CRIME: Thrill Killers

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If a man has a very good reason (e.g., self-defense) for killing another, the law excuses him. If he has a clear but bad reason (e.g., avarice, jealousy), the law may take his life. If he has no clear reason for his act, the prosecution as well as the killer is in trouble. This was illustrated last week in the case of the Brooklyn thrill killers.

Last summer Brooklyn police arrested four youths and accused them of tossing a man in the East River to drown, beating another man to death, torturing several others (TIME, Aug. 30). The youths had not quarreled with their victims; they did not rob them. The sheer senselessness of the crimes made nationwide headlines.

That same quality made prosecution difficult.

The state brought first-degree murder charges in the case of the drowning victim. The prosecution let one boy turn state's evidence and the judge dismissed the indictment against another. Attorneys for the other two defendants challenged the sufficiency of the proof of premeditation. A Brooklyn jury last week found the two youths, aged 17 and 18, guilty of felony murder on the ground that the victim died during the commission of a kidnaping (he was dragged seven blocks to the river). With this verdict the jurors could—and did—recommend life imprisonment rather than the electric chair.