Sympathy for the Devil? Child Homicide, Victim Characteristics, and the Sentencing Preferences of the American Conscience

114 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2008 Last revised: 22 Nov 2012

Pablo S. Torre

Harvard University

Date Written: March 23, 2007

Abstract

The act of killing a child attracts a deluge of media attention but a relative drip of sociological literature. This thesis deconstructs American views of child homicide and uses multivariate logistic regression analysis to conduct the first experimental test of the effects of victim characteristics (such as age) on sentencing recommendations in four different homicide scenarios: accidental, drunken, impulsive, and premeditated.

The findings illuminate the link between social norms and sentencing severity. Three conclusions may be drawn: first, child sympathy does not appear to vary by the respondent's demographic traits; second, child killers are sentenced more harshly than the killers of adults, but only when criminal intent is evident; and third, while there is a positive relationship between youth of the victim and the severity of punishment assigned to the offender, the effects for child and teen homicide are not so dissimilar as to contradict existing legal statutes in the United States.

Keywords: children, youth, murder, criminal, homicide, law, media, survey, experiment

JEL Classification: K10, K40

Suggested Citation

Torre, Pablo S., Sympathy for the Devil? Child Homicide, Victim Characteristics, and the Sentencing Preferences of the American Conscience (March 23, 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1310916 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1310916

Pablo S. Torre (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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