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See, my sister got raped

So a man got killed

A local boy went to prison

The man was buried on the hill.
The Tragically Hip, "38 Years Old"

Sometimes, in a mystery, or a Police or Law Procedural, the writers will have a criminal who is intentionally sympathetic to the audience; sometimes to amplify the drama, sometimes to make the problem a true moral dilemma, and sometimes just because the story is Ripped from the Headlines, and the sympathetic part is necessary to get to the Headline in question.

Note that the crime in question need not necessarily be murder; the title comes from the fact that, in these shows, the crime is Always Murder.

This trope can also show up in other genres, but its natural stomping grounds are mystery or some kind of procedural. Expect the victim to have been an asshole.

See also Manslaughter Provocation, and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain for those who put the "pathetic" in "sympathetic". If the character was introduced and fleshed out before he was revealed to be a murderer, it's Sympathetic Murder Backstory.


Examples of Sympathetic Murderer include:


Anime and Manga

  • Lucy. Dear God, Lucy! Even being a mass murderer with a penchant for Slasher Smiles and Cold-Blooded Torture isn't enough to keep her from being sympathetic; her backstory is just that crappy that you can't help but want to give her a hug even when she's in the middle of eviscerating some innocent or not-so-innocent soul.
  • Case Closed seems to like having the murderer be a genuinely nice person put into an unfortunate circumstance, and the victim be such a complete Jerkass that you don't mind their death. One episode even has a staged kidnapping where the "victim" didn't mind being kidnapped, and hugged the kidnapper over her own dad. Harsh.
    • Another case involved a man who was in a relationship with an old friend who didn't want to commit, so he broke up with her. Years later, he got engaged to another woman. The first woman returns and has gone full psycho bitch. She's threatening to send photos of them while they were dating and pass them off as if he were cheating. Too bad both of them happened to be friends of Kogoro Mouri, who is genuienly hurt at the killer's betrayal of his trust and friendship.
    • Another one involves a girl who fell into the wrong crowd and was indirectly involved in a big theft that resulted in the suicide of the person who was burglarized. This caused her to hit the Moral Event Horizon and she decided the crowd was terrible, so she went back to school. However, the leader of the gang came back into her life and blackmailed her. All she wanted was to get him out of her life and put that part behind her, so she decided to end it by threatening him away with a knife instead of paying him off. The blackmailer then attacked her and she stabbed him in the struggle. Granted, this wasn't exactly pre-meditated and she did do it in self defense, but after the Jerkass Victim, very few people would have not felt sorry for her. Even though she did have an Idiot Ball and threatened to kill him - still won't get her off the legal hook.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni has this in spades. Most of the main characters end up as this in some version of the world. Keiichi killed Satoko's abusive uncle to protect her, Rena killed Satako's uncle and his girlfriend to protect her father from their blackmail (and stop the girlfriend from throttling her). Shion is a subversion because, while starting off tragic, it's ruined by her going Ax Crazy on Keiichi, Mion, Rika, and Satoko even after realizing that she's wrong. It turns out much later that there were ways to avoid these and still solve the problems...but dang if it didn't feel good watching some of those jerks get it.
    • The author discusses this in the Staff Room portion of the Eye-opening Arc (Sound Novel only) where he talks about how much sympathy a murderer receives depends on that person's motives (and that the level of sympathy someone will have for the murderer will vary from person to person) while he still believes that murder is still murder regardless of ones motive. See the Higurashi analysis page for more on this.
  • Gokuaku no Hana ("Flower of Carnage") does this with none other than Jagi of Fist of the North Star infamy...sort of. Mildly subverted by itself, as that sympathy will be for who he was.
  • Alma Karma from D.Gray-man, who may have had a worse childhood then even Allen!
  • In Cowboy Bebop, Alyssa's boyfriend, Rint, in "Ganymede Elegy" shot and killed a loan shark during a scuffle with the loan shark's muscle to protect Alyssa. Jet implies at the end that he might get off on manslaughter or imperfect self-defence.
  • D's animals in Pet Shop of Horrors.
  • A few in the Ace Attorney manga
    • Brock Johnson from Turnabout Gallows killed Robin Wolfe, who had essentially driven Eddie Johnson, the killer's younger brother to suicide.
    • An interesting case occurs in Turnabout From Heaven, in which Diana Wheatley ia accused of killing her abusive father, Buck. Post-Heel Face Turn Edgeworth lampshades this trope, saying that he sympathizes with her, but she must pay for her crime. However, Phoenix works, as always, to poke holes in the case, leading the suspicion to Diana's mother, Dreama, who would be a case, as it is initially thought that she killed Buck for harming Diana. But in the end, Buck's death was not the result of murder at all, as his cat came into contact with buckwheat, and accidentally caused him to ingest some.

