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Listening to Killers

Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My Twenty Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases

James Garbarino
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Listening to Killers
    Book Description:

    Listening to Killersoffers an inside look at twenty years' worth of murder files from Dr. James Garbarino, a leading expert psychological witness who listens to killers so that he can testify in court. The author offers detailed accounts of how killers travel a path that leads from childhood innocence to lethal violence in adolescence or adulthood. He places the emotional and moral damage of each individual killer within a larger scientific framework of social, psychological, anthropological, and biological research on human development. By linking individual cases to broad social and cultural issues and illustrating the social toxicity and unresolved trauma that drive some people to kill, Dr. Garbarino highlights the humanity we share with killers and the role of understanding and empathy in breaking the cycle of violence.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95874-6
    Subjects: Psychology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    I listen to killers. I listen for the human story behind the monstrous act. I do this as an expert psychological witness, so that I can testify in court about how these killers came to travel a path from childhood innocence to adult depravity and violence through the accumulation of emotional and moral damage. I listen to these killers talk, I review their records, and sometimes I interview family members to identify and understand the psychological, social, cultural, and biological forces that have brought them to a criminal court, accused of murder.

    I do this so that when I talk...


    • 1 The Concept of Choice in the Criminal Justice System
      (pp. 19-44)

      Two bad choices. Two fatal outcomes. Is it really that simple? Th e criminal justice system runs on the principle that people choose what they do, and thus the principal issue in most cases is the matter of “good” versus “bad” choices. It all sounds so clear-cut: Human beings have free will, and therefore they should be held accountable for the choices they make. Some individuals make good choices, and they should be rewarded for those good choices. Others make bad choices, and they should be punished for those bad choices. Simple.

      However, the more I listen to killers, the...

    • 2 Keeping Killers inside Our Circle of Caring
      (pp. 45-81)

      On the night of May 9, 1993, Billy Bob Wilson and his girlfriend, Jean Lamont, kidnapped Connie Kerry and robbed the diner where she worked. In the early hours of May 10, they murdered her. The circumstances were terrible: Billy Bob killed her with a hunting knife. According to court documents, “Kerry suffered massive blows from a long-bladed knife before finally bleeding to death. In addition to the pathologist’s testimony, a State Police agent testified that the blood stain patterns indicated Kerry had fallen in one spot and then crawled to her final resting place several feet away. The agent...

      (pp. 82-104)

      Many individuals who have grown up in communities with high levels of violence develop this sense that violence is a moral imperative when one is threatened, challenged, or disrespected—and that death is morally preferable to dishonor. This is particularly true when their families—like Robert’s mother and father—reinforce this moral damage through the messages they send their children about honor, conflict resolution, and the legitimacy of violence as a tool in interpersonal relations. Like Robert, they come to adapt their system of moral reasoning and behavior to include justification for aggression as a legitimate response to conflict, and...

      (pp. 105-144)

      Duke is emotionally damaged. One aspect of that damage is that he has trouble regulating his emotions. This derives in part from the fact that he is not consciously aware of the strong negative feelings that lie beneath the surface, under the façade he offers to the world. These feelings have broken through at times of stress, particularly when alcohol or drugs have impaired his mechanisms of self-control. He is a mystery to himself, and this is part of what makes him dangerous to others. He is not alone in this. Many killers suffer from problems with emotional regulation. Psychologists...


    • 5 “If You’re Old Enough to Do the Crime, You’re Old Enough to Do the Time”
      (pp. 147-177)

      JOHN CHRISTIANSON* was thirteen years old in 1996, when he killed seventeen-year-old Mannie Richards, who, along with some of his friends, was threatening John and another boy as they walked home from school in the small town of Camden, Oregon. A few months later, the judge in the case ruled that John would be tried as an adult. A press report presented what happened in court this way:

      Christianson is the youngest child to face trial as an adult in county history, officials said.

      But the boy’s lawyer contends Christianson shouldn’t be treated as an adult. “He’s completely frightened,” she...

    • 6 Tales of Rehabilitation, Transformation, and Redemption
      (pp. 178-201)

      FROM TIME TO TIME, I RECEIVE letters from men in prison who have read my bookLost Boys,which is oft en available in prison libraries or is given to them by counselors, friends, relatives, or attorneys. Mostly they report and reflect on how readingLost Boyshas illuminated their own experience and the path that brought them to prison, typically for life or for very long sentences. Sometimes these letters ask for my help. One such letter arrived in 2009, dated April 6.

      It came from Frederick Hill, a thirty-four-year-old serving a life sentence in a California prison. Eighteen...

    • 7 Guns Don’t Kill People—People with Guns Kill People
      (pp. 202-225)

      STEPHEN WALTON HAS A LOT TO SAY ABOUT GUNS. “If you were walking down the street unarmed, you knew to avert your eyes in order to not provoke a fight.” Stephen got his first gun when he was eleven, from a friend. It was a .22 automatic, and he recalled how he used to play with it and clean it. It felt cool to have a gun and see how people reacted to having it pulled on them. He did not need to be as timid about looking people in the eyes when he walked down the street.

      Once, when...

      (pp. 226-260)

      FOR THE PAST TWENTY YEARS, I have listened to killers, reviewed their records, and sought out research from developmental psychology and other social and biological science disciplines in an effort to figure out what leads them to commit these horrible crimes, to make sense of the senseless. I listen to killers. I don’t listen passively; I listen actively, with empathy and compassion. Instead of distancing myself from them in my goodness and their evil, I get close to them and establish a human connection.

      I try to find some basis for connecting through our shared humanity. I listen for the...

  7. APPENDIX: Zagar’s Model
    (pp. 261-262)
    (pp. 263-278)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 279-296)