Follow TV Tropes


Sympathetic Murderer

Go To

"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. It also commonly appears when an Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain needs to bump someone off without turning into an outright villain. Expect the victim to have been an asshole. There aren't many other ways to make a crime objectively more tolerable.

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. Often involves Killing in Self-Defense. See also Asshole Victim for cases where the murder is sympathetic primarily because the victim was so unsympathetic. Compare Justified Criminal for sympathetic crimes besides murder. This can also be compared to the Serial-Killer Killer, who is sympathetic mainly because he only targets people even worse than he is.

Although there is perhaps a degree of Truth in Television to this, at least in criminals' own minds, for obvious reasons it would be far too controversial to allow any real-life examples.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Lucy from Elfen Lied. 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.
    • She does seem to rarely but significantly show remorse for her killings at times though, notably before her Start of Darkness for one thing, and her horror at killing Kouta's family sticks with her even when she's off the deep end.
  • Case Closed:
    • Case Closed seems to like having the murderer be a genuinely nice person put into an unfortunate circumstance, and the victim is 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 genuinely 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 Jerk Ass 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.
    • One notable case that keeps the typical Asshole Victim angle but subverts the sympathetic murderer one involves an old friend of Sonoko's sister taking revenge on another classmate who stole his girlfriend's work and drove her to suicide. He manages to kill her but then attempts to murder Ran Mouri too, as he is pretending to be overweight and Ran accidentally walked into his room while he was changing and saw that he really wasn't, but her glimpse of him was so quick she couldn't properly register everything. After Conan exposes him as the killer he claims he did it all in honor of his girlfriend's memory. Conan states that's a load of bull and exclaims that despite whatever intentions he had, trying to kill Ran was completely unrelated to those as she was innocent of the whole affair, so he's nothing but a complete bastard.
    • Another case that puts a twist on this idea is the Spider Queen mystery. Two men are killed and it's revealed that they were smuggling drugs in the doll-repair business they were running. This also seems to be the reason behind one of the guys' daughter having committed suicide (or even thought to have been murder made to look like suicide), including her father's harsh treatment of her and the murderer is simply "revenging" her death. Completely subverted when it's revealed that the girl did commit suicide and did it because of a note that the murderer had written her years ago. The note said "Shine" like 'to shine' since he was American and she was a beautiful, shining person to him. But she, being Japanese, read it as "shine" ("shee-ne") meaning 'die'... and she did. The murderer is heartbroken when he finds this out.
    • You can make another two cases out of Billionaire Birthday Blues. Killing a Rich Bitch responsible for the death of the girl you loved? Simple, BUT taping her up and slowly drowning her to force her to have a painful death and on top of it, on her birthday? EVIL. Also, it's clearly seen by the grandmother of the girl that Ran resembles her. Ichieda could have chosen to not drag her into part of his plan, yet he still DID. Yes, Ichieda, your motive might be sympathetic but your methods are INHUMAN. The grandmother herself even lampshaded this.
  • Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist. Even his ruthlessness and attempt to kill The Protagonist isn't enough to keep him from sympathetic, given that he is a genocide survivor who lost everything he held dear and is attempting to strike back at the country (and specifically at the military's alchemists), that carried out the genocide of his people. He also admits that he feels horribly guilty for killing Winry's parents because they were innocents and had saved him.
  • 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 than even Allen!
  • In Cowboy Bebop, Alyssa's boyfriend Rint from "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.
  • 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. Subverted in that no one, especially Robin's daughter, sympathizes with him and she even asks if she's now justified in murdering him.
    • An interesting case occurs in Turnabout From Heaven, in which Diana Wheatley is 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, causing him to die of an allergic reaction.
    • The final case of the Miles Edgeworth side involves such a huge Asshole Victim that was tarnishing a local clinic's reputation and extorting money from it (in the form of free treatments) that nobody is surprised when he's killed. The killer ends up being a young man whose life had been saved at that clinic and couldn't stand seeing how much the victim's extortion was hurting the doctor both emotionally and financially.
  • The murderer (or, rather, murderers) in the Academy arc of Black Butler, especially compared to earlier antagonists, can come off as this. Greenhill didn't plan to kill Derrick Arden, but the sight of him beating up younger students and having it covered up by the vice principal incensed him enough for a loss of control with a cricket bat. His fellow Prefects helped take out the VP and cover up the incident, to preserve the school's reputation. Still murder, but almost jarringly non-evil for a series with a Villain Protagonist, as is promptly lampshaded by a burst of laughter from Undertaker at Ciel's faked horror.
  • A completely unexpected and unusual example comes from Attack on Titan. The Colossal Titan, Armored Titan, and the Female Titan all turn out to be sympathetic once their Secret Identitiies are revealed. Although they are mass murderers responsible for much of the death in the series, they're also guilt-ridden Tyke Bombs that have been deeply traumatized by what they've been forced to do. Reiner claims that they were just "stupid kids" that didn't understand anything, while Bertolt makes it clear that they don't have any choice and it has to be done. Annie is similarly aware that abandoning their mission isn't an option, no matter how much she hates having to kill people and just wants to see her father again.
  • Nogizaka Erika in the Franken Fran chapter "Cannibalism" had only killed and eaten the flesh of her victims in a bizarre attempt to treat her own autoimmune disease (her victims had the same disease and she was trying to use oral tolerance to make herself better), particularly since her first victim was her abusive mother, who often neglected her daughter and ignored all the signs that she was ill. She ends up dying on the table from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease caused by her cannibalism while Fran tried to operate on her, but not before we see her Dying Dream in which she's finally happy.
  • Naoko Kirino, the titular killer of the slasher manga Pumpkin Night. Sure she's a serial killer who has no issue with brutally offing anyone who gets between her and her targets. On the other hand said targets are largely unrepentantly terrible people that violently bullied her in middle school and, by putting bags of acid in a pumpkin mask she was supposed to wear, are responsible for the incident at the Halloween dance that burned her face off and drove her insane.
  • Hiro from Lily C.A.T. is wanted for the murders of three men. It turns out that he killed them because they got his sister hooked on drugs and she became a prostitute who eventually died from an overdose.
  • This is a staple in The Kindaichi Case Files. The main murder case is almost never motivated purely by greed or to cover up past crimes. They are almost always someone who has lost a loved one to their targets, or have otherwise suffered abuse from the Asshole Victim, and is driven by their rage to become murderers. Even the ones who are financially motivated, such as the "Legend of Amakusa Treasure" case, is portrayed sympathetically. The culprit has a dying daughter who desperately needs an expensive surgery, which he can't afford. The man's deceased wife is a supposed heiress to a conglomerate, but she has four other siblings who have a greater claim to the inheritance, so he kills them all to ensure that his daughter is the sole heir to the riches.

    Comic Books 
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac had a bad habit of torturing people who annoyed him, but as the comic went on his targets started to get less and less sympathetic (such as a pedophile who was going to molest Squee and his psychotic fanboy Jimmy who raped someone note ). Even the ones that weren't overtly murderers themselves still tended to be extremely unpleasant people.
  • 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 that would lead them to get sentenced to death and executed.
  • The Incredible Hulk: One issue features Doc Samson dealing with the vigilante Crazy Eight/Leslie Anne Shappe, who has been sentenced to the electric chair after murdering a senator. Not until after she has been executed, does Samson discover the motive for the murder. She killed the man because he had been beating his wife, who was an old friend of Crazy Eight from high school. The wife actually killed (or helped kill) her husband, the vigilante actually took the blame and died in her place, knowing it was unlikely that the wife would get a fair trial given her husband's position of power and the powerful friends he had that helped cover up the abuse. Crazy Eight sacrificed her life for her friend.
  • The Punisher
    • Frank is regularly "accidentally" allowed to get away by cops who think that he is doing the right thing (and lightening their workload). Helps that he pretty much only kills Asshole Victims by definition.
    • The MAX version had a defining incident in his youth when a friend of his committed suicide after becoming the victim of the local don's son (a Serial Rapist). The girl's brother was in the Marines, had someone cover for him when he went out for the night, and burned the rapist alive.
  • Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia revolves around Wonder Woman having to protect a young woman named Danny who murdered four men. The men were responsible for raping and abusing Melody which drove her to drug addiction and suicide. The apathy from the cops made Danny believe that the only way to get justice for her sister was to kill the men who drove her to her death.
  • Herbert from the Dungeon Verse became an overlord that murdered by the thousands in Dungeon Twilight, all so the world doesn't break apart. His backstory revealed that his first murder was a Sadist Teacher who taught him how to hate among other things which ended up with him banned from his homeland after being forced to cut his father's arm in a duel to avoid execution. He admitted back then that part of him wanted to have an army so he could come back and kill whoever has a problem with that.
  • A small number of the murderers that Judge Dredd has faced had some sort of understandable motive for their crimes. For instance, Nate Slaughterhouse was an ex-Space Marine cyborg who had settled with his wife and daughter in Mega-City One but soon lost both of them to the city's astronomically violent nature. He finally snaps and goes on a one-man killing spree against all criminals.

    Fan Works 
  • In the DR2 fanfic System Restore, the second murderer clearly thinks that they're this and that their victim fully deserved to die. After all, they were trying to push Kuzuryuu to murder a friend of hers... Determining that this was a case of Revenge Before Reasoning, they judged that murder was the best option. Further complicating this is that the previous culprit was also sympathetic, and the second clearly expects the others to react much the same.
