Type: Exploratory
Pages: 11 | Words: 3078
Reading Time: 13 Minutes

Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the best known American serial killers who confessed to brutally murdering and mutilating the bodies of 17 victims, yet he still pled not guilty because of the insanity defense. Watching his trial, people could not but wonder how such an ordinarily looking person could have committed atrocious crimes. The attitude towards Jeffrey Dahmer has never been unanimously hostile. On the one hand, he was viewed as a monster who deserved the severest possible punishment for the unthinkable crimes he had been guilty of. On the other hand, he was sometimes regarded as a mentally disturbed person in a dire need of professional help as he was unable to explain the motives of his bizarre urges and claimed to be unable to stop killing. His case has become one of the most notorious in the American criminal justice history. He was convicted of murder, necrophilia, cannibalism, yet he repeatedly told psychiatrists and journalists that a murder was just “a means to an end” for him as he simply wanted to create a perfect zombie with no will. His insanity defense failed and he was sentenced to several terms of life imprisonment. In the court, he told that he was dreaming about death and his wish was granted in 1994 when he was murdered by an inmate. This paper is going to give a brief review of the Jeffrey Dahmer case while highlighting such points as the background of the case, psycholegal issues, ethical issues, case law, Idaho State law applicable to the case and discussion of the actual case outcomes.

Background of the Case

On August 21, 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was accused of 15 crimes, two of which concerned first degree murder and the rest were dealing with first degree intentional homicide. His record history was marked with habitual criminality referring to the previous charges involving public misconduct, exposure to children and molestation of a minor. However, these charges did not let to him changing his pattern of behavior and did not prevent him from gruesomely murdering, raping, and mutilating of 17 young men and adolescents in the timeframe from 1978 to 1991.

He was born on May 21, 1960, to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer with whom he moved to Bath, Ohio at an early age. There are different descriptions of Jeff as a child. His mother stated in her only public interview with Stone Phillips that he was an ordinary child with no obvious deviations. Despite her and her husband’s frequent arguing, the child was not disposed to any abnormal domestic violence and was growing up as a bright and clever individual. However, Lionel Jeffrey has another description of his son. He starts with the details of the pregnancy that might have hinted and caused child’s future disorder. His mother suffered from strange episodes of rigidness and had to be prescribed heavy medications including barbiturates and morphine at the time of pregnancy with Jeff, which she vehemently denied. Lionel describes Jeff as extremely shy, reclusive and unemotional. He supposes that his son had difficulties interacting with other people, yet that was not abnormal, in his opinion, taking into account tensed atmosphere at home, mother’s mental and physical health problems, birth of a younger brother and move to another city. Jeff denied his father’s claims concerning extreme shyness and lonesome behavior as he had a lot of friends and was reserved and depressed only at home because of the parents’ marital problems. Some psychologists believe that adult mental disorders and psychopathologies stem from childhood. As it later turned out, Jeff developed a fascination with dead animals and their vivisection during early adolescence. His father recalls an episode from his son’s childhood that may serve as the earliest indicator of future abnormalities: four-year-old boy “had taken a great many of the bones from the bucket and was staring at them intently. From time to time, he would pick a few of them up, then let them fall with a brittle crackling sound that seemed to fascinate him. He seemed oddly thrilled by the sound they made”. This fascination turned into a hobby when he started collecting dead animals’ bodies, studying their internal and external structure, and burying them in the backyard.

As an adolescent, Jeff was well-known for the abuse of alcohol. Later, excessive drinking became the reason why he had to leave the army. Dark fantasies had haunted the boy since the age of 14 when he was dreaming of meeting a hitchhiker and killing him. This dream was realized after his high school graduation when he murdered the first victim Stephen Hicks in June, 1978. Being released from the army, he spent a year in the Wisconsin university. Having dropped out of the university, he moved to Wisconsin to live with his grandmother. On the premises of her house, he killed several victims and kept their mummified skulls and genitals in a special box. Later, he started living on his own in Milwaukee except the short periods when he had to move to the grandmother’s place during the probation time. Jeffrey was a homosexual, but he tried to hide his sexual orientation from his relatives. On the whole, he murdered 17 victims all of whom were handsome males. The whole account of the killings he had confessed include: Stephen Hicks (June, 1978), Steven Tuomi (September, 1987), Jamie Doxtator (October, 1987), Richard Guerrero (March, 1988), Antony Sears (February, 1989), Eddie Smith (June, 1990), Ricky Beeks (July, 1990), Ernest Miller (September, 1990), David Thomas (September, 1990), Curtis Straughter (February, 1991), Errol Lindsey (April, 1991), Tony Hughes (May, 1991), Konerak Sinthasomphone (May, 1991), Matt Turner (June, 1991), Jeremiah Weinberger (July, 1991), Oliver Lacy (July, 1991), and Joseph Bradeholt (July, 1991) (Circuit Court Criminal Division, 1991). He was arrested on July 22, 1991, when an intended victim managed to escape and alert the police. Tracy Edwards was found in the street near the killer’s apartment building in the handcuffs. Having searched the apartment, police officers found countless evidence of previous murders like photos of all the victims, frozen meat and body parts in the fridge, decaying bodies in a barrel and on the bed, bottled genitals and painted skulls. The trial began on January 13, 1992, and ended on February 17, 1992, when Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced to 15 life imprisonments. The courtroom had to be heavily protected due to the public outrage and the hatred of the victims’ families. Attorney Gerald P. Boyle built his defense strategy upon the insanity plea that failed when Jeff was found sane and guilty (Celis, 1991). Throughout the entire investigation process, Jeffrey was cooperative with the police as it was pointed out in a report by the detective Denis Murphy: “he did not wish to invoke his rights, he would ‘waive’ them, and he would co-operate and talk to us because he wanted to clean up everything”.

