Giving Evil the Eye

Forensic pyschiatrist Michael Welner with his Depravity Scale, which he believes would help juries label as either sadistic or sick the actions of criminals.
Forensic pyschiatrist Michael Welner with his Depravity Scale, which he believes would help juries label as either sadistic or sick the actions of criminals. (Helayne Seidman - For The Washington Post)

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By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 23, 2007

From the annals of grisly American crimes that fascinate forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, we bring you one Ivan Teleguz.

We'll ask you to decide if the 28-year-old Teleguz committed an act that was "vile," "depraved" and/or "evil."

This is no mere semantic exercise. The life of Teleguz -- like many facing the death penalty -- hinges on whether his actions can be fairly described as evil and vile and depraved and cruel and heinous. These are the legal terms that separate the casually murderous from the truly sadistic. The way these things work, the latter get the death penalty (or at least enhanced sentences); the former do not.

The Teleguz case, stemming from a throat-slitting homicide in Harrisonburg, was ultimately decided by the Virginia Supreme Court on April 20.

Feeling squeamish? A little depressed?

"We don't want to look at evil. We don't want to sit with it. We don't want to wade in it."

This is Welner talking. He's wearing coat and tie in his narrow, rectangular office. There are little ceramic gargoyles on the walls and a slice of the Manhattan skyline outside his eighth-floor window.

"But it's as if an oncologist looked away from the cause of cancer because they don't know how to treat it, or a virologist looks away from AIDS because he considers it to be inscrutable. If you can identify evil, then you can go about eliminating it. It's the first step in any scientific research."

* * *

First, the Teleguz facts:

In the summer of 2001, according to trial testimony in Rockingham County, Va., Ivan Teleguz got tired of paying child support to his former girlfriend, 20-year-old Stephanie Sipe. Their 2-year-old son lived with her.

Teleguz's solution to this problem was to kill Sipe.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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