Psychology and criminal behavior Essay Example

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Case Study of criminal behavior: Martha Moxley Murder 11

Case study of criminal behavior — Martha Moxley Murder.


Dechant (2009), claims existence of many ideas around cause of criminality and antisocial behavior. To explain the cause of criminal behavior, many theories have been developed overtime. This theories stem from historical background of criminality and dynamism developed to present day forensic psychology. Forensic psychology is described as applying psychology in civil and criminal justice processes. The pioneer of using criminal psychology in research and theories was a German-American called Hugo Munsterberg (1863-1916), who applied research to witnesses false confessions, memory, and use of hypnosis in law court (Dechant, 2009).

Table of contents


2Table of contents


3Criminal behaviour theories

5Case description: A killing in greenwich




Studies in criminal psychology started way back in 1889, however, for no known reasons American psychologists never embraced legal issues education and study of law and psychology began to disappear after World War II. Important roles played by psychologists became prominently used in 1960’s and by 1980’s criminal justice, social science and law were included in legal studies (Dechant, 2009).

Criminal behaviour theories

Rational choice theory is attributed to Dr. William Glasser for coining the term choice theory. In this theory, criminal activities are a matter of choice by offenders. Therefore the offender is always rational while commiting a crime (Siegel, 2005). According to Dechant (2009), the reasons for commiting offence is because of revenge, anger, greed, lust, thrills, need and vanity. In this theory, three models are manifested in the offenders criminal behaviour, predestined actor, victmised actor, and rational actor. The models depict the offenders choice, influence by, psychological, sociological and biological factors, and inequalities that exist in society which directs offenders to commit crime (Dechant, 2009).

The second theory, is known as Eyesenck’s personality and crime. The theory was postulated by a reknown British psychologist, Hans J. Eyenck. Crimical traits in an individual result from interactions of some environmental factors and nevous system features (Bartol & Bartal, 2005). In this theory, Eysenck’s emphasises genetic predispostion on criminal and antisocial behaviour, however, the criminal aspect is only manifested if the neurophysical make up unique to the offender are coupled to a mix of environmental conditions (Bartol & Bartal, 2005). Neouticism, extraversion and psychoticism are the main factors that are aroused or triggered by prevailing environmental situations in Eysenck theory (Dechant, 2009).

Trait theory, is the third theory which is a more extreme version of Eysenck’s theory. It descibes criminality to result from abnormal psychological or biological traits. Cesare Lombrosso, an Italian criminologist is accredited with this theory who believed criminals are atavists or carry ancestral traits which manisfest in an individuals later life (Siegel, 2005). However, contemporary evolutionary theorists differ with trait theory on account that a single biological or physical attribute does not explain versatility of criminal ones activities but rather a set of traits unique to an individual are responsible for criminal behaviour. This is supported by the assertion of existing link between chemical changes and behavior patterns in the nervous system and brain (Dechant, 2009). Biocriminologists on the other hand suggest that offenders have a predetermined genetic map. Imbalances in chemical and mineral compounds in the body distabilises normal brain growth or functioning which then result to antisocial behaviour (Schechter cited in Dechant, 2009).

The fourth theory, known as psychodynamic trait, coined bt Sigmund Freud towards the end of 1800’s is well accepted in history of criminality (Siegel, 2005). The theory stipulates existence of link between childhood emotional attachments that shape future social interactions (Siegel, 2005). Ego, id and super ego form the structure of this theory and proponents of the theory believe criminals bear id-dominated attributes complicated with poor social skills, immaturity and exessive dependence (Dechant, 2009). This theory can be summed up that, childhood negative experiences by offenders damages their ego making it impossible to relate positively with the conventional society (Siegel, 2005).

Society’s social stratification led to the firth theory of social structure where an offenders social and environmental circle aid in crime. In this theory, there are three min theriories of social disorganisational, straineous, and cultural deviance theories (Dechant, 2009). This theory compares closely to social process theory. However, the former is as a result of inequelities in conventional methods of acquiring wealth and resources resulting to lower class and upper class status. The lower class individuals would accept their status and remain responsible or turn to criminal and violent revolt (Siegel, 2005).

