aka: Vigilante Justice
"Maybe no jury would convict you on that, but I would. I'm the jury now, and the judge, and I have a promise to keep. Beautiful as you are; as much as I almost loved you, I sentence you to death."The court is dismissed. The defendant, Dr. McEvilpants, is set free thanks to a lack of evidence (or worse, gets Off on a Technicality), suspiciously missing witnesses who fell down an elevator shaft, onto some bullets, and a jury that just got a significant increase in spending cash. As he leaves the courthouse steps, a Vigilante Man, often a victim or loved one of the victim (if not someone who's simply determined to see justice served), shows up and shoots him. The gunman just carried out a Vigilante Execution. This can be either the ending to a story, or the setup for a second half or prelude to a larger plot. See also: The Killer Becomes the Killed, Vigilante Man, Framing the Guilty Party.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Magog shoots the Joker in Kingdom Come in a manner similar to this — the Joker wouldn't have walked, but he would possibly had pleaded insanity. Again.
- Happens to Speedball about halfway through the Civil War. He survives, though.
- Detective John Hartigan from Sin City tried to kill Junior Roark as opposed to arresting him for this very reason. Unfortunately, it didn't quite happen as planned.
- Criminals in the Marvel universe who get off in court should always be wary, for they are likely to have an encounter with Frank Castle.
- During Dark Reign, Hawkeye, then going by Ronin (and would return to the Hawkeye alias after this was over) attempted a mix between this and political assassination against Norman Osborn, who was in charge of the government and was using it to control and punish the superhero community and planning to start a War for Fun and Profit with Asgard. The hit failed and Hawkeye was kidnapped, tortured, and Mind Raped in order to find out where the New Avengers were hiding. In a What If? story, however, he was able to successfully kill Norman, leading himself to become public enemy number one and making things worse for everyone as Victoria Hand took Norman's reigns and used this to push harsher treatment against superheroes. They also middle named him for it.
- The Boondock Saints ends with the execution of the Big Bad, a Mafia boss, in the courtroom by the McManus brothers and their long-lost father. They get away with thanks to some inside help from Agent Smecker.
- This is the premise of Death Sentence. When Kevin Bacon finds out that his son's murderer faces a maximum of 3 years, he pretends not to recognize the perp in court, so that later on he can track him down and kill him. This ends up backfiring. Badly.
- Pre-empted in L.A. Confidential, where Exley kills Dudley because he's sure that if given a jury trial, he'll be acquitted. Ironically enough, in their first onscreen conversation, Dudley asks Exley if he's capable of such an act, and Exley demurs.
- In New Jack City, druglord Nino Brown walks arrogantly out of the courtroom in front of the police protagonists, confident he will not serve a sentence commensurate with his crimes. The old man who was hounding Brown throughout the film for destroying his neighborhood with his drug trade shoots him dead in the courthouse foyer.
- Eraser - where Arnie kills off the Big Bad in this manner, when it becomes clear he will never be convicted.
- Shooter - where the protagonist hunts down the villains, who have gotten away with everything, and kills them in their cabin - making the entire thing look like a gas leak.
- Combine this trope with a torch-and-pitchfork mob attack, and you get how Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street died, at least the first time around.
- In Outrage, Robert Preston is a father whose daughter was raped and murdered by a man who is released on a technicality because the police made a mistake. After his wife dies because of the trauma of learning their daughter's murderer has gotten off scot free, he buys a gun, drives to the area of town where the man generally hangs out, calls out his name, and when he responds, shoots and kills him.
- In The Departed, Sullivan manages to destroy all evidence of his crimes, so he's not even charged with anything, but Dignam still finds out what he did and kills him.
- Law Abiding Citizen has Clyde doing this to everyone involved with the death of his family and the miscarriage of justice that followed.
- The DA belatedly finds out that Clyde is an expert at doing this sort of thing. It never came up because his work is classified.
- The remake/reboot Shaft (2000) ends this way though in this case, the mother of the victim shot him before the trial, not willing to take the chance that he might get away.
