I find the psychology of murder fascinating. There are so many definitions and theories it never ceases to amaze me. The first time I heard the term “familicide”, I said, “huh”? What I found out was that not only is there “familicide” but there is also several other -cides I had never heard of. Although the terms aren’t used often, I thought I would include them here.
We also will discuss the -Paths: Psychopath, Sociopath, which are technically not criminal terms. The Insanity Defense is discussed as well as the Murder Degrees are also included. I hope you find this information helpful.
- THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MURDER, Insanity, AND MURDER DEGREES
- Anti-social Personality Disorder
- The -Paths, Psychopath and Sociopath
- Pathological Lying and Manipulation
- Lack of Morality and Rule Breaking
- Lack of Empathy and Cold-Heartedness
- Narcissism and False Superiority Complex
- Gaslighting and Psychological Bullying
- Lack of Contrition and Self-Serving Victimhood
- The “Situational” Sociopath or Psychopath
- 16 Basic Traits of PSYCHOPATHY
- The Insanity Defense
- Comprehensive Crime Control Act
- Required for Legal Insanity
- Not guilty by reason of insanity
- Family Annihilators and the -cides
- Domestic Homicide/Family Annihilator
- Filicide, Infanticide, Neonaticide
- Murder Degrees
- Other Types of Murder
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MURDER, Insanity, AND MURDER DEGREES
Psychopaths and sociopaths in general
Anti-social Personality Disorder
Technically speaking, in the medical world of Psychology, there are no sociopaths or psychopaths. They are combined as “Anti-social Personality Disorder”, according to the DSM-51. However, these anti-social individuals do have similar traits. Antisocial personality disorder is listed in the DSM-5 personality disorder group. It is considered characterized by dramatic and unpredictable behavior.
An antisocial personality fits the profile in that such individuals ignore or subvert the rules of society. Individuals with this personality disorder demonstrate behaviors that disregard the violation and rights or others and society.
The Difference between Sociopathy and psychopathy1
The -Paths, Psychopath and Sociopath
A psychopath usually is one from genetics or congenital injury at birth than environmental factors. Extremely manipulative, they can easily gain trust but don’t necessarily form attachments. Psychopaths lack empathy and feel no remorse. Usually, their crimes are preplanned and highly organized and meticulous. From a criminal point of view, they are more dangerous than sociopaths because of their lack of empathy and remorse. 1
A sociopath consistently disregards others’ feelings and has a general don’t care attitude about the violations of people’s rights. Sociopaths may not even realize that they are a sociopath. A sociopath is generally described as unorganized, versus a psychopath which is organized and meticulous. 1
For further discussion regarding the -paths, go to https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/sociopath#traits
16 traits and quiz
Traditionally, there are more than 16 traits of a psychopath. However, the “modern” psychopath or sociopath is defined as having 7 basic traits, according to Psychology Today: 2
Pathological Lying and Manipulation
Healy and Healy 3 studied pathological liars and observed that the telling of lies comes as quickly and naturally as telling the truth. They noted that even individuals considered insane are not immune. The pathological liars may tell things they even recognize to be untrue.
Pathological liars tell compulsive lies without a clear motive. This type of lying is different than nonpathological lying, where the lie is often beneficial in some way.
Aaron Kandola, medically reviewed by Timothy j. legg, phd, CRNP 4
Lack of Morality and Rule Breaking
People in general understand basic right and wrong. Things like honest hard work is right, stealing is wrong, etc. However, Sociopaths and Psychopaths don’t get that. They are more inclined to break the aw and think they have their own “moral code” that consists of their own set of rules. Basically, they have no conscience. 5
Rules are meant to be broken.
Lack of Empathy and Cold-Heartedness
Individuals who lack empathy usually show the following traits:
- They don’t pay attention to you or worry about you. Could be because they only care about themselves.
- They don’t show any interest in being sensitive. When you tell them how you think or feel, they don’t really care. They have no understanding of what you’re going through.
- They don’t trust anyone. Because they lack empathy and don’t understand what we think or feel, they simply don’t feel safe enough to trust anyone.
- They are disinterested in the well-being of others. So, they appear cold when others talk to them about how they’re feeling.