Comic Books

  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac might just be the crowned king of this trope.
  • Happens quite often in Diabolik, with many of his victims being worse criminals than him that happened to have crossed him.
    • The story The Sweet Death has a very strange example: the victim had survived an attempted murder at the hands of his cheating wife and her lover but was so crippled that he could only blink, so, when he accidentally met Diabolik, he asked to be mercy-killed and avenged. After securing the loot, Diabolik killed him and framed his wife and her lover in a way they'd get sentenced to death and executed.
  • An issue of The Incredible Hulk features Doc Samson dealing with an assassin sentenced to the electric chair after murdering a senator; not until after she's been executed does he discover that she killed the man because he'd been beating his wife, who was an old friend of the killer's.

Film

  • How about a sympathetic Serial Killer? How about two? Now make them your sweet kindly old aunts. You have the plot of Arsenic and Old Lace.
  • The United States of Leland outraged many disability rights activists with its sympathetic portrayal of the murderer of an autistic child.
  • In M, it's a sympathetic child murderer.
    • Actually, he's not that sympathetic. He tries to be sympathetic by pleading insanity, though. Although, the other criminals who catch him may be considered more sympathetic.
  • The film Red Dragon plays up the book's depiction of Francis Dolarhyde as someone who is not so much a man who does not enjoy his serial killing as a Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities)-riddled individual whose alternate personality bullies him into committing his atrocities. For the most part, at least.
    • Dolarhyde is only sympathetic if the titular dragon was really an alternate personality and not just a personification of his homicidal urges. The ending really suggests that the whole deceleration of his violent impulses, culminating in his Heroic Sacrifice to spare Reba, was really Dolarhyde hamming it up as part of his Batman Gambit to kill Will's family.
    • The Dolarhyde of the film Manhunter, on the other hand, really is sympathetic. It really helps that the part where he does his Batman Gambit is cut.
  • The titular serial killer of Mr. Brooks is a massive example, this trope being the focus of the entire film.
  • The actual murderer in Gosford Park.
  • The mentally unstable George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) from the 1953 film Niagara. His wife (Marilyn Monroe) and her lover are plotting his murder (after, it is implied, deliberately driving him mad), but the plot backfires and Loomis kills the lover in self-defence. Later, he vengefully murders his wife, and is overcome with remorse. At the end of the film, while trapped with an innocent girl in a boat hurtling toward the edge of Niagara Falls, he helps her climb safely out onto a rock before falling to his death over the edge, possibly making this an example of Redemption Equals Death.
  • The titular character from Psycho is a very deeply disturbed man, and the movie is directed in such a way as to elicit sympathy from the audience after he kills Marion. In the end, he becomes a figure of pity and is states to not really be responsible for his own actions.
  • This trope was rather oddly zigzagged in KillerKiller (2007), in which the girl doing all the on-screen killing was actually not such a sympathetic character, but some of her Serial Killer victims managed to be, due in part to Protagonist-Centered Morality--which is not to say they weren't AssholeVictims or that viewers were going to be too sorry to see some of them die. Just to muddy the waters further, some of the victims' conversations about the various murders they'd committed were Played for Laughs.
  • Carl Lee Hailey in A Time to Kill (and the book it's based on, naturally), so very much.

