Thursday, July 1, 2010

iPost Fwd: [StandDown-L] NPR 3-part series - The Criminal Brain

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From: "Steve Hall" <>
Date: July 1, 2010 2:54:41 PM CDT
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Subject: [StandDown-L] NPR 3-part series - The Criminal Brain

This e-mail contains the three-part NPR series, "The Criminal Brain," from NPR
Morning Edition:
   A Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret
   Inside A Psychopath's Brain: The Sentencing Debate
   Can Your Genes Make You Murder?
- - - - -
You can listen to the audio reports at the links.  There are also photos and
other items at the links.
- - - - -
June 29, 2010 | Morning Edition [6 min 22 sec] | First in a three-part series

A Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

The criminal brain has always held a fascination for James Fallon. For nearly
20 years, the neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine has
studied the brains of psychopaths. He studies the biological basis for
behavior, and one of his specialties is to try to figure out how a killer's
brain differs from yours and mine.

About four years ago, Fallon made a startling discovery. It happened during a
conversation with his then 88-year-old mother, Jenny, at a family barbecue.

"I said, 'Jim, why don't you find out about your father's relatives?' " Jenny
Fallon recalls. "I think there were some cuckoos back there."

Fallon investigated.
"There's a whole lineage of very violent people - killers," he says.

One of his direct great-grandfathers, Thomas Cornell, was hanged in 1667 for
murdering his mother. That line of Cornells produced seven other alleged
murderers, including Lizzy Borden. "Cousin Lizzy," as Fallon wryly calls her,
was accused (and controversially acquitted) of killing her father and
stepmother with an ax in Fall River, Mass., in 1882.

A little spooked by his ancestry, Fallon set out to see whether anyone in his
family possesses the brain of a serial killer. Because he has studied the
brains of dozens of psychopaths, he knew precisely what to look for. To
demonstrate, he opened his laptop and called up an image of a brain on his
computer screen.

"Here is a brain that's not normal," he says. There are patches of yellow and
red. Then he points to another section of the brain, in the front part of the
brain, just behind the eyes.

"Look at that - there's almost nothing here," Fallon says.

This is the orbital cortex, the area that Fallon and other scientists believe
is involved with ethical behavior, moral decision-making and impulse control.

"People with low activity [in the orbital cortex] are either free-wheeling
types or sociopaths," he says.

Fallon's Scans
He's clearly oversimplifying, but Fallon says the orbital cortex puts a brake
on another part of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved with
aggression and appetites. But in some people, there's an imbalance - the
orbital cortex isn't doing its job - perhaps because the person had a brain
injury or was born that way.

"What's left? What takes over?" he asks. "The area of the brain that drives
your id-type behaviors, which is rage, violence, eating, sex, drinking."
- - - - -
Fallon's brain (on the right) has dark patches in the orbital cortex, the area
just behind the eyes. This is the area that Fallon and other scientists say is
involved with ethical behavior, moral decision-making and impulse control. The
normal scan on the left is his son's.
- - - - -

Fallon says nobody in his family has real problems with those behaviors. But
he wanted to be sure. Conveniently, he had everything he needed: Previously,
he had persuaded 10 of his close relatives to submit to a PET brain scan and
give a blood sample as part of a project to see whether his family had a risk
for developing Alzheimer's disease.

After learning his violent family history, he examined the images and compared
them with the brains of psychopaths. His wife's scan was normal. His mother:
normal. His siblings: normal. His children: normal.

"And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something disturbing that I did
not talk about," he says.

What he didn't want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.

"If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers."

Fallon cautions that this is a young field. Scientists are just beginning to
study this area of the brain - much less the brains of criminals. Still, he
says the evidence is accumulating that some people's brains predispose them
toward violence and that psychopathic tendencies may be passed down from one
generation to another.

The Three Ingredients
And that brings us to the next part of Jim Fallon's family experiment. Along
with brain scans, Fallon also tested each family member's DNA for genes that
are associated with violence. He looked at 12 genes related to aggression and
violence and zeroed in on the MAO-A gene (monoamine oxidase A). This gene,
which has been the target of considerable research, is also known as the
"warrior gene" because it regulates serotonin in the brain. Serotonin affects
your mood - think Prozac - and many scientists believe that if you have a
certain version of the warrior gene, your brain won't respond to the calming
effects of serotonin.

