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Parricides: Characteristics of Offenders and Victims, Legal Factors, and Treatment Issues

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 4 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer 1999 Pages: 179-190
Marc Hillbrand; Jason W. Alexandre; John L. Young; Reuben T. Spitz
Date Published
12 pages
After summarizing statistics on parricide, this article presents a typology of young parricidal offenders as well as adults who commit parricide; legal and treatment issues are then examined.
Parricides account for approximately 2 percent of all homicides. Perpetrators are typically white middle-class males without a history of prior criminal convictions. Most parricides involve single-victim, single-offender situations, with firearms more likely to be used against fathers than mothers. The popular literature as well as much of the professional literature have portrayed youths who killed a parent as prosocial individuals who feared for their lives. Adults who killed a parent have typically been presented as suffering from a severe mental disorder. Although these two scenarios describe many parricides, major mental disorders among youthful parricidal offenders, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and other psychiatric comorbidities also occur in a significant proportion of parricides. Most parricides are classified by police as murder rather than manslaughter. Once they are charged with murder, youthful and adult parricidal offenders are processed differently by the criminal justice system. Usually, youths are processed by juvenile courts and remanded to institutional settings and later released at age 18 if no longer considered dangerous; adults are typically tried and acquitted by reason of insanity. Expert testimony on the psychological effects of battering is generally admissible for adult women who kill an abusive parent, yet not generally accepted for children who kill abusive parents. Regarding prevention of parricide, most researchers lament the lack of social interventions in cases of severe familial discord; they emphasize the need for early detection and treatment. Abused youth convicted of parricide need mental health interventions immediately after commission of the crime. The youth who has killed to end a cycle of abuse needs mental health interventions different from those required to treat a chronically aggressive youth. Factors such as severe guilt, shame, depression, and heightened suicidal risk make residential treatment of many parricidal youths the only treatment option. 58 references