Literature

  • Agatha Christie used this a few times.
    • In the Miss Marple short story "The Companion", the victim was a rich relative of the killer, whose family needed the money to cover medical expenses.
    • In the Hercule Poirot short story "Dead Man's Mirror", the murderer was the long-forgotten biological mother of the victim's adopted daughter, and had killed to protect her.
    • In Death Comes As the End, the Serial Killer is The Dutiful Son, who'd finally snapped after years of being taken for granted by his father and being a Henpecked Husband.
    • In the Miss Marple short story "Death by Drowning", the victim was pregnant by a man who had no intention of marrying her; she was expected to marry the Dogged Nice Guy she'd dumped in his favor. The Dogged Nice Guy's landlady, however, was a Widow Woman who'd survived a bad marriage and appreciated nice guys, and snapped.
    • In the Miss Marple short story "The Idol House of Astarte", the killing was not premeditated and was almost immediately regretted; the killer became a Death Seeker.
    • The Mirror Crack'd [From Side to Side]: the victim was unwittingly responsible for the murderer's only biological child being born with birth defects.
    • Murder on the Orient Express: the murderers end up getting away with it after Poirot figures out their crime. It helps that Casetti had very much duped the system into not putting him on the death row for the Daisy Armstrong nightmare, and the conspirators were rectifying that distortion.
    • Curtain: Poirot himself kills Stephen Norton, in order to prevent him from continuing his string of murders-by-proxy. A string which nearly turned Hastings into one of Norton's dupes. After killing Norton, Poirot lets himself die by not taking his medication.
      • A rule of thumb for Agatha Christie is that around 80% of sympathetic murderers are terminally ill, so that the protagonist can feel comfortable with not turning them in. If you're a Sympathetic Murderer who wants to live, you better be really justified, and you better choose someone to kill who's a Complete Monster.
  • Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment is basically the archetype of this trope, making it Older Than Radio.
    • Actually, he isn't a good example. While his intended victim was a greedy old hag, during the murder, he was spotted. He panicked and killed her mentally retarded younger sister, who was pregnant. Also, his reasons for murder in the first place were anything but sympathetic.
    • Before Raskolnikov, there was Caroline Clive's Paul Ferroll and Why Paul Ferroll Killed His Wife, both featuring a nice Victorian gentleman who did Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Sherlock Holmes had to deal with a few of these.
    • A Study In Scarlet. The victims had been responsible for an Arranged Marriage that involved kidnapping the bride, killing her father in the process. Her true love had finally tracked them down and killed them.
    • In the short story "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange", the Asshole Victim was a drunken, abusive husband; the Sympathetic Murderer was actually guilty either of manslaughter or self-defense, since the husband attacked him when he caught him talking with his wife, but the circumstances made it look very bad.
    • In the short story "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot", the first set of crimes is avenged by one of these.
    • In the short story "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge", the actual victim was a would-be Sympathetic Murderer who was killed by his target (an ex-dictator who had killed the victim's father, among others). It is strongly implied that more successful Sympathetic Murderers caught up with the target in the end.
  • Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher has also had to deal with these.
    • The short story "Overheard on a Balcony", in which more than one person tried to kill the victim on the same evening, mainly because he was an absolute bastard and a blackmailer.
    • The finale of Murder in Montparnasse can be considered to invoke this trope - the victim had committed at least three murders, and at least two of the investigations had been botched, so various parties took matters into their own hands.
    • Murder in the Dark: the various attempts on the life of Gerald Templar are eventually traced to his long-suffering, unappreciated butler/business manager.
    • Dead Man's Chest: The death of Mrs McNaster is revealed to be murder, done by Bridget, one of the housemaids who'd had enough of how Mrs McNaster abused her companion.
    • Death By Water: the jewels stolen were removed from the thieves and sent to those who had been wronged by those who they'd belonged to (although at least one of the victims had no known... well, victim.)
  • Disturbing as it may be, one cannot help but feel at least a little pity for the two killers described in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.
  • The Monster in Frankenstein, by way of crimes of justifiable passion.
  • Maxim de Winter in Rebecca -- though not in the movie, which was Bowdlerised in this particular to comply with the Hays Code.
  • The eponymous protagonist in Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King, a long-suffering wife of an abusive relationship. However, what pushed her over the brink wasn't her husband's treatment of her, it was his treatment of their children (emotional abuse of one son, sexual abuse of their daughter, and cleaning out the college savings accounts Dolores had worked long and hard to build up).
  • John Kelly (later Clark) could be seen as one during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge in Without Remorse.
  • In Death: the murderer in Witness In Death turns out to be this. The victim was a Complete Monster in a number of ways. What pushed her into murdering him was the fact that he deliberately had sex with their daughter, crowed about it, and threatened to have a threesome composed of him, her, and their daughter. If you do not consider her sympathetic by the end of it, then you have to be a Complete Monster yourself.
    • The murderer's first kill (that of the Complete Monster) gets full sympathy points. However, her second kill (that of a blackmailer who found out about her first crime) comes off as more cold-blooded and self-serving, and therefore less sympathetic.
  • Elizabeth Bathory in Count and Countess.
  • Peter in Nineteen Minutes in which a bullied teenager has snapped and committed a school shooting, killing most of his bullies and critically wounding another.

