Monday, October 3, 2011

Rehabilitation or Punishment?

By Heidi Hiatt

Serial burglar.

Serial rapist.

Serial killer.

Has used knives, guns, and his body parts to violate the living and the dead.

Has said that he has an uncontrollable urge to kill.

Escaped from prison, broke into a home, tied up the male resident, and raped the man’s wife.

Was involved in the Attica prison riot.

Described by a DA as a “callous, vicious, violent man who is a serial rapist, burglar and multiple murderer” who has no “compassion or sorrow for his victims and is not capable of living a law-abiding life.”

With a resume like this, it is inconceivable that this psychopath could ever get out of prison, right?


Seventy-six year old Winston Moseley is up for parole for the 15th time. You may not know his name, but millions know the name of one of his victims, Kitty Genovese.

Forensic psychology students often study this case in detail because it is where the term “bystander effect” originates from. This case is extremely disturbing not only because a woman was raped and murdered, but because possibly dozens of people heard the attack and did nothing to intervene. They didn’t even call the police.

While the above information came from John Caher’s excellent article in the New York Law Journal via, most people who have studied this case can describe what happened from memory. You can’t forget it. Ever. The apathy involved is that tragic, because the victim could have lived.

In mid-March of 1964, Kitty Genovese left the bar she managed and got out of her car to walk into her Queens apartment. Winston Moseley came out of nowhere and stabbed her twice in the back as she tried to run away. She screamed for help and he took off.

But he came back. Seeing that no one would intervene, he followed a trail of blood into a hallway where he raped her and stabbed her over and over, including in the neck so she couldn’t scream. Some reports say he kept returning until he was sure she was dead.

An estimated 38 people heard or saw the attack and did nothing. While that number is unsubstantiated, it is clear that there were witnesses and someone could have, at minimum, called the authorities. But Kitty Genovese, violated and mutilated, died alone and helpless because no one bothered to get involved.

According to John Caher:

A month earlier, according to the prosecution, Mr. Moseley broke into a home, shot a 24-year-old woman six times and had sex with her dead body. He later explained that he had an “uncontrollable urge to kill” and claimed to have committed at least five rapes and 35 burglaries before his encounter with Ms. Genovese, according to the Queen’s District Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Moseley was sentenced to the death penalty, although the sentence was reduced to 20 years to life.

Let’s review:


Serial burglar.

Serial rapist.

Serial killer.

This brings us back to the age-old debate about whether our criminal justice system should be focused on rehabilitation or whether it should be focused on punishment.

Advocates of rehabilitation might point out that Moseley has earned a sociology degree while in prison and has worked as a teaching assistant (per the above article).

If he’s behaved in prison lately– I don’t know– they might argue that his good behavior has earned him the right to be free.

There could be a number of reasons– his age, changes he’s appeared to have made, recommendations from others, and so on– cited to justify his release.

But why is this about him? How does a deviant of this magnitude get away with 20 years to life? He should be castrated and put to death so that he is no longer a threat to society and there is no chance that he can escape and do this again. He is already a repeat offender.

Any possible good behavior inside prison walls doesn’t mean he will be able to withstand the pressures and temptations of the outside world in which he will once again be exposed to the targets of his sick hatred– women.

Can God forgive him for what he’s done? Yes He can. Some people would disagree with me but let’s not forget the two criminals crucified next to Jesus. One of them, at death’s door, became truly sorry for what he had done, and He was promised paradise.

But even if a hardened criminal has made things right with God, does that justify his release? No, by itself, it does not. Doesn’t he still have a debt to pay to society even if his slate’s been wiped clean with God? How heinous do a series of crimes have to be to keep someone locked up for life– for sure– or for them to receive the death penalty? It seems that our standards are slipping as we become more and more concerned about how the suspects are treated and forget the victims in the process. Perhaps Winston Moseley is of most use to God inside those prison walls.

Additionally, some psychopaths feign conversion and change to achieve that very goal, release. From my education I know that many psychopaths use their time in prison to study subjects relating to their internal conditions and sometimes get degrees in them. They can become model prisoners, seemingly benevolent and appearing to want to repay their debt to society.

It concerns me that sentencing and parole decisions are often made by well-meaning people who are not trained to recognize those dark souls who are unlikely to ever be truly reformed. This is why I repeatedly argue for the use of forensic psychologists in the criminal justice system– note that I said forensic, not just any psychologists. Many of them are trained to properly evaluate criminals and some can see through the smokescreens that psychopaths spew to appear “rehabilitated.”

I know very little about what Winston Moseley is like now at age 76. But how much does that matter? We know what he’s done. So the bigger issue is whether someone who has repeatedly taken precious lives, who has repeatedly sexually violated women, and who has repeatedly shown a total disregard for others’ property should be judged to have been properly punished and fit for release into a society that is half female.

Even if he is truly sorry– and it is wise to question if he has the depth to be truly sorry– the answer is a resounding, thunderous, cataclysmic, earth-shaking, shout out to all the murder and rape victims and survivors who are repeatedly faced with the possibility that their violators can achieve freedom through the farce that is parole– absolutely not.

I hope that Moseley can make things right with his Creator, I really do. I hope he knows that God still cares about him despite his heinous and unconscionable crimes. But the rest of society doesn’t need to be put in danger so that rehabilitation advocates can test whether he’s truly reformed or not.

How many more women have to be brutally raped and murdered before Moseley gets a life sentence?

For more information on the bystander effect, see The bystander effect means that the more people are present in an emergency situation, the less likely individuals are to act. People often assume that someone else has already called 911, for example, or that others present are more qualified to help the victim than they are. Never make these assumptions– call 911. Someone’s life could depend on it.

For an interview with Kitty Genovese’s partner, see

When we begin to draw our own line against evil behavior instead of hoping that someone else will, things can begin to change. –Henry Cloud


Heidi Hiatt, MA recently graduated as a Forensic Psychologist.  You can read more of her posts at her personal blog, Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie
Straight Talk in a Crooked World


  1. Heidi~

    Thank you for this well written and thought-provoking article. I could not possibly agree with you more! Forgiveness is always possible with God and must be given by us, as well. But, forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending that nothing bad happened. That is simply enabling.

    Great, great article!

  2. We have to soon see changes in our criminal justice system with sentencing. A sex offender / murderer will not stop .As long as there is breath in his or her body , the ability to be mobile , and the ability to speak & lie to & groom the next victim , this will not stop.
    Do sex offenders re-offend = Yes.
    that's enough for me to know.


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