On the other hand social process theory, claims that criminality can be imitated or acquired through observations of others aggressive behaviour (Barlow & Durand, 2006). In addition, if an individual is frequently labeled to be tough or criminal while growing up, it is most probable that the person will turn to crime to fullfill the prophecy. Like wise the social process theory assumes that an individuals behaviour is shaped on the basis of association or grooming by other individuals or institutions (Dechant, 2009). Another theory called social conflict theory builts on power and abilities of a group, person or institution who by exercising their powers influence control over other individuals. This process creates crimogenic conditions, prevalence of biases, and shaping of criminal justice or law with the objective of protecting position and power of upper classes in disregard of the poor (Dechant, 2009).

Case description: A killing in greenwich

This paper examines a case where Michael skakel commited crime by killing his next-door neighbour while aged 15 years, as an example of application of criminal behaviour theories. According to the biography channel (Aug 11, 2008), criminal behaviour is frequently displayed in lives and crimes of reknown criminals. Michael skakel grew wild while still a teenager, by his father who was a multi-millionaire and a drunkard, Michael Skakel was also a nephew of Late Sen, Robert F. Kennedy (Biography Channel, Aug 11, 2008).

Martha was characteristically a bright and social girl and that summer, her body had shed off baby fat and was elegantly beautiful to be noticed by any boy. In addition, her blonde hair, parted in the middle and hunging down her lanky shoulders was fashionable that time (, 2009). In contrast, Skakel boys were reputed of being able of doing anything they wanted anywhere and anytime, and were known to be violent. Their mother passed away as a result of cancer in 1973, while their father was away on most occasion’s running successful family business, this meant the Skakel boys never had adult supervision (, 2009).

Because of family connections to Hynnisport notables, the Belle Haven police never seriously consindered the mischiveous bahaviour of Skatel’s (, 2009). The Skakels were viewed by many as a section of large “Irish mafia” composed of politically controlling and smart Catholic east of Kennedy population made rick because of Joseph Kennedy’s 1920’s enterprises and permanently cemented by John F. Kennedy’s presedential election in 1960 (, 2009).

Martha was interested in Michael’s baby face, however she did also show interest in his elder brother Thomas and it is claimed both boys fought oftenly over Martha. After disappearance of Martha on the Halloween party day. Dorothy Moxley paid visit to the Skakels looking for Martha, Michael Skakel answered the door and was displaying tired, rather disheveled and pale features, he also replied to Martha’s question without bothering or looking (, 2009).

October 30th, 1975, To Moxley’s family can be reffered to as a “Devils Night” because Martha Moxley was murderd then. Her body was discovered under a tree by a neighbouring girl later. Her body had been stabbed and bludgeoned using a women’s golf club four times in the head and its shaft used to stabb through her neck. It was discorvered that the club broke in four pieces and three were found at the crime scene (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.). Police investigation revealed Michael Skakel’s mother owned simillar club in 1975, however, monogram failed to prove conclusively if the fouth piece belonged to the set since the grip was never found (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.).

Although conviction took Tommy aged 18, brother to Michael Skakel and his tutor Kenneth Littleton to be first and second prime suspects, Michael Skakel, Moxley neighbour aged 15 and his younger brother were arrested 25 years later on 19th January, 2000. On 31st January, 2001 decision was reached to try Skakel as an adult. However, Skakel’s defence maintained that there is no concrete evidence to link him physically to the crime. Michael Skakel dennied the charge despite prossecutions assertion that he confessed once confessed to the killing when he was convicted for drunk-driving at Elan, a Maine reform/ rehabilitation center (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.).

