Murderer Gets Reduced Sentence Because His Genes Made Him Do It

Murderer Gets Reduced Sentence Because His Genes Made Him Do It

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted October 31, 2009 in DNA and the Law

Hey criminals! Here’s how you get out of taking full responsibility for your dastardly actions:

  1. Fake your DNA sample
  2. Blame it on your identical twin
  3. See if you have the genes that predispose you to whatever crime you’ve committed

Magnetic resonance image of a weakened impulse-control circuit in a brainMurderer Abdelmalek Bayout and his attorneys chose option three. Bayout admitted in 2007 to stabbing and killing Walter Felipe Novoa Perez in Italy. During the first sentencing, he was found to be mentally ill. This year, neuroscientists also found abnormalities in brain-imaging scans and five genes linked to violent behavior, including MAOA.

Although there have been numerous cases since 1994 in which the defense argued for leniency based on MAOA deficiency, this is the first case in which this tactic has been successful. Based on the scans and genetic testing results, the judge reduced Bayout’s sentence by another year.

Not everyone agrees with the judge’s decision.

"We don’t know how the whole genome functions and the [possible] protective effects of other genes," says Giuseppe Novelli, a forensic scientist and geneticist at the University Tor Vergata in Rome. Tests for single genes such as MAOA are "useless and expensive", he adds.

Even worse, this verdict could open the floodgates to claims of all sorts the more we know about genetic influences on behavior. That list above is just about to get longer.

Source: Scientific American

Image: “Structural (left) and functional (right) MRI scan data shows that subjects with the violence-related version of the MAO-A gene (MAOA-L) had reduced volume and activity of the anterior cingulate cortex (blue area in front part of brain at left and corresponding yellow area in at right), which is thought to be the hub of a circuit responsible for regulating impulsive aggression. The color-coded areas show where subjects with the L gene type differed from subjects with the H gene type.”

NIMH Clinical Brain Disorders Branch

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