Some crooks confess when they're caught, but most have trouble admitting what they've done — and sometimes, they go so far as to assign responsibility for their actions to someone or something else entirely. Here are seven instances in which criminals tried to pin the blame anywhere but on themselves.
In 1976 and 1977, the unassuming postal worker who'd become known as "Son of Sam" began targeting victims in New York City with his .44. His reign of terror ended thanks to a witness who noticed the shooter making a getaway in a car that had a parking ticket on it. He went willingly into custody, telling the NYPD "Well, you've got me" when they arrived to make the arrest.
Berkowitz's crimes were seemingly random and without motive, until he offered up this explanation:
During questioning, Berkowitz explained that he had been commanded to kill by his neighbor Sam Carr, who sent messages to him through Carr's dog. "He told me to kill. Sam is the devil," Berkowitz said. Many months were spent on determining whether Berkowitz was fit to stand trial. He underwent numerous psychological evaluations. In August 1978, Berkowitz pled guilty to the six killings. He later received 25 years to life for each murder.
Berkowitz has since become an outspoken Christian and has changed his story about the dog. In 2013, a psychology professor who conduced a series of prison interviews with him for CBS wrote this about their encounter:
Although he hated the nightly barking of Harvey the dog, it did not order him to murder anyone. Instead, David explained to me that he felt like "a soldier on a mission" when he went out to kill. He was convinced that Satan would set him free of his emotional pain and loneliness through the act of murder. Instead, despite some initial euphoria, each murder left David feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Like Berkowitz, former U.S. Marine Itzcoatl Ocampo was likely suffering from an undiagnosed psychiatric illness, possibly due to post-traumatic stress after a stint in Iraq that brought him into constant contact with wounded men who were en route from battle to hospital. But he had his own explanation. About five years after his return to Southern California, he allegedly stabbed six people to death, including four homeless men, and blamed a "kill gene" for his actions:
“My testicles ... the f—king kill gene hit my sperm. Like, that’s the way I feel right now, like my sperm had f—king kill in them. Like, all right, you’re not a b—-h anymore.”
The mother of one of his victims didn't quite see it that way.
“I believe we all have good and evil, good and bad. And we can choose where we want to be at. And I think that’s what Ocampo did.”
Arrested in 2012, Ocampo never stood trial; he died after apparently drinking a bottle of Ajax in his cell in 2013.
This one comes with some debunkery attached to it. The former San Francisco Supervisor fatally shot his colleague Harvey Milk (America's first openly gay person elected to public office) and SF mayor George Moscone as they worked at City Hall in 1978, and was found guilty not of murder but of involuntary manslaughter.
In the years since, the case has become known for deploying the so-called "Twinkie Defense," with the popular assumption being that White's lawyers argued their client's Hostess-filled diet made him capable of evil. But that's not exactly what happened:
His defense lawyer, Douglas R. Schmidt, claimed White had acted in the heat of passion and not out of malice. He made a plea of "diminished capacity", due to extreme stress in White's home life and depression. Describing White's emotional state, psychiatrist Martin Blinder, one of five defense therapists, explained that in the days leading up to the shootings, White grew slovenly and abandoned his usual healthy diet and indulged in a diet of sugary junk food like Coke, doughnuts, and Twinkies instead.
Newspapers across the country picked up on a great headline, and today the term "Twinkie defense" is a derogatory label implying that a criminal defense is artificial or absurd.
White committed suicide in his San Francisco home in 1985, a year after he was released from prison. In an interview with SFGate marking the 25th anniversary of the murders, Blinder reflected on his role in the case.
Blinder said his intent was to explore, "What is it that makes a good man kill?"
In his daylong accounting of how White's life "unraveled," one small aspect of something Blinder said — "two minutes of a greater part of the day on the stand" — was later turned into the irrational explanation for everything that came after. "Studies show," he said recently, "that if you have a general predisposition to bipolar mood swings, things you ingest can play a part." In the days leading up to the killings, the psychiatrist told the jury, White cast aside his normal habits and grew slovenly, quit working, shunned his wife, grew a stubble beard and rather than eat his healthful diet, indulged in Twinkies and Coke — all symptoms, Blinder testified, of depression. The junk food, he said, only made White more depressed, which caused him to binge even more.
Today, a still-angry Blinder says, "It's preposterous to think that 12 middle class homeowner jurors would give a killer even a partial pass on the basis of what he ate the night before." He blames the press for perpetuating the myth. "If I found a cure for cancer," he said, "they'd still say I was the guy who invented 'The Twinkie defense.' "
In 2002, 26-year-old New Jersey man Ronald Pituch beat his mother to death and tied up his five-year-old niece before turning his attentions to random victims, assaulting an elderly woman and fatally stabbing an 11-year-old child. Shortly after his arrest, authorities had a working theory as to his motive:
''Our investigation has so far shown that the death of the mother was due to the fact that she refused to purchase cigarettes for the suspect that day,'' [Burlington County prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi] said. ''When you ask about a motive, that's what we think the motive is.''
But during his trial, Pituch, a diagnosed schizophrenic who'd been off his medication when he snapped, claimed he'd been inspired by the Metallica song "Ronnie," which is about a school shooting, and that the group had written the song directed at him. He ended up pleading guilty and was sentenced to 50 years, though he later unsuccessfully appealed his sentence.
This Texas youth was 16 when he drunkenly ran over and killed four pedestrians, then crashed into another vehicle, seriously injuring two passengers. His sentence? Ten years' probation. The defense that kept him out of jail? "Affluenza, the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy." Psychologist G. Dick Miller, who evoked the term on the stand, later regretted using it:
"I wish I hadn't used that term. Everyone seems to have hooked onto it ... We used to call these people spoiled brats."
Barbour claimed she killed 22 people in the past six years in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina and California.
Explaining that she adopted a murderous alter ego she dubbed 'Super Miranda' when she killed, Barbour said that she kept a favorite knife that had notches on - one for each of her victims.
According to the article Barbour based her actions on fictitious TV serial killer Dexter, only killing bad people - those who abused children or owed money and that her satanism controlled her murderous rages.
Barbour isn't the first criminal to point to Dexter as an inspiration, and it goes without saying that most people who watch shows about serial killers (or listen to Metallica's music, for that matter) don't go on murder sprees as a result. Barbour's sister had a far less glamorous explanation, assigning blame on an episode of talk show Dr. Phil:
"My mom made Miranda the way she is ... My mom has been a bad mom ... I just want to make it clear that it's not my sister's fault," she said. "She's not this monster on her own. It's come from someone else."
In a crime made famous by Truman Capote's best-seller, prison buddies Perry Smith and Richard "Dick" Hickock murdered a Kansas family in 1959. But they could never agree, exactly, on who did what after they were captured; their conflicting confessions are maybe one of true crime's most classic examples of the blame game:
Upon being interrogated, Hickock and Smith gave contradictory confessions. It was never firmly established exactly who killed who; at first, Smith claimed that he killed both Herb and Kenyon and that Hickock killed Bonnie and Nancy. Hickock, on the other hand, claimed that Smith was the one who killed all four family members. Smith later changed his confession and, because he "felt sorry for Dick's mother," claimed that he did indeed kill all of the Clutters, but because both refused to testify in court, no official testimony of who killed the women exists. Both killers were found guilty and sentenced to death.
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