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I Didn't Mean to Kill Him

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What can happen if you forget your safe word.

"You leave her alone!" Woof screamed, and his tiny hands hit the small of Da's back, and Da fell. He tumbled down the stairs, over and over and over again … and he wasn't getting up, and why was his head turned like that? ... "I didn't mean it!" Woof cried, the tears streaming down his face … "I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!" He was still yelling the words as he ran out the flat into the rain and mud of Fog Town. "I didn’t mean it!" But he had.

An alternative to the Motive Rant has the perp, when cornered, explain how the murder was all an accident. Their excuse can be almost anything, but the most common explanations are

  • "It was just a joke!" when a prank or practical joke goes horribly wrong.
  • "We were having an argument, we said something we didn't mean, and things escalated to the point where we started pushing and shoving, and... I didn't mean to push him (down the stairs/off the cliff/into traffic)!"
  • "I didn't mean to hit him that hard!": They did mean to hit him, just a teensy bit, or some such thing.
  • "I only meant to make him sick...", usually so that the victim would be unable to do something and the killer could step into the victim's place. It may be a competition, a presentation, or a trip. Or almost anything else.
  • "I didn't know it would harm him...": They did not know the victim would have a life-threatening allergic reaction or had different biochemistry.

After making the "I didn't mean to kill him" declaration, they'll often go on to explain that they dismembered the corpse and hid the pieces in a septic tank because they "panicked". In such a spiel, they will always, every time, utter the line "I didn't mean to kill him/her", as if that's supposed to make it all better.

Compare to Accidental Murder, where the dead people are accidental collateral damage rather than dead by misaimed intention, and Murder by Mistake, where the killer was trying to kill someone else but got the wrong person. This trope can also overlap with I Just Shot Marvin in the Face if the fatal accident was the result of poor gun safety.

See also Monster Is a Mommy for when a seemingly threatening animal is accidentally killed.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball: Subverted in the Red Ribbon arc. Goku panics when his Kamehameha wave blows off Major Metallitron's head, but it turns out that he survived due to being a robot. And kept fighting... at least until his batteries ran out.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman:
    • The Plague of the Antibiotic Man: As fighting Nam-Ek, Superman throws a volcano at the Kryptonian villain, expecting to stun him. When Nam-Ek vanishes without a trace, Superman examines the lava, he finds traces of Kryptonite, and becomes horrified thinking he has killed Nam-Ek by accident.
    • Who is Superwoman?: As battling the titular villain, Supergirl rips off and crushes Superwoman's powered suit's control nodes to disable her. Unfortunately, tearing Superwoman's suit apart triggers a chain reaction which causes the suit to explode and obliterate its wearer. Seeing she has accidentally killed Superwoman, Kara falls to her knees and has a breakdown. Later, when she explains the story to Lois, Kara insists that she did not mean it.
    • Infinite Crisis: Superboy Prime beheads Baby Wildebeest and Pantha by accident, and he then shouts he did not mean it.
  • Robin (1993): In a moment of panic, Tim Drake beat Johnny Warlock to death after the villain drained the Life Energy from a group of cops and then cornered Tim and Stephanie. Due to Johnny's powers, he'd seemed rather invincible so Tim hadn't expected his panicked attack to do such damage. Johnny's powers were due to a magical object impaled through his heart and he got up and walked out of the morgue a couple of days later, but Tim spent at least a month unaware that the undead magic user had "survived" and nearly stopped being Robin out of guilt.

