Exploring Perceptions of the Seriousness of Homicide: The Moral Culpability of Perpetrators

This ‘Brown Bag’ session will be delivered by Amy Sprawson.


In 2011, Keith Rumbold killed his terminally ill wife. After years of caring for her, Rumbold could not cope, snapped and strangled her. In 2012, Kiaran Stapleton killed a stranger Anuj Bidve. Stapleton asked Bidve for the time, shot him and laughed.

Although both cases involve perpetrators who killed and intended to kill their victims, the cases invoke different feelings regarding the moral culpability of the offenders. Rumbold was in an emotionally taxing position while Stapleton appeared to only kill for his own gratification. It is this phenomenon that the current study explores: what factors influence the perceived blameworthiness of homicide perpetrators and how this can be explained.

Scenarios of homicide are used in an experimental survey design (n = 333), where the motive, intent and perpetrator characteristics are manipulated as independent variables. Attribution theory is bridged with criminological theory as an explanatory framework for the data and analysis to present an original focus on homicide perceptions. Statistical analyses are carried out on the independent variables and respondents’ perceptions of perpetrator blame.

As predicted by attribution theory, respondents ascribed significantly higher ratings to scenarios where the cause of the homicide was attributed internally (perpetrator intends to kill or has a motive of self-gratification) and significantly lower ratings to homicides attributed as externally caused (victim precipitation, perpetrator has humane motive or no intention to harm the victim).

This theoretical perspective however is less accurate in explaining differences between two scenarios where they share similar attributes: eg. one scenario has a humane motive and the other was precipitated by the victim. It is therefore argued that attribution theory is useful only as a general model to identify factors and explicate patterns of how of ascriptions of perpetrator blame are made.

More information

Attendance at this event is free.  Attendees are free to bring their own lunch.

For futher information, please contact Dr Peter Whelan at p.whelan@leeds.ac.uk

Location Details

G.28, The Liberty Building
University of Leeds

The Liberty Building is number 16 on the campus map, located on the western campus.