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June 12, 1996

Kids Who Kill: Nature Plus (Lack of) Nurture

JAMA. 1996;275(22):1712-1713. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530460016007

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A 6-YEAR-OLD Richmond, Calif, boy has been charged with attempted murder after allegedly dumping a neighbor's newborn baby out of its bassinet, pummeling it, kicking it, and perhaps beating it with a stick. The incident in April left the baby with a fractured skull, brain-damaged, and on life support.

What should the system do with, about, and for this boy? Should society put children who kill in juvenile or adult prisons? Should it try to help them in some way? Are children becoming violent at a younger and younger age, or has media fascination with the topic simply created this impression?

Elissa Benedek, MD, past president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), invited 3 other psychiatrists, a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney, and a judge to explore these questions at the recent annual APA meeting. Benedek directs research and training at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry at the University of