Psycholegal Issues Involved in the Case

Jeffrey Dahmer has become the object of various psychological and psychiatric researches aimed at disclosing the reasons that urged him to engage into extreme paraphilias and murder. The serial killer confessed to all his crimes, yet he pled not guilty and applied for insanity due to his inability to control his urges. Thus, psycholegal issues have been and are tightly connected with this case.

In Wisconsin, insanity is defined with the Brawner rule, i.e. if Jeffrey had been deemed insane by the jury, he would have been acknowledge to suffer from a mental disorder making him unable to comprehend the wrongfulness of his actions and control his behavior. The court witnessed several psychologists and psychiatrists who presented their account concerning the sanity of the defendant. Having listened to all the reports and having scrutinized all the evidence, the jury rules that the defendant was sane. By a 10-2 margin, he was found utterly sane because it was obvious that he was fully aware of the wrongfulness of his conduct and was extremely careful not to be caught. Thus, he had the opportunity to control his behavior and consciously decided to murder and mutilate his victims. Paraphilias and the state of drunkenness could not justify the behavior or testify to insanity, though the possibility of mental disorder was not ruled out.

Jeffrey’s psychopathologies are considered to include the following: necrophilia, paraphilic cannibalism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, depression, substance dependence, Asperger’s Disorder, possible Borderline Personality Disorder and Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Jeffrey admitted to have suffered from delusions and violent urges since adolescence. When he was examined after the first molestation charge, he stated: “What I’ve done has cut both ways. It’s hurt the victim, and it’s hurt me…I don’t know what I was thinking when I did it. I know I was under the influence…”. Nonetheless, some psychologists consider him to be a skillful liar and manipulator as he had not confessed to murdering so many people and sought professional help prior to his arrest in 1991.

Jeffrey was convicted of pedophilia because of his criminal record of being charged with exposure to children and because some of his victims were minors. However, the most shocking and serious psycholegal issue he was accused of was necrophilia. His conduct fell under the designation necrophile homicide as he resorted to murdering males with the purpose of obtaining “their bodies for sexual purposes”. However, the defendant denied his preference for having sexual relations with the corpses. He stated that he was looking for a passive partner over whom he would exert absolute control. Therefore, he attempted to make an ideal zombie with the help of lobotomy and poisoning the victim’s brain with acid. Victims did not survive the procedure, thus leaving him no other choice as to implement his paraphilic sexual tendencies with a corpse or a part of the dissected body. In Jeffrey’s case, genuine necrophilia is closely connected to the fetishism and cannibalism. He often preserved different body parts, mainly genitals and skulls that were then used to reach sexual satisfaction. He confessed to eating his victims as it gave him a sense of connectedness with them and made him believe that they would stay with him or rather in him forever. This experience fits the classic definition of necrophilic cannibalism, i.e. “sometimes sexualized experience of devouring a victim in order that the victim will always be a part of the offender”. Jeffrey was predominantly drunk when he committed his crimes, which was even deemed as an indicator of his unwillingness to murder and his inability to stifle the killing urge. However, this behavior resembles the one of many genuine necrophiles 44% of whom “reported drinking prior to the assaults”. Jeffrey Dahmer revealed all the gruesome details of his unspeakable crimes in order to prove his insanity and to validate the need to send him to a mental facility.

Both defense and prosecution provided the court with testimonies of their credible witnesses who had conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant. Defense witnesses were Dr. Fred Berlin, Dr. Judith Becker and Dr. Carl Wahlstrom. The State appointed Dr. George Palermo and Dr. Samuel Freedman as the case psychiatrists while the prosecution witnesses were Dr. Fred Fosdel and Dr. Park Dietz. Their professional assessment greatly differed in terms of acknowledging insanity and mental disorders of the defendant. Defense witnesses advocated for the insanity plea as they supposed that Jeffrey could not control his paraphilic urges as it “is not a matter of free will”. Dr. Dietz agreed that people could not choose their sexuality, yet it was definitely a conscious choice on behalf of the defendant to murder his victims, thus annihilating any probability of the insanity. Dr. Fosdel claimed that the defendant was not suffering from any mental disease at the times of murders and that he was a calculating and cold-blooded killer with no remorse for his crimes. Psychiatrists appointed by the State conceded that he was suffering from a mental disorder, yet they did not concede that he was insane. Thus, Jeffrey Dahmer was found sane and guilty of Class A felonies and sentenced to 15 life terms that amounted to about 1000 years in prison. Since the trial, Jeffrey Dahmer has become the object of various researches attempting to reveal the true reasons of his behavior as he had never looked like a perverse serial killer. His father wrote a book aimed at disclosing his son’s history and possible reasons of his killing frenzy. However, Jeffrey himself stated that he did not know why he killed people or why he was possessed by the urge to engage into paraphilic behavior. Besides, he constantly repeated that he intended to find a sense of control and a passive partner without any free will and that his murders were simply a by-product of this search rather than the ultimate goal.