Fallon calls up another slide on his computer. It has a list of family
members' names, and next to them, the results of the genotyping. Everyone in
his family has the low-aggression variant of the MAO-A gene, except for one

"You see that? I'm 100 percent. I have the pattern, the risky pattern," he
says, then pauses. "In a sense, I'm a born killer."

Fallon was prompted to study his brain after his mother, Jenny, told him his
ancestry was full of alleged murderers.

Fallon's being tongue-in-cheek - sort of. He doesn't believe his fate or
anyone else's is entirely determined by genes. They merely tip you in one
direction or another.

And yet: "When I put the two together, it was frankly a little disturbing,"
Fallon says with a laugh. "You start to look at yourself and you say, 'I may
be a sociopath.' I don't think I am, but this looks exactly like [the brains
of] the psychopaths, the sociopaths, that I've seen before."

I asked his wife, Diane, what she thought of the result.

"I wasn't too concerned," she says, laughing. "I mean, I've known him since I
was 12."

Diane probably does not need to worry, according to scientists who study this
area. They believe that brain patterns and genetic makeup are not enough to
make anyone a psychopath. You need a third ingredient: abuse or violence in
one's childhood.

"And fortunately, he wasn't abused as a young person," Diane says, "so I've
lived to be a ripe old age so far."

The New World of 'Neurolaw'
Jim Fallon says he had a terrific childhood; he was doted on by his parents
and had loving relationships with his brothers and sisters and entire extended
family. Significantly, he says this journey through his brain has changed the
way he thinks about nature and nurture. He once believed that genes and brain
function could determine everything about us. But now he thinks his childhood
may have made all the difference.

"We'll never know, but the way these patterns are looking in general
population, had I been abused, we might not be sitting here today," he says.

As for the psychopaths he studies, Fallon feels some compassion for these
people who, he says, got "a bad roll of the dice."

"It's an unlucky day when all of these three things come together in a bad
way, and I think one has to empathize with what happened to them," he says.

But what about people who rape and murder - should we feel empathy for them?
Should they be allowed to argue in court that their brains made them do it?
Enter the new world of "neurolaw" - in which neuroscience is used as evidence
in the courtroom.

/ / / / /
June 30, 2010 | Morning Edition [7 min 37 sec] | Second in a three-part series

Inside A Psychopath's Brain: The Sentencing Debate
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Kent Kiehl has studied hundreds of psychopaths. Kiehl is one of the world's
leading investigators of psychopathy and a professor at the University of New
Mexico. He says he can often see it in their eyes: There's an intensity in
their stare, as if they're trying to pick up signals on how to respond. But
the eyes are not an element of psychopathy, just a clue.

Officially, Kiehl scores their pathology on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist,
which measures traits such as the inability to feel empathy or remorse,
pathological lying, or impulsivity.

"The scores range from zero to 40," Kiehl explains in his sunny office
overlooking a golf course. "The average person in the community, a male, will
score about 4 or 5. Your average inmate will score about 22. An individual
with psychopathy is typically described as 30 or above. Brian scored 38.5
basically. He was in the 99th percentile."

"Brian" is Brian Dugan, a man who is serving two life sentences for rape and
murder in Chicago. Last July, Dugan pleaded guilty to raping and murdering
10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine
whether he should be executed. Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a
psychiatric evaluation.

In a videotaped interview with Kiehl, Dugan describes how he only meant to rob
the Nicaricos' home. But then he saw the little girl inside.

"She came to the door and ... I clicked," Dugan says in a flat, emotionless
voice. "I turned into Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll."

On screen, Dugan is dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He seems calm, even normal
- until he lifts his hands to take a sip of water and you see the handcuffs.
Dugan is smart - his IQ is over 140 - but he admits he has always had shallow
emotions. He tells Kiehl that in his quarter century in prison, he believes
he's developed a sense of remorse.

"And I have empathy, too - but it's like it just stops," he says. "I mean, I
start to feel, but something just blocks it. I don't know what it is."

Kiehl says he's heard all this before: All psychopaths claim they feel
terrible about their crimes for the benefit of the parole board.

"But then you ask them, 'What do you mean, you feel really bad?' And Brian
will look at you and go, 'What do you mean, what does it mean?' They look at
you like, 'Can you give me some help? A hint? Can I call a friend?' They have
no way of really getting at that at all," Kiehl says.

Kiehl says the reason people like Dugan cannot access their emotions is that
their physical brains are different. And he believes he has the brain scans to
prove it.

