Criminal Justice Outcomes in Intimate and Non-intimate Partner Homicide Cases


4.1 Bivariate patterns: A preliminary look at intimacy and justice

Table 4.1: Bivariate Associations for Criminal Justice Outcomes and Type of Homicide, Total Sample, Toronto, Ontario, 1974-2002
Total Sample Intimate Partners Non-Intimate Partners
Variables (N=1,137) (N=230) (N=907)
Criminal justice outcomesa
First degree murder charge
37% (419) 35% (80) 37% (339)
Case sent to trial
58% (654) 53% (122) 59% (532)
Found guilty at trial
60% (395) 64% (79) 60% (316)
Not criminally responsible
37% (96) 57% (25)** 33% (71)
Likelihood of conviction
76% (866) 80% (185) 75% (681)
Convicted of murder
39% (341) 41% (76) 39% (265)
Sentenced to federal institution
83% (715) 81% (149) 83% (566)
Length of sentence
9.20 years 9.11 years 9.23 years

Note: * p< .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001

aNumber in parentheses indicates sample size at that stage of the criminal process because number of accused persons varies at some stages.

Table 4.1 shows the results from the bivariate analysis that compares the treatment of the two types of homicide across the various criminal justice stages. With respect to the eight outcomes, it appears that the treatment of those accused of killing intimate partners differs from that received by those who killed other types of victims at only one decision-making point - type of acquittal. More specifically, in the Toronto sample, among those acquitted, accused persons who killed intimate partners were significantly more likely to be found 'not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder' than accused persons who killed victims with whom they shared more distant relationships (57 percent compared to 33 percent; see Box 3). With respect to the other stages of the criminal process, the victim-accused relationship does not appear to affect the outcome, at least at the bivariate level.[27] Looking more closely at length of sentence, Table 4.2 shows the distribution for five sentence categories for the total sample of convicted accused by type of homicide. There were no significant differences in the sentence categories by type of victim-accused relationship.

Box 3. Accused Found Not Criminally Responsible by Reason of Mental Disorder

Case #8633

The male accused in this case claimed that his dead grandmother had been talking with him since her death and, on the night of the killing, had instructed him to kill his mother – the victim. That morning, the accused got a knife from the kitchen and attacked his mother. He stabbed her, in total, 125 times. When she was lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen, the defendant washed and changed his clothes in the bathroom. When he returned, he thought he saw his mother move and make a gurgling sound. He took the knife again and slashed her a number of times through the neck, severing the jugular vein. After he knew she was dead, he called for police and an ambulance and confessed to the killing. The accused had been receiving psychiatric treatment for more than a decade. He had also been hospitalized a number of times. The accused was originally charged with second-degree murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Case #9702

The male victim and male accused were transients who were staying at a shelter. On the morning of the killing, both were seen leaving the shelter. Later they were observed standing on the sidewalk where the accused struck the victim, inflicting a stab wound to the victim’s eye. The victim fell to the ground and the accused walked away. A witness called 911 to report the crime and directed the police in the direction that the accused had gone. An investigation revealed that the victim was a regular at the shelter, but the accused had only recently begun to stay there. On the night before the killing, the accused arrived late and the bed he had been using had been assigned to its regular client – the victim. The accused became upset because he felt the bed should be his since he slept in it the previous night, but he was assigned another bed instead. No confrontation was reported until the next morning when the accused stabbed the victim. There had been no previous interactions between the accused and the victim. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.

Case #8751

The male accused had been seeing doctors for his insomnia and depression. A doctor had recommended that the accused be admitted into a psychiatric hospital, but the accused refused. The female victim, a friend, invited him to her place to talk over his problems on the day of the killing. While there, the accused lost control and flew into a rage. He strangled, stabbed and suffocated the victim. He tried to make the victim’s death look like a sexual assault gone bad and left the apartment. Later, the wife of the accused awoke to find him in bed beside her with an axe in his hand. They talked until he passed out from a drug overdose and his wife called the police. The accused was initially charged with first-degree murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and hospitalized.

Case #9704

The female victim and male accused were staying over at a friends’ home. Early in the morning, the friends were awoken from their sleep by a scream from the room where the victim and the accused were sleeping. They went into the bedroom where they found the accused kneeling on top of the victim, stabbing her repeatedly. The friends intervened and the police were called. The friends indicated that, during the evening prior, they had not consumed any alcohol. They were also not aware of any prior violence between the victim and the accused. The victim, who was pregnant, had been stabbed 29 times. When arrested, the accused did not seem to comprehend what was happening and was not responsive to questions. The accused was charged with second-degree murder, but was found not criminally responsible.

Case #8138

The male accused believed that the female victim and their male tenant were having an affair. He tried to have the tenant evicted in court on the day of the killing, but was unsuccessful. Later that evening, while the accused and the victim were preparing supper, they began to argue. The accused grabbed the knife the victim was using to prepare the meal and stabbed her with it. She suffered stab wounds to the chest and head. There was a history of prior violence by the accused against the victim and the police had been involved in some of these prior incidents. A psychiatrist had been treating the accused at the time of the killing, but there was no indication what the treatment was for. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to hospitalization.

Case #8155

The male accused had been unemployed for a couple of months and there was increased domestic discord during this time between him and the female victim. The couple had apparently been arguing about the children when the accused sent the children to a friend’s house. At some point as the couple continued to argue, the accused strangled the victim then fled the scene. The friends who were looking after the couple’s children discovered the victim’s body that afternoon. The accused claimed that the devil had commanded him to kill the victim. It was alleged that he had been suffering delusions, including that the victim was being unfaithful to him. He had been receiving outpatient psychiatric treatment. The accused was charged with second-degree murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

[27] The findings here contradict the majority of earlier bivariate research on intimacy and criminal justice. A primary reason for this may be that prior research does not distinguish between intimate partners and other types of intimate relationships as already noted. The majority of studies defined intimate violence as those acts that occurred between spouses, family and friends, comparing the treatment of this larger 'intimate' group to the treatment of those who shared non-intimate relationships, including acquaintances and strangers.

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