I was writing up a new MWAB case today, a man who was murdered by a co-worker in a dispute over money. The victim bought used cars, fixed them up and resold them. He paid the defendant to repair and refurbish the cars. Anyway, the murderer accepted money to fix a car, never did the work and never gave the money back. And when the victim started bugging him about it, the murderer went to his house and shot him.
This was a clearly premeditated crime: the bullets used in the murder had been purchased five days beforehand. And it couldn’t be chalked up to a youthful indiscretion either: the killer was in his fifties. Now he’s going to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and good riddance.
So many of the murders I hear and write about were committed for similarly stupid reasons. Now, outright murder (as opposed to killing someone in self-defense) is never acceptable, but sometimes I can understand why someone might be tempted to do it. Like, if there was a lot of money involved, for example. If you set morals aside (and a terrifingly large percentage of people can do so), weighing all the odds and so on, it might be worth risking a very very long prison sentence for a million dollars or so. Or if the victim had done something really, really bad to someone you loved. I’d hate to see what Michael would do to Rollo if he ever got his hands on him. (Or maybe I wouldn’t hate to see it after all…)
And there are also the completely random murders of strangers, committed by serial killers. Those are incomprehensible to me and belong in a class by themselves. Fortunately, those are quite rare. As are other murders committed for similarly psychopathic reasons (Josh Powell anyone?), and murders committed by people who are truly crazy. (I should note that people with severe mental illness are much more likely to become VICTIMS of violent crime than commit violent crime themselves.)
I read about homicides being committed for the dumbest reasons, by people like you and me, people who are troubled perhaps, but certainly not psychopaths. The Elizabethan-era poet Christopher Marlowe was murdered at age 29 in a dispute over a bar tab. (Maybe.) But, assuming it happened the way the “official” story says it happened, that was what they call a crime of passion and his killers were probably drunk. But premeditated homicides are also committed for stupid reasons. Like the dispute over car repair money I mentioned above. Dude, just give the money back. Or, if you spent it already, set up a payment plan. Or if the person wants to press charges, let him. You’ll probably get probation or whatever. Or go to jail for a few months. It’s better than going to prison forever, or even facing the death penalty. (The murderer in that case didn’t get the death penalty, but his crime was committed in a death penalty state.)
A few days ago I read a book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison, about three guys who’d who were each convicted of first-degree murder and spent decades behind bars. It was a true story about their reentry into society. It was very interesting. One of the men didn’t actually commit the murder himself; he planned a robbery with some other people, one of whom killed two men during the crime, which made each of the co-conspirators responsible for what happened. Another strangled a female friend after an argument. He could never explain, even to himself, why he did this. He was just a very angry young man, eighteen years old at the time of his crime. The third guy killed a stranger on the street. He’d gotten into a spat with the victim and his explanation went like this: The victim kept sticking his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun, which made the other guy (who DID have a gun) reluctant to try to hit him or anything like he wanted. Then he realized the victim was not really armed and was just messing with him. And he was like, “You don’t pretend you have a gun when you don’t really have one. That’s just not cool. I HAD to shoot him.”
What. The. Eff.
And none of these men were psychopaths. Neither did they suffer from mental illness. The first man felt terrible about what happened and actually had hallucinations of his victims in his cell. He said he had never committed a violent act and wouldn’t have gone into the robbery if he’d known any of his partners was armed. The other two were also quite remorseful — okay, the third one not so much, but he did acknowledge he’d committed a terrible crime, and when he explained why he did it he was only describing his state of mind at the time and not trying to claim the victim truly deserved his fate. He felt like he had to atone for what he did by being extra-good from then on and doing all sorts of good things for society. When the three killers were released from prison, they probably weren’t any more dangerous than the average person. Statistically speaking, if you commit murder, the odds that you’ll commit another murder are only about two percent. Compare that to other violent crimes like rape and robbery, which many of the perpetrators do over and over again.
So why do they do it in the first place?
Anyway. This is a bit of a pointless entry. I just don’t get what goes through those people’s heads.