I am doing some research on mea culpa and the role of mitigating circumstances when it comes to being held responsible for crimes. In 1978, Harvey Milk, a Californian activist was shot dead by Dan White. This case was famous not only for the murder of America’s first openly gay politician, but also for the “Twinkie Defense” where his defendant lawyers successfully claimed that White acted out of character and persuaded the jury that he had experienced a mood swing exacerbated by his consumption of sugary foods. The jurors found White incapable of the premeditation required for a murder conviction, and instead convicted him of voluntary manslaughter.
Similarly, in the Jamie Bulger case, where two 10-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson abducted and murdered the two-year-old toddler, questions about who and what to blame were raised by the public whipped up by the tabloids. Every week, there seems to be some unbelievable crime that is attributed to television, pornography, horror videos or poor parenting. It is our human nature to look for a culprit.
Now we have the return of the supermale syndrome myth where males born with an extra ‘Y’ chromosome (‘XYY’) are thought to be more aggressive and violent then the rest of us ‘XY’ lesser males. In a report from New Zealand, Michael Knight (17) left a party around 1am, broke into a house, stole jewellery, cameras, money and guns, and made his getaway in a $280,000NZ Audi (are they really that expensive) that he later crashed. When questionned by the police he had no explanation for his behaviour because he did not hold a driver’s license or a gun license. How bizarre and strange that a young man would act in such a way after a party. Roger Philip his lawyer however entered a plea of not guilty because he claimed that his client had reactive attachment disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and an extra Y chromosome.
The supermale syndrome was discredited years ago, and so it is right the judge promptly gave Knight a year in prison. Nevertheless, we are entering a new era where genetic predisposition is increasingly going to be used by lawyers to argue that their clients are not guilty. “Honest, m’lord, it wasn’t me but my genes what done it!” Interesting times.