Ethical Issues in the Case

The case of Jeffrey Dahmer is a case involving 17 atrocious crimes, the details of which shocked and outraged the public. Hence, there are many ethical issues in the case, some of which are to be discussed further. After the defendant’s arrest, he appeared in all media and became the topic number one. The victims’ families often advocated for the death penalty as a verdict in the case, although Wisconsin has abolished capital punishment. The ethicality of retaliating for the crimes through the capital punishment was a heatedly debated ethical issue at the time of the trial.

Another ethical issue concerned Jeffrey’s family that was persecuted by journalists and often condemned is their family connection with the infamous serial killer. Jeffrey’s father and step-mother attended all the court hearings and expressed moral support for the defendant, though they did not approve his crimes. His younger brother had to change his surname because of the constant public attacks. Thus, there arises the ethical issue whether the criminal’s family should be held accountable for his crimes and whether the public has the moral right to condemn them even if they have done nothing wrong. Jeffrey’s mother doubted the ethicality of revealing their family history in the media as it should have remained in the courtroom.

Another ethical issue emerged when Jeffrey decided to be baptized in jail. There were debated whether such a perverse killer should be allocated with a right to seek forgiveness and salvation through the religion. The issue of homosexuality and public attitude towards it were raised in the case as well. Psychiatrists questioned if the defendant’s necessity to keep his sexual orientation in secret was the trigger of his future psychopathologies. Besides, the majority of victims were homosexual males who were not properly searched for by the police because the latter considered them to be prone to run away and abandon their families. Police neglect was much discussed when it was revealed that Jeffrey could have been caught long before the actual arrest. A 14-year-old Laotian boy managed to escape, but the policemen returned him to Jeffrey, his supposed male lover, without paying notice to the boy’s obvious fear. They did not even searched the apartment as they did not want to spend time in the homosexual’s dwelling.

Case Law Associated with the Case

Although Jeffrey Dahmer confessed to 17 murders, cannibalism, necrophilia and other illegal acts, he was tried for 15 murders and found guilty on 15 accounts. The first trial excluded charges concerning his first murder in Ohio and the attempted murder of the last victim Edwards. First two counts were first degree murders while the rest were first degree intentional homicides. The defendant’s actions were illegal according to the Wisconsin Statutes section 940.01 defining it as “the death of another human being with intent to kill that person”. Both types of charges fall under the designation of a Class A felony presupposing life imprisonment. Capital punishment was abolished in Wisconsin in 1853. The insanity defense failed and the defendant was sentenced to 975 years in prison.

In May of the same year, Dahmer was tried in Ohio for murdering Stephen Hicks after his extradition. He pled guilty this time from the start. Throughout the investigation process, he was cooperative, but he did not ask for any agreements with the prosecution due to his assistance in identifying victims. The trial process was aimed not at proving the defendant’s guilt, but at establishing whether he was sane and should be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison or in a mental facility. The jury found him sane despite his evident mental disorders. As Dr. Basil Jackson stated in an interview: “The thing that is hard for people to understand is that people can do all kinds of bizarre and crazy things and not be insane, according to Wisconsin statutes”.

Idaho State Law that Would Have Applied to the Case had the Events Taken Place There

If Jeffrey Dahmer committed his crimes and was tried in the state of Idaho, the insanity defense would not have been an option for his defense strategy as it was abolished there in 1982. Idaho was among the few American states that successfully abolished the practice of insanity defense that had been in use since the mid 19th century. The McNaughton rule prohibited the imprisonment of an insane person. In Idaho, psychiatric evidence now can be used in a trial, but only as a complementary evidence for deciding the guilt of the defendant and the type of sentence. People are unable to comprehend that court proceedings may order to undergo some mental treatment. As soon as their state improves, they are eligible for facing the charges in a courtroom. A judge may order mental treatment as a verdict, but the defendant can be later imprisoned once he/she feels better. Thus, Jeffrey Dahmer would not have an opportunity to plead not guilty due to the insanity in Idaho.

According to the Idaho Statute 18-4003, Jeffrey Dahmer would have been charged with the first degree murder. Besides, Idaho legislature ICJI 704C implies that Jeffrey would have been accused of the first degree murder even if his defense had proved that he had no intention to kill as the state had only to prove that the defendant killed in an attempt to commit another crime that would have been in this case rape and severe bodily harm. According to Idaho legislature 19-2515, Jeffrey could have been sentenced to death penalty upon the prosecutor’s request to substitute life imprisonment with capital punishment. Article 19-2515A prohibits the imposition of the death penalty upon mentally retarded people, yet Jeffrey does not fit the criteria described in the article. Article 18-5003 of the Idaho Code defines cannibalism as an illegal action.

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