The book The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker has fantastic information about why violent offenders do what they do. The book is broken down into sections by crime type. I already covered arsonists. Today begins the series on violent offenders who blame the media for their actions. I’m using this information to create believable antagonists, and by passing along the information, hopefully you’ll find something useful here, too.
I love how the authors introduce this section. They look at the defense side of the equation: how will a defense attorney try to get their client out of hot water? He can’t exactly admit to judge and jury that his client killed for the intense thrill of control, power, and sexual excitement that accompanied the crime. Instead, he’ll try to put his client in a more sympathetic and understandable light. He’ll say that something “strongly influenced” his client, and without this influence, his client would have never done something so heinous.
We’ve all heard the “bad childhood” excuse: he was abused, his family was dysfunctional, he’s a psychologically wounded and unhappy individual, and that’s why he did the horrible things he did. Of course, it’s all bunk. Plenty of people had abusive, dysfunctional, unhappy childhoods and didn’t resort to violence against others. Yet that’s the defense presented to the public, as if that should get him off the hook for his actions. He shouldn’t take personal responsibility, because that’s no longer politically correct in this modern age of relativism and “village” culpability. I share the authors opinion on this: violent offenders should definitely be held accountable for their actions. But I’ve veered off track already. Let me get back to the book.
(Telly Savalas as “Kojak”)
You’ve probably heard the “TV defense” brought up before: “my client acted violently because he’s been inundated with violent shows and now only understands violence.” Because of the media, it’s true that many people are desensitized to violence. They see it on the news, in movies, and TV shows, and read about it in the newspaper. But are people so desensitized to violence that they no longer know and understand that it’s wrong to kill people? There is no proof of this. People kill for a reason, and that’s called motive: revenge, thrill, cover a crime, love, hate, jealousy, greed… you’ve heard them all, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to come up with a great motive for your antagonist to do the things he does. Fancy defenses may work in a courtroom (though I’d hope not), but they won’t work in your work of fiction. The “Twinkie Defense” (I was so hopped up on sugar that I acted out violently, which is something I would never do if I weren’t on a sugar rush) just isn’t believable–it didn’t work in court, and it won’t work in fiction.
Stay tuned for more profiling goodness.