Brain Scanning In A Mobile MRI
On a crystal clear June morning at Albuquerque's Youth Diagnostic and
Development Center, juveniles who have been convicted of violent offenses
march by, craning their necks as a huge trailer drives through the gates. This
is Kiehl's prize - a $2 million mobile MRI provided by the Mind Research
Network at the University of New Mexico. Kiehl transports the mobile MRI to
maximum-security prisons around the state, and over the past few years, he has
scanned the brains of more than 1,100 inmates, about 20 percent of whom are

For ethical reasons, Kiehl could not allow me to watch an inmate's brain being
scanned, so he asked his researchers to demonstrate.

After a few minutes of preparation, researcher Kevin Bache settles into the
brain scanner, where he can look up and see a screen. On the screen flashes
three types of pictures. One kind depicts a moral violation: He sees several
hooded Klansmen setting a cross on fire. Another type is emotional but morally
ambiguous: a car that is on fire but you don't know why. Another type of photo
is neutral: for example, students standing around a Bunsen burner.

The subjects rate whether the picture is a moral violation on a scale of 1 to
5. Kiehl says most psychopaths do not differ from normal subjects in the way
they rate the photos: Both psychopaths and the average person rank the KKK
with a burning cross as a moral violation. But there's a key difference:
Psychopaths' brains behave differently from that of a nonpsychopathic person.
When a normal person sees a morally objectionable photo, his limbic system
lights up. This is what Kiehl calls the "emotional circuit," involving the
orbital cortex above the eyes and the amygdala deep in the brain. But Kiehl
says when psychopaths like Dugan see the KKK picture, their emotional circuit
does not engage in the same way.

"We have a lot of data that shows psychopaths do tend to process this
information differently," Kiehl says. "And Brian looked like he was processing
it like the other individuals we've studied with psychopathy."

Kiehl says the emotional circuit may be what stops a person from breaking into
that house or killing that girl. But in psychopaths like Dugan, the brakes
don't work. Kiehl says psychopaths are a little like people with very low IQs
who are not fully responsible for their actions. The courts treat people with
low IQs differently. For example, they can't get the death penalty.

"What if I told you that a psychopath has an emotional IQ that's like a
5-year-old?" Kiehl asks. "Well, if that was the case, we'd make the same
argument for individuals with low emotional IQ - that maybe they're not as
deserving of punishment, not as deserving of culpability, etc."

Brian Dugan pleaded guilty last year to raping and murdering 10-year-old
Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine whether he
should be executed. Neuroscientist Kent Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a
psychiatric evaluation.
- - - - -
Brian Dugan pleaded guilty last year to raping and murdering 10-year-old
Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine whether he
should be executed. Neuroscientist Kent Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a
psychiatric evaluation.
- - - - -

Implications Of The Diagnosis
And that's exactly what Dugan's lawyers argued at trial last November.
Attorney Steven Greenberg said that Dugan was not criminally insane. He knew
right from wrong. But he was incapable of making the right choices.

"Someone shouldn't be executed for a condition that they were born with,
because it's not their fault," Greenberg says. "The crime is their fault, and
he wasn't saying it wasn't his fault, and he wasn't saying, give [me] a free
pass. But he was saying, don't kill me because it's not my fault that I was
born this way."

This argument troubles Steven Erickson, a forensic psychologist and legal
scholar at Widener University School of Law. He notes that alcoholics have
brain abnormalities. Do we give them a pass if they kill someone while driving

"What about folks who suffer from depression? They have brain abnormalities,
too. Should they be entitled to [an] excuse under the law?" he asks. "I think
the key idea here is the law is not interested in brain abnormalities. The law
is interested in whether or not someone at the time that the criminal act
occurred understood the difference between right and wrong."

At trial, Jonathan Brodie, a psychiatrist at NYU Medical School who was the
prosecution's expert witness, went further. Even if Dugan's brain is abnormal,
he testified, the brain does not dictate behavior.

"There may be many, many people who also have psychopathic tendencies and have
similar scans, who don't do antisocial behavior, who don't rape and kill,"
Brodie says.

Moreover, Brodie told the jury, Dugan's brain scan in 2009 says nothing about
what his brain was like when he killed Jeanine Nicarico.

"I don't know with Brian Dugan what was going on in his brain" when he
committed his crime, Brodie says. "And I certainly don't know what was going
on from a brain scan that was taken 24 years later."

