Neuropsychological features of indigent murder defendants and death row inmates in relation to homicidal aspects of their crimes

Robert E. Hanlon, Leah H. Rubin, Marie Jensen, Sarah Daoust

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Neuropsychological features of 77 indigent murder defendants and death row inmates were examined in relation to criminal variables underlying their homicidal acts. Clinically, the sample was characterized by elevated rates of developmental disorders (49%), personality disorders (54%), Axis I psychiatric disorders (45%), substance abuse (86%), and history of violence (43%). By statute, killing more than one person is an aggravating factor in many jurisdictions that renders a murder defendant eligible for the death penalty. Individuals who committed a single murder were characterized by executive dysfunction, lower intelligence, slower speed of information processing, and a higher frequency of developmental disorders (58%), relative to those charged and/or convicted of killing two or more people, who were characterized by a significantly higher rate of personality disorders (79%) and a lower rate of developmental disorders (34%). Additionally, using the FBI criminal classification system for categorizing homicide by motive, a significant difference in the frequency of psychosis was found among subgroups associated with the following motives: Criminal enterprise; personal cause; and sex. The collective neuropsychological profile of the sample revealed that executive functions were significantly decreased, relative to memory functions, with over half of the sample (55%) demonstrating executive dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalArchives of Clinical Neuropsychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Capital punishment
  • Criminal behavior
  • Forensic evaluation
  • Homicide
  • Murder
  • Neuropsychology
  • Prisoners
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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