- In Batman Begins of The Dark Knight Saga Bruce Wayne is about to shoot Joe Chill, the murderer of his parents, who is being released in exchange for information on Falcone. What stops him is Joe being shot by one of Falcone's minions first.
- With the killer cops in Magnum Force, this trope is used. The scenario described at the top of the page is the type that describes the Ricca killing at the beginning.
- In The Star Chamber, the secret court exists to order these on obviously guilty murderers who got Off on a Technicality, two of which are shown to be killed by a hitman. The father of a murdered boy also attempts these when the suspects get off this way, but ends up instead shooting a cop by accident when he tries to stop him.
- The premise behind And Then There Were None.
- Also the premise behind Murder on the Orient Express.
- The ending of every Mike Hammer novel. "The Twisted Thing" is an exception in that the killer, a child genius, commits suicide — probably because it would be too much to have even Sociopathic Hero Hammer kill a child, and impossible to claim that it was self defence.
- Most of the 'Home End' of Tom Clancy's Without Remorse consists of an extended series of these ... entirely justified as you would expect from J. T. Kelly (later Clark).
- A Time to Kill follows the trial of the vigilante executioner after he does this. Samuel L. Jackson would like you to know that, Yes, they deserved to die and he hopes they burn in hell.
- In the Dale Brown novel Wings of Fire, Chris Wohl kills Pavel Kazakov, who Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All.
- In Dale Brown's Shadow Command Patrick McLanahan kills Russian president Leonid Zevitin, who for obvious reasons would not be prosecuted, face-to-face.
- The Saint in New York opens with Simon Templar gunning down a murderer on the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
- Happens frequently in the John Sandford Prey series, usually with the protagonist, Lucas Davenport, claiming self defense after gunning the perp down.
- In Insurgent, the Candor Court decided to spare Erics life, but Dauntless decides, on its own, to kill him for his crimes, and the execution is performed by them. So technically, may count as a subversion, since Eric was a Dauntless.
- An episode of Walker, Texas Ranger had three cops who did this to criminals they feel didn't get the punishment they deserved. One of the people they kill is a kid who was actually innocent; DNA evidence exonerated him, but the cops never checked.
- The Law & Order franchise loves this trope. While parodies tend to exaggerate the propensity for defendants to die in this fashion, they are gunned down way out of proportion compared to reality. What kind of security do they have at the NYC Supreme Court, anyway?
- One episode featured a crazed Strawman Conservative who stole a bunch of embryos from a fertility clinic because the clinic personnel wouldn't implant the embryos with terminal diseases. The embryos expire and the widower of one of their donors shoots him.
- An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had a child molester who actually reformed. He was framed for a murder-rape and got off, but then someone shot him.
- In yet another episode, a sociopathic killer child was going to be released and the victim's father shoots him. The rest of the episode asks the question of whether he was temporarily insane at the time or not.
- Another episode plays with it; a girl is kidnapped and murdered, and a previously convicted rapist is arrested for the crime. The girl's mother brings a gun to court and shoots him at the arraignment. Everyone supports her and is lenient to her, because she's killed the man who killed her daughter - until it's revealed that she and her lover actually hired the man to kidnap her daughter, in order to spite her ex-husband. She wasn't avenging her daughter, but silencing a witness.
- Another one: a man kills the assassin of his child and four others and is sent to prison as well, despite McCoy's efforts to bring up lesser charges. The creepy part, though? The killer's Amoral Attorney had actually sent him information about the other man's release, manipulating the guy into killing the culprit so she could make herself look good by defending him (she was running for political office). McCoy and his team get a spectacular revenge by foiling the last part of her plan and getting the lawyer indicted for murder and conspiracy.
- An inverted one - involving the murder of the victim, not the criminal - from SVU. A teenage boy sneaks into a TV starlet's dressing room and rapes her when he finds her sleeping and drunk, under the influence of a radio show host a la Howard Stern. The kid's Knight Templar Parent of a mother shoots (though does not kill) the host when her son is found guilty.
- And another (get a pattern?) SVU example, a girl was raped and murdered by a club owner. Elliot decides to tell the girl's father that they do not have enough evidence to charge the club owner, so the father decides to kill the man and then gets shot himself.
