Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gainesville Ripper thoughts

Here's an unsettling bit of information: tabloid king and Fox News czar Rupert Murdoch has all but taken over the Wall Street Journal. I wonder if this will lead to the reputable publication's decline, as Murdoch's takeover did to the New York Post many years ago.
Late last Saturday night, I tried to get some writing done, but ended up watching an "American Justice" episode about Danny Rolling, the killer who terrorized university students in Florida in the early 1990s. At first, trying to deflect blame from himself, he blamed an alter ego called "Gemini," since he couldn't claim he wasn't guilty. His DNA was all over the crime scenes. In an interview with Rolling shortly before his execution, he says about the DNA test, "The test came back and, bingo," in a cold tone that is frightening to the rest of the world but very common among killers of Rolling's type.
In many ways, Rolling fits the standard profile of a serial killer. He had a rough childhood with a strict police officer father who he says "didn't allow for individuality" and abused him and his brother. He said he started to "walk the streets at night" to get away from his father, because "home was not a safe place," which could have been where he was introduced to his future life of crime. After he was charged with the Florida murders, Rolling was also charged with the attempted murder of his father of many years ago, in which Danny was the prime suspect. Danny Rolling started out with petty burglaries, breaking and entering, and eventually worked his way up to murder. Some psychologists think he chose college students because they symbolized the priviledged life that he, as a high school dropout and career criminal, had thrown away. He tried the military, but didn't last long. A psychiatrist there saw signs of antisocial personality and problems with authority. This brings to mind John Allen Muhammad, the Beltway Sniper, who was court-martialed twice during his time in the military for insubordination. As much as antisocial personalities want the power they feel comes with being in the military or law enforcement, their self-absorption and unwillingness to take the advice or orders of anyone else leads them into trouble in these fields. A prison psychologist diagnosed Rolling with borderline personality disorder, which is primarily characterized by an irrational fear of abandonment. Others who spoke with Rolling in prison say he was obsessed with how he would be remembered, another trait typical of the narcissism of serial killers. For many, a major reason they start killing is to feel the power and get the recognition they feel they deserve, and don't get from their often mundane lives. The psychologist also called Rolling "very immature," and said he had a problem with empathy. Many serial killers, and criminals in general, have limited emotional development. They still have the selfishness and irrational demands of a child, without the concern and awareness of others that most of us develop as we mature.
Authorities first got Rolling for the university murders when he was in jail for another crime, and he confessed to his cellmate, a convicted murderer, who promptly reported the confession to prison officials. When later questioned by the police, Rolling would only make his confession through his cellmate. At his trial, Rolling looked away from grisly photos of the crime scenes, claiming in an interview that he couldn't stand to look at them, and asked himself, "What have you done?" Was this a sign of remorse? According to the prosecutor, who zealously sought the death penalty, Rolling's expressionless face during the trial and the savage nature of his crimes were signs of someone who has no respect or remorse for others. Rolling says he confessed "for his maker" to make amends for what he did, since he knew he would likely die soon. He never showed any other signs of remorse, and as we all know about serial killers, they will readily lie to protect themselves. Rolling is a confusing character, and now that he's dead, we'll never know why he did what he did or how he would feel about it years later.
The more I read about crime and serial killers, the more I oppose the death penalty. On a show I saw about Joel Rifkin, currently serving a life term for 17 murders in the New York area, his interview, however disjointed at times, provided some strong insights into the mind of a killer. We wouldn't have had these insights if Rifkin had been executed. If all serial killers had been executed immediately after their crimes, as some of the more fanatic among the population demand, the pioneering Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI couldn't have conducted their interviews with Edmund Kemper, Charles Manson and many others that led to the development of the modern law enforcement technique of criminal profiling. The prosecutor in Rolling's case, and the anger in the eyes and voices of his victims families, demanding a death sentence based on the brutality of his crimes, did little to dissuade me from my belief that capital punishment is all about revenge.

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