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Strange mind of a killer: Researcher says Dugan rare psychopath
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Kent Kiehl


Courtesy of the Mind Research Network

Brian Dugan


Brian Dugan


Brian Dugan


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Published: 11/6/2009 12:03 AM

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His life's work is studying the brains of high-security prisoners, but neuroscientist Kent Kiehl said he's rarely come across a subject like Brian Dugan in his quest to unlock answers to the criminal mind.

Kiehl testified Thursday that Dugan scored a 37 out of 40, placing him in the top 99.5 percentile, when the murderer's brain was scanned in psychopathy tests. The average inmate's score is 25; a normal civilian rates a 4.

Kiehl, a vanguard researcher in brain imaging technology, said psychopaths such as Dugan share a defect or inactivity in an area of that organ that processes emotion, inhibition, judgment and self-control.

"His score is in the highest range of any of the inmates I've ever met," Kiehl told a DuPage County jury. "He's had these symptoms and problems from a very early age. They persisted through his adolescence and early adulthood."

He continued: "In my opinion, that constitutes an emotional disturbance. I think it's a matter for the jury to determine how to interpret that data."

Kiehl testified for more than four hours as the defense's final witness in Dugan's death penalty sentencing hearing for the 1983 slaying of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville.

The final page in the extended tragedy will be written next week when jurors begin deliberating in a hard-fought hearing that began Oct. 6 and included often emotional testimony from the serial rapist's survivors and relatives of three victims who didn't escape.

The jury of seven women and five men - led by a Naperville Purple Heart recipient - will decide whether Dugan should face execution or serve life in prison without parole. The slain girl's parents, Tom and Pat Nicarico, support the death penalty for their youngest child's abduction, rape and bludgeoning.

Dugan, 53, has been serving two life prison terms since 1985 for the sex slayings of nurse Donna Schnorr, 27, of Geneva, and 7-year-old Missy Ackerman of Somonauk. Their families also have attended the court proceedings.

His defense team will rest this morning, after which prosecutors will present more witnesses in rebuttal. Prosecutors flew in his sister, Hilary Burr, from Florida. Their parents, James and Genevieve "Jenny" Dugan, died years ago. Dugan's sister and his three brothers long ago cut ties with him.

In her 1985 FBI interview, according to agents, Hilary Burr said of her brother, "he should get the death penalty." There's no love lost between the two, especially after Dugan in 1975 busted the lights of her car, then threatened to kill her and "chop up" her son.

Whether Dugan was sane and, thus, criminally culpable for killing Jeanine, is not at issue since he pleaded guilty. Rather, the defense presented three experts, with Kiehl as its star witness, in an effort to make the jury consider how much ability Dugan had to control his savagery. Though scientists haven't figured out what causes psychopathy, be it genetic or societal, Kiehl said they don't choose to have this brain deficit.

"They make choices but those choices aren't necessarily informed by emotions like ours are," Kiehl said. "So, in that sense, they're different."

It was the first time Kiehl has testified in a trial. The University of New Mexico associate professor, who heads a nonprofit research lab, grew up in Tacoma, Wash., near the boyhood home of serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy killed dozens of women in a multistate rampage before his 1989 execution.

Kiehl's father was a writer. So, Bundy often was a topic of discussion.

After a knee injury sidelined the University of California football player, ending Kiehl's hopes of a professional athletic career, he said his early fascination with Bundy steered him toward the field of neuroscience. Kiehl went on to study under psychologist Robert Hare, at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Hare is regarded as the dean of psychopathy research.

Prosecutors question the reliability of the functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, technology Kiehl uses in his research, especially in a courtroom. They agree Dugan is a "extreme psychopath," but that he also is a master manipulator who cons experts to get what he wants which, in this case, is self preservation.

"He knew what he was doing when he kicked in that door and took that little girl," DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said. "His decision-making was intact. It may have been evil, but he knew exactly what he was doing."

He continued: "The problem with psychopaths is that they look like Dr. Jekyll, but they're always Mr. Hyde."