  • Alex Harris, the protagonist of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Power Girl crossover fic Origin Story becomes one after her Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Thunderbolts, during which she kills Venom, the Radioactive Man, and Bullseye. Several members of the law enforcement community state outright that they're not sure about prosecuting her because if anyone deserved a good killing it was Bullseye.
  • Despair's Last Resort invokes this trope a lot. All but one of the murderers have shades of this one way or another.
    • The first culprit, Kaito Fujiwara, cracked under pressure and felt paranoid. He also didn't want to risk everything connected to his talent being destroyed, as his parents constantly berated him and saw him as inferior. His work was all he had to prove to them he wasn't worthless, and if it was gone then his life would never get any better.
    • The second culprit, Ayame Ishikawa, was tricked by Hikaru Nagai and nearly killed by him. She was able to disarm him and took the razor with the intent of intimidating him. But instead, she slit his throat and killed him in the process. After that, she felt like she has no choice but to keep going in order to try and leave.
    • The third culprit, Shizuka Matsuki, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She only intended to talk Naomi and Shigeru out of killing two people but became a target herself. Feeling guilty for what she did, she purposely allows herself to be caught so she can repent for her actions.
    • Subverted with the fourth culprit, Arata Miyazaki, who freely admits he killed because he was tired of being around the others.
  • Eleutherophobia: In Ghost in the Shell, it turns out that the reason why Margaret killed all those former-voluntaries was because they'd signed up for a project in which she and several other involuntary women were raped.
  • In Murder at the Manor, it comes out that the murdered person was- in addition to being an abusive father- a rapist, who left behind so much evidence of his crimes that the cops are certain his killer (one of his many victims) will only get a light sentence. The abuser's heirs agree, promising to hire Gowther the best lawyers money can buy.
  • In Gold Poisons, the murderer is thankfully unsuccessful. Either way, Mo Xiulan is an easily-pitied character who only participated in the scheme at the orders of Jin Guangshan.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Sleepers: Given what Tommy and John went through, who could blame them for giving Nokes (the man who sexually abused them as children) his well-deserved karma? After encountering him by chance, they shoot him first in the groin and then, everywhere else. During the ensuing trial, their friends, who were abused as well, help them get away with murder.
  • 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, but who's also a Reluctant Psycho.
  • Creepily played straight in Basic Instinct. Catherine Trammell indirectly seems to be tired of male chauvinism. It's more explicitly implied in the reason Roxy killed her brothers and father.
  • 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-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. It can't all be an act though. At first, he genuinely does want to prevent the Dragon (or the homicidal aspect of his own psyche, whichever) from harming Reba, and in the novel comes really close to suicide because of it. The fact that he eats the painting proves that. But Motive Decay kicks in when, in a spectacular Kick the Dog moment, he sees Reba kissing Mandy. At that point he takes a flying leap off the sanity wagon, and decides that a massive Graham-related killing spree is in order. 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.
  • In Monster, Aileen Wournos murders seven men, but it's understandable because she suffered so many cruelties in life (e.g., rape, poverty, prostitution, discrimination).
  • The actual murderer in Gosford Park, who does it to prevent someone else becoming a murderer to avenge her rape.
  • 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-defense. 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 stated to not really be responsible for his own actions. The later sequels reveal he was sent to a mental institution.
  • 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 asshole victims 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. He hid inside the local courthouse so he could commit premeditated murder against two men-redneck racists who kidnapped, raped, and attempted to murder Carl's daughter and were likely to escape punishment for their crime unless Carl resorted to vigilantism.
  • The woman Harry Callahan pursued in Sudden Impact was the victim of a gang rape who is killing off her rapists one by one. It's notable for including a rare example of a female Asshole Victim and even rarer example of a female rapist (the same victim).
  • In the 1993 film Desperate Justice, also known as A Mother's Revenge, a 12-year-old girl named Wendy is raped and beaten by a janitor at her school whom she trusted. Which is not a spoiler since it happens early in the film and kicks off the entire plot. The spoiler, and where this trope comes into play, is that the janitor's case was dismissed by the judge, in large part because his mother lied about having dinner with him at the time of the murder. This (combined with the janitor smiling and laughing about the ruling) pisses Wendy's mother off so much that she shoots and murders the janitor at the trial, and she is then the sympathetic murderer for the rest of the film. The main "plot" of the film then centers around whether the mother is really sympathetic or whether she's no better than the janitor.
  • Bronislav Korchinsky in the 1959 film Tiger Bay. Murders his ex-lover in a jealous moment of passion, and kidnaps the only witness, 11-year-old Gillie, but is also a Friend to All Children who strikes up an Odd Friendship with his hostage and exhibits genuine remorse. It helps that he eventually saves Gillie from drowning, even though this allows the police to apprehend him.
  • Matthew Poncelet in Dead Man Walking. He may be a convicted murderer himself, but he's hardly an unsympathetic one. Even Sister Helen Prejean sympathizes with him when she helps to be a spiritual adviser for him.
  • In Chicago (and the stage musical it was based on), the song "Cell Block Tango" is about the various death row inmates attempting to invoke this with regard to themselves, with varying degrees of sanity and success. One was actually innocent, the rest largely making excuses.
  • All This, and Heaven Too goes this route with its portrayal of the Duke of Praslin, amplifying whatever extenuating circumstances he may have had in Real Life and portraying Frances as a complete bitch.
  • Cruel and Unusual: Maylon, who poisoned Edgar so she could escape the complete control he had over her life.
  • The titular John Doe: Vigilante is a brutal, vicious, Serial Killer. But his victims are all rapists, child molesters/abusers, and abusive husbands/boyfriends. He caps off his spree by killing the very person who triggered it—the man who murdered his wife and daughter.
  • The Dutch movie TBS features a Woobieish convicted murderer who has been confined to a mandatory mental health clinic for criminals for allegedly murdering his father and sister. He escapes to track down his mother and prove his innocence, and along the way kidnaps a teenage girl who develops Stockholm Syndrome. Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that he's a genuinely delusional psychotic, ending up killing both his mother and the girl. He doesn't gain any pleasure from this whatsoever and voluntarily returns to prison at the end.
  • Sweetwater: Sarah's killing spree is understandable after what she's been through, even if not all of her victims were that bad.
  • I Spit on Your Grave: Jennifer and Katie in the first two films (original or remake). You can't blame them for wanting to get revenge that much. However, in the third film, Jennifer gets a lot less sympathetic as she starts going after people who she doesn't know have really raped or murdered anyone.
  • Some of James Bonds killings would fit the legal definition of murder. Considering his victims are invariably terrorists, gangsters, evil masterminds, and other such scum, it's unlikely any jury would convict (and Bond's license to kill literally means that so long as he can justify any killing he does as necessary for completing his current mission, the British courts won't even try to prosecute him. The courts of whatever country he's working in should he be caught is another matter).
  • Anna of The Art of Self-Defense is constantly belittled by Sensei and the dojo for simply being a woman. As a part of her backstory, the only reason she was given her own changing room as the dojo's only female student is that she was attacked from behind after the men were done changing and showed no mercy against her assailant.
  • Martyrs: Lucie murders her torturers and their children. However, given what they did to her, and the obvious mental illness it caused her, she doesn't really lose sympathy.
  • Lady Macbeth: Katherine, at least in regards to her father-in-law and husband. The sympathy soon fades when she kills Teddy however.
  • Death Wish (2018): There is debate about this among people in Chicago, but most of them view Kersey this way. Even one of the detectives on the case seems to, although he can't prove Kersey did it anyway. Given what his family endured and that all his victims are violent criminals, most of the audience may too.
  • No Escape (1994): Robbins shot his CO dead for ordering him to kill civilians.
  • 68 Kill: The rest of the people he kills are to defend himself or others, but Chip also kills Monica at the end because she murdered Violet. As she really deserved it, however, no one is likely going to care.
  • They/Them (2022): Molly is the killer, it turns out, as a former resident of the camp whose friend was killed by their "aversion therapy" electroshock treatment. Owen didn't even remember her. She targets him and all the others, who have been abusing or even killing LGBT+ youth for many years trying to "cure" them.
  • The Retreat (2021): Renee kills Layna and later Gavin when both are helpless. However, as they're depraved murderers who had tried to murder her and Val it's likely no one will care.

  • Agatha Christie used this a few times.
    • Several examples from the Miss Marple short story collection The Thirteen Problems:
      • In "The Idol House of Astarte", the killing was not premeditated and was almost immediately regretted; the killer became a Death Seeker.
      • In "The Companion", the victim was a rich relative of the killer, whose family needed the money to cover medical expenses.
      • In "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 who'd survived a bad marriage and appreciated nice guys, and snapped.
    • 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. However, the sympathetic part promptly disappeared as he began to relish the taste of power from killing people, and became outright evil as a result.
    • The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side: The victim ignored a medical quarantine to go meet a favorite celebrity of hers, unknowingly infecting the celebrity with her illness and causing the woman's only biological child to be born with severe birth defects. The celebrity later snapped when the victim bragged about the incident to her.
    • Murder on the Orient Express: The victim kidnapped and killed a toddler, Daisy Armstrong, ruined her family's life, and got Off on a Technicality. Poirot eventually decides that murdering him meant justice was finally served, and chooses to let the killers off.