One key prosecution witness, Gary Coleman claimed Skakel confessed privately during therapy sessions, although some students at the center denies. Coleman was later found dead misteriously in his driveway on 7th August, 2001 and an overdose of heroin was apparently attributed to his death. On the same account, it was alleged that clothing with stains were found in Skakel’s garbage after the murder and contained hair comparable to Moxley’s. later the clothing disappeared and were no longer source of evedence A closer insight revealed damnning facts on how Skakel and Thomas changed initial statements during testimony as adults. They claim to have become embarrased on admitting truth while teens. Tommy says he had been with Moxley earlier that night and ejagulated prematurely, while Skatel masturbated outside the window of her bedroom in a tree. However cerrtain excerpts have been extracted from Moxley’s diary about her problems with Skakel boys and which have been submitted to prosecution as evidence (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.).

Although Kenneth Littleton was the second suspect after Tommy denied killing Moxley, Skakel’s neighbours and others claim he had been seen naked outside their home, was alcoholic, and kept a collection of pornography. Littleton as well displayed disturbed and strange behaviour after the killing. He had been in bad terms with Moxley’s Father and had been fired only to resume work at Skakel’s the night Moxley was killed (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.). Littleton admitted tape recording confessions, however, he claims he was under pressure, drunk and mentally ill. Consequently, further investigations were conducted on serial killings in the town he lived, but was later granted immunity when he testified in 1998 before a grand jury claiming Skakel boys and their friends were drinking on the night of the killing (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.).

There are claims that Kennedy as Skakel’s first cousin championed Skatel’s innocence from June 2002 after conviction. Kennedy openly objected to asserted that there was much evidence to charge Kenneth Littleton as was for Skakel and openly dismissed confessions of the two men who witnessed Moxley murder in the garden that night. It is claimed Kennedy refused to hand over prosecution materials to Inspector Frank Garr claiming he is biased since he is depicted as the star of an upcomming book on securing Skakel’s conviction (Secondsightmagazine, n.d.).

In a different but related case, a 23 year old man with mental disorders brutally attacked and killed a woman in St. Louis. Brother to the victim, Tim Butz described the man to be dangerous and thanked seattle police for holding him in custody. The offenders sister and mother, offered apology to the victims family and asserted that the offender has manic and bi-polar depression disorders and was on medication (Bruce, 2009).

Skakel is now 42, serving 20 years life term after last years conviction. It is however ironical because if Skatel was convicted for murder at age 15, he would have been set free by the age of 21 years, but as an adult he is to serve a possible a life sentence. This is attributed to Skakel family conspiracy (Barlow & Durand, 2006).


This case description acurately relaties criminal behavior theories in its context. The Skakels boys were poorly influenced by environmental conditions. There father was away on business erands most oftenly while their mother died earlier of cancer. This condition predisposed the boys to lack of indivual to model or emulate good behaviour from. The family again is supper rich and had carved an exceptional class with political control and society influence (Barbaree & Marshall, 1993). This is shown by the battles of Robert F Kennedy Jr. spirited fight to protect the family name and prevent conviction of Michael Skakel. Michael doesn’t show any guit conscious or remorse after killing Martha Moxley from the way she replies to Martha’s Mother. Therefore, this paper concludes that the case description clearly justfies criminal behaviour traits in study of psychology of criminal law (Allgood & Warren, 2003).


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Barbaree, H., & Marshall, H. a. (1993). Juvenile sex offender. New York: The Guilford Press.

Barlow, D. H., & Durand, M. V. (2006). Essentials of abnormal psychology. Califonia: Thomas wadsworth.

Bartol, C., & Bartal, A. (2005). Criminal behaviour: A psychosocial approach. New Jersey: Pearson.

BiographyChannel. (Aug 11, 2008). Real lives. Aura Sports Ltd. Retrieved on August 4, 2009, from

Bruce, B. (2009). Suspect in custody in seattle murder case involving St. Louis Woman. Associated press.

Dechant, B. A. (2009). The Psychology of criminal behaviour: Theories from past to present. Coastline Journal .

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Secondsightmagazine. (n.d.). Martha Moxley Case: The Murder of Martha Moxley. 2nd Sight Magazine. Retrieved on August 4, 2009, from

Siegel, L. J. (2005). Criminolgy. Califonia: Thomson Wadsworth. (2009). The Martha Moxley Murder. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved on August 4, 2009, from .com/id23.html

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