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Murder in Families

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 1994
14 pages
J M Dawson; P A Langan
Publication Series
A survey of homicide cases disposed in 1988 by courts in large urban counties indicated that 16 percent of murder victims were members of the defendant's family; 64 percent were murdered by friends or acquaintances and 20 percent were murdered by strangers.
Survey data compiled from State prosecutor files in 33 large urban counties yielded 2,539 murder cases involving 3,119 defendants and 2,655 victims. Data revealed that 6.5 percent of murder victims were killed by spouses, 3.5 percent by parents, 1.9 percent by children, 1.5 by siblings, and 2.6 percent by other family members. Females committed murder in one-third of the cases. Among black marital partners, wives were just about as likely to kill their husbands as husbands were to kill their wives. Among white victims murdered by spouses, wives were much less likely to be the killers. About 45 percent of family murder victims were female, compared to 18 percent of nonfamily murder victims. When a mother killed her own child, the child was more likely to be a son than a daughter. When a son killed a parent, the victim was about as likely to be the mother as the father. In murders of persons under 12 years of age, parents accounted for 57 percent of murderers. Eleven percent of all victims aged 60 or older were killed by a son or a daughter. No significant conviction rate differences separated family murder defendants from nonfamily murder defendants. Convicted family murder defendants were just as likely to receive a prison sentence as convicted nonfamily murder defendants. Firearms were used to kill 42 percent of family murder victims, compared to 63 percent of nonfamily murder victims. Approximately 74 percent of murder defendants had prior criminal records. The survey methodology is detailed with respect to sample selection, case availability, estimation procedures, coding of circumstances and victim-killer relationships, response rates, conviction rates, and sentencing. 32 tables

Date Created: December 21, 2009