The C.S.I. Syndrome
Getting Them Young
Around noon one day, John G., age 12, shot his mother in the face with a Remington .22 calibre rifle. According to the initial reports, based on what John had said, he had taken the gun from a cabinet in the backyard shed and gone into the house with it, shooting his mother. He then went out and told his two younger sisters, whereupon they all went inside and then emerged to ask neighbors for help. John's father, who was away at work, insisted that he kept his hunting rifles unloaded and locked in the shed. He had one of only two keys with him and his wife had hidden the other (which John had found).
When police arrived, John first told them that an intruder had come through the window and shot his mother, but when his grandparents pressured him, he admitted that he had done it. He'd taken it into the house to show his mother, and it had accidentally gone off, shooting her in the face as she sat on the couch. A spent cartridge was found outside in the backyard and there was no evidence that the shed had been broken into. The gun had been placed back in the cabinet.
After shooting his mother, the evidence shows that John walked outside, ejected the spent cartridge in the yard, unlocked the shed and told his sisters that their mother was dead. A neighbor who assisted them said that the girls were shaken but John was not. He exhibited no emotion whatsoever. He also said that his mother had asked him to wait a moment because she was on the phone, but the person who had been on the other end said that no such exchange had taken place. The victim had stopped talking in mid-sentence.
John was also a fan of television shows like C.S.I. He mentioned this when neighbors called the police to the scene, and he apparently expected to see the same sort of activity he had watched on television. "Now it will be just like on C.S.I.," he said. His reaction was more that of curiosity than of horror.
The forensic lab found that John had held the gun just inches from his mother's face when he shot her. Also, his fingerprints were on an ammunition box, and it came out that he had locked his sisters into the shed after loading the gun.
As for the facts that came out about the boy's character during a psychological assessment, he had no identifiable mental illness, but had "gun-related issues." He was also prone to violence and deception when frustrated. When he was ten, his mother had denied him permission to go on a fishing trip, so he had taken the family's van, crashed it and told police that he had been kidnapped. He had shot a neighborhood girl, 8, in the stomach with a BB gun and was seen shooting at her dog. This was an example of a mind primed to attack, watching crime dramas to get ideas.
Yet it's also true that criminals can read forensic science texts to get the same ideas, so let's return to the other concern about C.S.I. -type shows. Is there even any evidence that they affect the average viewer in the way attorneys claim?