This article originally appeared in VICE Indonesia.
A 15-year-old girl made headlines in Indonesia last week after she turned herself in for the murder of her 5-year-old neighbour on March 6. She told police that the murder was premeditated and that she had dark thoughts leading up to the killing, also revealing that she allegedly made notes and drawings in preparation for the crime. In a March 5 Facebook post, the suspect nonchalantly detailed her crime, stating that she would turn herself in the next day. The act of violence has left Indonesians searching for answers. Why did she do it?
The victim was visiting the suspect’s home on March 5 when the murder took place. The 15-year-old held the toddler’s head underwater in a bathtub for five minutes, then strangled him to death. She then tied up his body and stuffed him in her closet. The suspect told police that the act was inspired by the horror film Child’s Play, which tells the story of Chucky, a doll possessed by a serial killer.
The perpetrator’s young age, unclear motive, and lack of remorse led many to classify her as a psychopath, especially after she told police that the murder was “satisfying.”
Police spokesperson Yusri Yunus told Indonesian media that the suspect had also killed animals in the past. Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by an impaired sense of empathy and remorse, egotistical behaviour, and antisocial traits.
“From a young age, the perpetrator felt no remorse after killing animals. She had a pet cat, but when she was in a bad mood, she would throw the cat from the second floor,” Yunus told local media.
While child and teen psychologist Novita Tandry said that psychopathy is a possible explanation, the suspect must first undergo an electroencephalogram brain scan and an interview using the methods outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) for a proper diagnosis.
“When comparing a psychopath’s PET (positron emission tomography) results with those of another person’s, we would see that the psychopath has lower activity in the prefrontal cortex,” Tandry told local media. “If it turns out that the perpetrator is a psychopath or a sociopath, she will require an intensive response. If this is not done, she will likely murder again.”
Reza Amriel, head of the Indonesian Child Protection Agency’s monitoring and research division, has asked the public and the media to stop speculating about the suspect’s motive and other details about the case, to prevent potential copycats.
“We worry that [excessive] exposure of this case will inspire other teenagers, who these days seem more sensitive than previous generations,” Amriel told local media.
The suspect will be charged under child justice laws designed specifically for underaged criminals, Yunus said at a press conference on March 7. This means she will receive half the sentence of an adult, totalling seven to 9 years in prison. She is currently undergoing a psychological evaluation and staying in a hospital. If found guilty, she will be moved to the Cinere Child Detention Centre in West Java.
If she is diagnosed with psychopathy, the case will become much more complex.
Scott Lilienfield and Hal Arkowitz wrote in Scientific American that psychopaths tend to make a good first impression but actually have egocentric and dishonest tendencies.
In other words, sentencing a psychopath to time behind bars does not solve the root problem, especially if they are not given access to behavioural therapy, but progress can be difficult to measure because psychopaths can exhibit manipulative traits.
The process of convicting a psychopath in Indonesia is also complex and takes a long time. From a legal standpoint, an individual can plead insanity to evade punishment. However, murderers in the past who claimed psychopathy have been denied psychological evaluations.
When Ryan Jombang murdered eleven people in 2008, he told the courts that he was a psychopath. One psychologist said that Jombang exhibited psychopathic tendencies, but the presiding judge sentenced him to life in a high-security prison.