    • 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.
    • In Death on the Nile, Jackie only got involved in the murder in order to help her money-greedy fiance, Simon, get away with marrying and murdering a rich heiress (which he couldn't have pulled off alone, although he was determined to try), and only as a last resort after encouraging him to dump her for the victim if that was what he wanted (he didn't, but the victim pursued him anyway with no regard for his intended's feelings.) Poirot allows Jackie to kill herself, and she takes Simon with her.
    • The trope is downplayed in A Murder Is Announced, in which the murderer had her early life destroyed by a medical condition which her father refused to have operated on, and then had an inheritance snatched away by her sister's untimely death. Her impersonation of her sister in order to inherit was threatened by the victim, who remembered her. She comes across as a weak and kindly Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who was driven to murder through bad luck, her own emotional weakness, and her gradual descent into insanity. However, as Miss Marple points out, she was not really justified in her actions as others in her position and worse got back on their feet without resorting to illegal activity.
    • Wasps' Nest: John Harrison, Poirot's terminally ill friend, decides to have his unfaithful wife's lover hanged by disguising his own suicide as a murder. Downplayed though, as he commits Bungled Suicide thanks to Poirot - and he's grateful for that.
    • A Chocolate Box, the case Poirot considers his only total and utter failure, involved the murder of a man by poisoned chocolates. It turned out to have been done by his own mother, who was a witness to the man murdering his wife in cold blood.
    • A rule of thumb for Agatha Christie is that around 80% of sympathetic murderers are terminally ill so 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.
    • Another running theme, especially in Poirot, is that a seemingly reluctant, morally upright killer of an Asshole Victim will then lose their sense of the value of human life, and will soon be killing innocents without remorse to cover their tracks. The second murder is far easier than the first.
  • Caroline Clive's Paul Ferroll and Why Paul Ferroll Killed His Wife both feature 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, and leading to her Death by Despair. 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.
    • In the case of Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes and Watson actually witness the murder of the title character, an utterly odious blackmailer, but opt not to report it. a) They were burgling the man's house at the time, making it difficult to explain how they saw the crime committed; and b) Holmes has a great deal of sympathy with anyone who was a victim of the blackmailer striking back at him, and c) the killer is implied to be royalty.
    • In "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box," the killer is a sailor who murdered his wife and her lover in a fit of passion, then cut off their ears and mailed them to his wife's sister, who had encouraged the affair. He's sympathetic not because of what he did, but because he clearly regrets it and was in fact deeply in love with his wife; he even says that he would have spared her life if she hadn't started wailing over her dead lover's body.
    • In "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", the killer murdered a blackmailer - mostly to protect his daughter. According to his words, if the innocent suspect had been sentenced by the court, he would have confessed to the murder. And he was terminally ill.
  • 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. In fact, this may have been what Capote was going for, as he spent a lot of time with the killers when he was researching for the book (especially Perry Smith who, depending on your perspective, may have had a Freudian Excuse) and began to sympathize with them.
  • 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 was 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).
  • Thinner, another Stephen King book, revolves around Billy Halleck, an obese lawyer who killed a Gypsy woman while driving, but manages to escape any punishment while her name is smeared through court. This prompts her 106-year-old father to curse him, the judge, and the sheriff who were all complicit in his escaping punishment with various means of Body Horror - Halleck with losing two pounds every day until he effectively vanishes, the Judge with growing scaly skin, and the sheriff with weeping sores covering his face. The sheriff actually urges Halleck to have some sympathy for the distraught father.
    Hopley: All his life he's heard a bad deal called a dirty gyp. The "good folks" got roots; you got none. This guy, Halleck, he's seen canvas tents burned for a joke back in the thirties and forties, and maybe there were babies and old people that burned up in some of those tents. He's seen his daughters or his friends' daughters attacked, maybe raped, because all those "good folks" know that gypsies fuck like rabbits and a little more won't matter, and even if it does, who gives a fuck. To coin a phrase. He's maybe seen his sons, or his friends' sons, beaten within an inch of their lives... and why? Because the fathers of the kids who did the beating lost some money on the games of chance. Always the same: you come into town, the "good folks" take what they want, and then you get busted out of town. Sometimes they give you a week on the local pea farm or a month on the local road crew for good measure. And then, Halleck, on top of everything, the final crack of the whip comes. This hotshot lawyer with three chins and bulldog jowls runs your wife down in the street. She's seventy, seventy-five, half-blind, maybe she only steps out too quick because she wants to get back to her place before she wets herself, and old bones break easy, old bones are like glass, and you hang around thinking maybe this once, just this once, there's going to be a little justice ... an instant of justice to make up for a lifetime of crap -'
  • Also done with most of the inmates in The Green Mile; while they probably weren't on the outside, on Death Row most are repentant and sympathetic. One inmate, a black woman, could be argued to be sympathetic both in and out of prison since she killed an abusive and two-timing husband. Averted with William Wharton and John Coffey; the former because he was thoroughly unrepentant, the latter because he didn't kill anyone.
  • 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 bastard in a number of ways. What pushed her into killing 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. The murderer's first kill 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, although it should be noted that anyone who tries to blackmail a murderer is Too Dumb to Live.
  • 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.
  • The Dragon Age tie-in book Asunder has Cole, a spirit and point of view character who kills people because it keeps him from feeling like he's fading. All his victims want to die and he's very sympathetic, but he's still a murderer.
  • Seth in A Necessary End by Peter Robinson. Seth's wife participated in a demonstration that became violent. A police officer hit her head with a truncheon. A few months later, she started showing symptoms of brain injury. A dizzy spell causes her to fall off her bicycle which leads to a car fatally striking her. She was also pregnant at the time. Seth finds out the identity of the police officer (PC Gill) who hit her and goes to a demonstration to confront him, bringing a knife "just in case." He sees PC Gill treating a young woman roughly, which causes a flashback to his wife's assault. This is the last straw for him and he stabs Gill in the chest. Inspector Alan Banks thinks that what Seth did was understandable because "he had been pushed far beyond breaking point."
  • In Billy Budd, when the title character kills Claggart, Vere says, "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!"
  • The main character in Nedra Tyre's "The Gentle Miss Bluebeard," one Mary Anne Beard, made a bit of a hobby out of euthanasia.
  • Janet Philp's book Burke - Now and Then is written from the perspective of William Burke (of the murderous duo Burke and Hare). In the present day, his skeleton muses on the wrong decisions he made that led him to be executed and dissected. William Hare is presented as being the mastermind who led the hesitant Burke into a life of crime, then turned Kings' Evidence and walked free while leaving his former partner to hang. Of course, this is Burke's side of the story, but historical accounts do seem to indicate that he was indeed the lesser of the two evils.
  • In The Shack, protagonist Mack is haunted by the fact that as a teenager, he murdered his father. The victim was a violent alcoholic who routinely beat his wife and son.
  • Ambrose Bierce wrote there were four types of homicide: "felonious, excusable, justifiable and praiseworthy." Most examples on this page will skew towards the latter three-quarters of that list.
  • Codex Alera Gaius Sextus sympathizes with his wife Caria, who has been slowly poisoning him for years. Gaius, who is well into his 80s, selected Caria then a 20-something to wed in a shrewd political calculation and it was effectively a loveless marriage. When he learns her actions have taken about ten years from his life, he considers it karmic as their marriage had been going on for that long, and has her released, free from execution and their marriage.
  • Holes has Kate Barlow, who kills the sheriff who tried to blackmail a kiss from her in exchange for sparing the life of her boyfriend, whose only crime was kissing a white woman (Kate) while being black. However, she loses most of her sympathy points when she becomes a full-fledged outlaw, robbing and killing men who'd never done a thing to her.
  • The murderer in City of Devils targets wealthy and powerful monsters who illegally abducted and turned humans into monsters while filming the transformation as a form of monster pornography. The killer herself was just a young girl when she was taken and turned into a gremlin against her will.
  • Pops up a few times in Sophie Hannah's works:
    • Naomi Jenkins in Hurting Distance is heavily implied to have smothered Robert Haworth to death, but considering the man was a Serial Rapist who took pleasure in psychologically breaking his victims, there's no sympathy for him whatsoever.
    • In The Point of Rescue, the victim was emotionally abusive towards her victim and Amy only being five, she didn't understand the gravity of what she was doing when she pushed the lamp into the bath. She even dies trying to save Encarna, only to get electrocuted herself. Jonathan covers up the crime to protect his daughter.
    • Aidan Seed in The Other Half Lives tells Ruth early on in the novel he killed a woman in his past, Mary Trelease. the original Mary Trelease he killed was sexually molesting him from when he was around ten years older and a fourteen-year-old Aidan finally snapped and strangled her to death. His father took the fall for the crime out of guilt for not stopping it (and is implied to have also molested Aidan, just not as badly as she did), so Aidan was never suspected. It's impossible not to feel bad for Aidan, and that's not counting the utter hell he goes through over the course of the book.
    • In The Carrier it turns out the murder of Francine was actually a Mercy Kill. Lauren, Francine's caretaker, knew she was being verbally and psychologically abused by Tim, Kerry, and Dan but couldn't prove it and was too scared of her husband to seek outside help, until eventually she decides to put Francine out of her misery. Tim, realising how he's turned into the abuser he once considered Francine to be, willingly confesses to the murder to protect Lauren and punish himself for torturing a severely disabled woman.
