Moral Behavior Assessment


Aileen Wuornos is a popular name in the history of serial killers. She was responsible for the deaths of seven middle-aged men, not to mention several misdemeanors and felonies. Aileen was convicted for the murder of Richard Mallory, which resulted in her execution. She became the tenth woman to face execution and the first one in Florida (The Case of Aileen Wuornos, n.d). Although she committed many crimes, the punishment the jury recommended could have considered the motivation behind her actions. This paper attempts to deconstruct Aileen Wuornos’ case to investigate moral behavior.

Aileen Wuornos was born in Rochester, Michigan. Her father was accused and convicted of child molestation and later sentenced to prison, where he took his own life. Her mother abandoned Aileen and her brother, and Aileen’s grandparents assumed responsibility for the two siblings. Her grandfather abused Wuornos while her grandmother was an alcohol addict, according to childhood reports. Aileen followed in her grandparents’ footsteps by indulging in alcohol and cigarettes. She also engaged in sexual activities at such a young age. She got her first child at age 14, but the child was given up for adoption. The child’s father was one of her grandfather’s friends, whom Aileen claimed he raped her. Her grandparents ceased to be her guardians after they kicked her out of their house.

Wuornos later took to prostitution to fend for herself. Her life of crime began at this point. She was arrested severally for illegally having a firearm, robbery, assault, and robbery (The Case of Aileen Wuornos, n.d). During her prostitution phase, Aileen Wuornos’ clients were predominantly middle-aged men. Similarly, all her murder victims were of the middle-aged. She was later apprehended for the robbery and murder of Richard Mallory.

Florida law states that any guilty of murder faces a death penalty if the crime circumstances include the murder of a police officer or firefighter, murder for hire, multiple murder victims, or if the murder occurred during rape, kidnapping, or robbery (The Case of Aileen Wuornos, n.d). Any of those circumstances fall under a bracket called capital murder. Aileen was a candidate for the death penalty because her crimes constituted any, if not all, the above circumstances. Despite Wuornos’ criminal background, the murder charge of Richard Mallory made her stand trial. The rest of the cases either had a “guilty” or “no contest” plea, stopping the cases in their tracks.

The prosecution revolved around the confession that Wuornos gave in the interrogation phase. On the other hand, the defense presented the argument that the video confession serving as the case’s base was obtained in violation of her right to a due process. The defense did not stand, as the jury pronounced Aileen guilty of her crimes under trial. The jury proceeded to the penalty phase, where they would determine the consequences of Aileen’s crimes. The choice was either death or life imprisonment. The jury had to consider the circumstances under which the murder occurred to determine her sentence. The jury decided to sentence her to death because the aggravating circumstances overwhelmed the mitigating factors (The Case of Aileen Wuornos, n.d). The aggravating factors include Wuornos’s previous criminal background, while one mitigating factor was that Aileen had personality disorders. The jury argued that albeit her psychological limitations, Aileen Wuornos had the mental capacity to distinguish right from wrong. Furthermore, her mental illness was not extreme.

Aileen’s case has been subject to many reviews and articles arguing against or for the jury’s decision to execute Aileen Wuornos. The guide for this paper is Lawrence Kohlberg’s model of moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory gives significance to the mental process of determining what is wrong and what is right (Sanders, 2006). Kohlberg’s moral development model occurs in three levels, namely pre-conventional level, conventional level, and principled level (Sanders, 2006). The three primary levels break down further into six stages: punishment/obedience orientation, instrumental purpose orientation, good boy/nice girl orientation, law and order orientation, social contract orientation, and universal principle orientation, Sanders reports (2006).

  In the first stage, consequences determine behavior. The person will adhere to rules to avoid punishment. The second stage involves other human beings and possibly the society; therefore, the person considers social rules—importance shifts from the person’s desires to relationships and social systems put in place. The approval of society influences behavior in the next stage. The individual pays strict attention to social rules essential in maintaining law and order in the fourth stage. In the fifth stage, the person looks into individual rights and finds a way of manipulating “blind spots” in the law. Finally, Kohlberg believes a person’s conscience plays a significant role in determining one’s course of action. He also affirms that some people do not have a chance to reach the last stage of moral development, which happens to be the pinnacle of functioning (Sanders, 2006).

Several studies have investigated the extent of truth to Kohlberg’s theory. They have revealed that individuals advanced in age attributed higher reasoning stages than their younger counterparts (Sanders, 2006). Reports have also attested that the understanding of the stages is cumulative and increases with difficulty as one advances to higher stages. Kohlberg’s work has been a revelation to moral behavior as it serves as a benchmark for tests like Kohlberg’s Moral Judgement Interview (1969) and Defining Issues Test (1974) (Sanders, 2006).

Although, Kohlberg’s theory comes with a bit of backlash. One notable challenger is Carol Gilligan, a famous feminist. She contested Kohlberg’s beliefs; specifically, that of the highest moral development stage only included a male perspective and excluded the emotional aspect of moral development. In response, Gillian introduces care into the fray and concludes that an individual reaches real moral development when he or she recognizes and accepts the duality of justice and care (Kakkori & Huttunen, 2016). The conflict of interests between Kohlberg and Gilligan improves the discussion holistically, as both parties try their best to determine moral development’s nuances.

Aileen Wournos was a product of her past experiences. She did not have a normal childhood by society’s normal standards. Her murder victims were middle-aged white men, whom she claimed she killed out of self-defense. The situation is similar to when she got raped by her grandfather’s friend. The circumstance was the driving force behind her actions. In contrast, she committed other crimes and vices, which were inexcusable. I support the jury’s recommendation for the death penalty because Aileen was still in a mental state where she could determine right from wrong


Kakkori, L., & Huttunen, R. (2016). The Gilligan-Kohlberg Controversy and Its Philosophico-Historical Roots. Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Education

Sanders, C. (2006). Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development | Definition & Framework. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 11 October 2020, from

The Case of Aileen Wuornos – The Facts | Capital Punishment in Context. Retrieved 11 October 2020, from

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