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A killer's letters to judge are revealing

Experts call Burns' behavior sociopathic

August 12, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Arnett W. Gaston, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland who profiled "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz, said Burns' writings show clear signs of anti-social disorder.

"This is very typical of disassociative thinking, in that they don't accept blame," Gaston said. "He's done a lot of intellectualization of this by where he doesn't accept guilt. What he is doing is what sociopaths try to do: placate the ones in a position to benefit them."

Keppel - who profiled Bundy and Ridgway, the "Green River Killer" who pleaded guilty to killing four dozen women in the Seattle area - said Burns' letters contain unusually few details, possibly because Burns believes he can win an appeal and is being careful not to incriminate himself.

Instead, he said, "this is more for trying to appease the judge that he has empathy for what the victim might have been thinking, but that he didn't cause it.'"

Walter, the former prison psychologist, said Burns' shift in tone reflects an awareness that he had taken the spotlight off himself.

"He wanted to be a sympathetic character - he sees it as important," Walter said. "Then he ends up not protecting his own interests, and he comes back. This is his greatest drama that he's ever had, and he's not going to allow [Phelps] to be the subject. He must be the subject of the discussion."

The change in form - from a narrative to the numbered talking points - is also likely an attempt to appear more intelligent, Gaston said.

"Maybe he felt he could impress the judge more," Gaston said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Read the letters and find previous coverage at baltimoresun.com/burns

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