Live Action TV

  • Columbo featured a bunch.
    • In one episode, the aging actress who committed the murder has six months to live due to a brain tumor that also leads to her forgetting she committed the crime.
    • A rather meta episode featured none other than William Shatner as the star of an anti-Columbo-like Show Within The Show. At the start, he talks about how his show makes the murderer sympathetic in some episodes. Lo and behold, the Shatner character then becomes a sympathetic murderer.
      • At least, that's what he thought.
    • Heck, this was a slight problem with the series pilot - the murderer got too much screen time and became sympathetic by default. And then Columbo is a complete and utter Jerkass. This was fixed with the second pilot, however.
    • Donald Pleasance's killer wine conoisseur from "Any Port In A Storm" was nothing if not this. His murder was a crime of passion, committed because his brother was going to take away his vineyard - the only place where he'd ever felt truly happy.
  • Half of the offenders on Criminal Minds are sympathetic. (It might or might not help that the team solves crimes by trying to get into the head of the perp.)
    • The episode "True Night" featured a Serial Killer focusing on members of a certain street gang. The killer turned out to be a comic book artist who had a psychotic break (and thus wasn't even aware of what he was doing) after said street gang forced him to watch them murder his pregnant fiancée before brutally stabbing him and leaving him for dead. Even the team felt sorry for him.
    • Poor, poor Tobias Hankel. Brutally abused from a young age by his violent, fundamentalist father, spent years taking Dilaudid as an attempt to escape from his awful life, and ended up with Dissociative Identity Disorder, with one of his personalities being that of his deceased father. But what makes him really sympathetic is the fact that, during the time he was holding Reid hostage, whenever he adopted the personality of his father and hurt Reid, he would afterwards do his best to clean him up and try to stop his pain.
    • In one episode, there are seemingly random killings, and the team believes it to be a homeless person. It turns out to be a former-soldier with severe PTSD, who still believes he is in combat and feels terribly guilty about killing a young man from the other side.
    • One episode involved a Serial Killer with OCD who, as a boy, watched his father kill his mother, went on to commit similar crimes, and bonded with a blind boy. It didn't help that said Serial Killer was absolutely adorable.
      • And because of the blind boy (whose mother he'd killed), he saw what he'd become. At least, that's what the end of the episode implied.
    • The killer from "Haunted", a previously non-violent man who had a psychotic break as a result of newly-unlocked memories of childhood trauma that he simply couldn't cope with.
    • Megan Kane, the high-class escort who killed some of her obscenely-rich clients who refused to pay one red cent in child support.
    • The woman in New Orleans who was raped and then got no justice for it, before she became a killer.
  • CSI loves this trope. A few notable ones:
    • You've Got Male: An ex-con visits a woman he met via email while in prison, her sister shows up and taunts her over this, the two of them get into a fight, and the sister accidentally kills her. The sister then tells the convict that she'll blame him; thinking that no one would believe him he kills her out of desperation to avoid going back to jail.

 Killer: Who'd believe a guy like me?

Grissom: A guy like me.