    Fan Works 
  • re:Bound (RWBY) starts with Ruby accidentally using the wrong side of her scythe while fighting against Roman in the first episode of RWBY. It was deemed an accidental by law enforcement, but the death still traumatized Ruby and many people (including most of her classmates) still think she's a murderer.
  • In Epitaph. Zipper slams Kimber's head into the bumper of his car and then puts her in the trunk. When he checks a few hours later, he notices that she isn't breathing. His comrades ditch him upon learning a simple kidnapping has turned into a murder situation.
  • A fan story of The Powerpuff Girls focused on Blossom who confronted a robber. The thug fires a shot that ricochets off Blossom's eyes, blinding her temporarily. She throws wild punches with one of them connecting on the robber and killing him. When Blossom discovers she killed the robber, she voluntarily surrenders to police and spends the bulk of the story doing some soul searching.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lion King (1994):
    • Simba says this when Scar framed him for killing his father.
      Simba: The wildebeests, and... he tried to save me... It was an accident! I-I-I didn't mean for it to happen!
      Scar: Of course, of course you didn't. No-one ever means for these things to happen.
    • Later, Scar tries to invoke this when he gets cornered by Simba, saying that the hyenas made him kill Mufasa. Not only does Simba refuse to believe him, but the hyenas overhear and become furious.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Animal House, Flounder is perfectly honest about how he didn't mean to (and wasn't even trying to) kill Neidermeyer's horse — even though the gun was loaded with blanks, he didn't even aim it at the horse. The mere sound of the gunshot caused a heart attack.
  • Insomnia: The killer tells the detective who's investigating him (and whom he's blackmailing to help him pin the murder on someone else) that he "didn't mean" to beat his teenage victim to death. When he repeats the same nonsense later on, the detective points out that he knows it took him fifteen minutes.
  • The Little Shop of Horrors: In the original film, Seymour says something along these lines. He even says this from inside the plant after his face appears on one of the flowers. His mother and Audrey, of course, are shocked.
  • Munchausen: The mother doesn't mean to kill her son but the "feel good" antidote doesn't work in time.
  • In the climax of the film Legally Blonde, Elle manages to deduce that Chutney had to have heard the gunshot that killed her father (she claimed she was in the shower, but later admitted to getting a perm beforehand, proving she wasn't in the shower since her curls weren't ruined), which led Elle to get Chutney to admit that she didn't just hear the shot, she fired the shot at her own father. Chutney then screamed about how she intended to kill Brooke, since she hated how her dad married someone who was her age.
    Chutney: I didn't mean to shoot him! I thought it was you walking through the door! (Points at Brooke)
  • In La Strada, Zampanò says this to Gelsomina, trying to explain the death of The Fool — Zampanò only punched him a few times, but after walking away a few steps, The Fool keeled over and died. Zampanò is a circus strongman who apparently Does Not Know His Own Strength, at least when punching.
  • Dorothy in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz says this about both Wicked Witches. In the book, while she may not have known water would kill the Witch of the West, she meant to throw it on her.
  • In In the Heat of the Night, Ralph, the waiter at the diner says this about his murder of Mr. Colbert.
  • In Murder is My Beat, Patrick arrests Eden for the murder of Frank Dean, who was killed by a blow to the back of the head. Eden admits to hitting him with a figurine during a fight, but is shocked to learn that she killed him. That's because she didn't - the man known as Dean is alive and well, but murdered someone else and burned the corpse's face and hands beyond recognition, letting Eden be framed.
  • Solomon Kane: Despite hating his older brother Marcus, Solomon is horrified when he seemingly shoves Marcus off a cliff to his death during a childhood argument. Given what happened to Marcus afterwards, he might have preferred dying in the fall...
    Solomon Kane: I swear I did not mean for Marcus to fall. I did not mean for him to die.