- From the core series, a team of brutal home invaders had killed ADA Borgia, and they were connected to a corrupt federal agent. After going through immense pains to try and keep the agent in custody as he tries to get evidence, McCoy lets him go. However, the killers, believing he talked, gun him down in broad daylight; and the police capture them.
- In the episode "World's Fair", one of the suspects (the boyfriend of the victim) goes to her family with the intention of assuring them he didn't do it. The victim's brother gets confrontational and the boyfriend ends up being shot by the victim's father (who believed he did it). It turns out that the brother killed her, and knew full well the boyfriend was innocent).
- An episode of SVU had the guy's own lawyer, after getting him off, gun him down because he (supposedly) said he would go kill more kids.
- Possibly the first example in the Season One episode "The Torrents Of Greed" had Stone going out of his way to get a mob boss. After making the arrest, the mob boss makes bail, only to be gunned down by assassins. His sister put up the bail and had him killed in revenge for her husband's murder. While the detectives are glad to have him off the street, they are aware that his death will bring about more violence.
- Perhaps the most messed up case of this appeared in the season 13 episode Spiraling Down. A retired football star gets gunned down on the steps of the court after having been found not guilty of statutory rape of an underage prostitute by reason of insanity (the prostitute never divulged her age, but it's made clear that isn't a defense). Standard fare right? Well, this retired football star was suffering from severe dementia from repeated concussions, so by the end of a day would become so disoriented that he could barely hold a conversation for more than two sentences before he forgot what he was talking about. They let him off with an insanity defence, but the guy manages to realize that his dementia let him get away with having sex with an underage prostitute... so he grabs a gun off a police officer and executes himself.
- The one at the end of "Trade" which was the case of a murder-suicide was worse. As was the one in Season 12's finale "Smoked." We all know where that lead.
- The bombastic finale of Prime's Season 16 episode "Criminal Law" is another very good example. The sadistic mass-murderer (having prompted one son to kill several witnesses and innocents to get him released from prison) is then gunned down on the steps of the precinct (by his other son no less).
- An SVU episode had this happen to a boy that had accidentally shot a classmate when he was trying to kill some gang members that he thought were about to try and kill him. When the real story comes to light he's acquitted and forgiven, but another kid kills him because "You can't just kill a sister and get away with it", in his words.
- This trope was used so often that when Robot Chicken did a skit on the show (with anthropomorphic chickens of all things), this was the fate of the murderer. "BA-KAAAAAW!"
- The X-Files episode "Release": Doggett is in a bar, talking to the man he knows killed his son, but hasn't got enough evidence to arrest him. As the suspect leaves the bar, he is shot by Follmer, who had been taking bribes from him in his early days.
- JAG: The season four episode "Act of Terror" has two vigilante executions. First, a suspected terrorist is transported back the United States but a Marine guard shots at him on live TV coverage. The Marine is charged with murder in a court-martial. However, the suspected terrorist survived because he wore a protective vest and the FBI takes the suspect away for interrogation unbeknownst to everyone. Harm discovers this because there was a major discrepancy between the autopsy report and the video footage. The Marine charged with murder receives top civilian counsel provided by a right-wing businessman. But it turns out that the businessman has made money transfers to terrorist suspects in Saudi Arabia, and while he agrees to let the FBI apprehend the next receiver, that one is gunned down in a drive by shooting. The episode ends with the businessman smiling.
- Happened once in NCIS where the man they were pursuing turned out to be too valuable to the CIA to be arrested, despite being a murderer and all-around disgusting person. As soon as they let him go, NCIS headquarters receives a live video transmission from an unknown source. They watch as the man walks out of the building and promptly drops from a bullet to the forehead, fired from behind the camera.
- Happens again later, when it looks like a crime lord is going to walk after having two Marines tortured to death after they witness a shooting. Their comrade (who had lied and claimed to be the witness in order to protect them) can't stand it, and shoots him outside the courthouse.