    • An aversion from CSI appears in the episode Killer. The episode shows the murderer, a bank robber who kills the former drug addict who ratted him out. He is portrayed somewhat sympathetically (it's noted that he never harmed anyone during a robbery and at the end of the episode he even turns himself in so his wife doesn't lose custody of their daughter). However, at the very end, he ruefully asks Grissom "So where did I screw up?" Grissom then bluntly tells him, "You killed two people."
      • Notably, he wouldn't have been caught if he hadn't committed the second murder.
    • A teenage girl accidently kills her younger brother when he catches their uncle forcing himself on her (which results in a child) and threatens to tell their mom, as the unfavourite she knows her mom would sooner believe she'd forced herself on her uncle than the other way around.
      • Her mother later on when she kills her husband who loudly tries to take the blame for killing her son. She even acknowledges that all this could have been avoided if she'd been a better mother so her daughter could feel like she could trust her.
    • In the "Fare Game" episode of CSI: New York, a chef is discovered to be the murderer of a millionaire who got her millions through multiple Frivolous Lawsuits, of which he was one of the victims. After finally dragging himself out of bankruptcy, divorce, and a ruined life to try again working at a new restaurant and under a new name, she showed up at his new place with the intent of pulling the exact same scheme on his new boss, and he snapped, tracked her down, and killed her by letting her choke on one of the octopi served at the restaurant in an echo of the stunt she'd originally pulled as an excuse to sue him.
      • The guy from the B-plot of the above was also sympathetic, especially when it turned out the murder was a Deadly Prank.
      • From the same series, there's the perp from "Prey": the victim is a stalker who has already caused one of his victims to commit suicide. The perp is another victim whom the law did very little to protect (a few restraining orders, the violations of which only got the stalker a few days in jail) and had even changed her name and moved to another city to escape, only for him to follow her. Feeling that she had no option other than killing herself or be killed, she finally killed him. The team feels pretty sympathetic towards her (even Mac, who. in an earlier episode. has shown disgust to a rape victim who killed rapists aquitted on technicalities) and Hawkes even mentions to her that since she only left circumstantial evidence (the woman took a class that Stella taught), it will be very hard for her to be convicted.
      • The cheerleader who poisoned a man with atropine during a basketball game. Why? Because, during another game some time before, he had mocked her for being overweight, which led her to a completely undeserved Humiliation Conga (including a sudden break-up). The girl managed to lose weight and carry out a Gambit Roulette to get her revenge.
    • The epitome, though, is the one guy who is responsible, by complete and total accident, for the death of his grandmother, wife, and next door neighbor, and winds up buried up to his waist in cement for it.
      • Well, he was trying to dispose of evidence (his wife's body). If he ran away he wouldn't have been caught.
      • He was also robbed while stuck in the cement.
    • And another in a different episode, who, because of false advertising and criminal negligence on the part of joke store owner Laughing Larry, had a childhood friend die in front of him when they were ten years old. He promptly stopped reading any comic books or playing with any toys, and when he got married, later, refused to let his son do either of those or play outside. When his wife divorced and placed him with a restraining order, he understood he was in the wrong, and blamed Laughing Larry for making him that way, deciding to kill him with a lethal Explosive Cigar. His only mistake was that Laughing Larry would give the cigar to an innocent man. He felt deep guilt and even tried to stop the man before it blew up and killed him, and was willing to pay for his crime, so long as he knew that Laughing Larry would never laugh again.
    • And another at the end of a fourth season episode had a police commissioner shoot an unarmed inmate inside the interrogation room because the inmate was a 30+ year old convicted sexual predator who, along with another predator, forged fake birth certificates to take advantage of the first one's teenaged looking appearance to enroll in high school and lure teenaged girls to their shared home, get them drunk, and rape them together. The only known victim (as in, many others exist but they haven't been shown) was the police commissioner's young daughter, who was humiliated and traumatized by the ordeal and only came forward when she was seen on footage after talking to a guidance councilor about the ordeal just before he's murdered. From everyone's reaction, combined with the commissioner's face afterwards, they know he's going to jail for it, but it damn sure is worth it.