  • The Beginning After the End: In his past life, Grey was forced to duel his former Childhood Friend Love Interest Cecilia in the King's Tourney. Cecilia, who was tired of being sought out for her power as the Legacy and to spare her fiancé and Grey's own best friend Nico from being Targeted to Hurt the Hero, committed Suicide by Cop in their duel. This caused Nico, who did not know any better, to swear vengeance against his former friend. This misplaced hatred carried over when Agrona reincarnated both Nico and Cecilia in order to make them more compliant to him and to turn them against Grey, who had reincarnated outside of his control as Arthur. It is not until Arthur is confronted by Nico and Cecilia in Nirmala that he finally tells them that he never meant to kill Cecilia. While Cecilia refuses to listen due to her being blinded by Agrona's influence, Nico - who had broken free of Agrona's control earlier on - eventually has a My God, What Have I Done? moment as he realizes he had turned against his friend and caused him so much suffering over completely nothing.
  • Goran's accidental asphyxiation of Madison in Damned.
  • In Dead Famous by Ben Elton, it's mentioned that Detective Coleridge has witnessed many deaths that arose from family arguments; the perpetrators usually giving some form of this line ("I couldn't stand her anymore", "He drove me to it"), and horrified that they ended up killing someone.
  • In the Dragonlance book Dragons of Spring Dawning, we find out that Berem rarely talks or even interacts with the outside world because, in his mind, he's reliving the day that he accidentally killed his sister Jasla. He was prying a gemstone out of a ruined temple, and Jasla told him to stop. She grabbed him and, in a rage, he shoved her, causing her to fall and get impaled on a stone fragment. Turns out that the death of Jasla is what allowed Takhisis to come back to Krynn and set in motion the War of the Lance.
  • Corrine claims this about Cory's death in V. C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic: she says that she thought putting arsenic on powdered sugar donuts would just make him "a little sick ..."
  • Go to Sleep (A Jeff the Killer Rewrite): It was assumed that Randy got sent to JDC for pushing Ben into a lake, which caused him to drown. Randy says Ben's death was accidental, but Jeff doesn't believe him.
    Jeff: Y-you pushed him! What did you expect to happen!
    Randy: I didn't know that he couldn't swim, you dumbass!! If the cops didn't think it was my fault, then it wasn't my fault!!
  • Harry Potter:
    • A version of this occurs toward the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry tries to explain to the ghosts of Remus, Sirius, and his parents, that he never meant for any of them to die.
    • In the sixth book, when Harry inadvertently slashes Draco to bits with the Sectumsempra spell (nearly killing him), he gasps, "No- I didn't-" Granted in this instance it was justified, as he had no idea of what Sectumsempra would do, instead using it in a moment of desperation.
  • Used pretty much word-for-word in Men at Arms, after someone botches a Tap on the Head and kills the recipient outright instead of merely putting him out of action for a while.
  • The Origin of Laughing Jack: At one point during Isaac's absence from home while at Boarding School, his father drunkenly beats his wife as usual, but she doesn't get back up. He is later hanged for killing his wife.
  • Troubled, but Cute Johnny in The Outsiders says this when he he kills Bob, the Soc who was drowning Ponyboy.
    • It's entirely possible that Bob was merely waterboarding Ponyboy; the film version shows Bob occasionally bringing Ponyboy's head out of the fountain before dunking it back in. Of course, this means that Bob may have been the one who Didn't Mean To Kill Him if Johnny hadn't intervened.
  • Late in The Quest for Saint Camber, this is Conall's response when Duncan asks him about Tiercel's death. Specifically, he says an argument degenerated into a shoving match at the top of a staircase.
  • The Reveal in Terminal by Andrew Vachss is that the apparent murderers of Melissa Turnbridge had meant to Break the Haughty Fille Fatale by "only" raping her and had not meant to kill her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after accidentally killing her mother's boyfriend, Ted. Luckily, he's a robot.
  • Approximately half of the murders in Cold Case are accidental in some sense or other.
  • CSI:
    • "Loco Motives" features a multiple murderer who explains that he didn't mean to kill anyone. He just happens to be prone to causing fatal accidents.
    • Another episode has a woman kill the "wrong" victim. She wanted someone else dead and she's *adamant* that she shouldn't be charged because she didn't mean to kill the person that died.
  • Variants of this show up several times on CSI: NY, including the guy in "Fare Game" who used a gun loaded with blanks to scare someone. He was completely unaware that even blanks can kill at close range.
  • The defendant in the Law & Order episode "Terminal" claims that when he shot a businesswoman he only intended to wound her, keeping her from cashing a check he couldn't cover, to maintain his appearance as a successful businessman. Adam Schiff gives enough credence to the explanation to resist the governor's call to make it a death penalty case. (The man doesn't seem overly bright.)
  • In the revelation sequence from M*A*S*H's finale "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen", Hawkeye sobs, "I didn't mean for her to kill it! I just wanted it to be quiet!" Throughout the episode, he's been talking to Sidney about a woman holding a noisy chicken when the enemy was nearby. If the enemy had heard it, the entire group would've been killed. The revelation is that his mind had changed it from a baby into a chicken to avoid the guilt. Hawkeye had tersely told her at the time, in a moment of desperation, to "Keep that damn thing quiet". He had to see Sidney about the chicken because the stress kept him from going to sleep at night.
  • In the BBC series Sherlock episode "The Great Game," when they finally confront Andrew West's brother-in-law, he claims he didn't mean to kill him.
  • All My Children's Hayley Vaughn wails this verbatim upon finding her husband's body, thinking that she did it in self-defense (he was trying to rape her) during an alcoholic blackout. note 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Comes up in Chief O'Brien's backstory. During the border wars with Cardassia the Federation outpost where he was stationed was attacked by Cardassian ground troops, and he ended up right in the thick of it despite being an engineering technician with almost no weapons training. The phaser that was shoved into his hand was set to maximum, a fact Miles didn't notice until he had to fire it and the enemy soldier he hit was vapourised. Despite the circumstances being as justified as they could possibly be it was a deeply traumatic experience for him, and he's shown to still feel very bitter about being forced into that situation years later.

