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Title: Dungeons & Dragons Expert Held Accountable For Murder

Source: Chicago Tribune, June 10th, 1985

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Dungeons & Dragons Expert Held Accountable For Murder
June 10, 1985
By Robert Enstad, Chicago Tribune.

In the months before Daniel Dower shot and killed his foster father, the teenager had spent most of his spare moments playing the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons.

Some weeks, he spent as many as 50 hours at the controversial game, and in a year he had become an accomplished player. Dower's foster father, Joseph Vite, encouraged him in hopes the game would improve the youth's deficient reading skills, according to evidence presented at Dower's trial in Kenosha County Court.

"Clearly, the dominant influence on Danny's life in the year before Mr. Vite was shot was Dungeons & Dragons," said Dr. Thomas Radecki, a psychiatrist and national authority on the popular game.

On Thursday, Dower was found guilty of murdering Vite, 41, an insurance salesman who had taken the youth into his home in 1979. But the trial took an unusual twist Friday when Dower's lawyer, Jerry Mueller, tried to convince the jury that his client should not be held accountable because he lived in a fantasy world of Dungeon masters and violent movies.

He asked that jurors declare his client mentally ill at the time of the shooting. That would require Dower to be committed to a state mental hospital. On Saturday, however, the jurors rejected Mueller's argument after an hour of deliberations.

Judge David Bastian, who presided at the trial, said he believes Dower has a personality problem, but the judge agreed with the jury. He imposed the maximum penalty for the crime, life in prison plus five years.

Dower and another youth, Eric Nelson, 16, shot and killed Vite with a deer rifle as he returned from work to his Bristol, Wis., home Jan. 16. Dower, 16, said the shooting grew out of allegations that he had sexually molested a 3-year-old niece. Nelson also was sentenced to life plus five years.

"This was a calculated and brutal murder," Bastian said.

Mueller brought in Radecki, of the University of Illinois' College of Medicine, as his principal witness to prove mental illness.

Radecki, also chairman of the National Coalition on Television Violence, examined Dower for two hours in March.

Radecki said Dungeons & Dragons, in which players assume roles of good and bad characters and of monsters in "other world" adventures, is a violent game that has resulted in 45 murders and suicides since 1979. His group is studying seven other murders, Radecki said.

Radecki said Dower played the game 30 to 50 hours a week and that the fantasy world was a major factor in the slaying.

"Dower seriously blurred reality and fantasy," Radecki said. "He thought he could single-handedly clean up all the punks in Chicago. He thought people could fake death or even be dead and be brought back to life."

A spokesman for TSR Hobbies Inc., in Lake Geneva, which produces Dungeons & Dragons, denied that the game, which has annual sales of about $30 million, is related to murders or serious crime.

William Koos, an assistant Kenosha County prosecutor, did not dispute Dower's involvement with Dungeons & Dragons, but he maintained that Dower knew it was not right to kill a man and that Vite's slaying was not an act of fantasy.

Dr. Frederick Fosdal, a Madison psychiatrist, testified for the state that Dungeons & Dragons could have been a factor in the slaying.

"Exposure to violent material can be an influence on what people do," Fosdal said. "It is not uncommon that just before someone commits rape that there is exposure to pornographic material. Dungeons & Dragons may have given Mr. Dower ideas."

But, Fosdal said, "Mr. Dower clearly knew it was wrong to kill people, that clearly it was wrong to kill his foster parent."
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