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Lavergne, Gary M. Worse Than Death: the Dallas Nightclub Murders and the Texas Multiple Murder Law.

Lavergne, Gary M. Worse Than Death: The Dallas Nightclub Murders and the Texas Multiple Murder Law. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2003. xii + 257 pp. Cloth, $26.95.

Lavergne tells the story of the murder of six patrons of a Dallas nightclub just after midnight on June 29, 1984. The gunman, Abdelkrim Belachheb, an illegal alien from Morocco, had a lengthy history of charming women, becoming their financial dependents, and physically and mentally abusing them while they struggled to understand their predicament. But when a strong-willed female patron at the nightclub rebuffed Belachheb's advances by ridiculing him and, finally, pushing him away forcefully, Belachheb--an uninhibited chauvinist who could not reconcile himself to being treated disrespectfully by a woman--snapped. He retreated to his station wagon, gathered the Smith and Wesson 9-mm semi-automatic pistol that he had purchased a year earlier along with two clips holding fourteen rounds of 9-mm bullets, and returned to the nightclub to settle the score with the indomitable woman whom he now perceived to be his paramount nemesis. He shot her twice, and then proceeded to shoot other patrons sitting around the bar (including several women who had also resisted his advances). As one of the female victims lay wounded, although not mortally, on the floor, Belachheb approached her, placed the gun at her head, and shouted, "Take that, bitch!"; he then fired a lethal shot (p. 104). After killing the five patrons who had been sitting at the bar, Belachheb wounded a man trying to flee and killed another man walking out from the kitchen.

That Belachheb was the gunman was undisputed. A prominent defense attorney, who took the case on a pro-bono basis, sought a verdict of not guilty on account of insanity. The prominent manifestations of Belachheb's mentality were, chiefly, alternate episodes of, sometimes, grandiosity, and, at other times, complaints about perceived persecution. His sanity was the central issue--really, the only issue--of the trial. The jury delivered guilty verdicts on every count. Because Texas law at the time did not provide for the death penalty in cases like Belachheb's, he was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences plus twenty years as well as fines totaling $70,000.

What does one learn from the Belachheb case? The author's purpose seems to drift among several possibilities: (1) providing an analysis of bow easy it is for badly behaved foreigners to enter and stay in the United States; (2) inquiring into why there is a sufficient quantity of women willing to endure mistreatment by the chauvinist likes of Belachheb; (3) providing an analysis of Texas's capital-punishment laws; (4) evaluating the merits of insanity-defense approaches; and, (5) evaluating whether life in prison without hope of parole is, as the title suggests, "worse than death." It is probably unfair to try to blame the author too much for this inconsistency of theme; he is dealing with a real case, unlike authors of fictional novels who have the luxury of inventing a story, in the style of Charles Dickens, so that all of the loose ends tie neatly together at the end. Still, Lavergne really can't drive home any one point emphatically because of the multi-faceted aspects of this complex criminal case.

The book is reminiscent of similar nonfiction accounts of crime cases that, in this reviewer's experience, are often written by journalists. For example, the late Jim Bishop is well known for his "The Day" style of journalism in The Day Lincoln was Shot (1955) and The Day Kennedy was Shot (1968). The book jacket, however, identifies Lavergne not as a journalist but as the director of admissions research at the University of Texas at Austin. Even if Worse Than Death does not follow the form of social science research monographs, it nevertheless tells an interesting story that can provide the reader with a little more insight about criminology through an examination of the workings of the mind of one more deranged criminal.

Barry D. Friedman, Ph.D.

Professor of Political Science

North Georgia College & State University

Dahlonega, Georgia
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Author:Friedman, Barry D.
Publication:International Social Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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