- In one episode, the killer was a gang member telling everyone that he was getting messages from the boss. Turns out he had killed the boss and caused the death of other members in the gang along with a marine. Unable to pin him for the crimes, Gibbs shows what he has done to other members of the gang and tells them that he would never be convicted. He then drops the man off at the gang's place. You see him slowly being surrounded by other members. Cue next scene at NCIS headquaters where on TV it says his body was found ridden with bullets.
- Season 3 of 24 sees Big Bad Stephen Saunders shot by the wife of one of the agents he was responsible for killing before he could be interrogated by CTU.
- An episode of The Practice played this straight: a man actually helped the man on trial for murdering his wife get off, then hired someone to shoot him on his way out, because he wanted him dead, not in prison.
- The firm has also defended a number of people who committed vigilante murders.
- Played with in an episode of Murder City: the jury did it.
- The Closer: in "Heroic Measures", the DA decides there is no winnable case to be made against the doctors who made a judgement call to let a boy die on the operating table, so while they're walking back to their cars, the mother shoots them.
"He thought he was God. Turns out he was wrong."
- Much of Season 7 is taken with Brenda deflecting accusations that she committed one by proxy. When a vile gangbanger fixes it so he can get off, Brenda, stating that they have nothing to hold him on, takes him back to his hood, where everyone knows what he did.
- "Wicked Game pt 2" ends with Cynthia Keener sitting on the front step waiting for the police to come arrest her for murdering the woman who masterminded her daughter's kidnapping/torture/murder 10 years ago. Though Allison had identified the killers, the case was too old to find evidence, and the woman killed her repentant accomplice before he could confess.
- An early episode had Allison unable to get involved in a case because Joe was on the jury, but she knew the defendant was guilty of killing his wife. After the defendant was acquitted, Allison led the police to evidence that he was guilty, after which he was killed by his father-in-law, who up until then had been his strongest supporter.
- In L.A. Law, it happens twice in the same episode. A woman is on trial for shooting dead her rapist, after learning that, as the son of a South American ambassador, he has diplomatic immunity. The lawyer gets her acquitted by persuading the judge and jury to go along with the fiction that she was temporarily insane, although really she knew exactly what she was doing. In the corridor outside the courtroom, the ambassador's other son has a handgun. "Thees is for my brother!" Blam!. Blam!. "Diplomatic Immunity!"
- In Lost, Ana Lucia doesn't identify the suspect who shot her (killing her unborn child), then guns him down when he's released.
- In an episode of Carnivāle, one of the cooch dancers is murdered by a local bartender. He is subjected to a sort of Russian roulette and lives. After he is allowed to go free, Sampson follows him and shoots him, trapping him in the town of the dead.
- Subverted quite effectively in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - when a highly notorious Cardassian war criminal just goes free, he is killed by a Bajoran vigilante. Except the victim was innocent (he was a file clerk, admittedly one trying to force Cardassia to acknowledge their crimes against the Bajorans by impersonating a war criminal), and the attacker was a violent drunk who was motivated entirely by his people's (justified) nigh-universal hatred of the Cardassians, he didn't even know the man he killed was allegedly a war criminal.
- Catherine stupidly informs the husband of a victim that they suspect the man his wife was having an affair with. The husband shoots the suspect, only for it to turn out that her death was a freak accident.
- Warrick informed the father of a little girl killed in a drive by that it could have been one of the local gangsters. The father went after the guy. The real killers were some kids that he had thrown out of his youth center.
- And another one happens to a Serial Killer couple in the two-parter "Assume Nothing"/"All for our Country", though for once it doesn't have any relation with this time Nick stupidly giving information about the case to an old college friend.
- One episode of CSI: Miami, the mother of a vacationing college student killing the gang-wannabe who'd murdered her son as an initiation.
- Happens multiple times on Homicide Life On The Street, as listed on that page.
- A variant in Noah's Arc: When one of the guys who gay bashes Noah gets off with a minimal sentence, Wade goes to beat them down (and judging by how badly he beats on the guy, he probably did intend to kill him).