- They aren’t compassionate. Sociopaths and psychopaths do not care about relieving other’s pain or suffering.
Narcissism and False Superiority Complex
Some of the traits of a narcissist are the same as sociopath or psychopath. For example, a narcissist:
- Are full of self-importance
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Are always talking about their fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Have a sense of entitlement
- Require constant, excessive admiration
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Truly believe in their own superiority and will only associate with those they believe are equal
- Belittle people they perceive as inferior and monopolize conversations.
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
- Unwilling to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Full of envy for others, but belief that others envy them
- Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
- Come across as arrogant, conceited, boastful and pretentious
(Side note: I just had a flash of someone currently in power when reading this. But I digress.)
People with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
- Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation
Narcissistic personality disorder, Mayo Clinic 6
Gaslighting and Psychological Bullying
Psychological bullying can be defined as any kind of intentional and purposeful mental abuse.
Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.
11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting7
Lack of Contrition and Self-Serving Victimhood
Self-serving victimhood can also be known as “playing the victim card”. In essence, it is the exaggeration or fabrication for a variety of reasons to justify the behavior or abuse of others, to manipulate, or as a copying or attention seeking method.
Lack of contrition can be defined simply as a lack of remorse.
The “Situational” Sociopath or Psychopath
According to Preston C. Ni, in an article written for Psychology Today, one of the most insidious forms of anti-social personality disorder is what may be termed “situational sociopathy or psychopathy,” where an individual extends cordiality, respect, and regard towards some, but exhibits inhumanity, harshness, and cruelty towards others.2
Just for fun (remember, I have no medical or legal basis to diagnose anyone), take the quiz and see what the Universe says about you and Psychopathology.
16 Basic Traits of PSYCHOPATHY
- Superficial charm and good intelligence; (Had anyone ever told you that you were charming?)
- absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking; (Are you the only person that can do your job well and better than anyone else?)
- absence of ìrvousnessîr psychoneurotic manifestations; (Do you get nervous and make small mistakes on a job interview?)
- unreliability; (When you schedule an appointment, do you always show up on time?)
- untruthfulness and insincerity, (Do you lie more often than not?)
- lack of remorse or shame; (If you offend someone, do you consider it more their problem than yours?)
- inadequately motivated antisocial behavior; (Do you get bored easily)
- poor judgment and failure to learn from experience, (How many jobs have you had in the past year?)
- pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love; (Have you ever been in love?)
- general poverty in major affective reactions; (Are you considered an affectionate person?)
- specific loss of insight;
- unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations; (Are bad things that happen to you, really your fault?
- fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol (and sometimes without)
- suicide rarely carried out
- sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated;
- failure to follow any life plan ((Cleckley, 1941:1988, p.337-338).)
Try our interactive quiz to see if you are a psychopath, sociopath, or something else!
Insanity, Legally or mentally?
The Insanity Defense
The insanity defense is a plea where the defendant admits the action but lacks culpability based on mental illness. (See Excuse Defense and Justification Defense in Criminal Justice Definitions and Terms.)
It is interesting to know that merely being a psychopath or a sociopath is not a reason to use the Insanity Defense. 8
Mens Rea is latin for “guilty mind”. In laymans terms, mens rea means what the defendant intended to do, and what the desired outcome would be. For example, the intent to use a knife and it cause someone’s death.
On the other hand, actus reus is latin for “guilty deed”. In other words, the physical action of a crime.
The insanity defense derives from the idea that certain mental diseases or defects can interfere with an individual’s ability to form mens rea as required by the law 9 vol. 2,9 (2005): 24-5.))
There are basically four tests that can be applied for the Insanity Defense. These include M’Naghten Rule; the Irresistible Impulse Test; the Durham Rule; and the Model Penal Code test.
The M’NaghTen Rule
In 1843 was the first ever Insanity Defense case. The case was in Great Britain. Englishman Daniel M’Naghten shot and killed the secretary of the British Prime Minister, believing that the Prime Minister was conspiring against him. The court acquitted based on Insanity and the crowd went wild, of course.
After the case and the uproar, the “M’Naghten rule” was born. It became a standard to be applied by the jury, where after hearing from psychiatrists and medical personnel from both sides, the jury could find an individual Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.