  • 2666: Hans Reiter kills Leo Sammer, resulting in him changing his name to Archimboldi to help cover his tracks.
    • Sammer attempts to portray himself as this in his backstory, but fails to convince Hans.
  • The protagonist of Beloved is an escaped slave who killed her toddler daughter (and attempted, but failed, to kill her other three children) when the slave catchers came to take them back to slavery. She had suffered so horribly in slavery that she truly believed that it would be better for them to be dead than to live like that.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries:

    Live-Action TV 
  • Accused (2023): Esme did murder Shaggy and Ancel, though since they're Neo-Nazi terrorists, no one is likely to really care.
  • Astrid: The killer in "Puzzle". Violetta Flores and her sister Cattleya were forced into prostitution as teenagers and sold to rich overseas visitors in Columbia. Her three victims were the men who took them onto a boat, gang-raped them both, and accidentally killed Cattleya, and she started hunting them down when the police in both Columbia and France wouldn't touch the case of a Disposable Sex Worker.
  • Happened in Beverly Hills, 90210 when Valerie admitted to killing her father after he repeatedly raped her from the time she was 11.
  • 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.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Jesse Pinkman during and after he kills Gale Boetticher. The Tears of Remorse during the murder and Heroic BSoD he's in afterwards, show that he is not a simple cold-blooded killer and is really not built for the profession that he's in.
    • Walter White started like this in the first season. Later... not so much.
  • Brimstone:
    • The main character qualifies. He is a police officer whose wife was raped, the rapist was caught and proven guilty, yet was not convicted due to a legal technicality. So what does the cop do? He hunts down the rapist and kills him in cold blood, using his knowledge of police investigations to cover it up so it doesn't lead back to him (at least beyond the "I won't grieve for him" angle).
    • Some of the souls escaped from hell also fall into this category. The most prominent one is definitely a Nazi officer who was helping a bunch of Jews escape Germany, but he got too scared of getting caught and informed the regime, sending the Jews to their deaths. He has been thoroughly tormented by the incident since, and now that he's gotten back on Earth he's devoted his time to helping people.
  • On The Closer, there is an episode in which a twelve-year-old boy is found dead in an abandoned house. It turns out that he stood guard while three gang members raped a young woman, and when they left for a while she killed the boy so that she could get away before the others came back and raped her again. Understandably, Brenda refuses to call her a murderer.
    Chief Pope: Excuse me. Taylor says you've got Manuel Soto's murderer?
    Brenda: No! No, no, no, no. We only found the person who killed him.
    Chief Pope: What did I just say?
    • In spinoff Major Crimes, we have Alfredo Torres, who shot the swim coach who molested his son years ago.
  • 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 (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 his 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. The victim was so bad the detectives flat-out tell the brother to plead self-defense.
    • "A Perfect Day": Not for the primary case, but it's revealed through the course of the investigation that an abusive husband, who was also the doer in the primary case, was murdered by his battered wife's lover. Vera and Jeffries quickly decide there's no reason the lover's indirect but obvious confession needs to be on the record.
    • 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.
  • 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. Even sadder is the fact that she had killed her husband for refusing to finance her comeback, which he had done because he knew the stress of returning to the limelight would cause her to die sooner.
    • A rather meta episode featured none other than William Shatner as the star of an anti-Columbo-like Show Within a 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. That's because the "pilot" was a stand-alone Made-for-TV Movie and the murderer was supposed to be the main character. Columbo was an Ensemble Dark Horse.
    • Donald Pleasance's killer wine connoisseur 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.
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton: Frannie actually did kill George Benham, but he was such a massive evil asshole that likely no viewer is going to care, and she only did it while at the end of her rope.
  • 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 rape and murder his pregnant fiancée before brutally stabbing him and leaving him for dead. To top it off, he's played by Frankie Muniz. 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. In the end, he's gunned down for apparently trying to kill a young boy, but with his dying breath, asked if the boy was safe.
    • 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. Because of the blind boy (whose mother he'd killed), he saw what he'd become and hated it. At least that's what the end of the episode implied. He'd left a note at the murder which read "Please stop me" even prior to this as well. Clearly, he wasn't doing this out of desire, but from a psychological compulsion.
    • 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.
    • Sheila Harrison, the elder sister of a girl gang-raped and left for dead at a fraternity party, started targeting not only her sister's rapists but also their college football coach who bribed a medical examiner to get them off the hook.
  • CSIVerse 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 accidentally kills her younger brother in "Lost & Found" when he catches their uncle forcing himself on her (which results in a child) and threatens to tell their mom; as The Un-Favourite, she knows her mom would sooner believe she'd forced herself on her uncle than the other way around. Her mother later kills her husband who loudly tries to take the blame for killing her son. In the end, the woman 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.
    • An elderly soldier who lives in a care home in "Snakes" kills a telemarketer who had been taking advantage of an elderly neighbour of his with Alzheimer's by calling her repeatedly and selling her stuff, knowing she had forgotten the last call.
    • A 'recovering' addict in "Road To Recovery" is found dead in a rehab clinic. The killer is found to be a recovering addict who is taking his treatment seriously for the sake of being allowed to see his children again. The victim had a rich husband and little to lose if she failed the course and enjoyed goading others into giving in to their vices. She put a gift-wrapped bottle of bourbon into the guy's room and kept pushing him to drink it until he snapped and killed her by accident. To really push it even after all that, the guy still never drank a drop and broke down crying in the station when he realised he'd never see his sons again.
    • 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...
    • In "Blood Drops," an entire family is murdered except for the two daughters, one a teenager, the other much younger. Turns out the murder was arranged by the older girl - her father had been sexually abusing her for years, and the younger girl was actually her own daughter, the product of the abuse. When their father began turning his attention on the younger girl, it was the last straw, and she convinced a couple of her male classmates to kill not only him but also her mother and her brothers (for knowing about the abuse and not doing anything to protect her).
    • A jolly fat guy who was sick and tired of constantly having his mailbox smashed by drunken teenagers driving by. In revenge, he filled his mailbox with cement, and unfortunately, one of the teenagers' arms broke, their car swerved, and they ran into a tree, killing them. The man is still arrested for murder because he concealed evidence by burying the fatal mailbox in his yard. note 
    • 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.
    • In the "Fare Game" episode of CSI: NY, 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. He was the participant in a water gun game where players were encouraged to creatively trick targets into letting down their guard to be 'assassinated'. The victim tricked his soon-to-be killer, a desperate actor trying to provide for his family into thinking he got a part only to 'kill' him. The killer decided to get back at him by taking a blank gun and firing it into him from point-blank range, sadly that was so close that even the blanks would be lethal and it killed him.
    • From the same series, there's the perp from "Prey": the victim was a stalker who had already caused one of his victims to commit suicide. The perp was 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 acquitted on technicalities) and Hawkes even reassures her that since she only left circumstantial evidence (the woman audited 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 sometime 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.
    • 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. Unfortunately, Laughing Larry gave the cigar to an innocent man. The killer felt deeply guilty 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 teenage-looking appearance to enroll in high school and lure teenage 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 counselor 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.
    • 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 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.
  • Dexter:
  • Stacey Slater in EastEnders in the climax of the "Who killed Archie?" storyline. Considering what 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 F.B.I.: In "A Mouthful of Dust", Joe Cloud—an old army buddy of Erskine's— returns home to find a man attacking his wife. In a fit of rage, he strangles him. Because the crime happened on The Rez, that makes it 'Crime on an Indian Reservation' and brings it under the jurisdiction of the FBI.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Jaime Lannister killed King Aerys, thereby damning him as dishonorable scum in the eyes of the whole kingdom, in order to save the whole of King's Landing and his father from a wildfire trap that the Mad King had laid beneath the city.
    • Lady Olenna Tyrell poisons King Joffrey so her granddaughter won't be married to a monster. He really is that, so the murder isn't hard to sympathize with.
    • Tyrion snaps and kills his former lover Shae after finding she'd betrayed him with his father. She seems to be the only woman he ever loved, and almost got him executed for a murder he didn't commit. Then he kills his father, who had showered his life with emotional and verbal abuse, blaming Tyrion for killing his own mother while being born. That, plus being a dwarf, which he considers a divine punishment.
    • Arya's list of people she wants to kill all have very good reasons for being there. When she does kill, it's almost always much worse people who did terrible things to inspire this.
  • The murderer in Glue is this: he killed his brother in a fit of rage, and it was definitely a My God, What Have I Done? situation. It's evident that he feels deep remorse for his actions.
  • Home and Away:
    • Larry Jeffries 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.
    • 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.
  • Most murderers featured on Homicide: Life on the Street were either disgustingly smug or total morons, but some killers were occasionally treated sympathetically.
    • Mitchell Forman from "A Many Splendored Thing". He murders a man over a pen that only costs $4.00, but it's made clear that it was caused by mental instability rather than malice and he tries to commit suicide out of guilt. He eventually turns himself in peacefully when Lewis talks him out of killing himself.
    • Vaughn Perkins from "Bop Gun", one of the few perps to ever show regret for their crime. He's a sensitive teenager who shoots a woman during a botched mugging and ultimately enters a guilty plea for a life sentence as penance. Howard finds him so sympathetic that she initially tries to prove he's taking the fall for his accomplices, only stopping when he confesses that he did it in front of her.