    • Subverted in "Coming of Rage" where the killer describes her plan to make herself into one of these for her trial, despite planning the cold-blooded murder of the victim. Sarah doesn't buy it. Of course, in CSI, you know you can't be sympathetic if Sarah doesn't sympathize with you...
    • Another episode featured the deaths of an entire family except for a teenage girl and her young daughter. Turns out, the father had been molesting the girl since she was little and everyone in the family knew - to the point that her mother lead her to the room where daddy was waiting and closed the door behind her - and had fathered her little girl, who was now just reaching the age of her father's 'interest'. The teenage girl killed him to protect her, and everyone else because they were willing to let them both be molested and probably would have protected the father if she had ever tried to come forward.
    • Another one in CSI Miami, a mother was killed at her home. At first, as usual, the first suspect is her husband, and later, her daughter's boyfriend, who got some glass fragments on his shoes traced to a broken lamp in the house. However, they found a video which was over-recorded over an old recording, and the old recording showed that, indeed, the 'monster' in the house was actually the mother, not the father. She was killed by her young son, and her eldest daughter, who just seen him do it, followed suit and beat her up with a bat a few more times in the head.
  • A similar example to that last CSI one happened in Kommissar Rex where a murdered businessman was revealed to be a pedophile and was killed by his teenage daughter who he had been abusing for years and had started to move on to her younger brother instead, which caused her to snap. The episode is even called "Finally The Monster Is Dead". Now, consider the fact that the show was made in Austria where, years later, a case involving a certain Josef Fritzl surfaced...
  • A few Law and Order episodes do this.
    • "The Reaper's Helper" (euthanasia for AIDS sufferers).
    • "Indifference" (A woman abuses her child as she is being abused by her husband).
    • In one early episode, a girl kills a man on the bus because she thinks he's about to rape her. It's turned into a cause celebre (she's white, he's black, it's thought she assumed he would rape her because of his race) when it turns out that he had committed numerous rapes in the past.
    • "Identity": an elderly man kills the guy who faked his identity and used it to sell his house on the market. The victim was counting on the guy being too old and feeble to do anything about it.
  • Monk once featured a (nearly) blind woman who was portrayed quite sympathetically, even after it was revealed that she was the murderer.
    • In another episode, Monk and Stottlemeyer had to arrest the mother of the first woman Monk had fallen in love with in a very long time for killing the equivalent of her nation's Slobodan Milosevic.
    • There was also the guy who ordered a crime that unexpectedly led to the murder of a housekeeper, but he'd done it as part of a Batman Gambit to make his ex-wife fall in love and get married again so that he wouldn't have to pay alimony anymore, and had planned the crime for what he'd thought was the housekeeper's night off. What's more, his plan worked.
  • At least one killer in Numb3rs, particularly one who caused domino-effect killings (he shoots at Gang A, who retaliates against Gang B, who retaliates back, people get caught in the crossfire...repeat until about 150 people are dead) after his young son was murdered by gangsters. By the time the crew catches up with him, he is very clearly insane.
  • Present in some Jonathan Creek episodes. The most extreme is one episode in which there were, IIRC, six murderers (or maybe seven), all but one of whom were highly sympathetic.
  • Appeared on NCIS - a prison inmate was in there because she'd killed her boyfriend, who had been abusing her. Made worse when we learn that she killed one of the guards because he'd been coercing her daughter to sleep with him.
    • Also, Agent Lee was forced to become The Mole by a terrorist information broker, who kidnapped her daughter. She gunned down Agent Langer and frames him for her crimes; but several members of the main cast feel they would've done the same in the same situation.
  • Happened in Beverly Hills, 90210 when Valerie admitted to killing her father after he repeatedly raped her from the time she was 11.
  • Done very often on Cold Case, mostly when the victim is an Asshole Victim:
    • "Blackout": a woman tries to seduce her 13 year old grandson, after sexually abusing her son since he was 13. Her daughter (and the boy's mother) finds out. Her mother has been emotionally abusing her for years. After berating her daughter for being ugly, the victim threatens that she still has power over her grandson, and the daughter drowns her.
    • "Justice": a serial date rapist avoids punishment in 1982. The younger brother of one of the victims (who witnessed his sister's rape) follows the victims when they confront the rapist. They leave a gun at the scene. The brother picks it up and shoots the rapist.
