WASHINGTON-March 24, 2013-“if you care enough to read why you should fear a psychopath, the good news is, you are not one”-Paul Mountjoy-self-quote.
Women can be and have been cold blooded murderers since the dawn of time. History tells us Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, had no personal issue with ordering the deaths of those who stood in her way of her ideals, and the list grows dramatically as time marches on.
Society at large and the legal fraternity assign the term “psychopath” to those who take the lives of others without remorse, sympathy or regret. It seems a psychopath’s singular regret is getting caught.
As psychopathy is not a singular personality disorder under the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual fourth edition (DSM IV) created and established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for identifying mental and personality disorders, Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) remains the umbrella term for sociopathy with similar characteristics as psychopathy and arguments remain if the two should be separated via individual criteria.
While mentalhealth professionals differ in what constitutes a sociopath or a psychopath, they have shared characteristics. They both have “impoverished sense of moral sense or conscience” and share histories of crime, aggressive and impulsive behaviors-among others. Psychopaths may possess an attitude that murder is morally ambiguous. For these people, everything they do is rationalized and justified by their own personal criteria.
The Mayo clinic tells us a personality disorder means having an unhealthy and rigid pattern of thinking and behavior regardless of a given situation. Making matters worse, in many cases, the afflicted have no clue they have a disorder and feel their thinking and behavior is normal leading them to blame others for difference.
If narcissism or DSM IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder is comorbid (the presence of one or more disorders) with ASPD, well, the chess match of life could have an unpleasant end game. A deadly check-mate.
For purposes of societal compliance and understanding, the term “psychopath” will be the term used in this missive.
History has been kinder to female psychopaths than to male counterparts, often blaming mental/emotional abuse from men for their behaviors.
A landmark case is the 1977 murder trial of Francine Hughes. After 14 years of abuse from her husband Mickey Hughes, Francine set the house on fire and torched Hughes to death. Her story became a biography then a screenplay, “The Burning Bed.”
A Court found Francine Hughes not guilty due to temporary insanity. The verdict pleased many women’s right groups but angered the Hughes family, who claimed she got away with murder.
Jodi Arias is currently on trial for stabbing her boyfriend repeatedly while he was in the shower. Arias claims her now deceased boyfriend, Travis Alexander, inflicted similar abuse on her.
However, Arias has not pursued that abuse as a defense. Considering there is legal precedence, why not?
One potential explanation is the current lack of success of the temporary insanity defense. Temporary insanity is only used in about 1% of current trials, and some states have moved to ban its use completely.
Instead, the Arias defense is relying on ‘diminished capacity” or a mental condition to explain Arias’ inability to process cognitive or moral boundaries. This approach may be an attempt to mitigate the severity of sentencing. In effect, Arias is stating, “Yep, I did it but what’s the harm? I am what I am and you just don’t get it!”.
Most states disallow temporary insanity if the plea cannot reduce the sentence to manslaughter and the Arias case should not reach this point.
Many believe the expert defense witness Dr. Richard Samuel introduced such a novel means of attempting to establish diminished capacity that the approach may fail entirely. Moreover, Samuel did not administer enough tests to establish credibility.
On the other side of the disorder coin, if Samuel tested Arias for sociopathy or psychopathy, the defense may lose jury sympathy. Who wishes to grant a psychopath a break? Certainly if the commenters on the most recent article in this publication of the Arias trial are a microcosm of popular thinking, the answer is; no one.
David Drew Pinsky, aka Dr. Drew, the host of the popular TV talk show “Dr. Drew” empaneled several folks to discuss the Arias trial and the conversation quickly turned to Arias as a psychotic with one panelist, a criminal profiler, telling the audience “If you meet, know or live with a psychopath, RUN!”
Most psychopaths are not in prison. In fact, they live among us and weave through our daily lives. On the surface, they are charismatic, charming, amiable and outright likeable-particularly to strangers. Living with a psychopath is extremely challenging and when their bad side is momentarily revealed to others, their significant other will make excuses for their behavior; “she is having a bad day” - “didn’t sleep well last night night”-“She has a lot on her mind.”
Psychopaths can dupe and influence unsuspecting people and ruin lives. And they come in both sexes.
Is Jodi Arias a psychopath? What about Susan Smith, the mother who rolled her mini van into a lake and killed her two small children for personal gain?
Read the next article to understand more about Jodi Arias and Susan Smith, cold blooded killers of the fairer sex.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science
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