    • Downplayed with Larry Biedron from "Subway". He's a Psychopathic Manchild who pushed a man into the path of an oncoming subway train and has done so before, but Bayliss points out he was institutionalized, but he was let out because of budget cuts even though he clearly still needed psychological help. That said, Pembleton and Bayliss are quick to mock him when he complains about being cold while his victim, currently pinned between the train and the subway platform, is slowly and agonizingly dying from his injuries a few feet away from him.
    • One episode featured a sympathetic teen who had snapped and killed the Jerk Jock who was bullying him. Munch evidently identified with him.
  • 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 as soon as he's released from the hospital. 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. By this point in the show we're so attached to Chase anyway that it's doubly hard to hold it against him.
  • In the Inspector Lynley series, Lynley confronts one murderer, a doctor who killed the man who gave Lynley's younger brother a batch of poisoned drugs, and sold his hospital water instead of anti-cancer drugs. Lynley is distraught and troubled over having to arrest him. The doctor solves the problem for him by committing suicide.
  • A similar example to that last CSI one happened in Inspector 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...
  • La Brea: Marybeth's killed two people for different, sympathetic reasons. The first was her ex-husband, who was abusing her and Lucas. The second was Diana, as she and Eve tried to stop Diana and Levi from using the plane knowing it would crash, only for Diana to pull a gun in desperation to go home and Marybeth to shoot her after she fired first. The first was legally murder, but the second is self-defense, though many characters treat it like she murdered Diana nonetheless.
  • A few Law & Order episodes do this.
    • 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 to celebrate (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. The man's son and lawyer try to get him declared unfit to stand trial by way of dementia so he wouldn't be sent to prison, but he rightfully insists that he's totally competent and maintains that by killing the con artist, he regained his entire livelihood and identity that was stolen from him.
    • When a man who spent fifteen years in prison for beating his wife until she could barely move, killing his young daughter, and chaining his infant son to the radiator to let him starve is found run over with a severed leg, nobody feels any sort of pity for him. The detectives, Van Buren, and Cragen (who was the commanding officer overseeing the original case) all hope he dies painfully. His prison social worker is arrested for the crime, but not before Van Buren earnestly pleads with her to tell her what happened so the DA can get her the best possible deal, even telling her that she wishes she could throw her a parade instead of charging her with anything, earnestly enough that it comes off as quite possibly more than just a tactic. At trial, it's discovered that, after she found out that the man had a new fiancee with children he spent time with, which violated his parole, the social worker tried to tell his parole officer, but he never "got around to" calling her back. They play a recorded therapy session where he only expresses happiness that he's getting out and that he'll be able to spend time with his fiancee's children, smugly saying that he's always been a good dad, to which the social worker can barely hide her revulsion. Finally, when she found out that the fiancee's young daughter sustained a broken wrist, she snapped and ran him over. Even Jack, who's known for being extremely hard-lined and often without sympathy for whoever he's prosecuting, no matter the circumstances, says that he would be happy to make a deal with her if she would admit that she ran him over. The jury comes back with a "not guilty" verdict in what Serena says is record time.
  • Law & Order: SVU had more than its fair share:
    • The father from "Paternity", who found out his wife was 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.
    • In "Coerced", a schizophrenic man kidnaps a child, kills one man, and injures another, but it all comes back to the fact that he genuinely believes the kid is his son and that the other people were trying to take the kid away to hurt him. What's more, he had at one point achieved a stabilized mental condition through medication, but the group home he had been living in had cut him off his medication and kicked him out because he had seen them kill another resident through negligence and then stage her death as a suicide, and they wanted to ensure that he wouldn't be believed if he tried to report it. In the end, the schizophrenic man is sent to a treatment facility rather than prison, and the group home staff are charged with the crimes he committed as a result of their actions.
    • A woman and her mother both conspired to kill an old man, because the man had kidnapped her, and several other women, and forced them to be his bride in his own hidden dungeon.
    • In "Conscience", a young boy is revealed to have murdered another one in cold blood. Initially believing him to be remorseful and acting on abuse he suffered from camp, the team tries to get him to be sentenced to juvenile detention only to learn from the campers that the boy was a sociopath and that they couldn't try him as an adult unless they wanted him to walk free right then and there. The father of the murdered boy, amidst his grief, actually forgave and pitied the boy who killed his son because he also initially believed his lies. As he's leaving the courthouse, the boy mockingly apologizes to the father, which causes him to realize that the boy feels no remorse — he grabs a bailiff's gun and shoots the boy in the chest, killing him. They're able to convince a jury to acquit the father as he most likely acted on grief and rationalize to themselves that while the father might not kill again, the boy certainly would have.
    • In "Anchor", a defendant is being tried for murdering "anchor babies" (children who are born on American soil, thus becoming legal American citizens, even though their parents are illegally in the U.S.) and he and his defense attorney argue that he was indoctrinated by the anti-immigration rantings of a Rush Limbaugh-esque political pundit. When said pundit takes the stand and creates chaos in the courtroom with his testimony, the defendant is acquitted. Before leaving the courtroom, the defendant whispers something in his lawyer's ear. The defendant's face changes to a smug smirk and the lawyer's is akin to Oh, Crap! The next scene has Fin bemoaning the loss of the case at a bar when he gets a call from the attorney. When Fin comes to the office, the lawyer says that the defendant revealed to him that he murdered on his own accord instead of the political commentator's and he planned to kill more first-generation Americans. Fin tells him they need to stop the killer, but the camera shows there's no need. It cuts to the defendant lying dead on the floor of the lawyer's office in a pool of blood. The last shot shows the lawyer slowly surrendering his gun to Fin. While the lawyer's actions were technically illegal and would surely result in disbarment and life in prison, you can't help but sympathize with him for killing a bigoted sociopath if it meant saving the lives of several innocent children.
    • One man goes on a brutal killing spree because he believes that God wants him to. He acts seriously unhinged at his indictment and while in custody, and it's revealed why: he has advanced syphilis that turned his brain into Swiss cheese. The truly sympathetic part is that he had tested positive for syphilis during a life insurance physical some years earlier, but the insurance company never told him about the positive test result. If they had, he could've been treated, and the ensuing chaos would've never happened.
    • "Victims" is already poised for this due to the fact that the victims are sex offenders, but it's even more poignant when we learn that the killer was actually targeting HIV-positive sex offenders specifically because she had gotten HIV from a rape and wanted to spare potential future victims her fate.
    • In "Confidential," an investment banker who had gotten away with murder two decades earlier and is on the verge of doing it again after the detectives have spent the episode in vain trying to land enough evidence to nail him is gunned down in the precinct by a man he defrauded years ago. The final scene of the episode reveals that the man's lawyer was the one who told the murderer where to find him. She knew that he'd raped and murdered two women and ruined an innocent man's life to cover his tracks, and she knew he'd never stop and there was nothing she could do within the legal system because of privilege rules (anything she revealed would have been thrown out as evidence), so she found another way to make sure he'd never be able to hurt anyone else. The detectives figure it out, but she's set up the situation very carefully to give herself plausible deniability, and while the detectives have fought to work around such things on past cases, they are clearly not inclined to make the effort here.
      Lawyer: I always hoped the law would catch up with him.
      Elliot: The law doesn't always guarantee justice.
      Lawyer: But this time, I did.
  • Liar (2017): Laura is told by the police that they wholly understand if she murdered her rapist, and a jury will too. Privately many admit it was a public service, though nonetheless the murderer must be prosecuted.
  • Monk:
    • One episode featured a (nearly) blind woman who was portrayed quite sympathetically, even after it was revealed that she was the murderer. She was exacting revenge on the drunk driver who killed her parents and blinded her - but she regained her sight some years back, and began plotting the murder.
    • 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, not intending for anyone to be killed. What's more, his plan worked.
  • In the opening sketch of the third season of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Michael Norman Randall has been found guilty of killing twenty-two people in one day. At sentencing, he's asked for a statement. He replies, "Yes, sir. I'm very sorry," and promises that it won't happen again. He politely apologizes to the judge, the police, the prosecutor, and the jury for wasting their time on his "petty atrocities". Everyone is so charmed by him that, against his wishes, he receives a sentence of six months, suspended.
  • 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.
  • 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. A different inmate, who was serving a life sentence anyway, confesses to the guard's murder so that the real killer, whose sentence was near its end, could still go home to her daughter.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • NUMB3RS:
    • At least one killer, 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.
    • Also, the murderer in "Killer Chat" turns out to be the wife of a pedophile who had abused the couple's daughter. Despite the brutality of the murderer's crimes, one can't help but sympathize with the motive.
    • The killer in "Sacrifice" becomes a lot more sympathetic when we learn his motive: the victim was developing a program that would have allocated educational resources based on a mathematical assessment of "potential", and the killer, who came from a poor neighborhood, knew that such a program would have denied him the opportunities that allowed him to escape and that other people like him would be denied pretty much any opportunity if the program were ever implemented.
    • The plot of the series finale involves two near-misses on this: a battered woman whose boyfriend keeps violating his restraining order, and a teenage boy whose neighbor has been bullying his family. However, the woman is unable to bring herself to do it, and the other attempt is interrupted by the FBI.
  • The Outpost: He may have amply deserved this, but Talon killing Toru Magmoor was murder, while the show still portrays her as being in the right, with Withers being wrong for trying to get her executed (granted, he doesn't give her anything like a fair trial).
