'He Speaks Not, Yet He Says Everything; What of That?' Text, Context, and Pretext in State v. Jeffrey Dahmer
58 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2009 Last revised: 1 May 2009
Date Written: April 20, 2009
In State v. Dahmer, the defense attempted to lead the jury through a series of inferences to conclude that the defendant was insane at the time he committed each of the fifteen murders charged; it portrayed a client who was fully cooperative and honest once the authorities arrested him. To make this approach work, the defense needed narrative distance between the defendant and the jury so he could not be cross examined about his meticulous planning of each murder or his prior inconsistent statements. This paper briefly lays out the development of the defense of insanity, focusing on the different professional aims of law and psychiatry. It then fleshes out how this tension emerged during the Dahmer trial and analyzes how the attorneys attempted to exploit it in terms of Paul Ricoeur's narrative theory. It concludes that the defense was ultimately unsuccessful because it failed to give the jury an adequate context for understanding a life both as ordinary and complex as Dahmer's.
Keywords: insanity, narrative theory
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation