Sean Mactire, in his book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think, offers a nice long section of real-life criminals who tried to mess with the courts and see how much they could get away with. Some of them are pretty clever, but not enough to save them from a cell. Some are downright comical, making you wonder what they were thinking and did they manage to graduate from the second grade. All of them are valuable as ideas for your next novel, when your antagonist goes up against the legal system and tries to defy the golden scales of justice. I’m not going to cover everything Mactire includes, but I’ll pick out the highlights and offer my unique perspective on them.
Mactire first brings up the old “crime of passion” excuse that pops up during heated arguments between family or close friends. It might sound good when a defense attorney seriously offers it up to the jury as a valid excuse for bludgeoning a nagging wife with a golf club when she won’t relinquish the remote, but what this defense really means is that the murdering husband is a childishly impatient person who loses his temper when he doesn’t get things his own way. You’ll also want to note that, usually in these cases, the victim and the perpetrator had a long history of conflict, and there are some pretty powerful emotions stirred up. The perp wants the jury to think this passionate murder took everyone, including him, completely by surprise, but talking to other family members will reveal that’s a completely unbelievable statement. Everyone saw it coming, no one did anything about it, and now a woman is dead.
Some perps try make themselves out as “nice guys” who just snapped suddenly for no good reason. If they go for the temporary insanity plea, they’ll be in for quite a surprise. These guys are usually no stranger to violence, they’re just good at pretending. And character witnesses will reveal a history of habitual violence. Once the jury sees the perp for who he truly is, the guilty verdict is near.
“Senseless crimes” appear to be random and without motive. It’s not true. At some point, the perp decided he wanted to commit a crime just to see if he could get away with it, solely for the fun. These guys are excited by every aspect of the crime, including the trial, so you’ll want to portray this bad guy with all that enthusiasm.
Here are other ways criminals have tried to fool the courts:
- Claims to hear or speak with Satan or some demon
- Claims to be possessed by a demon
- Claims to be God’s messenger or to hear the voice of God
- Feigns delusions of persecution
- Claims people are trying to kill him or her
- Claims being confused and disoriented
- Claims to have amnesia
- Acts irrational
- Attempts suicide
- Fakes epileptic seizures
- Mumbles to self
- Stares into space
- Pretends to hallucinate
- Commits self-mutilation
- Pretends to be out of contact with reality
- Exaggerates already existing medical conditions and blames illness, such as epilepsy, as cause of crimes
While some of these are down-right funny (they really thought faking a seizure would work?), they have all been used as a means to stay out of jail. The part of me that loves and demands justice wants to stand up and scream, “Take responsibility for your actions and face your punishment like an honorable human being!” But, of course, real and fictionalized criminals will do anything to keep the bad stuff from happening to them, and you can use this list to find inspiration for your story.
This is the last post in this series from Sean Mactire’s book. I hope you found something worthwhile and helpful, and I urge you to buy the book – it’s an excellent resource.