  • The Power (2023): Allie finishes off her foster father after she's already incapacitated him through an initial shock form her power, at the voice's urging. Since he had just tried to rape her and it's implied he's a serial rapist, she stays pretty sympathetic.
  • 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 (basically, on this show, the more sympathetic and/or innocent a defendant was, the more likely they were to be found guilty).
  • Prodigal Son: Although Ainsley brutally murders Nicholas Endicott, he's such a colossal asshole who'd already gotten away with murder many times and gloated about doing the same thing again, it isn't difficult to sympathize with her. Malcolm's disturbed that she's got the propensity toward violence their father has in her too though.
  • Rizzoli & 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; the sister had killed herself a few years later, and their father had a heart attack from the stress.
  • One episode of The Shield featured a teenager who had been attacked by an old man over a grudge with the teenager's family, and wound up beating the man to death in a fit of rage. The teenager is absolutely remorseful over the crime and Burt’s out in tears after confessing it.
  • Maia Jeffries on Shortland Street, for her shooting of Ethan Pierce.
  • Supernatural:
    • Amy Pond (no, not that one). She was a kitsune and needed human pituitary glands for herself and her young son to survive. For the most part, she got them from people who were already dead... but then her son got sick. Even then, the only person we actually see her kill is a drug dealer.
    • Max Miller, who telekinetically killed the father and uncle who had physically abused him since childhood. He also tried to kill his stepmother for failing to try and protect him but turned the gun on himself when Dean stood in front of her. Sam was sympathetic to Max; Dean was not. Of course, considering what they get up to in later seasons, Sam's reasoning that he and Dean were not so different from Max seems pretty accurate.
  • The major theme of How to Get Away with Murder is that the people the protagonist's department defends are unambiguously guilty of the crime they committed, while several of these have turned out to be sympathetic enough, some are just trying to commit blatant Karma Houdini.
    • One episode had a son of a police officer (verbally and physically abusive, and the son himself spoke in a fashion that implied he had a degree of mental handicap) shoot his father when he started beating his mother. His guilt in the case was completely undeniable, but the legal team wants him to get off anyway because they decided he was enough of this and not a harm to anyone else.
    • The biggest one however, is a result of the main overarching plot of the series; the law students, while searching for evidence that Sam Fisher was guilty of killing one of their friends for refusing to abort their love child, accidentally throw him over a railing, and when he turns out to not be dead from that, he starts choking one of them to death, resulting in one of the others bludgeoning him to death with a trophy. In this case, he was such an Asshole Victim that his own wife thinks his death was justified and takes part in the cover-up to protect her students and reveal her husband's crime.
  • Midsomer Murders has had a few (the show has an unbelievably high Asshole Victim ratio), some of them even having Barnaby's sympathy.
    • One episode in a retirement home had a woman perform a Mercy Kill on an elderly relative and tearfully ask Barnaby if it was the right thing to do. He doesn't have an answer.
    • One murder seems to be connected to a decades-old serial killing spree, who was never caught. An old hotel owner is later murdered by his own mother who knew him to be the original murderer, and thought he'd started again despite his promise.
    • One features one of Barnaby's heroes, a former officer who arrested a lord for murdering his wife, then quit the force to become a psychologist and help the lord out. She'd murdered the wife for sleeping with her husband, then set up the lord, later murdering her husband due to his getting suspicious. Barnaby doesn't exactly rush to prevent her running from his car into an oncoming train.
    • One remarkable Asshole Victim is a conservative landowner who does everything in his power to keep Irish Travellers off village property, even calling in Army buddies to do so. When he's murdered, it's discovered that during the Falklands War, he was responsible for the death of an entire squad due to his incompetence, and his stepdaughter overheard. When he went to beat her, another habit of his, she killed him in self-defense. Unfortunately, some sympathy is lost when those involved try to pin the murder on one of the Travellers and accidentally kill him in the process, though Barnaby says he'll do what he can to help them.
    • One episode's murderer is a young woman who's insulted every step of the way by her stepmother and stepsister. It turns out she was the illegitimate daughter of a clergyman and used as blackmail to keep his rich father in line. She kills the stepsister (who'd started blackmailing her on finding out), and almost killed the stepmother and grandfather (crying that while she knew she'd never been loved, she'd at least hoped she'd been wanted). Unfortunately, Barnaby arrives just in time.
  • Accused: Frankie. After he's relentlessly bullied for trying to report bullying of his friend who eventually killed himself over it, he snaps and kills his corporal, who led this. It doesn't help that he won't reveal any of this, however, giving him no mitigation. He gets 25 years in prison. Jake murdered another boy only because he was coerced by the leader of his gang with the threat of being murdered himself if he didn't comply. He feels terrible about it and pleads guilty.
  • Misfits: When the gang's killings aren't in self-defense or defense of others, it's either accidental murder or really hard to feel bad about it (generally due to an asshole victim).
  • Crossing Lines: A retired Russian hitwoman serves as one in the series finale, who is targeting leaders of a Romanian far-right group because supporters killed her husband just because he was black.
  • The X-Files: Most of the one-shot villains and monsters were to some extent sympathetic, but the real kicker is Rob from the episode "Hungry". Rob is a Nice Guy who, due to some unexplained quirk of biology, eats and only feels full after eating human brains. Most of the time, Rob keeps himself under control with a frankly dangerous cocktail of appetite suppressants and sheer willpower, and the few times he does eat someone, it's a person he has killed for justifiable reasons, usually self-defense.
  • Women's Murder Club: "And the Truth Will (Sometimes) Set You Free" has a case where the murderer is Kate Hammond, who killed one of the two frat boys who raped her and are attempting to gaslight her, after they sent her a mocking valentine. The main character wastes no time noting that, while murder is never okay, none of them can really blame her after all the stuff the victim and his friend did to her.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible gives us a sympathetic fratricide in the character of Absalom. When his father David refused to punish Amnon for raping Tamar, Absalom took the matter in his own hands. Another example would be Moses, who killed an Egyptian slave driver for beating some Hebrew slaves.

  • The short movie Sinead from Within Temptation is a subversion. At first, it's a rewinding of a scene in which a woman has shot a large man in the process of assaulting her, seemingly rescuing a little girl. When the scene rewinds to the beginning and plays normally, it's revealed that the woman was breaking into the house, to steal money and feed her drug habit, the man was her father who was trying to convince her to get sober. She yells at him, and he shows her her daughter whom she had neglected and forced him to raise. In her paranoia, she aims the gun at him, and he runs to grab it from her, getting shot in the process.
  • Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" is the tale of a teenage girl who murdered her father because he raped her.

  • 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, and certainly no one is going to fault him when he kills the man who raped his wife and said man's crony. There's not a lot of sympathy for Pirelli, the smoke-and-mirrors barber who tries to blackmail Todd, either, especially given that he's also abusing his apprentice, one of the few people in the story who is completely guileless and trusting.
    • Toby can be considered one too, as while he was the one to kill Sweeney, by that point he had gone insane from finding out the secret to Ms. Lovett's meat pies. And at least one production went with the interpretation that Sweeney (who had just accidentally killed the wife he didn't know was still alive) was committing Suicide by Cop when Toby killed him, so there's that too.
  • 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.
  • Lizzie turns Lizzie Borden into one, portraying her as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds due to her father's financial and sexual abuse. He's such a monster, you're actively rooting for her to get away with killing him.

    Video Games 
  • Superman, of all people, is this in the backstory for the Injustice-verse in Injustice: Gods Among Us. His Start of Darkness is killing The Joker in retaliation for poisoning him with Kryptonite-laced Fear Gas, tricking him into killing his pregnant wife and child and destroying Metropolis with a nuke, the detonator for which was wired to Lois Lane's heart, sending Superman into a downward spiral of grief and rage that ends only when he has had his revenge, but sets the stage for his descent into a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Injustice Flash openly admits he would have done the same in his position if it was Iris West and Central City and even the Main Universe heroes can't help feeling sorry for him after they hear what happened to him.
  • Silent Hill:
    • Silent Hill 2 has James, the protagonist, who killed his wife. In an unusual variant, both the murderer and the victim are very sympathetic, although it's left somewhat ambiguous as to how sympathetic the murderer's motivations actually are. There is also Angela, who killed her physically and sexually abusive father and brother (the latter's murder is only mentioned in the game's Japan-only novelization). Then there's Eddie, whose first murder was a sympathetic one but he became obsessed with killing after some psychological tormenting.
    • 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.
    • Depending on the ending, Murphy becomes this in Silent Hill: Downpour. If it turns out that he did murder Frank Coleridge, then he finally acknowledges his guilt, sincerely apologizing for it. Even Frank's daughter forgives him. He's also something of a sympathetic attempted murderer, for beating the ever-loving shit out of the guy who molested and murdered his son.
  • 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 they have 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's defense, most of those murders were either self-defense or revenge, with the exception of those caused by Gameplay and Story Segregation, the people they killed deserved it. However, by the end, they are still a very bad person. However, while they struck first against Maero by disfiguring his face for insulting them, 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 them), 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's cruelest moment was when they 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.
