Accused murderers' common bond: 'Not one had a father' Killers, not
society, must take blame, public defender says Feb. 7, 1999
RACHEL GRIFFIN/Sunday Gazette-Mail Wrapping up more than eight years in
the public defender's office, Steve Warner recalls the men he's been
asked to represent. He's found a common thread that runs through the
background of young men charged with murder.
By Kay Michael SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL
One was taken away by his father in the middle of the night, driven
across the country, and left with relatives.
Another's dad was murdered.
A third once saw his father on the street, but the man didn't recognize
Steve Warner, who's finishing up an eight-year stint in the Kanawha
County Public Defender's Office, said he's struck by a common thread that
runs through the background of young men accused of murder.
"Not one had a father," he said.
"Some grew up in Charleston and some are from out of state. Some are
white and some are African-American. But all of them don't have a father.
"I don't know what the lesson is there."
During his tenure, Warner said, he has represented nine accused murderers
who were under 25. None grew up with a father in the home.
"Some had stepfathers. Some were from close families. But their fathers
were gone, whether by death or abandonment.
"As I kind of unfold eight years of public defender work, that's when
this kind of hit me."
He said his observation is just that - an observation.
"I don't make any presumptions. I'm not a believer that it's society's
fault. It's their fault. I think it's probably a contributing factor, but
I'm not suggesting some of the blame be taken away from the killer."
Conversely, Warner said, most men accused of murder seem to have
"Their mothers hold jobs, show up at all court hearings and cry in the
courtroom. Mothers will call every day asking, ?hat's going on with my
son's case?' Sometimes there are other family members involved, too. But
in 100 percent of the cases, there's no father."
Because there are often other males in the family, Warner said his
clients aren't without role models.
"One is close to his family, one has two uncles, one has a stepfather and
one moved into another family."
And they don't fit the stereotype of children of divorce.
"None of them are in situations where the father pays child support and
lives someplace else. He isn't there at all. I think it's something you
On a personal level, Warner said he has grown close to many of the
accused murderers he has represented.
"Clients who commit murder are usually good clients because they're
respectful, a lot better than people with domestic problems. Murder
clients know why they're in jail and appreciate your being there.
"I've liked them all. They've been good clients. They've been straight
Warner said he doesn't know what lesson can be learned from fatherless
"Obviously, most people who don't have fathers don't kill. It's not the
cause. It's not an excuse. It's a factor.
"Maybe we could see that as a red flag early, when the young man is still
"I'm not advocating anything. Just recognition of the pain of young men
who don't have a father."
To contact staff writer Kay Michael, call 348-1254.