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Personal Insights into Crimes of Infamy: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Unabomber

Phillip J. Resnick, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry
Director of Forensic Psychiatry
Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine

What causes one to commit a murder? In court cases, why does society automatically assume that a convicted murderer must be mentally ill to have participated in such behavior? Why does society attach stigma to mental illness? Dr. Resnick describes two men, Jeffrey Dahmer and Theodore Kaczynski. Dahmer murders out of lust and Kaczynski murders out of hate. Both of these men are described as being mentally ill, which causes society to stigmatize mental illness as a whole. Although no one during his trial suggested that Dahmer was unaware that what he was doing was wrong, a mental disorder was given as the reason for his actions. Dr. Resnick talks about the media portrayal of these two killers as “madmen,” noting that the media will take anything bizarre and label it psychotic behavior, when in most cases the criminals are not found to be psychotic. Kaczynski even stated in one of his journals that if he were caught, the media would make him out to be a “sickie.” Dr. Resnick includes the jury’s final decisions for both of these men and talks about his own involvement in the case of Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

 

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