The U.S. states of Ohio and Wisconsin, where Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted, had abolished the death penalty or temporarily suspended its application at the time of his conviction. Thus, only one conviction resulted in a long prison sentence, although Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes drew great media attention and public outrage.
Jeffrey Dahmer – crimes and antecedents
Jeffrey Dahmer was a U.S. serial killer, sex offender, and cannibal who was active in the U.S. states of Ohio and Wisconsin between the 1970s and 1990s. Dahmer murdered male teenagers and young men he met in bars or within the local gay scene. He lured his victims to his apartment, where he overpowered and strangled them, then performed sexual acts on their bodies. Jeffrey Dahmer documented his crimes himself. In some cases, he consumed body parts after the murders.
The series of murders was solved accidentally because Dahmer aroused suspicion toward his neighbors. A police search of his home led to his arrest. During subsequent interrogations, Jeffrey Dahmer confessed to 17 murders and described all the details of his crimes. One of the murders was committed in Ohio, and all of the other offenses were committed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Due to provisions in the U.S. legal system, trials were held in both states.
Jeffrey Dahmer – Conviction in Ohio
Dahmer’s first murder occurred in Bath, Ohio. The murder was not solved until 1991 along with Dahmer’s subsequent crimes. Jeffrey Dahmer was found guilty by a jury in Ohio and sentenced to life in prison for murder. The trial was exceptionally short, lasting less than an hour, due to the clear evidence.
Ohio officially had the death penalty reinstated at the time of the murder in 1978. However, after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, the situation had to be resolved through lengthy court proceedings, so the death penalty was further suspended in 1978. At the time of Dahmer’s conviction in 1992, the death penalty was again carried out in Ohio. However, for Dahmer’s trial, the situation at the time of the crime, in 1978, was crucial.
Jeffrey Dahmer – Wisconsin Convictions
All of Dahmer’s other murders occurred in Wisconsin between 1987 and 1991. Of the 16 murders Dahmer confessed to in Wisconsin, he was charged with only 15 murders. In one case, prosecutors deemed the evidence insufficient for conviction. In the trial itself, Dahmer’s mental health played a major role, as he was diagnosed with several psychiatric disorders. Nevertheless, he was deemed sane and found guilty on all 15 murder counts charged. The sentence was 15 consecutive life sentences.
The death penalty had already been abolished in Wisconsin in the 19th century. Thus, a death sentence was not an option. However, the case of Jeffrey Dahmer opened a debate about reinstating the death penalty in Wisconsin, as the crimes caused great horror. Nevertheless, the state stood by its decision not to allow the death penalty.
No death penalty for Jeffrey Dahmer – reactions.
There was great public outrage that Jeffrey Dahmer did not receive the death penalty. The case received particularly high media interest because of its cruelty. Even Dahmer himself testified that he wished for and deserved the death penalty. However, the legal situation in the two relevant states of Wisconsin and Ohio was clear at the time of the trials. In the aggregate, Jeffrey Dahmer’s prison sentences would have added up to about 900 years, with no possibility of parole or early release. Still, many people saw their sense of justice or retribution unsatisfied by the sentences.