Psychopathy among condemned capital murderers

Matt DeLisi, David J. Peters, Andy Hochstetler, H. Daniel Butler, Michael G. Vaughn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychopathy is an important forensic mental health construct. Despite this importance, the research base of psychopathy among individuals convicted of capital murder is limited. Archival data were collected from a sample of 636 persons convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in the State of California. Psychopathy was assessed using the Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R) instrument. Data on criminal careers and other behavioral disorders were also extracted. The sample mean PCL-R total score was 23.31 (SD = 9.92) and one-third of individuals in this sample were considered clinically psychopathic with PCL-R total scores of 30 or greater. Factor analytic examination yielded support for four facets: affective, interpersonal, lifestyle, and antisocial. Criterion validity findings revealed positive correlations of psychopathy scores with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ρ = 0.72), Conduct Disorder (ρ = 0.46), sexual sadism (ρ = 0.24), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ρ = 0.20), ADHD (ρ = 0.15), arrest charges (r = 0.56), prison sentences (r = 0.53), and age of arrest onset (r = −0.57). Individuals convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death reflect heterogeneity in psychopathy with some individuals exhibiting pronounced psychopathic features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-567
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Mar

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


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