    • Cold Case even manages to pull this off when the victim is a saint. Often, the murder is shown to be an Accidental Murder and/or a crime of passion, committed in a moment of extreme emotional upset, leaving the killer genuinely horrified by their actions.
  • Homicide: Life On the Street featured a sympathetic teen who had snapped and killed the Jerk Jock who was bullying him. Munch evidently identified with him.
  • Stacey Slater in Eastenders in the climax of the "Who killed Archie?" storyline. Considering what a Complete Monster Archie Mitchell was, one can be forgiven for saying he deserved it. Especially after he raped Stacey while she was still suffering from bipolar disorder.
  • The comedy show Murder Most Horrid had a fair number of these, because A. there kind of has to be a murder, given the title, but, B. it's a comedy. Complete Monsters can be played for laughs (and are on that show), but sympathetic murderers can be even funnier.
  • The title character of Dexter is one, a serial killer whose homicidal tendency was channeled by a Genre Savvy stepfather so he only kills very bad people.
  • In the House episode "The Tyrant", the team's Patient of the Week is the president of an African country who is planning to commit genocide. After instinctively calling out a warning that saved the president's life from an assassination attempt, Dr. Chase decides that he can't morally save the man's life again and takes matters into his own hands by faking a blood test so the president would be misdiagnosed and given treatment that, given his actual condition, would kill him.
  • The latest CW incarnation of Nikita qualifies under this trope because the lead character, Nikita, is shown as sympathetic and is, in fact, supposed to be the hero of the series, yet, in the first episode, shoots dead an innocent bystander in order to allow her mole to infiltrate Division, which is murder no matter what "ends justify the means" rationale may be applied to it.
    • Except, of course, later in the season, a flashback reveals that the man in question was a drug dealer and was going to be killed by Division anyway.
  • Rizzoli and Isles features a woman who killed two guys and attempted to kill another during the Boston marathon. She did it because they had gang-raped her big sister when the sister was fifteen, then bought their way out of prosecution, and the sister had killed herself a few years later, and Dad had a heart attack from the stress.
  • Law & Order: SVU had more than its fair share:
    • The father from "Paternity", who found out his wife has having an affair and her lover was the real father of his son. He snaps and goes Papa Wolf on her when she intends to divorce him and take her son away from him. It's even speculated that, had she divorced him, he'd still have to pay alimony and child support without having any parental rights whatsoever, despite not loving his son any less because of the reveal.
    • A CIA analyst who needed to get a list of Cuban double-agents to the Cuban Resistance Movement enlists the help of her longtime friend by paying for her breast implants and inserting the microchip into one of them. Unfortunately for her, the friend was not patriotically-inclined, since she was now part of a drug ring, and tried to blackmail the analyst for more money (which she didn't have). She was forced to retrieve the implant (yes, in that manner) or risk her friend possibly selling it and getting everyone on the list killed. She gets away since the agent behind the Government Conspiracy to frame her drug contacts for the murder covers the whole thing up.
    • A schizophrenic man kidnapped a child, killed one guy, and injured another. But the reason for his actions was that the facility where he was committed was neglecting its patients, and the reason they discharged him was because he could testify against them for the death of another patient.
  • Maia Jeffries on Shortland Street, for her shooting of Ethan Pierce.
  • And, speaking of people named Jeffries, Larry Jeffries from Home and Away fits this. His struggle with alcoholism results in the death of one of the more popular recurring characters, but he's never actually portrayed as a total villain. His sons also skirt around this, but they end up not actually causing anyone's death.
    • I agree that Larry qualifies as sympathetic, but when did Axel become a popular recurring character? This was only weeks after his attempted rape of a much more liked character. Admittedly, he was drunk at the time, and he did turn himself in, but he never came close to redeeming himself.
    • Also from Home and Away: Roman Harris' entire story arc revolves around him killing one of his own team.
    • Barry Hyde, who was responsible for the death of his wife, who was trying to drown their son at the time, and Josh West, who was blackmailing him over the first one.
  • A fair number of the guilty defendants on The Practice, especially the ones who either committed vigilante killings or were insane at the time of their crimes.
  • Used every so often on Boston Legal, such as the mother who killed the murderer of her daughter after he got off on a temporary insanity plea.

