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A psychological twist on the news.

15-Year Old Charged in Adoptive Parents' Murder

Teenager charged as adult in the death of clinical psychologist and wife.

When Robert Kamin and his wife, Susan Poff, both failed to show up for work in January of this year, their respective employers were concerned enough to telephone the couple's son, 15-year old Moses Kamin. When Moses insisted that his parents had gone out for a walk, coworkers became suspicious and, after several phone calls yielded further evasive answers, called police to investigate. Police went to the Kamin home near Oakland, California and found nothing suspicious after questioning Moses but, on a second visit, found evidence of charring on the family car. Inside were the bodies of 55-year-old Robert Kamin and 50-year-old Susan Poff, hidden under a blanket.    Moses Kamin was arrested the next day.

Following a lengthy interrogation in which the 15-year-old initially tried to blame the murders on a friend named "Chico," he eventually confessed to strangling his adoptive mother when he was confronted about being suspended from school for smoking marijuana. Moses, a black belt in karate who outweighs both of his adoptive parents, admitted to "reacting without thought" since he had been disciplined by his parents before and did not want to deal with his parents' anger. After realizing that he had killed his mother, he concealed her body and then waited for his father to return from work. As soon as his father came home from his job as a prison psychologist, Moses then put his arm around his father's neck and stranged him to death as he told him, "I love you, Sorry."  Once both parents were dead, Moses placed the bodies in the family car and attempted to light it on fire. When that failed, he simply waited while concealing the deaths for as long as possible.

Given the gruesome circumstances of the murders and the fact that Moses Kamin was nearly 16, prosecutors made the unusual decision to charge him as an adult when he was arraigned in an Oakland court. While he initially failed to enter a plea, a public defender was appointed in his case to prepare for his trial date. Although Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson raised concerns about the tactics police used to extract a confession from the 15-year old, including locking him into an interrogation room for 12 hours before reading him his Miranda rights, Moses Kamin's confession was ruled to be acceptable as evidence. His public defender also attempted to have the confession withdrawn on the grounds that Moses failed to understand his rights although the judge rejected this argument.

Family and friends reported that Moses had a history of longstanding behavioural issues and learning problems. His parents also expressed concerns about the amount of time that he had been spending in the Occupy Oakland camp. Evidence presented in court by a school counselor, Isabelle Waigi, indicated that there had been several previous incidents involving physical confrontations between Moses Kamin and his parents. According to Ms. Waigi, she had asked Moses if he would harm his parents and he said "no, he wouldn't hurt them because he loved his mother, but he said his father better not hit him first." Shortly afterward, Moses terminated counselling and the deaths occurred several weeks later. 

In the meantime, tributes continue to pour in for Robert Kamin and Susan Poff.   Kamin, a clinical psychologist who worked in the San Francisco prison system and Poff, a clinic physician's assistant who worked with homeless adults, had adopted Moses in 2002. In talking about his brother, Bruce Kamin praised his work with inmates.  "Bob's strength was dealing with people in jail, who are in terrible situations and very demanding," he added, "It's too bad that his own son couldn't benefit from that." Susan Poff's employer, Joshua Bamberger describe her death as "a terrible loss." In an interview with the Oakland Times, he stated that "I've never met anyone who lived with as little ambivalence about making the world a better place. 'She was one of the most loving, heartfelt, solid and wise persons who ever cared for people living in poverty."

The case is continuing.

 

Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Canada.

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