Ethics Musings On The Guy With “MURDER” Tattooed On His Neck….


Hey! Cool tattoo, dude! Just don't get caught actually murdering someo...oh. Bummer.

Hey! Cool tattoo, dude! Just don’t get caught actually murdering someo…oh. Bummer.

Jeffrey Chapman, who is soon to stand trial for first degree murder in Great Bend, Kansas, wants to remove the giant tattoo that spells out the word  MURDER around his neck, believing that it will prejudice the jury against him.

Ya think?

The judge will allow Chapman to have the tattoo removed before the trial, it appears. There is precedent for this: in Florida, in 2010, a neo-Nazi charged with hate crimes was permitted to have the hate-related tattoos on his face and neck, including a swastika, covered up by a professional make-up artist. It was paid for by the state, naturally.


  • I suppose this is the necessary and fair decision by the judge. Lawyer-pundit Alan Dershowitz made some interesting points regarding the Florida case, however, suggesting that the swastika and other tattoos were an extension of tattooed defendant John Allan Ditullio’s character, and covering them could be construed as misleading the jury. “He is alleged to have attacked people on the basis of sex orientation and race. The court has the chance to make its rulings based on whether the tattoos are relevant to the case,” Dershowitz said. “It depends on what the prosecution is trying to prove. If they are saying his Nazi ideology drove him, then you could argue that seeing the tattoos is relevant.” Dershowitz noted that his tattoos were obviously the way he chooses to present himself publicly. “It’s not like the swastika was on his rear end,” he said.

  • Where does this stop, however? If a defendant is allowed to cover up marks he placed on his face that convey a negative impression, why shouldn’t a defendant be allowed to have extensive plastic surgery so that he won’t “look like a criminal”? Shaving, grooming and dressing up criminal defendants is already standard practice; lawyers can even place accused murderers in glasses they don’t need so that they will appear less threatening. How far can this this strategy go, or are there no limits?
  • Are other conclusions one may reach about someone with a MURDER tattoo fair and reasonable, or just bias? Is it fair, for example, to fear such a person? Would a potential employer be exhibiting a bias if he refused to hire someone based on such a tattoo, even if the potential employee promised to wear turtlenecks? I think it is reasonable to be biased against people with MURDER tattooed on their necks. Now, to be fair, Chapman had the word printed backwards and in a mirror image, so that only he would see it written properly as “MURDER” when he looked in the mirror. This shows planning and intelligence, arguably.
  • Are we “blaming the victim” by arguing that it is unjust for taxpayers to have to pay for the basic needs of someone who can’t find employment because of a completely self-inflicted handicap like the word MURDER tattooed on his neck? Would we be unkind and ungenerous to resent being ordered to support such an individual?
  • What other self-destructive conduct is like tattooing MURDER on one’s neck? Or is the official verdict of American society that there should be no personal responsibility for self-destructive conduct?


Pointer: Fark

Source: The Wichita Eagle, ABC

Graphic: The Wichita Eagle

21 thoughts on “Ethics Musings On The Guy With “MURDER” Tattooed On His Neck….

  1. Perhaps a line would be drawn at actual physical changes to what nature has given you?

    A) Your physical form looked like this, you don’t get to change yourself with plastic surgery, lest witnesses can’t identify you.

    B) You permanently altered your own physical form (tattoos, etc), you don’t get to change those back.

    The balancing point being somewhere between those more permanent aspects and the less permanent aspects which include glasses, suits, hair cuts, make up, etc…

  2. If it’s OK to have it removed or covered up, and I can see arguments either way, then since he paid to have the tattoo put there he can pay to have it removed or covered.
    He wanted to present himself to the world with a murder tattoo when it was useful (?) to him. So if it’s no longer useful to him he can pay to have it removed.
    Does anyone believe the fact that it’s a mirror image means no one can figure out what it says? I think it makes it worse. People will look even harder at it, and he sees his self-image as a murderer every time he looks in a mirror. Talk about a relevant point. He sees himself as a murderer and he reinforces it every time he looks at himself!

  3. I’m interested in perspectives on how removing the tattoo is significantly different from the post on acting lessons yesterday. They seem to both focus on controlling the image.

  4. It seems to me that it would be trivial for the opposing side to present a mug shot of him, like the one at the top of this page, as evidence and say, “This is what he chose to look like. Make of that what you will.” That would bypass any alteration of appearance between booking and trial. It wouldn’t do much about acting lessons, but I’m less concerned about those. Anyone can appear more innocent or contrite on trial; acting lessons aren’t substantially different from a simple change in attitude.

    Tattoos can be a mark of rashness or frivolity, or a genuine reflection of one’s identity at the time they were made. Chapman’s tattoo reflects rather unsympathetically on his identity. I think that’s relevant, the prosecution will definitely act as though it is, and while he may try to cover it up he cannot conceal such public relevant facts from the jury.

    • I think you’re right overall, but I am uneasy about the effect of a deliberate, significant, “relevant” physical change to the appearance of a defendant on the reasonableness of any reasonable doubt among the jury. I can’t help suspecting that in Chapman’s case, we are seeing evidence-tampering.

      For example, in my mind as a juror, a defendant who changes his head-hair style while in custody (either way), between say, long and short styles, or between “groomed” and “unkempt,” would probably not influence me, one way or another. But changing facial hair (by trimming, removing, or growing, that is) between mug shot time and trial time might cause me to dismiss my own skepticism about the defendant’s guilt, and cause me great confusion over what might in fact be reasonable doubt about his guilt. Depending on the crime, it is already a challenge for me from the outset to trust a defendant; a guy who alters his appearance too much would make me suspicious that he is merely “sorry he got caught,” and is trying to “look innocent” while on trial.

      I guess I would have to just trust the system to figure out some way of never selecting me for the jury.

  5. I would dispute that the mirror image suggests planning and intelligence. I’d wager that he did the tattoo himself, writing the word “murder” as he saw it in the mirror, not realizing that the rest of us would see it backwards. Planning and intelligence would have required the use of multiple mirrors or an exemplar from which to copy.

    • So if the murder this guy is on trial for took some intelligence and thought out planning, the tattoo could actually benefit him…

  6. He can wear turtleneck shirts or make up during his trial
    That’s a lot cheaper than the thousands of dollars it will take to remove the tattoo.

  7. If the evidence is there to convict this guy then the lack of the tattoo should not matter.

    Using taxpayer money to remove the tattoo goes too far when he can easily cover it up. If he is found not guilty then he can find work somewhere and earn the money to have it removed if he chooses.

  8. He can wear a neck brace or paint it blue for all I care. But whatever he does, it had better be on his own dime, not the taxpayers’. Nor should the fact that this aberration of nature actually had “murder” tattooed on his neck be hidden from the jurors. You just don’t ink yourself like this without intending to send a message. This guy’s message is loud and clear.

    • Steven, I am thinking just like you about Chapman’s case. It is unwise enough, in my opinion, for one to mark himself in such a way in the first place. But as a potential juror, I question the wisdom (and fairness) of a system that would tax its supporters to alter the “presentability” of a defendant, to include removal of Chapman’s pre-trial “MURDER” tattoo.

  9. If the tattoo was part of an eyewitness description that was used to identify and arrest Chapman, then removal or covering it up DEFINITELY approaches “tampering with evidence”. The defense attorney should NOT be permitted to use a “you arrested the wrong guy” tactic on this basis.

    Also, I agree with others here who’ve said that it should not be at taxpayer expense.


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