Music

  • One of the common results of the Murder Ballad is to make the killer somewhat sympathetic.

Theatre

  • Katerina in Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, who kills her abusive father-in-law and husband.
  • Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street makes the titular character this. Even though most of his victims were just innocent bystanders, Sweeney was given a backstory so tragic that you can't help but sympathize with him.

Video Games

  • The Phoenix Wright games have some of these.
    • In the first game, Yanni Yogi, who killed the man who ruined his life fifteen years ago by convincing him to plead insanity.
    • In the second game, Acro, a paraplegic who wanted to get back at Regina for crippling him and putting his brother into a deep coma, but ended up killing her father (and his father-figure) Mr. Berry by accident. At the end of the trial, he even breaks down crying.
      • Then again, his intended victim was a young girl who didn't even realise that she was responsible and who decided to keep vigil over the comatose brother when she realized the gravity of the situation...
      • But that's precisely what pissed him off so much. How would you like it if someone accidentally crippled you and put your brother in a coma as the result of a prank and didn't even realize that it was all her fault?
      • Also, Regina, while an extreme Cloudcuckoolander, was 15 or 16 when it happened. That ought to be more than old enough to comprehend the gravity of the situation.
      • Which explains why Mr. Berry went in her stead; he probably realized that his extreme sheltering of her from the nastier aspects of existence was what made it so difficult for her to sense the gravity of the situation. In other words, he's intentionally getting Acro to kill the one who caused Regina's ignorance in the first place--Mr. Berry himself.
    • In the third game, Godot only murdered Misty Fey (possessed by the spirit of Complete Monster Dahlia) to protect the little sister of the woman he'd loved. Afterwards, he continually directed the trial to make sure Phoenix eventually found him guilty. It's also implied that Misty went into the situation willing to die for her daughter.
  • Alma, from First Encounter Assault Recon. The only reason she can even be considered an antagonist is the whole "constantly melting people to death" and "going to kill the world" thing.
  • Silent Hill 2 has James, the protagonist, who killed his wife. In an unusual variant, both the murderer and the victim are very sympathetic. There is also Angela, who killed her sexually abusive father.
    • From Silent Hill 4, we get an interesting example with Walter Sullivan. Most, if not all, of the people he killed caused him some grievance before, but he doesn't hate them, it's just that by killing them, he'll appease his goddess and be reunited with his mother.
  • The Origami Killer, aka Scott Shelby, from Heavy Rain is revealed to be this by the game's end.
  • Saints Row 2, mostly. Subverted when "The Boss" pulls off a few kills that are patently unjustifiable, reflecting how he/she has become a power-hungry cutthroat rather than an Anti-Hero gangster. Even unrepentant mass murderer Johnny Gat looks nice in comparison.
    • Although, in the Boss' defense, most of those murders were either self defense or revenge, with the exception of those caused by Gameplay and Story Segregation, the people s/he killed deserved it. However, by the end, s/he is still a very bad person. However, while s/he struck first against Maero by disfiguring his face for insulting him/her, what Maero did to Carlos as revenge made the murders of Jessica (who taunted him/her about it), Matt (though Matt also tried to strangle him/her), and, finally, Maero quite understandable. As for the similar incident with the Ronin, it's easy to say that this was before the Boss became such a bastard.
      • Ironically, in that story arc, The Boss' cruelest moment was when s/he didn't kill someone. It was when s/he pointlessly burned and crippled Matt's hand with fireworks for no other reason than to send a message to Maero since he was Maero's best friend (he only did tattoos for the gang, nothing more).
    • Johnny is especially easy to sympathize with during the cemetery burial of a crime rival who was practically begging for it.

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