A brief survey of stories about murders around the country shows how frequently family members, victims, the police, and others involved gravitate toward the notion that the murderer was crazy or as some call it, “mentally” ill. It isn’t always stated that way, but sympathy for the murderer is sometimes given more coverage than for the murder victim. Suggestions that the perpetrator “must have snapped” is simply a way to excuse murder. In fact, a reality television with the name “Snapped” has been created to explore stories of women who murdered their husbands.
I briefly examined the phenomenon of excusing murder in an earlier post about the murders at a Connecticut beer distributorship.
Recently, Kenneth Ward shot Clay Sanner to death at a Mormon church in Visalia, California. Ward was later killed in a shootout with police. One relative of Ward told the press “Mental illness killed my brother and Mr. Sanner.” In other words, he wasn’t really responsible, his sickness was. I realize that such thoughts can be a source of comfort for relatives of the perpetrators who can’t fathom the idea their loved-ones did something that was just evil. But how does that make sense when relatives or friends of the victim use such language?
Teenager Zahid Makda of Standerton, Mpumalanga (South Africa) has been accused of having his own parents murdered because they refused to give him money to go out. He hired a classmate and another man to stab them to death. A close family friend and guardian of the couple’s children said “He must have snapped? No one in his real frame of mind is going to do a thing like that.”
Rio Grande City, Texas was the site of a triple murder and suicide. The murders were committed by Francisco Pinal who was apparently having marital problems with his wife Lydia, whom he killed along with his mother-in-law and another woman. He later murdered himself. Ricardo Gonzalez, the nephew of Lydia, told police that Francisco used to threaten people with a gun. “I guess he was heartbroken and that can drive people to do crazy things.”
And who can forget Nadil Hasan, the shooter who went on a rampage at Ford Hood, killing over a dozen American soldiers was immediately branded a victim of post traumatic stress disorder. Charles Krauthammer recognized the problem with the victim misnomer and labeled the approach by the press as “Medicalizing mass murder”.
What is crazy is the fact that often the more heinous the crime, the more likely someone beside the perp will be blamed. Why don’t people claim insanity when they are caught stealing cigarettes, or cheating on tests? They don’t because nobody would believe them. The fact that people are capable of great evil is what we deny. No one could be so evil as to murder their own children or cut bodies up into parts and bury them miles away.
Christians, however, should view murder differently. Can you imagine Adam and Eve suggesting that Cain had just snapped and that is why he struck his brother Abel with a heavy blunt object? Or perhaps King David just lost it when he found out Bathsheba was pregnant with his child and then ordered her husband murdered on the battlefield. No, there is a sin called murder. The shedding of innocent blood is murder, whether it be done in the womb with a surgical weapon or in a hospice by starving to death an elderly or sick family member. We should offer no excuses, no justification, no blaming someone else. And the same goes for killing your spouse, children or parents, a neighbor, or the clerk behind a convenience story counter. Let’s stop calling the people who do these things “sick”, no matter how bloody or how shocking the massacre. Let’s call it what it is: Evil. Wicked. Wrong.
David is currently an adjunct instructor of Composition and Speech at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. His wife and he have also owned a business selling antique and collectible postcards on eBay since 1999. David was an activist with Operation Rescue in the early 1990s. He is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, Iowa.