Political assassins - The psychiatric perspective and beyond

Moseh Kalian, Aubrey Zabow, Eliezer Witztum

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    1 Scopus citations


    Three cases of highly publicized political assassinations, which occurred during the twentieth century, are described. In two of them (Tsafendas and Amir) a head of a state was assassinated. In both cases the second author (A.Z.) was involved in the psychiatric evaluation of the perpetrator. A third case, in which a head of state was badly wounded (Hinckley) is referred due to its overwhelming impact on public opinion and legislation. Few similarities are found between the perpetrators, who came from different cultures and acted in different eras. The psychiatric examination had a crucial role in the outcome of their trial. In spite of different milieus the forensic psychiatrist found himself amidst a highly charged event. There is no single common denominator characterizing the psychopathology of the political assassin. It is suggested that there is a spectrum of psychiatric diagnoses ranging from the psychotic perpetrator who targets the victim due to his intrapsychic delusional world, to the "sane" fanatic who chooses to commit an extreme act of violence in the service of a political goal. The criminal act, as well as the trial and the verdict bring in its wake a huge emotional public response. Consequently, theories of conspiracy as well as legislation initiatives are raised. The forensic psychiatrist should adhere to the sphere of his expertise, and it is for the court to decide upon the issues of responsibility and fitness to stand trial.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)113-130
    Number of pages18
    JournalMedicine and Law
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003


    • Assassination
    • Conspiracy
    • Delusionary ideations
    • Forensic psychiatry
    • Insanity defense
    • McNaughten rule
    • Radical ideology
    • Regicide

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health Policy
    • Law


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