  • Not all of the Splicers in BioShock are mindless psychopaths. It's hard to feel any pity for Toasty (a filthy lecher) or Ladysmith (a racist Rich Bitch). But then there's Pigskin, a teenage football player pushed into hunting you down on the threat of death at the hands of the other Splicers, who calls for his parents when he's not trying to kill you. Or Rosebud, who's trapped in the memory of the day Ryan's men took her daughter from her, and often hallucinates that you're the man who did it. You still have to kill them in self-defense, but it's hard not to feel bad about it.
    • And by the sequel, research into used ADAM proves that the stem cells are semi-sentient, absorbing the minds of their original users and injecting them into unsuspecting new users. So it turns out that about ten of the "core minds" were able to overpower the remaining Rapture population and have destroyed any semblance of their original memories and personalities. You've been killing people who don't even remember who they are.
  • Peri from Fire Emblem Fates is a good example. When she was a child, she saw her mother murdered in front of her by one of the servants. The servant was punished, but Peri thought all servants were the same, so she'd kill all the servants whenever she was upset, many of the servants having family themselves. She never understood that killing was wrong, as her father (who watched her do this) never said it was, and killing then became second nature to her. It takes some support conversations for her to resolve to improve.
  • Widowmaker from Overwatch is a cruel, cold-blooded, mass-murdering assassin who takes delight in her many killings and plunging the world into chaos, and even has no problem with the prospect of killing innocent children. However, she's also been brainwashed, suffered extensive neural reconditioning, and went through biological alternation by terrorist group Talon to make her into the inhuman killer she is today. It becomes especially tragic when you learn that she used to be a perfectly sweet Nice Girl who was Happily Married before she was kidnapped, went through said reconditioning, and was then forced to kill her own husband.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, the Southland Slasher turns out to be a vampire inflicting Extreme Mêlée Revenge on the gangsters who killed his family in a bungled car theft. When he starts talking about becoming a Vigilante Man, the player character can talk him into noticing his Motive Decay and questioning what his family would truly think of his actions, which makes him abandon his plans in horror.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a questline will have the player encounter Sinding, a werewolf imprisoned in the Falkreath jail for murdering a local child. Sinding explains that he is trying to control his transformations, and stole the Ring of Hircine, the artifact of the Daedric Prince Hircine, who is the Lord of the Hunt and creator of lycanthropes, for the Ring was said to be able to let someone control their transformations. Unfortunately, this angered Hircine and he cursed the Ring to make Sinding's transformations worse. The player can take the Ring, and thus themselves be subjected to uncontrolled transformations, but then Hircine will demand that they hunt down and kill Sinding for his sport. The player can do so, or rescue Sinding from Hircine's other hunters, and either way Hircine will be pleased and lift the curse, as both hunting down the prey or the prey turning on the hunter are expressions of his sphere.
  • The Walking Dead: Season One starts with Lee being driven to a prison where he's booked for life because he murdered a state senator who slept with Lee's wife. Players couldn't care less, focusing on his good qualities.
  • While Yandere-chan herself is not an example of this in Yandere Simulator, there can be plenty of other cases:
    • For example, a student kidnapped and brainwashed enough to murder anyone Yandere-chan points them at. Usually right after they end up killing themselves because they snap out of it long enough to realize what they've done.
    • Someone who's been bullied enough might also snap and kill the person they believe to be behind the bullying. While it'd be pretty satisfying if it's the person that actually is behind the bullying, Yandere-chan can also manipulate her into attacking someone innocent instead, making the situation even more tragic.
    • A video proposed that a future elimination method might also be driving the rival to murder, and showed as an example Kokona being manipulated by Yandere-chan into kidnapping Musume, then Kokona snapping and taking a baseball bat to Musume's head after Musume had the nerve to laugh at Kokona for having to do Compensated Dating to help her father pay off his debt (held by Musume's father, just to twist the knife further). Kokona is arrested for murder, but despite all her pleas the police are unwilling to investigate Yandere-chan's role because she has a solid alibi.
    • When discussing the sanity mechanic in another video, it was hinted that Senpai himself might become one of these if he finds out Yandere-chan killed his childhood friend and/or younger sister.
  • Thw Twisted Metal games, especially Black, likes to stretch the limits of this trope. In Black, most of the characters either killed a person or end up committing their first murder through their wish being granted. Most of them, however, have pretty understandable Freudian Excuses — Billy Ray Stillwell went through Sanity Slippage when he was disfigured by a crop duster from the pilot his wife was cheating on him with, No-Face has his eyes and Mouth Stitched Shut by a malicious Back-Alley Doctor, Dollface ends up killing her boss after he tortured her by nailing a mask to her face, etc. Black-and-Gray Morality is in full-swing, here.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Ace Attorney games have some of these.
    • In the first game, Case 3 killer Dee Vasquez killed the victim in self-defense, and case 4 killer Yanni Yogi killed the man who ruined his life fifteen years ago by convincing him to plead insanity.
    • Justice for All:
      • The killer of the third case, Acro, is a paraplegic who wanted to get back at Regina for accidentally 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.
      • The culprit of the second case, Mimi Miney, was a nurse whose boss overworked her to the point of total exhaustion, which resulted both in her accidentally killing 14 patients by mixing up medication and getting in a car crash which killed her sister and burnt her face off. She thought the only thing to do was to start a new life as her sister Ini Miney (a college student) — she handed the doctors a picture of her sister when it came time for her facial reconstruction surgery, and from then on, everyone assumed she was Ini. However, her boss wasn't doing so well with the bad reputation his clinic had garnered, so he tried to search her down to prove that the whole thing was her fault through a spirit medium (talks to the deceased). Her only options were to come out from hiding or erase her boss. Guess which one she chose.
    • In the third game, Case 5 killer Godot only murdered Misty Fey (possessed by the spirit of 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.
    • Investigations 2 has, of all things, the Big Bad turning out to be one of these. Here's a brief rundown: As a kid, his father only valued him as a taste tester for his cooking. His father's colleague had him kidnapped to blackmail the father, and the colleague's son, who was also his best friend, was the kidnapper (though he was forced to do it). They both ended up locked in a car on a snowy night and would have frozen to death were it not for a certain assassin saving them. His father then fled the country after committing a murder, not caring whatsoever that he was abandoning his son. He ended up at what was apparently an Orphanage of Fear, where he one day witnessed the orphanage's owner, the chief prosecutor and body double of the President of Zheng Fa kidnap the real President, demand millions of dollars in ransom, then have him assassinated anyway, and overheard them planning to kill the assassin too. All three of them got away with it. Naturally, this destroyed his faith in pretty much everything. He conducted an elaborate plan to bring all three to justice, killing the body double himself while getting the others arrested. After all that, can you really blame him for what he became?
    • Zig-zagged in Case 3 of Investigations 2, with Dane Gustavia. He killed Isaac Dover because he was going to blackmail him with the fact that he was taking pictures of the Angel's recipe, a secret that would ruin his reputation as a pastry chef. However, it's also shown that he is a literal psychopath and has no qualms about letting Jeff Masters take the blame and completely abandoning his own child to achieve his goal to become the world's best pastry chef.
    • Marlon Rimes, the culprit of the DLC case in Dual Destinies, similar to Acro from the second game. Even though he didn't really kill anyone (the victim fell back-first into a drained pool and Rimes tried to save him), he tried to kill the whale he thought was responsible for his girlfriend's death. Turns out, not only was it a different whale, but his girlfriend died because of a heart condition. Also, like Acro, he breaks down and demands a guilty verdict for him, if it means Sasha, the woman who reminds him of his girlfriend goes free. Because he really didn't kill anyone and had the Judge's sympathies, he was released not too long after and remains the only culprit who was never really guilty of anything.
    • Spirit of Justice has a few.
      • The culprit of Case 3, Beh'leeb Inmee, who accidentally killed Rheel Neh'mu (whom she regarded as a son) in self-defense because he tried to kill her and her husband, the abbot, as well as her yet unborn child, for being rebels. Because the only one who was really vying for her incarceration or execution was the Big Bad, she is set free.
      • The killer of Case 4, Geiru Toneido. Jealousy aside, like Rimes, Beh'leeb, and Acro above she was one of the few killers to actually regret what they've done. She was snubbed by her master unable to follow in her daddy's footsteps because Teifu wanted her to find her own calling in life away from rakugo. She hates her current job and genuinely feels bad for what she's done. She even cries Tears of Remorse.
  • The majority of killers in the Danganronpa games manage to be this even when their victims are total saints, seeing as they're all high school students forced to play a Deadly Game on TV, and if nobody commits murder, they'll be psychologically tortured until somebody snaps and kills somebody else. The only real exception is Big Bad Monokuma for being the mastermind behind their predicament. And of course, Junko Enoshima, for being the one controlling Monokuma (who is a robot).
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
      • Chapter 1: Leon Kuwata's victim started it by luring him into a trap to kill him, although since he had to break a door down to kill his attacker the level of sympathy for him goes down slightly. The manga mitigates this by implying that Leon wasn't trying to kill Sayaka Maizono but calm her down, then he ended up killing her by accident. As for Sakaya, she only did it because her bandmates were in danger, and part of the reason she failed was that she didn't really want to kill anyone and hesitated at the worst time- though she loses sympathy points for trying to frame Makoto.
      • Chapter 2: Mondo Owada didn't even commit murder; his crime was manslaughter, as he murdered the victim in a rage-fueled blackout when said victim inadvertently angered Mondo while he was in a very bad headspace. He took the time to mess with the crime scene to cover up his victim's "big secret". That, and he makes no attempt to escape being tied to a motorcycle for Monokuma's execution, accepting the punishment for his crime.