- Pushing Daisies had this happen to a killer who hadn't even made it to trial; he was on the run from the law when he was tracked down and killed. As far as we know, the protagonists never found out that this happened.
- Ashes to Ashes subverts this: The Corrupt Corporate Executive defendant seems to get away with buying underage prostitutes and two murders because of being protected by Mac, who has the control over the police unit that investigates the crimes. However - due the fact that Gene and Alex gave him a 'What have you become?' speech earlier - Mac confronts the executive in the hallway after his release and shoots the bastard where he stands. He then turns the gun to himself, but is stopped by Gene before shooting himself. He dies moments later when fighting over the gun with Gene
- Criminal Minds
- One episode features a serial killer who targets people acquitted of murder or manslaughter. He was a court reporter who heard his targets claim to be "victims", sometimes of the people they killed, and couldn't get their voices out of his head until he killed them.
- In the episode "Reckoner", the killer is a hitman hired by a judge who went nuts after the death of his wife and became obsessed with killing people he deemed to have escaped justice.
- Early in the second season of the show, the team tracks down a serial rapist, but is unable to arrest him because they have no evidence. So Elle confronts him outside his home, gets him to confess, then guns him down with a smile on her face. She then plants a gun on his corpse, and it's ruled self-defense. However, while it's impossible to prove that she did anything wrong, the Hotch doesn't buy it, and she ultimately feels like she has no choice but to quit the team as a result. She also screwed up a sting on the rapist, leading Hotch to conclude that she intentionally messed up the sting so she could execute him..
- "True Nights" plays with this. The UnSub is taking revenge for the rape and murder of his pregnant girlfriend, but doesn't realize he's doing it until Rossi points out the scar on his torso. The gang forced him to watch and nearly eviscerated him, and the trauma caused him to have a psychotic break.
- Also used in "To Hell ... and Back." (The fourth season finale pair) where Hotch doubts his own ability as a prosecutor to convict the (quadriplegic) unsub, which leads to William Hightower shooting the UnSub with a shotgun.
- Modus operandi for Dexter Morgan. Particularly unusual in that he would have been a Serial Killer in any case, but his adoptive father Harry steered him in a "constructive" direction, and gave him pointers on how not to get caught.
- In the season 2 finale of Veronica Mars, Clarence Wiedman, acting on Duncan's orders, executes Aaron Echolls, who has just weaseled his way out of conviction for killing Duncan's sister Lilly (by framing Duncan for it) and nearly burning Duncan's ex Veronica alive.
- In the Cold Open to one episode of Spooks, a radical Muslim cleric is set free after the judge rules the evidence gathered by MI-5 through wiretaps to be inadmissible. Then a Christian radical shoots the cleric dead outside the courthouse with the battle cry "Death to the enemies of Christ!" He then turns the gun on himself.
- In The City Hunter, Lee Kyung Won is executed by the hero's Knight Templar father when it appears he is going to escape charges. Unfortunately for the City Hunter's public image, two cops are also killed in the process. Later, the death of Kim Shik-jong is assumed to be this same trope, though actually it was only a case of Driven to Suicide.
- Babylon 5 features a serial killer who'd got his personality erased, and a new one installed in place. The relatives of his victims refuse to see it as a fit punishment, even though the man who'd killed their loved ones is essentially dead, track him down and murder him after their psychological abuse of the man brings back memories of his criminal past.
- Happens fairly often to human-form Cylon prisoners in Battlestar Galactica (2003), although generally Cylons don't get a trial, and are murdered on the way to and from the specially-constructed holding cell. Notably, shortly after Boomer had shot Commander Adama and was being transferred, Cally pushed through the near-riotous crowd of crew and shot Boomer herself. The writers confirmed this was a reference to Lee Harvey Oswald. Cally got 6 weeks in the brig for "unauthorised discharge of a firearm".
- In a similar vein, Lieutenant Gaeta stabbed the deposed president Gaius Baltar shortly before Baltar's trial for crimes against humanity. This is a subversion in that Baltar survives.
