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Inside A Psychopath’s Brain

Kent Kiehl has studied hundreds of psychopaths. Kiehl is one of the world’s leading investigators of psychopathy and a professor at the University of New Mexico. He says he can often see it in their eyes: There’s an intensity in their stare, as if they’re trying to pick up signals on how to respond. But the eyes are not an element of psychopathy, just a clue.

Officially, Kiehl scores their pathology on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which measures traits such as the inability to feel empathy or remorse, pathological lying, or impulsivity.

“The scores range from zero to 40,” Kiehl explains in his sunny office overlooking a golf course. “The average person in the community, a male, will score about 4 or 5. Your average inmate will score about 22. An individual with psychopathy is typically described as 30 or above. Brian scored 38.5 basically. He was in the 99th percentile.”

“Brian” is Brian Dugan, a man who is serving two life sentences for rape and murder in Chicago. Last July, Dugan pleaded guilty to raping and murdering 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983, and he was put on trial to determine whether he should be executed. Kiehl was hired by the defense to do a psychiatric evaluation. In a videotaped interview with Kiehl, Dugan describes how he only meant to rob the Nicaricos’ home. But then he saw the little girl inside.

“She came to the door and … I clicked,” Dugan says in a flat, emotionless voice. “I turned into Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll.”

On screen, Dugan is dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He seems calm, even normal — until he lifts his hands to take a sip of water and you see the handcuffs. Dugan is smart — his IQ is over 140 — but he admits he has always had shallow emotions. He tells Kiehl that in his quarter century in prison, he believes he’s developed a sense of remorse.

“And I have empathy, too — but it’s like it just stops,” he says. “I mean, I start to feel, but something just blocks it. I don’t know what it is.”

Kiehl says he’s heard all this before: All psychopaths claim they feel terrible about their crimes for the benefit of the parole board.

“But then you ask them, ‘What do you mean, you feel really bad?’ And Brian will look at you and go, ‘What do you mean, what does it mean?’ They look at you like, ‘Can you give me some help? A hint? Can I call a friend?’ They have no way of really getting at that at all,” Kiehl says.

Kiehl says the reason people like Dugan cannot access their emotions is that their physical brains are different. And he believes he has the brain scans to prove it.