The jury seemed to zero in on the science, asking to reread all the testimony
about the neuroscience during 10 hours of deliberation. But in the end, they
sentenced Dugan to death. Dugan is appealing the sentence.

In the meantime, this case signals the beginning of a revolution in the
courtroom, Kiehl says.

"Neuroscience and neuroimaging is going to change the whole philosophy about
how we punish and how we decide who to incapacitate and how we decide how to
deal with people," he says, echoing comments of a growing number of leading
scholars across the country, including Princeton and Harvard.

Just like DNA, he believes brain scans will eventually be standard fare. And
that, he and others say, could upend our notions of culpability, crime and

/ / / / /
July 1, 2010 | Morning Edition | [7 min 46 sec] Last in a three-part series

Can Your Genes Make You Murder?
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

When the police arrived at Bradley Waldroup's trailer home in the mountains of
Tennessee, they found a war zone. There was blood on the walls, blood on the
carpet, blood on the truck outside, even blood on the Bible that Waldroup had
been reading before all hell broke loose.

Assistant District Attorney Drew Robinson says that on Oct. 16, 2006, Waldroup
was waiting for his estranged wife to arrive with their four kids for the
weekend. He had been drinking, and when his wife said she was leaving with her
friend, Leslie Bradshaw, they began to fight. Soon, Waldroup had shot Bradshaw
eight times and sliced her head open with a sharp object. When Waldroup was
finished with her, he chased after his wife, Penny, with a machete, chopping
off her finger and cutting her over and over.

"There are murders and then there are ... hacking to death, trails of blood,"
says prosecutor Cynthia Lecroy-Schemel. "I have not seen one like this. And I
have done a lot."

Prosecutors charged Waldroup with the felony murder of Bradshaw, which carries
the death penalty, and attempted first-degree murder of his wife. It seemed
clear to them that Waldroup's actions were intentional and premeditated.

"There were numerous things he did around the crime scene that were conscious
choices," Lecroy-Schemel says. "One of them was [that] he told his children to
'come tell your mama goodbye,' because he was going to kill her. And he had
the gun, and he had the machete."
- - - - -
A photo from the crime scene at Bradley Waldroup's house.
A machete that Bradley Waldroup used to wound his estranged wife. At right is
the Bible Waldroup had been reading before his wife and her friend arrived at
his home.
- - - - -

It was a pretty straightforward case. Even Waldroup said so during his trial
last year. He said on the murderous night, he just "snapped," and he admitted
that he killed Leslie Bradshaw and attacked his wife. "I'm not proud of none
of it," Waldroup said.

"It wasn't a who done it?" says defense attorney Wylie Richardson. "It was a
why done it?"

A Dangerous Mix
Richardson says he realized that the testimony at trial would be "very
graphic." The defense team, he says, did not try to dismantle the graphic
evidence but rather sought to "give a broader and fuller picture of what that

How to do that? The answer, it turned out, lay in Bradley Waldroup's genes.

Immediately, Richardson went to forensic psychiatrist William Bernet of
Vanderbilt University and asked him to give Waldroup a psychiatric evaluation.
Bernet also took a blood sample and brought it to Vanderbilt's Molecular
Genetics Laboratory. Since 2004, Bernet and laboratory director Cindy
Vnencak-Jones have been analyzing the DNA of people like Waldroup.

They've tested some 30 criminal defendants, most of whom were charged with
murder. They were looking for a particular variant of the MAO-A gene - also
known as the warrior gene because it has been associated with violence. Bernet
says they found that Waldroup has the high-risk version of the gene.

"His genetic makeup, combined with his history of child abuse, together
created a vulnerability that he would be a violent adult," Bernet explains.

Over the fierce opposition of prosecutors, the judge allowed Bernet to testify
in court that these two factors help explain why Waldroup snapped that
murderous night.

"We didn't say these things made him become violent, but they certainly
constituted a risk factor or a vulnerability," Bernet says.

Bernet cited scientific studies over the past decade that found that the
combination of the high-risk gene and child abuse increases one's chances of
being convicted of a violent offense by more than 400 percent. He notes that
other studies have not found a connection between the MAO-A gene and violence
- but he told the jury that he felt the genes and childhood abuse were a
dangerous cocktail.

