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What Motivates A Murderer To Kill?

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Although it may not happen often, South Dakota is no stranger to violent crime. Just over a month ago the state carried out 2 executions, both men were convicted of brutal murders. But what makes someone commit a violent crime, and is it possible some people are just “born bad?”

Monster, homicidal maniac, and murderer are all ways to describe someone who takes a life, but figuring out what makes people kill is no easy task.

We've seen his face and heard his name. Rodney Berget is a South Dakota inmate on death row for the murder of a correctional officer, but what you may not know is Rodney's brother, Roger Berget, was also sentenced to die. He was put to death 12 years ago in Oklahoma for murdering a man during a car theft. Two siblings that are sharing the same fate.

 So it begs the question, what makes someone a violent criminal?  Could it be passed down through genetics, or can it be blamed on how we are raised? Lior Borovik, a genetic counselor at Sanford says in many cases...it's both.

Sanford Genetic Counselor Lior Borovik says, "When they come together..something can happen.”

Before studying genetics, Borovik worked as a correctional officer at the Nebraska State Penitentiary for 8 years. Borovik says the latest genetic research has turned up some very interesting findings. Long story short, there is a gene called MAO-A.  If a person has a short or mutated version of that gene, it can lead to aggression and violent tendencies.

Borovik says, “People with a short version, a mutation of that gene, can cause low levels of that enzyme and as a result they can be more aggressive. They can become more violent maybe and maybe that can lead to a crime.”

Borovik says environmental factors can serve as a trigger. Factors like abuse or neglect could make a person with the gene more prone to violence, while another person with the same gene and no trigger could lead a very normal life.  But Borovik makes one thing very clear...just because a person carries the MAO-A gene, does not mean they will be violent.     

 “I think some people definitely have that combination of genetics, they're not born to be bad. I don't think even if they have a mutation that they'll definitely be a violent criminal when they grow up, but maybe under certain conditions they can become that bad person,” says Borovik.

It’s an idea Father James Mason agrees with, that both genetics and the environment play a role, but he adds one more thing to the mix... spirituality.

Father Mason says, "I'm not also going to say the devil made me do it becomes an excuse for everything because that's not it, but there also is the reality of that.”

Violence is something Father Mason knows a lot about. Before becoming a priest, he was both a prosecutor and defense attorney in the Twin Cities. He has his own religious beliefs when it comes to bad behavior.

“No one is born beyond redemption and creation is good, so before you have a bad apple... you have an apple but there's a reality that we are born with a fallen nature in a fallen world,” says Father Mason

Vicious acts of violence can even be found in the bible. In the story of Cain and Abel, one brother killed the other over greed, but what makes someone choose evil over good?

Borovik says "It's a great question the only problem is there is no great answer...”

Father James Mason says, "It's interesting and like they say... where does it come from? We do probably want to make people into monsters but it's a lot more complicated than that."

Along with genetic research, one study found men with an extra “y” chromosome tended to be more aggressive because they have higher levels of testosterone.
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