Gang membership is a robust correlate of homicide offending and victimization, but little is known about the association between gang status and various abnormal forms of homicide (e.g., multiple-victim homicide, sexual homicide, and abduction homicide). The current study utilized data from a large sample of 618 male convicted murderers to empirically examine gang status and diverse forms of homicide perpetration. Gang-involved offenders were nearly three times as likely to commit a normal homicide characterized as a single-victim murder. However, gang members were 64 % less likely to perpetrate multiple-victim murder. In other models, gang status reduced the likelihood of sexual homicide by 75 % and reduced the likelihood of abduction homicide by 56 %. These findings present an anomaly in the gang-homicide literature, and suggestions for additional research are offered.
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In the sociological literature (cf., Garfinkel, 1949; Mays & Keys, 2011; Pizarro et al., 2011; Sudnow, 1965; Swigert & Farrell, 1977), normal homicide, and normal crime generally, is characterized by a set of common, usual characteristics of criminal offenders, their victims, and the modal ways that the criminal justice system dispenses with these cases (e.g., routine plea bargaining, presumption of guilt of the offenders, etc.). The concept dovetails with seminal research on homicide by Wolfgang (1958) which showed that the preponderance of homicides involved offenders and victims who shared many social statuses, and that the homicide itself manifested as the result of mundane, normal interactions. In the current study, normal homicide is defined as a murder involving one victim. In contrast, abnormal homicides in the current study refer to murders that involve multiple victims or instrumental motives such as the sexual assault or abduction of the victim during the course of the murder.
Although gang-perpetrated mass murders occur, they are rare. Pyrooz, Wolfe, and Spohn (2011) recently examined case rejection factors among 614 homicide suspects as part of Operation Hardcore, a specialized prosecution unit that focused on prosecuting gang homicides. The mean number of victims in these cases was slightly more than a single victim (M = 1.35). Moreover, there data supported the idea that gang homicides are normal homicides that receive perfunctory attention from the justice system. In gang homicides involving a single victim, 64 % of cases were rejected for prosecution. In cases with at least four victims, just 2 % were rejected for prosecution.
The data collected by DeLisi and Scherer are unfortunately raw criminal justice data that lack important background factors that could be used to model pathways into gang involvement and various forms of homicide perpetration. Recently, researchers have used propensity score matching designs (DeLisi, Barnes, Beaver, & Gibson, 2009; Gibson, Miller, Jennings, Swatt, & Gover, 2009; Gibson, Swatt, Miller, Jennings, & Gover, 2012; Haviland, Nagin, Rosenbaum, & Tremblay, 2008; Ozer & Engel, 2012) to examine the selection, facilitation, and enhancement models for gang involvement, but the current data limitations precluded such analyses.
There are a host of definitional issues and measurement issues relating to the factors that inform gang membership, gang involvement, and gang-involved crime (cf., Bolden, 2012; Bouchard & Spindler, 2010; Esbensen, Winfree, He, & Taylor, 2001; Pyrooz & Decker, 2011). The current authors acknowledge these concerns and were limited by the single-item measure of gang membership found in these secondary data.
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DeLisi, M., Spruill, J.O., Vaughn, M.G. et al. Do Gang Members Commit Abnormal Homicide?. Am J Crim Just 39, 125–138 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-013-9201-y
- Normal homicide
- Abnormal homicide
- Serial murder