Chapman tells Walters how, why he shot Lennon

December 04, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

It may be only pop psychology. But nobody can make it snap and crackle like Barbara Walters & Company.

Walters interviews Mark David Chapman on ABC's "20/20" at 10 tonight, four days before the 12th anniversary of Chapman's assassination of singer and former Beatle John Lennon. The result is a look into the mind of an assassin that's impossible to turn away from.

As usual, Walters and her producers waste no time in getting to the good stuff.

"Why did you kill John Lennon?" she asks right off the bat.

"John Lennon fell into a very deep hole, a hole so deep inside of me that I thought by killing him I would acquire his fame," Chapman says, sitting with Walters in a visiting room at Attica Prison in New York, where he must serve eight more years before becoming eligible for parole.

Walters reminds viewers that Chapman refused an insanity defense and pleaded guilty to killing Lennon. She sets up her interview by saying, "When I met him recently, he certainly seemed sane to me."

Sanity is in the eye of the beholder. Chapman seems calm as he recounts in eerie detail the events and moments leading up to the shooting.But it's not the calm suggested by the expression "calm and composed." It is more the calm of someone lost in his own thoughts -- strange thoughts. In fact, Chapman seems to create and then lose himself in a kind of reverie as he talks about the assassination.

"It was a very long day," he says of that Dec. 8. "It was overcast and I had been standing outside of the Dakota [the apartment building where Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono] for many hours . . . and all of a sudden John Lennon came out."

The reverie includes his remembrance of "turning to Satan for the strength" to kill Lennon and how the "movie stopped" inside his head once he pulled the trigger.

All the while, Walters pumps him with classic Walters' questions: "And, with Satan, you exorcised Satan yourself? Tell me about that."

Say what you will about Walters -- and some will surely say she's exploiting the tragedy of Lennon's assassination with tonight's interview -- but she can get people to talk about things nobody else can.

There are such moments tonight -- moments that offer a glimpse of that dark place in the American psyche where the wires of celebrity, pop culture, loneliness and violence meet and sometimes cross.

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