Local News

Concept of Legacy of Abuse Questioned

Posted March 15, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Convicted in the beating death of Wilmington student Danny Pence, Todd Boggess' sentence is being deliberated by the jury.

Boggess' attorneys doubtless hope the panel will be influenced by the substantial sexual and psychological abuse Boggess' father testified he inflicted on his son over more than five years. Some studies indicate, however, that there is no statistical correlation between abuse and later behavior.

Dr. David Colvard, a psychiatrist in private practice in Raleigh, says when attorneys inject such information into their arguments on behalf of their clients, they are simply trying to work the "sympathy" appeal.

Colvard told WRAL-TV5 reporter Mark Roberts that reliable studies indicate a childhood of abuse does not routinely result in an adult who abuses or otherwise harms others.

Child advocacy groups and many defense attorneys would disagree with those studies.

But speaking as a psychiatrist who has reviewed the research literature on the longterm behavior of abuse victims, Colvard says attorneys resort to such appeals to play on jurors' emotions, as a "play on the heart strings, as a sympathy plea."