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Hannity

How Should We Deal with Young Murderers?

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 31, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Three cases of violence perpetrated by children shocked the country this weekend. In Ohio, a teenager shot and killed five people including his grandparents, his mother and his sister before turning the gun on himself. And it all happened the morning he was to graduate from high school.

In Florida, two teenagers are in jail tonight after beating a homeless man to death. According to reports, the 14-year-old and the 18-year-old told investigators that they did it for fun and something to do.

And right here in New York City, is possibly the most shocking case, a 9-year-old girl murdered her best friend by stabbing her through the heart with a kitchen knife. And you thinking why? Well, because of a fight over a rubber ball.

What's behind this rash of violence, and what do you do to deal with young murderers? Joining us from Massachusetts, the author of "Extreme Killing," Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin and the author of "Practical Parenting," clinical psychologist Jeffrey Gardere.

Welcome back of you back.

JEFFREY GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Thank you.

JACK LEVIN, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY CRIMINOLOGIST: Thank you.

COLMES: Jeffrey, why is this happening? This 8-year-old, is this happening with increasing frequency or are we just hearing more about it?

GARDERE: No, I think it is happening with increasing frequency. I think part of it is we are amongst one of the most violent nations so children are exposed to violence and they think that's one of the ways to work out issues.

I think, with this particular girl — we don't know much about her, but I would bet my bottom dollar, this is a young girl who has some severe emotional issues, rage, of course. Maybe, I will go as far as saying, Alan, maybe some fetal alcohol syndrome where she doesn't really know right from wrong in these sorts of situations.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: All right, Jack, is this — do you agree with Jeffrey that this is an increasing problem in our society or is it a matter of the media now highlighting it?

LEVIN: Well, you know, Alan, these kinds of murders do not distribute themselves evenly over a period of a year or two. So they sometimes cluster together and it gives the appearance that we're experiencing an epidemic.

Actually, the rate of teenage and child murder was dramatically higher between 1986 and 1993. And then we saw the murder rate plummet. So actually, murders committed by children and other juveniles is much lower now than it was ten years ago.

COLMES: All right. Do you agree with Jeffrey about this 8-year-old, fetal syndrome, possible alcohol syndrome possibly? Certainly a disturbed child. Do you agree with his assessment?

LEVIN: Well, you know, who knows? I mean, it could be something biological. It could be something environmental. Certainly, this is an aberration.

I mean, we see very, very few 9- or 11-year-old girls — we see very few girls committing murder. And then 11-years-old, 9-years-old, no. This is abnormal psychology, there's no question about that.

Whether it's some kind of biological abnormality, maybe faulty wiring, maybe something she came into the world with, or something that happened to her environment, I don't know. But I have to say this, that she had apparently a history of violence. There were people around her who saw it coming. There were warning signs, but apparently no one paid any attention to them.

HANNITY: Hey, Jeffrey, you know, it gets down to the question, if people take the position that a 9-year-old that plunges [a knife into] the a heart of, you know, an 11-year-old over a rubber ball, you know, we have got to consider the rest of society. You know, at what point do we say it is in society's interest not to take a chance and ever let a person that violent with that kind of impulse problem out again? Is that harsh or...

GARDERE: I think, certainly, Sean, when you're looking at a 9-year- old, it is very harsh. The professor is right. This is something that is something quite abnormal. We don't usually see that kind of violence. I think we are seeing more violence with children, but these kinds of murders, no.

Your point, I think, is a good one. What do we do in these sorts of situations with these youngster whose are part of this — such a violent behavior, who practice this kind of violent behavior? I think we have to look at what is wrong. Is it the wiring, as the professor said, or is there something in the environment going on? Is it poverty? What is it? But it needs to be addressed.

HANNITY: But are we making excuses? The bottom line is, these kids, for example, the older kids that beat up the homeless kid that said it's for fun and something to do, how do you rewire somebody? Or if we say, "Well, their wiring is off, or we didn't feed them Twinkies, or perhaps it was fetal alcohol syndrome," aren't we making excuses for their behavior as they get older?

GARDERE: I don't know if we're making excuses for the behavior. Perhaps we're looking at what may be wrong with the behavior. How does a child grow up in this way to become a murderer? Is it "the bad seed?" I don't think so.

I think we're all born inherently good, but something happens to us, whether it's the environment, whether it's the physical, we just don't know, in some of these cases. And certainly an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old, who are the ones who allegedly kicked, and beat, stomped this homeless guy to death, I think that's where your question really does have relevance. Now, do we let someone out at that age who does know right from wrong?

HANNITY: Jack, that's the point. At what point do we say these people have to be responsible for their behavior, that we can't take a chance on letting them back out into society after they commit such a heinous act like this, and such a mean-spirited hateful act?

LEVIN: Well, you know, Sean, I think there is a limit, as you point out, to our tolerance, and we have got to draw the line someplace. And maybe this is where we should draw it. Maybe we shouldn't let these kids out.

But let me also point out that there are developmental differences between children and adults. That's how we got a juvenile justice system to begin with. It recognizes that there are profound differences. You know, there are many teenagers who simply do not think about consequences.

COLMES: Hey, Jack, we thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

GARDERE: Thank you, Alan.

LEVIN: Thank you.

COLMES: Jack, thank you both.

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