"A person doesn't choose to have this particular gene or this particular
genetic makeup," Bernet says. "A person doesn't choose to be abused as a
child. So I think that should be taken into consideration when we're talking
about criminal responsibility."
- - - - -
Brad Waldroup takes the stand in 2009.
A jury was asked to weigh genetic evidence in the case against Bradley
Waldroup, accused of murder and attempted murder. A forensic psychiatrist
testified that Waldroup carried a gene associated with violence.
- - - - -

A jury was asked to weigh genetic evidence in the case against Bradley
Waldroup, accused of murder and attempted murder. A forensic psychiatrist
testified that Waldroup carried a gene associated with violence.

Genetics, Or Smoke And Mirrors?
The genetic testing was only one piece of Waldroup's defense. His attorneys
also argued that Waldroup was depressed, suffered from "intermittent explosive
disorder" and acted in the heat of passion. Still, defense co-attorney Shari
Tayloe Young says the genetic evidence was critical.

"I think if that wasn't out there, then all the jury would have seen are all
these terrible pictures where he took a machete and hacked at his wife," she
says. "And they would have thought, he's the worst of the worst, and that's
what the death penalty is for - the worst of the worst. But because they heard
all the mental issues, they understood what was going on in him and understood
why he did what he did."

Prosecutor Drew Robinson thinks this genetic evidence is "smoke and mirrors,"
aimed at confusing the jury.

"The more of this information that you put before a jury, the [greater the]
chances of confusing them and drawing their attention away from the facts and
onto some other aspects of the case," Robinson says. "You always run that
risk. And I just think that's asking the jury to grasp ahold of a little bit
too much."

To rebut Bernet's testimony, Robinson called in his own expert: psychiatrist
Terry Holmes, the clinical director of Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute
in Chattanooga, Tenn. Holmes urged the jury to ignore it.

"This was somebody who was intoxicated and mad and was gonna hurt somebody,"
Holmes says. "And it had little to nothing to do with his genetic makeup."

Holmes says it's way too early to use this research in a court of law. And he
believes Bernet is spinning the data.

But jurors say they weren't spun. Sheri Lard, one of the 12, says it was just
one piece of evidence that weighed heavily for some - and for others, not at

"We had your good old boys who wanted to stick it to him," Lard says,
laughing. "You had your grandmother types who felt sorry for him. And then you
had the medical ones. The medical ones were the ones who wanted to do due

Genetic Evidence A Factor
But Lard says the genetic evidence did figure into a major decision - whether
to find Waldroup guilty of murder and impose the death penalty. The jurors
concluded that his actions were not premeditated and agreed with the defense
argument that Waldroup just exploded.

"I remember when we were talking as a jury, the comment was brought up, 'You
know, if I were in this situation, I would snap.' But there was more to it.
There was more to his whole life that led to that moment," Lard says.

Including his genes?

"Oh I'm sure," Lard says. "And his background - nature vs. nurture."
- - - - -
Psychiatrist Terry Holmes says it's too early to use this kind of genetic
evidence in a court of law, and testified that Waldroup was simply drunk and
mad. The attacks "had little do with his genetic makeup," Holmes says.
- - - - -

Another juror, Debbie Beaty, says the science helped persuade her that
Waldroup was not entirely in control of his actions.

"Evidently it's just something that doesn't tick right," Beaty says. "Some
people without this would react totally different than he would."

And even though prosecutors tried to play down the genetic evidence, Beaty
felt it was a major factor.

"A diagnosis is a diagnosis, it's there," she says. "A bad gene is a bad

After 11 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Waldroup of voluntary
manslaughter - not murder - and attempted second-degree murder.

Prosecutor Drew Robinson was stunned.

"I was just flabbergasted. I did not know how to react to it," Robinson says.

Nor did fellow prosecutor Cynthia Lecroy-Schemel. She worries that this sort
of defense is the wave of the future.

"Anything that defense attorneys can have to latch onto to save their client's
life or to lessen their client's culpability, they will do it," Lecroy-Schemel

Waldroup's attorney, Wylie Richardson, says she's right.

"I would use it again" under the right circumstances, he says. "It seemed to
work in this case."

The judge in the case sentenced Waldroup to 32 years in prison. At the
hearing, Judge Carroll Ross told Waldroup he should think twice about
appealing. The state might not mind trying this again and asking for the death
penalty, the judge said. You might not be as fortunate with a jury the next

Scientists and legal experts expect to see more cases like this as
neuroscience makes inroads into the courtroom, and presents guilt and
innocence - not in terms of black and white - but in shades of gray.

/ / / / /
Steve Hall
512.879.1675  (o
512.627.3011  (m
Skype: shall78711

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