Evil: Nature or Nurture?

A convicted killer shows no remorse: Are evil people born or made?

July 10, 2007 — -- Are evil people born or made?

Ulysses Handy was 24 when he walked into a friend's home in Tacoma, Wash., looking to steal money he knew was there.

He shot Darren Christian and Daniel Varo at point-blank range, and then turned his gun on a total stranger, unarmed and defenseless 21-year-old Lindy Cochran. When questioned about her reaction and asked whether she had begged for her life, Handy said, "She didn't say a damn word. She was shellshocked."

He explained that her terror didn't set him back at all.

He continued, "I feel there are two kinds of people in the world — us and them. Predator and prey. Well, I'm damn sure not no prey."

No Remorse

Handy was arrested and pleaded guilty. At his sentencing, he spoke to the victims' families. "I know there's people here hurt. Yeah, well, pain is a part of life. Deal with it. Get over it."

According to Handy, he felt no compassion for the family members of his victims. "Man, there ain't nothing I could say could take away their pain or make it a little easier to deal with. They gone and they ain't coming back, " he said.

Cochran's great-uncle Richard Frost expressed his feelings toward Handy in the courtroom at the sentencing. "The part that can keep me going the rest of my life is the hope that somebody on the inside will get their hands on him and choke the life out of him while he's whimpering like the coward he is."

For Frost, knowing that Handy would spend his life in prison was not enough — it did not offer him any satisfaction.

By pleading guilty, Handy avoided death row. He is almost a year into three consecutive life sentences, and he has spent some of that time covering himself in jailhouse tattoos — a pentagram, the word "sadistic" and the number 666 on his chest, with devil horns above his eyes.

Becoming a Killer

"I wonder what is it that drives him to feel that he needs to advertise that he's a sadist to everyone around him," said forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, the developer of the Depravity Scale.

The defiance of the hardened persona could be one of three things. "You're dealing with illness, brute contempt for others or bravado," Welner said. "I would have every reason to believe that he's terrified, because when you take his gun away, how scary is he?"

Handy was not scary at all as a child. He was raised by a loving and devout single mother in New Orleans.

"I went to Catholic schools all my life. And I was an honor student, Boy Scouts, all that. The choir — I went to catechism, first communion and after a while, that wasn't me. It didn't give me pleasure," he said.

Handy explained that he felt lonely and misunderstood as a child, feelings he says contributed to his violent behavior as he grew up.

"Something just never felt quite right to me — this internal pain — and I always felt that no one else feels my pain. But I can give you a small taste of it … a small taste. If I hurt you … that pain you feel … can't compare to mine. And I am not alone anymore."

Payback After Death?

So, what happens to Handy when he dies? The church he rejected believes that he is destined for hell, unless he calls out to God for forgiveness. And if he does, Catholics say he will do time in purgatory before he gets to heaven.

Monsignor Jim Lisante from the Roman Catholic Church in New York said of purgatory, "It's a place of atonement, and it means you are paying back in some way. I have to believe that means that it's not a pleasant experience. You are forgiven but you gotta pay."

Eastern religions also believe in a temporary hell where Handy would "burn off" bad karma before reincarnation.

Jews don't give much definition to the afterworld, but Muslims are quite specific. Someone like Handy will drink molten copper in the pits of Jehennem.

But, for evangelical Christians, justice in hell can be avoided altogether with one simple prayer.

The Rev. Tom Brown, an evangelical pastor from the Word of Life Church, says that for a person who has "lived a wicked life, but if he turns to God and says, 'Lord, I am sorry,' and he truly repents, God will not remember his past wickedness, but only his present righteousness."

For a grieving relative, this notion can be hard to accept. Regarding the pain Handy's act has added to his life, Frost said, "If there's a hell, he's going there. And you hear people talking about demons on Earth, guardian angels — if there are demons, he's one of them."

And if he were to have a jailhouse conversion? Frost said, "It would matter somewhat. It would matter somewhat."

Handy's mother has said she wants, more than anything else, for him to have a change of heart and apologize to the families of the people he killed.

Handy's response was unapologetic. "Look, man, like I said before, if I was gonna be sorry for what I was gonna do, I wouldn't have did it in the first place."

He also has little concern for his soul. "If I go to hell, then so be it. Then so be it."