  • "Didn't Mean to Kill Him" is the title of an Insane Clown Posse song. It's a subversion, though; the singer didn't mean to break the guy's neck, but when his victim mouthed off at him when he paid him a visit in the hospital, the singer snapped and intentionally murdered him.
  • "Run, Joey, Run," a 1975 hit by David Geddes, where the titular character was the intended target of his girlfriend's father, who wanted to kill him for what is implied to be impregnating her. The girlfriend, Julie, steps in and takes the bullet intended for Joey.


    Video Games 
  • Thorvald Two-Stone in Arcanum was sent to the Isle of Despair for killing a gnome with a single punch at a bar. He is completely non-repentant, saying that the gnome had a weak neck. Thorvald did have a strength of 21, which is pretty much the maximum amount in this game.
  • From Deus Ex: Human Revolution, after helping his friend Malik solve the murder of her friend, Adam will discover the perpetrator to be Lee Hong, the deceased's boyfriend. His defense is that he didn't mean to kill her, just to "shut her stupid mouth." Given his demeanor and lack of remorse for beating his pregnant-with-his-child-girlfriend to death, this rings pretty hollow. Malik gives him his just desserts, though.
  • One sidequest in Dragon Age: Origins has you disposing of the "evidence" of deals gone bad, and by "evidence" I mean bodies. The people who killed them all give this excuse.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, speaking with Uthgerd the Unbroken about the perennial chip on her shoulder reveals that she was once slated to become a member of the Companions, but when put into a sparring match with one of the other potential whelps she accidentally killed him. She bitterly notes that she had no intention to kill him, but just wanted to prove herself as a strong woman. The act got her permanently banned from the group.
  • In Until Dawn, this is pretty much how most characters except Josh and Sam react to the death of Hannah and Beth. One character even literally says "It was just a prank, Han".

    Western Animation 
  • Played for laughs in a Daria episode where Daria and Jane are watching a Sick Sad World marathon.
    Woman on TV: I didn't mean to hurt him.
    Daria: The knife just slipped. 67 times.
    Jane: What can you say? Some people are just klutzy.