The case of serial killer and rapist Brian Dugan. Part 2.

Jason Brien.


Brian Dugan was born in 1956 in Nashua, New Hampshire and is a convicted serial rapist and serial killer. Dugan was active in the Chicago area between 1983 and 1985. Dugan murdered Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, Donna Schnorr in 1984 and Melissa Ackerman in 1985. Brian Dugan was sentenced to two life terms in prison. Dugan’s trial was the first to try and use psychopathy as a legal defense to avoid the death penalty. 

Brian Dugan’s early life.           

Dugan’s family revealed that Brian had endured a rather traumatic birth. The family claimed that nurses had attempted to delay Brian’s birth until a doctor arrived by pushing Brian’s head back into the uterus and strapping the mother’s legs closed. Dugan’s family believed that this traumatic birth was the cause of Dugan suffering from severe headaches, followed by vomiting, until his early teens. Dugan’s siblings reported that both of their parents were alcoholics and that both Dugan and his adult father were persistent bed wetter's. 

Early signs of psychopathy.            

It was reported that Brian was assessed by multiple child specialist however the professionals could not understand the source of Dugan’s headaches, vomiting or bed wetting. From the age of 8 Brian’s behaviours were starting to become concerning. Brian and a younger brother allegedly burnt down the family garage. At 13-years-old it is alleged that Brian poured gasoline on a cat and set the poor animal alight. At age 16 Brian ran away to Iowa and was arrested for burglary whilst there. This was Brian’s first arrest however he had later convictions for arson, battery and other burglaries. In the same year, 1972, Brian’s brother Steve accused Brian of attempting to molest him. At age 18 Brian tried to abduct a 10-year-old girl from a train station. He was charged for this attempted abduction but the conviction fell through when the charges were dropped. A year later, at age 19, Brian would threaten to kill his older sister and ‘chop up’ her son. 

Psychopathy as a legal defence in the Brian Dugan trial.           

In 2009, for the first time in a criminal court case, evidence from an FMRI scan was presented as a legal defence to avoid the death penalty. The FMRI scan belonged to Brian Dugan. Dugan’s defence team used Dugan’s FMRI scan to demonstrate that the convicted murderer had deficits in brain functioning. The defence argued that these significant deficits in brain functioning contributed to Dugan’s violent and depraved behaviour. In other words, it was argued that Dugan was a psychopath who could not control his violent and depraved impulses even if he wanted to. Dugan’s defence argued that that whilst Dugan could differentiate between right and wrong, his psychopathy prevented him from being able to make the right choice. Dugan’s defence agreed that Dugan should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for his crimes but that his psychopathy should exclude him from the death penalty. 

Implications of the Dugan psychopath defence.            

Dugan’s case generated debate about moral and legal culpability. Should people be excused from committing heinous crimes simply because of how their brain functions? Some argued that whilst a brain scan may show that people like Brian Dugan do indeed have deficits in brain functioning, contributing to a psychopathic personality, the scans cannot demonstrate just how much control they ultimately have over their behaviours. Others pointed out the nature vs nurture problem. How much of a psychopathic personality is influenced by biology and how much is influenced by the environment? 

In Brian Dugan’s case, did he have deficits in brain functioning in utero or did he develop the deficits as a result of his traumatic birth? Should psychopaths whose behaviours are influenced primarily by biology receive more leniency for their crimes because “they had no control over how their brain develops”? Where does the ‘reduced culpability for brain functioning deficits’ argument end. Are people who are neurologically hardwired towards substance addiction eligible to receive leniency if they kill someone with a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Where does the issue of free will come into play? 

Resources Bovsun, M. (2018). Psycho rapes and murders 10-year-old Illinois girl in 1983, cops railroad 2 innocent men. Daily News. Retrieved from 

Glenn, A. (2014). Psychopathy: An introduction to biological findings and their implications. NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS, New York and London. ISBN: 978-0-8147-7705-3. 

Gregory, T., & Barnum, A.  (2009). Jeanine Nicarico Murder: Tears of Joy as Brian Dugan Gets Death Penalty. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from 

Gutowski, C., & Mills, S. (2014). Serial killer Brian Dugan gives 1st prison interview: 'I could not stop'. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from