- One episode of Nash Bridges had a gang of three get let off when a witness recants her testimony. Soon after, the witness and two of the gang members are killed by a vigilante, a juror in the trial whose wife was killed in a similar crime. The surviving gang member admits to bullying the witness and agrees to go to jail in return for protection from the vigilante who's already been killed, a fact Nash neglects to share with the gang member.
- The Breaking Bad episode "Half Measure" features Mike at one point tell Walt a story from when he used to be a cop. He came very close to executing an abusive husband by the side of the road. He eventually decided against it and threatened to kill him if he ever hit his wife again. Of course, the husband later killed his wife. It says something about the bleakness of the show when Vigilante Execution seems like it would have been a the right thing to do in retrospect.
- Almost happens in Moonlight in a flashback. A battered wife comes to Mick and tells him that she bought a gun to protect herself. Mick advises her to get rid of the weapon, as it's more likely that the husband would be able to grab the gun and shoot her with it. A few nights later, she is found dead from a gunshot wound. Enraged, Mick tracks down the husband and nearly rips his throat out, showing his Game Face. However, the cops arrive to arrest the guy before Mick is able to finish the job. Now, the husband claims to be have been wrongfully accused and is getting out of prison. The problem? He had many years to read up on his vampire lore and is about to "go Van Helsing" on Mick.
- A memorable episode of Midsomer Murders had the murders committed by the village priest. When the victims were teens, they accidentally killed a little boy in a way that looked like he'd hanged himself, and the lack of closure caused the boy's mother to commit suicide. In the present day, the first victim gets wrongly diagnosed with cancer, and goes to confession. The priest didn't commit the murders out of conscience though... the boy was his, resulting from an affair with the woman.
- After the death of her girlfriend Willow becomes a woman possessed with killing the man responsible, first hunting down a fleeing Warren and effortlessly snapping his head off, then discovering it was a robot hunts the real Warren, tortures him with the bullet Buffy was shot with, before death by Flaying Alive, ignoring any plea for reason or letting the police deal with him.
- Happens at the end of the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Let Us Ask the Maiden". Knowing that the real killer will get off due to lack of evidence, one suspect shoots him in front of the police and allows himself to be arrested. He believes that his arrest (and probable execution) will free his fiancee to marry the man she truly loves.
- Naturally, one occurs in Abney Park's "Victorian Vigilante".
- In Condemned, SKX's MO, in a nutshell. He is exactly as inhumane as the killers themselves, to the point where he crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
- In the RuneScape quest "The Chosen Commander", a H.A.M. agent tries to kill the goblin children by selling the vendors poisoned food. He is arrested and brought to trial, and Zanik advocates the death penalty for him, but the treaty says they can't kill him. Zanik storms out, waits, and then shoots the agent in the back with her crossbow once he leaves the meeting room.
- In Tales of Vesperia, two high ranking nobles fall "victim" to this trope after kicking one too many dogs and getting away with it. One gets slashed across the chest and dumped into a river, while the other is led by sword point into a quicksand bog and buried alive. Main character Yuri Lowell is the vigilante behind both kills.
- The first episode of the Telltale Games series Law & Order: Legacies has one - early in the "Order" segment, a Russian diplomat, whose claim of Diplomatic Impunity is still being determined, is gunned down in the courtroom by the father of the woman he raped and murdered, very narrowly missing Abbie Carmichael. The rest of the game is Michael Cutter's prosecution of the father.
- In Superman: Doomsday, Supes doing this to Toyman was the first sign that maybe the Man of Steel hadn't returned from the dead after all.
- Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination by Jack Ruby. Of course, there are still those who believe otherwise...
- Ellie Nesler, who shot and killed her son's accused molester in the courtroom in 1993.
- This sort of thing happens all the time in countries where war or internal strife leaves the general public vulnerable to violent crime.
- Lynchings are basically Vigilante Executions carried out by an angry mob. Many lynchings are racially or ethnically motivated, such as the ones that happened in the US around the turn of the 20th century.
- Such was the fate of several collaborators and Quislings after the end of World War II.
- Ironically, this didn't include the actual Vidkun Quisling, who was tried and executed (the only execution performed in Norway in the 20th century).