identifying risk factors and events that preceded the violent event and compared the combination of variables of the men who committed particularly heinous murders (extreme rage and brutality) with those whose crimes and criminal histories were characterized mostly by property crimes without intentional harm to people. The first tier of the study involved a content analysis of the cases in which the data were quantitatively coded by using a binary coding system of the variables. These results, which are reported in this article, have provided direction for the second tier of the study, which is currently underway; it involves more indepth, qualitative analysis. After a thorough reading of the cases and the pertinent literature, 93 variables were identified in the categories of demographics; information about the capital crime; and variables related to family, bonding and attachment, childhood victimization, violence perpetration, trauma, physical and mental health, education, employment, and criminal history. The study's most striking finding was the early prevalence of violence in many of the men's childhoods. Violence was particularly predominant in the lives of the men who committed the most heinous crimes. Preliminary results suggest that of the men for whom there was evidence of childhood sexual abuse and emotional or physical neglect, all of them were among the group that committed the most heinous crimes. Of 20 men for whom there was evidence of childhood physical abuse, 15 later committed the most heinous crimes. Boys who were victims of sexual abuse were apparently more prone to becoming men who were perpetrators of sexual abuse. Preliminary results of this study suggest that multiple risk factors operating in clusters at particular stages of the life cycle may culminate in what may seem to be a senseless act of violence; however, when understood within the context of the offender's life circumstances, the crime may have been predictable. A closer look at the men who perpetrated sexual abuse (n=12), 10 of whom committed the most heinous crimes, suggests a possible relationship with brain dysfunction and hallucinations. This may be consistent with the contention of the Harvard Mental Health Letter (2000), which concluded that many of the worst violent crimes are committed by men who have been not only victims of severe childhood abuse, but also are neurologically damaged. These preliminary results suggest the possibility of identifying a chain of multiple risk factors and events that, when linked together in complex configurations, can create a violent outcome of varying intensity and brutality. 2 tables, 2 figures, and 61 references
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Child abuse as crime factor; Homicide causes; Murder; Violence causes
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