However, there were two parts to this rule. Part 1 indicated at the time of the act, the accused was “laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.” 10
This was (and still is in some States), the rule of law for legal insanity. In 1887, in the State of Alabama, this rule lost some of its luster. This created the Irresistible Impulse Test.
Irresistible Impulse Test
In 1887, the Alabama Court stated that even though the defendant could tell right from wrong, he was subject to “the duress of such mental disease [that] he had … lost the power to choose between right and wrong” and that “his free agency was at the time destroyed,” and thus, “the alleged crime was so connected with such mental disease, in the relation of cause and effect, as to have been the product of it solely.”11
Not every State adopted the Irresistible Impulse test, due to the fact it was deemed too broad. However, in those States that do normally incorporate the Test along with the MNaughten Rule. In the Irresistible Impulse Test, defendants have to present evidence to prove two factors:
- The existence of mental illness; and
- That the mental illness caused the inability to control one’s actions or conform one’s conduct to the law.
The States found that proving these two factors could be challenging. It definitely required expert witnesses and at least some sort of medical examination. As such, many States adopted this test in its form of the Model Penal Code (see below).
In 1954, there was a criminal case of Monte Durham, a 23-year-old who had been in and out of prison and mental institutions since he was 17. Convicted for housebreaking in 1953, his attorney appealed. The Court’s ruling was that Durham’s attorneys had failed to prove he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong.
The appellate Court decided this case would be a good case to use in reforming the M’Naghten rule. The Judge felt that the M’Naghten rule was based on “an entirely obsolete and misleading conception of the nature of insanity.” The court of appeals overturned Durham’s conviction and established a new rule. The Durham rule states “that an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect.” 12
However, of course, this didn’t stick well. In implementing the Durham Rule, courts were going away from the “legal” definitions” and going towards the more “psychological definitions.” Juries were having trouble due to the fact there were no definitive explanations for the rule. So, in 1972, the case was repealed. New Hampshire is now the only jurisdiction that employs a test similar to the Durham rule.
Model Penal Code
In 1962, the Model Penal Code further defined Insanity Defense, It is considered a modernization of the Irresistible Impulse Test.
Comprehensive Crime Control Act
After John Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan in 1984, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The federal insanity defense now requires the defendant to prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts” 13. This Act is also known as a return to the “knowing right from wrong” standard. The Act also contained the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which sets out sentencing and other provisions for dealing with offenders who are or have been suffering from a mental disease or defect. 14
Required for Legal Insanity
After President Ronald Regan signed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, the Insanity Defense has more requirements. According to federal law, to prove insanity, the defendant must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that at the time the act was committed, the defendant, “as a result of a severe mental disease or defect” did not realize what he did was wrong. 13
Sometimes this is called the “knowing right from wrong” standard; however, the Act also sets out sentencing provisions.
Not guilty by reason of insanity
Not all States allow the insanity defense, including Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Kansas. Three of these allow “guilty but insane” verdicts, which usually allow institutionalization instead of prison However, the State of Kansas allows neither.
It should be noted that being found not guilty by reason of insanity does not mean the defendant goes free. Usually, the defendant remains in an institution for life. In the event the defendant is able to convince the Courts that they are sane, usually, they are re-arrested. Edmund Kemper is a prime example of this. See Freaky Facts about Edmund Kemper.
Family Annihilators and the -cides
Family Annihilators and the -cides
According to the Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions, The Latin element –cide means “killer”. 15
Domestic Homicide/Family Annihilator
There are several words that make up the Family Annihilator tag, but the words “Domestic Homicide” really is the overarching term for Murderers who kill family members and intimate partners. According to the Journal of Forensic Sciences 16
Familicide, the most extreme form of domestic homicide, is the most common type of mass murder, occurring approximately 23 times per year in the United States. Acts of familicide are typically premeditated and committed by adult males motivated by uncontrolled anger, resentment, and revenge. The Journal further categorizes four subtypes:
- Despondent Husbands
- Spousal Revenge
- Extended Parricide
- Diffuse Conflict
Filicide, Infanticide, Neonaticide
The killing of a child (or children) by one’s own parent (or parents). The most recent famous case of filicide is Andrea Yates. These terms are further defined as:
In 1969 by Phillip Resnick17 came up with a classification system. He used the classification system originally developed by P.D. Scott in 1969 18. He developed 5 categories, specifically stated as follows:
1. Altruistic filicide—The parent kills the child because it is perceived to be in the best interest of the child.
Acts associated with parental suicidal ideation—The parent may believe that the world is too cruel to leave the child behind after his or her death.
