Insanity Pleas and the Serial Killer

Posted: November 4, 2010 in The Killer's Mind
Tags: , , , , , , ,

There is one thing you can count on with a serial killer: an insanity plea rarely will be successful.

Serial killers premeditate their homicides and work to cover up their acts clearly showing an understanding that he knows his actions are illegal. He knows what he is doing and that negates the legal definition of insanity. The only occasion such an insanity plea can work is if you are a female who kills off her babies a la Andrea Yates. Interestingly, Yates got away with this defense in her second trial in spite of the fact she methodically killed each child (albeit not with a great deal of down time so her actions are more akin to mass murder) while her husband wasn’t at home. The fact she was depressed and had been in psychiatric care prior to the incident made “hearing voices” an acceptable defense to the jury.

Female serial killers get their power and control through attention and they often visit the doctor with fake illnesses (Munchausen’s Syndrome) or bring their children in and claim they have symptoms they don’t have. Quite often they go to psychiatrists to complain they are being stalked or their husband is abusing them or they are the victim of terrible children, unfair people, or bizarre nosy neighbors. They sometimes are willing to take drugs to get even more attention from their family and friends.  So, if they kill their babies after or while doing the rounds of doctors and psychiatrists, it is a fairly easy leap to think they are nuts.

Male serial killers, on the other hand, don’t get a feeling of power and control from people fawning over them. They want to win and win big. They want to hit society where it hurts by doing the worst thing imaginable. They love to see the terror in the eyes of their victims. They want to crush their victims. Because they are so proud of their hobby and their conquests, they would be insulted to be called crazy and out of control. They hunted their prey and they got their trophy deer. They are proud of their kills and they want to be seen as a conqueror.

Because of they need to feel superior to others, male serial killers don’t  go for any kind of counseling. They don’t see what they are doing is wrong; for that matter, they don’t think anything they do in life is wrong. It is always other people that are the cause of any problem they might have in their love life, their family,  or their employment. Serial killers usually only get psychiatric help when they are forced to do so by the system and then these psychopaths get a kick out of manipulating the therapist into thinking their quickly making progress and don’t need to come back. And because they tend not to seek psychiatric help, male serial killers don’t have a mental history the lawyer can use.

And, even if the male serial killer did rack up some time at a psychiatric facility,  serial killers tend to be arrogant and don’t want to be seen as insane. The few that decided to go that route, do so with a fairly flippant attitude: David Berkowitz, Son of Sam, said the devil dog next door made him do it; John Wayne Gacy sort of tried to play the nutso clown but that didn’t convince a jury he lured all those boys to their deaths and buried them in the crawl space under his house (until he ran out of room)  yet didn’t know what he was doing. Kenneth Bianchi of the Hillside Strangler duo tried to fake multiple personalities but failed quite miserably at convincing anyone that his “good” self didn’t know what his “bad” selves were doing. Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer failed in their attempts as well. The jury rejected all of these insanity pleas.

Serial killers are not insane and they know it.

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Comments
  1. Cathy says:

    Thanks for this article. It makes me a little more confident that the murderer of the Lin family will likely either not even try for an insanity plea, or try and then have it rejected. I wish Australia had capital punishment.

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