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Psychological Evidence in South African Murder Trials

By Andrew M. Colman

Abstract

First published in The Psychologist, vol. 4 no. 11, 1991. Published by The British Psychological Society - see www.thepsychologist.org.uk.In two recent murder trials, South African courts have accepted basic processes of social psychology as extenuating factors. In the SARHWU murder trial, eight black railway workers pleaded guilty to the murder of four strike-breakers during a bitter industrial dispute. The argument for extenuation rested on situational factors operating at the time of the murders. Social psychologists testified about conformity, obedience to authority, group polarisation, frustration, relative deprivation, de-individuation, bystander apathy, and other psychological processes which may help to explain the conduct of the accused. The court accepted these factors as extenuating, but sentenced four of the eight to death. In the case of the “Queenstown Six”, township residents who had already been sentenced to death for the “necklace” killing of a young woman during a period of township unrest had their sentences set aside on a technicality. A retrial focussed on extenuating factors arising from crowd psychology, and all six had their death sentences reduced to 20 months’ imprisonment.Post-prin

Publisher: The British Psychological Society
Year: 1991
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9717
Journal:

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