Acts meant to relieve the suffering of the child—The child has a disability, either real or imagined, that the parent finds intolerable.
2. Acutely psychotic filicide—The parent, responding to psychosis, kills the child with no other rational motive. This category may also include incidents that occur secondary to automatisms related to seizures or activities taking place in a post-ictal state.
3. Unwanted child filicide—The parent kills the child, who is regarded as a hindrance. This category also includes parents who benefit from the death of the child in some way (e.g., inheriting insurance money, marrying a partner who does not want step-children).
4. Accidental filicide—The parent unintentionally kills the child as a result of abuse. This category includes the rarely occurring Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
5. Spouse revenge filicide—The parent kills the child as a means of exacting revenge upon the spouse, perhaps secondary to infidelity or abandonment.
Child Murder by Parents: A Psychiatric Review of Filicide 17
JM Guileyardo further enhanced the psychiatric review as follows:
3. Child suffering from real adverse event
4. Acute psychosis
5. Postpartum mental disorder—According to the DSM, the postpartum specifier can be applied to mood disturbances or brief psychotic disorder if onset occurs within four weeks of delivery (Think Andrea Yates)
6. Drug and alcohol abuse (I will never buy this as an excuse, but…)
7. Seizure disorder
8. Unwanted child (What’s wrong with adoption?)
9. Unwanted pregnancy or neonaticide
10. Angry impulse (accidental renamed)—deliberately inflicted injury but not meant to cause death
11. Innocent bystander—parent often is the intended victim
12. Sadism and punishment—planned, disturbing acts meant to cause harm
13. Sexual abuse
14. Negligence and neglect
a. Negligence—acts outside the realm of behavior of a reasonable person
b. Neglect—long-term lack of appropriate care
15. Munchausen-by-proxy—harm may be intentional or unintentional
16. Violent older child—physical altercation between parent and older child
17. Spouse revenge
Familial Filicide and Filicide classification19
Matricide is defined as killing of one’s mother by her son or her daughter. The term of parricide is also used. Matricide is not a specific mental disease. The study of three original cases leads to classify two of them as psychiatric disorders, legal authority is applicable to the last. The first category contains a wide spectrum of psychiatric diagnosis and could be successfully controlled by treatment. Those cases fall in the article 64 of the French Law at the moment of the murder. The second category consists of perverse individuals responsible of their actions and hardly curable by treatment. These cases are abandoned to Justice. The “parricide” represents 2.54% of murders, the matricide 0.68%.
A PROPOS DU PARRICIDE ET DU MATRICIDE À L’ADOLESCENCE.” L’ILLÉGITIME VIOLENCE20
Parricide is a category of homicide in which the victims are the parents, and the killers, their children, usually other relatives. Patricide is the specific category for the killing of one’s father. Whereas Parricide is the killing of any relative. Take the case of the Carnation Murders. The act of Michelle Anderson killing her Father would be categorized as Patricide, killing her Mother would be Matricide, and the killing of her brother, sister-in-law, and nephew and niece would be Parricide. Altogether they would be categorized as Family Annihilator. 15
The killing of a husband or significant other; current common law term for either spouse of either sex/gender.
The killing of a wife or significant other.
The killing of one human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another. A person is guilty of criminal homicide if he purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another human being. Criminal homicide is murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide. 21
Homicide is not necessarily a crime. It is a necessary ingredient of the crimes of murder and manslaughter, but there are other cases in which homicide may be committed without criminal intent and without criminal consequences, as, where it is done in the lawful execution of a judicial sentence, in self-defense, or as the only possible means of arresting an escaping felon. The term “homicide” is neutral; while it describes the act, it pronounces no judgment on its moral or legal quality. 22.
