Literature Study GuidesIn Cold BloodThe Corner Part 3 Summary

In Cold Blood | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood | The Corner (Part 3) | Summary

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Summary

During the trial, the KBI agents testify to what the defendants said in interviews and their confessions. For the first time, Eunice Hickock learns just how awful her son is. She breaks down, and a female reporter leads her out of the courtroom and into a ladies room. There, Mrs. Hickock wonders if she had done something wrong in raising Dick and admits she should not have hated Perry Smith, for whom she now feels only pity.

No one knows what to make of Don Cullivan, a character witness for Perry. Before the trial, Don has Sunday dinner, prepared by Josie Meier, with Perry in his cell, during which Perry talks about the crime. He tells Don he killed the Clutters, but not because of anything they did; they never hurt him. Perry wonders if the murder paid for all those who had hurt him during his life. Don wants to hear Perry say he is sorry, but he isn't and doesn't feel anything about the crime; he only "knew the Clutters maybe an hour." He is "human enough to feel sorry" for himself and about the fact he can't walk out of the cell as Don can, but "that's all."

Readers learn psychiatrist Dr. Jones's evaluation of the two defendants, although he is constrained by the M'Naghten Rule from giving it on the stand. Perry Smith, Jones believes, shows "definite signs of severe mental illness" and a personality structure that suggests a "paranoid schizophrenic reaction." Dick Hickock, who may have had organic brain damage from his accident, shows signs of "emotional abnormality" and a "severe character disorder."

Perry's lawyer puts only four witnesses on the stand: Dr. Jones, Don Cullivan, the chaplain from Kansas State Penitentiary, and Joe James, a young Indian Perry had lived with in Washington. Don and Joe both call Perry "likable," and the chaplain states Perry gave him a drawing of Jesus to put in the prison chapel.

The prosecutors call such personal comments "incompetent, irrelevant, immaterial." The lead prosecutor argues for the maximum penalty, saying this case in particular justifies it. He talks of how four local citizens "were slaughtered like hogs in a pen," and only for money. In Kansas at this time, the punishment for murder in the first degree is life imprisonment or death by hanging. There is no life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and those sentenced to life serve less than 15 years on average. The prosecutor asks the jury if they will send the guilty men "back to the penitentiary, and take the chance of their escaping or being paroled," adding, "the next time they go slaughtering it may be your family."

The jury deliberates for only 40 minutes. Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are each found guilty on four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Analysis

At this point in the text, Capote brings up the two sides—pros and cons—of the death penalty argument, which are heard in the lawyers' closing statements. Dick Hickock's attorney outlines the evils of capital punishment, stating the law deems murder is wrong but then sets the example for it and "cheapens human life and gives rise to more murders." While Perry Smith's lack of remorse in this section is chilling, it also strengthens the reader's belief in his insanity. Capote clearly makes the point that had Dr. Jones been allowed to give a full psychiatric report on Smith and Hickock, they—particularly Perry—might have been committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. Jones's evaluations are, in fact, endorsed by a widely respected forensic psychiatrist who consulted with Jones and copublished an article on a murderer similar to Perry Smith, "Murder Without Apparent Motive—A Study in Personality Disorganization," in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

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