After being convicted of murdering 17 men between 1978 and 1991, one of America’s most notorious serial killers found himself in the centre of a court case that captured the attention of the world. On this day, in 1992, Jeffrey Dahmer took the stand and made his plea.
Over the course of more than 13 years, Dahmer lured men at gay bars, malls and bus stops, with promises of money or sex. Once inside his apartment, he plowed them with alcohol laced with drugs before strangling them to death. He would then engage in sex acts with the corpses before dismembering them with an electric buzz saw. Some body parts were disposed of in the trash, while others were kept as souvenirs. He also photographed many of his victims at various stages of the murder process, so he could “recollect each act afterward and relive the experience”.
For more than a decade Dahmer dodged police, making several very lucky escapes, until he was arrested on July 22, 1991. When authorities raided his home they found a perfectly intact human head and genitals in his refrigerator, four more heads in his kitchen, three skulls on his dressing draws and a collection of harrowing Polaroid photographs.
Within minutes Dahmer was chirping like a canary. He admitted to the murders – and even went into deep detail of how he killed his victims – the youngest being 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone – and how he savoured every second of their deaths. His trial began in January 1992 and to everyone’s shock he initially pleaded not guilty (despite having already confessed). He eventually changed his plea to guilty by virtue of insanity.
“Yes, I always had that sense it was wrong. I don’t think anybody can kill somebody and think that it’s right,” Dahmer said during his trial. “Yes, I do have remorse, but I’m not even sure myself whether it is as profound as it should be. I’ve always wondered myself why I don’t feel more remorse.”
The Court learnt how most of the victims had been rendered unconscious prior to their murder, although some had died as a result of having acid or boiling water injected into their brain. Almost all the murders Dahmer committed involved a ritual of posing the victims’ bodies in suggestive positions -typically with the chest thrust outwards – prior to dismemberment. He admitted to performing necrophilia with several of his victims’ bodies, including performing sexual acts with their internal organs as he dismembered their bodies in his bathtub.
He also confessed to having consumed his victims’ hearts, livers, biceps, and portions of their thighs. He justified his actions by he simply could not ignore the compulsion to kill. “It was an incessant and never-ending desire to be with someone at whatever cost. Someone good looking, really nice looking. It just filled my thoughts all day long.” He added that at the time of his arrest he had been in the process of constructing a private altar of victims’ skulls which he had intended to display on the black table located in his living room.
His actions were perfect for the defence to cash in on an insanity plea. After all, no normal person could commit such horrendous crimes without suffering some form of mental illness. Defence experts testified Dahmer had borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, necrophilia, alcohol dependence, and a psychotic disorder, but the prosecution rejected the argument.
“Dahmer was not suffering from any mental disease or defect at the time that he committed the crimes,” said forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz. “Dahmer went to great lengths to be alone with his victim and to have no witnesses. There was ample evidence that he prepared in advance for each murder, therefore, his crimes were not impulsive. Although any acquisition of a paraphilia was not a matter of personal choice, Dahmer’s habit of becoming intoxicated prior to committing each of the murders was significant. If he had a compulsion to kill, he would not have to drink alcohol. He had to drink alcohol to overcome his inhibition, to do the crime which he would rather not do.”
The trial lasted two weeks before the court finally made their ruling. Dahmer was declare sane and sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms in prison. The Jury would have opted for the death penalty, they said, had it not been for the abolishment of capital punishment in the state of State of Wisconsin, in the United States, where the trial was heard.
Many say Dahmer thrived behind bars. He integrated well with other inmates and found religion. He would spend his free time reading a Bible and praying. But his stay in jail was short-lived. Two years later Dahmer was killed on November 28, 1994, by his fellow prison inmate Christopher Scarver, who beat him to death with a metal bar from the prison weight room. Scarver later revealed Dahmer had it coming and deserved to die.