Murder by Degrees
First Degree or Murder in the First Degree
According to 18 US Code 51, Murder is “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing; or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed, is murder in the first degree.”23
In layman’s terms, if you plan a murder, premeditate, in any case imaginable, that’s murder in the first degree. Remember, premeditation does not have to be hours, days, weeks or months in advance.
Second Degree Murder
So if all of the above is first degree, according to 18 US Code 51, everything else is Second Degree. But basically, if it’s not premeditated, it’s second degree on the federal side.
Third Degree Murder
The Federal Courts do not recognize third degree murder. However, several states recognize third degree as an unintentional murder while committing another act. So if you’re committing another crime and someone dies unintentionally, that’s third degree in some states. Other states consider those crimes as “Aggravated”, like aggravated arson, or aggravated manslaughter.
Other Types of Murder
Other Types of Murder
Homicide can be further described as “the killing of one human being by another. Homicide is not always criminal. For example, a lawful execution pursuant to the death penalty is homicide, but it is not criminal homicide.” 24
See also Homicide — the -cides
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of two kinds:
Voluntary—Upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
Involuntary—In the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death. 23
I am including the definition of Rape only because many murders often include Rape. So for these purposes, it is included here.
In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim. 25
Click Criminal Justice Definitions and Terms to see more, or click the button above.
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All photos, images, quotes, and video clips are used for fair use commentary, criticism, and educational purposes. See Hosseinzadeh v. Klein, 276 F.Supp.3d 34 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) Equals Three, LLC v. Jukin Media, Inc., 139 F. Supp. 3d 1094 (C.D. Cal. 2015).Sources:
- Fuller, Kristen. “The Difference Between Sociopathy and Psychopathy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 Feb. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201902/the-difference-between-sociopathy-and-psychopathy.
- Ni, Preston. “7 Characteristics of the Modern Psychopath.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Oct. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201810/7-characteristics-the-modern-psychopath.
- Healy W, Healy MT: Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling. Boston: Little, Brown, 1926
- Kandola, Aaron, Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 7 Aug. 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325982.
- “Ethics and Morality.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/ethics-and-morality.
- Clinic, Mayo. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 Nov. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662.
- Sarkis, Stephanie Moulton. “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 Jan. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting.
- Model Penal Code 4.01(2).
- Feuerstein, Seth et al. “The insanity defense.” Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township
- English House of Lords, Mid-19th Century
- Alabama Supreme Court. State v Parsons. 1887.
- United States , 214 F.2d 862 (D.C. Cir. 1954).
- 18 USC 17
- 18 USC 424
- Shaw, Harry. Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions. McGraw-Hill, 1975.
- Hanlon, Robert E., et al. “Domestic Homicide: Neuropsychological Profiles of Murderers Who Kill Family Members and Intimate Partners.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 61, 2015, doi:10.1111/1556-4029.12908.
- Resnick, Phillip J. “Child Murder by Parents: A Psychiatric Review of Filicide.” American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 126, no. 3, 1969, pp. 325–334., doi:10.1176/ajp.126.3.325.
- Scott, P. D. “Parents Who Kill Their Children.” Medicine, Science and the Law, vol. 13, no. 2, 1973, pp. 120–126., doi:10.1177/002580247301300210.
- Guileyardo, Joseph M., et al. “Familial Filicide and Filicide Classification.” The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, vol. 20, no. 3, 1999, pp. 286–292., doi:10.1097/00000433-199909000-00014.
- Marty, François. “A Propos Du Parricide Et Du Matricide à l’Adolescence.” L’illégitime Violence, 2000, p. 95., doi:10.3917/eres.mart.2000.01.0095.
- Model Penal Code, No. 210.1; 18 U.S.C.A. No. 1111 et seq.
- People v. Mahon, 77 Ill.App.3d 413, 395 N.E.2d 950, 958
- “18 U.S. Code Chapter 51 – HOMICIDE.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/part-I/chapter-51.
- Criminal Law by University of Minnesota, https://open.lib.umn.edu/criminallaw/part/chapter-9-criminal-homicide/
- Sullivan, Courtesy of Katharine T., and Courtesy of Laura L. Rogers. “An Updated Definition of Rape.” The United States Department of Justice, 7 Apr. 2017, www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/updated-definition-rape.