Friday, November 14, 2003

D.C. Sniper Trial

There's been quite a bit of media coverage on the trial of Lee Malvo, the yonger defendant in the sniper shootings case from last fall (Today from NYTimes or CNN or Case analysis at CNN). I'm quite curious as to how the jury will sentence him. Malvo's lawyer, Craig S. Cooley, has put forth the idea that Lee should not be held responsible for his actions, as he was brainwashed by his older companion John A. Muhammad. To any of you not familiar with the mechanisms of indoctrination, I suggest "The Manipulated Mind" by Denise Winn. From what I remember of the initial reports after the defendants capture, I would say that there certainly is a good case to be made that Lee Malvo was "brainwashed". For one thing, he was kept on a very strict diet by Muhammad, which left him in a state of near malnutrition. Studies have proven that such a diet puts the subject in a psychological state conducive to indoctrination. Another important step in the conditioning process was that Muhammad kept Lee isolated from his family and peers. The is a classic technique whereby a person's power stucture and social norms are broken down, leaving them in an extremely vulnerable state. Ultimately, I believe Lee Malvo has to accept some responsibility for his actions, but the brunt of the punishment should be on Muhammad's shoulders. Further reading: check out this link on the Milgram Experiment, which any psychology student should be familiar with.

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