This case study involves Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr., now 57 years old but who was only 23 when he committed the heinous crime that kept him behind bars at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Beekman, New York up to the present. His numerous appeals for parole were all rejected.
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II. Criminal Activity and Court Charges
DeFeo Jr. was convicted of 6 counts of second degree murder in December 4, 1975 at Suffolk County, New York and sentenced to six 25-year terms equivalent to 150 years in prison or essentially life imprisonment (Lowe, 2008). In the early morning of November 13, the previous year in Amityville, New York, he used his .35 caliber Marlin rifle to massacre his father, mother, two sisters and two brothers while they were all sound asleep, killing them instantly (Lowe, 2008). The youngest victim was only 7 years old.
He tried to conceal the evidence of his premeditated crime and weaved a story pointing to the Mafia as the ones responsible. Later, he admitted to the crime but fabricated different stories as to why he did it – i.e. because of self defense and later because he was suffering from a severe psychological disorder. He also accused the police of forcing him to wrongfully confess to the crime.
III. Case History
Ronald DeFeo Jr. came from a well-off family. His mother’s family owned a shop dealing Buick cars where his father worked diligently until he began to earn more than enough for his family to move to Amityville, Long Island, New York where they bought heir dream house (Crime Library, 2007). Finances not being a problem, he also had a boathouse built along the Amityville River.
However, Ronald DeFeo Sr. had a violent temper and often displayed episodes of rage. He and his wife, Ronnie Jr.’s mother, often had intense fights and because Ronnie Jr. was the eldest child, he most often became the subject of his father’s violent outbursts or abuse as well (Crime Library, 2007). DeFeo Sr. expected from his young son the same tough and authoritative character as himself.
Ronnie Jr., as a child, was fat and brooding and was often the target of bullying in school. His father often berated him to stand up for himself against the bullies but was never allowed to speak for himself in front of his father or to disobey (Crime Library, 2007). As Ronnie Jr. grew older and gained physical strength, he displayed the same temper as his father and fought back until their quarrels increased in intensity as to involve violent physical confrontations.
Eventually disturbed at his son’s behavior, DeFeo Sr. brought him to a psychiatrist but Ronnie Jr. was unresponsive to treatment. In an effort to placate him, DeFeo Sr. gave Ronnie Jr. everything that he wanted – a speedboat, lots of money and a car among others. Later, Ronnie Jr. was designated a petty job at his father’s car dealership where he received a salary whether or not he performed a task or not.
Mental Defects or Disorders
DeFeo Jr. displayed a lot of anti-social behavior. While working in the family owned shop, Ronnie Jr. was once sent on an errand to deposit some money and checks at the bank. Together with his friend, he took the money and checks but made it appear that both of them were victims of a hold-up. He also engaged in substance abuse involving alcohol, heroin and LSD and was kicked out of high school. Once, on a hunting trip with friends, he pointed his gun at one of his friends which terrorized the person he had known for a long time. He also did the same to his father, going to the extent of pulling the trigger. Were it not for a jam in the loaded gun, he would have killed his father at that very instant.
During his trial psychologists presented different diagnoses of his behavior. The defense psychologist witness confirmed that he was delusional, neurotic and psychotic and so could not take full responsibility for his crime (Crime Library, 2007). His lack of remorse and his being pleased at the deaths of his family members was the evidence of his disorder. The prosecution psychologist witness stated that he had an antisocial personality disorder instead and so was aware of what was right and wrong and the results of his actions but was primarily motivated by self centeredness (Crime Library, 2007). His cleaning up the crime scene in order to remove evidence that would implicate him pointed to this mental defect.
Case Facts Overview
The prosecutor who effected the conviction was Assistant District Attorney Gerry Sullivan of Suffolk County, New York while Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr. had the renowned lawyer William Weber as his counsel. The defense tried to plead innocence by reason of insanity with Dr. Daniel Schwartz, a psychologist famous for pronouncing not a few killers as insane, as expert witness (Newsday.com, 2008).
However, DeFeo’s own statements explicitly provided a clear motive for cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of the evidence that connected him to the act (Newsday.com, 2008). By stating that he did not want to leave clues for the police that would implicate him, Ronnie DeFeo Jr. showed that his behavior was not irrational but was in fact acted out with precise motives. The jury unanimously found him guilty of all counts.
Weber, DeFeo Jr.’s former lawyer, wanted a retrial this time based on the argument that DeFeo Jr. was possessed by demons, i.e. satanic voices in his head ordered him to kill. Weber together with a friend, George Lutz, conspired to create what is known as the Amityville Horror in order to bolster DeFeo Jr.’s supposed demon possession which would support his appeal for innocence due to insanity (1000misspenthours.com, 2008). This would also relieve the Lutz’s of the mortgage that they realized they could not afford.
Lutz created a supernatural haunting nightmare that he and his wife supposedly went through in the 28 days they stayed in the former Amityville residence of the DeFeo’s. Various ghost and poltergeist forms are only some of the elements found in the Lutz’s narration (Morello, 2008). This created such a public sensation that many books were soon written about it and movies were made based on the story. This has influenced the public to believe that DeFeo Jr. indeed committed the crime because he was possessed. Meanwhile, the retrial based on a demonic possession defense never materialized as the courts did not buy the theory (Morello, 2008).
An explanation of Ronald DeFeo Jr.’s actions can be derived from the strain theory as a sociological theory on crime causation. Because of the abusive and violent behavior of his father, his father’s domination and authority figure in his life and unsatisfied with the amount of money his father gave him, he experienced so much stress that he sought to eliminate the limitations and causes of this through murder. Another explanation is provided by another sociological theory – the social learning theory. As a child, DeFeo Jr. learned violence and deception from his father who is thought to have ties with the mob. DeFeo Sr. also once burned their boathouse down in order to collect insurance. His socialization in such behaviors led him to adopt them as his own.
Finally, the psychological theory known as motivational theory states that people may behave like children who, by nature, are self-centered and selfish, perennially searching for gratification but not pain and so are antisocial (Jrank.org, 2008). Ronald deFeo Jr.’s previous behavior before he committed the crime attest to his penchant of petty stealing, robbing his family’s business and of indulging in his vices. The motive of eliminating his family in order to claim his parents’ life insurance for himself, as initially posed by the prosecution in his case, can not be discounted as a possibility.
Crime Library (2007). The Real Amityville Horror.
JRank.org (2008). Theories of Crime Causation.
Lowe, E. (2008). The Horrors in Amityville.
Morello, M. (2008). Still Bleeding After All These Years: The Amityville Redux.
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