      • Chapter 3: A very odd example with Celestia Ludenburg, as she orchestrated the deaths of two people, with the help of an accomplice, just to win Monokuma's ten million dollars so she could live in a Big Fancy Castle and be waited on hand and foot by millions of men in dressed as vampires. Everyone else is disgusted that she'd orchestrate murders for a petty reason like that. This may be a double subversion, however, considering that Celeste is a Consummate Liar so all those petty reasons may be a lie and up to the player's interpretation on whether she deserves sympathy or not, and to note, that petty reason was her secondary motive, her primary motive was simply 'getting out of the place' after she had finally crossed her Despair Event Horizon, something that others probably would agree on, and even she eventually admits her murders and tried to go Face Death with Dignity... and even Naegi can spot that she probably is lying on that too, she's actually terrified. That being said, for all her pettiness, she didn't even try to curse those who condemn her, which would've been in line with the pettiness she presents. So, it's kinda Zig-Zagged in the end, especially once it's revealed that she wouldn't have done what she did if her memories hadn't been tampered with. That said, the manga did show her Dark and Troubled Past to make her more sympathetic, as now her Big Fancy Castle dream is just one huge compensation for the wretched self-esteem she developed as Taeko Yasuhiro.
      • A straighter example would be her accomplice Hifumi Yamada, who killed Kiyotaka Ishimaru only because Celes made a False Rape Accusation against him and takes advantage of the Love Triangle both men had with Alter Ego, Hifumi's absolute trust in her, and Hifumi's worry about Kiyotaka's erratic behavior (having gone into shock when Mondo was killed, and only snapped out of it by 'fusing' with Mondo's spirit, or at least believing himself to have done so). Once again, the biggest sympathy draw in this case would be that he wouldn't have done it if Junko hadn't stolen the memories of his school life with his friends, something he tragically only remembers as he is dying.
    • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the murderers in the first and fifth chapters are the best examples, since their crimes qualify as Murder by Mistake and Accidental Murder respectively. To elaborate:
      • The Chapter 1 killer, Teruteru Hanamura, found out that Nagito Komaeda was planning to kill someone to start the murder game and, rightly realizing how dangerous he was, Teruteru decided to kill him first to stop that from happening. However, the Ultimate Imposter, a.k.a. "Byakuya Togami", pushed Nagito out of the way so that Teruteru accidentally killed the Imposter instead. Adding to Teruteru's sympathy is that he had the additional motive of wanting to return home and find out if his sick mother was okay, since the students had learned from Monokuma that they'd lost two years' worth of memories of their time at Hope's Peak.
      • Chapter 2's culprit, Peko Pekoyama, was revealed to be the hired killer/bodyguard of fellow student Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu. Having been raised by his family since infancy to view herself as nothing but Fuyuhiko's tool, when he was about to kill Mahiru Koizumi (due to Monokuma framing her for involvement in covering up the death of his sister), Peko stepped in and killed her instead, believing this is what Fuyuhiko would want her to do. Then, after the original scapegoat for the murder was proven innocent, she deliberately sets herself up to be voted as the guilty party, because in her mind, that's the wrong choice. Since she's nothing but a tool with no free will of her own, she is therefore not the murderer but the murder weapon, and Fuyuhiko is the true culprit. The outcome of the trial is essentially left up to Fuyuhiko's decision: Does he take credit as the killer and be allowed to escape while everyone else is killed for voting wrong (which he had been boasting about being willing to do since the very beginning), or does he say Peko is the killer and sacrifice only her while remaining stuck on the island with everyone else? Fuyuhiko takes the latter option. Peko then says she was actually expecting him to take that option, knowing that he has a Hidden Heart of Gold beneath his yakuza tough-guy personality. She then proceeds to apologize to the class for betraying them and murdering Mahiru implying she was remorseful over the murder and asks them to not let another senseless killing happen again. Her only request is that Fuyuhiko always remember her as a loyal and obedient tool who always stood by him, prompting Fuyuhiko to tearfully confess to Peko that he never saw her as a tool and never wanted her as a tool, he just wanted her. Monokuma then declares Peko the killer and has her executed (and implies that he would have done so anyway regardless of Fuyuhiko's decision). Fuyuhiko tries to save her during her execution, only for Monokuma to trick her into accidentally injuring him instead.
      • The murderer of Chapter 3, Mikan Tsumiki, is the least sympathetic culprit of the game excluding the Big Bad, having remorselessly killed Hiyoko Saionji and Ibuki Mioda in a bid to show her love to "her beloved" (Junko Enoshima), due to her strain of the Despair Disease (chapter 3's motive) reverting her back to her Ultimate Despair state. Still, like Celeste, she has some sympathetic traits, like the fact that she had been viciously bullied all her life (including by one of her victims, Hiyoko) and implied that the other students standing by and not stopping this was part of the reason she turned out like she did, the fact that it was only because of the disease she picked up while caring for other sick people that drove her to this plus the fact that it's Junko who is her "beloved", and she's also more sympathetic in hindsight when we learn in Danganronpa 3 that The Ultimate Despair students were Brainwashed and Crazy, so Despair!Mikan wasn't her true character (though this is a Fan-Disliked Explanation).
      • The culprit of Chapter 4, Gundham Tanaka, is heavily implied to have made a mutual Heroic Sacrifice together with his victim, Nekomaru Nidai, to save the entire class from starving to death when they were locked in a funhouse with no food until a murder occurred. Gundham and Nekomaru both willingly engaged in a fight to the death despite knowing that whoever won would be executed anyway once they were caught, and though Gundham did try to conceal his involvement (since his philosophy of never giving up on life meant that he couldn't just roll over and do nothing), once he was found out, he confessed easily and gave the other students a Rousing Speech urging them to always keep fighting to live. He's sympathetic enough that, as he lay dying after his execution, the spirits of his past pets carried him off to Heaven. Though given that this is Gundham we're talking about here, Heaven might be considered an Ironic Hell to him.
      • In Chapter 5, the so-called "killer" and "traitor", Chiaki Nanami, is the most sympathetic culprit in the whole game, possibly even the whole series, since the "victim", Nagito Komaeda, was the true culprit. Having found out that the entire class including himself were formerly members of Ultimate Despair, except for the traitor (whose identity he did not know), he decided that only the traitor deserved to live, and so planned his own death as an assisted suicide while relying on his Ultimate Luck to make it so that the traitor would deal him the final blow, not only accidentally, but unknowingly, in order to create a murder that the other students couldn't solve. Either they would rule it as a straight suicide and vote for him as the culprit, or realize that one of them unknowingly killed him but not know who and be forced to make a blind guess that would almost certainly be wrong. Chiaki, however, figured this out, realized that she was the one who accidentally killed him, and sacrificed herself to save the others. Then Monokuma kills both her and her friend Monomi, who killed nobody, just to twist the knife in. Really, the case was more Nagito committing suicide in such a way that it would give Monokuma the opportunity to decide that she killed him (and Monokuma, who wants as many students dead as possible, has every reason to treat any death as a murder case). And then it’s revealed in Danganronpa 3 that this isn’t even the first time she’s died.
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony:
      • The first killer of the game, our Decoy Protagonist Kaede Akamatsu, as the crime was committed under the threat that everyone would be killed if there was no murder within 48 hours, and her intention was to kill the mastermind so that the killing game would end as soon as it began. Once it becomes clear that her victim was not the mastermind, she decides not to take advantage of the "First Blood Perk" that would have allowed her to escape without a trial so that she can both a) make one last attempt to discover the mastermind's identity during the trial, and b) pay for her crime by encouraging Shuichi Saihara to out her as the culprit. And subverted entirely when the final class trial reveals that she wasn't even the killer in the first place and got executed for nothing.
      • The killer of Chapter 2, Kirumi Tojo, killed because she was effectively the prime minister of Japan, and wanted to escape to tend to her people. Her victim, Ryoma Hoshi, initially struggled but then allowed himself to die as he was a Death Seeker. And the ending implies that she might not even really be the prime minister’s maid, but was brainwashed into thinking that by the Flashback Light.
      • The killer of Chapter 3, Korekiyo Shinguji, is the obligatory subversion as he is a Serial Killer who sends his victims, all of whom are girls including Angie Yonaga and Tenko Chabashira, to the afterlife to be "friends" for his dead sister, who was also his lover when she was alive, and who he now believes is a ghost inhabiting his body encouraging him to kill (though he's almost certainly just crazy, since when "Sister" speaks through him, the UI still displays his name, while in similar cases throughout the series, e.g. Toko and Genocide Jack, the name changes). But in hindsight, the ending opens up the possibility that he was merely brainwashed into thinking he was a serial killer by the Flashback Light, actually killed nobody (aside from Angie and Tenko, obviously), and may not have even had a sister in the first place (or if he did, he most likely loved her in a normal, not-creepy way).
      • The killer of Chapter 4, the Gentle Giant Gonta Gokuhara, committed murder because he discovered a truth about the outside world (it was completely destroyed) that was so horrifying that he decided (with some persuading from Kokichi Oma) to Mercy Kill the rest of the group by winning the game, in the process foiling Miu Iruma’s plan to kill Oma by killing her. Making it even worse, the murder happened within a virtual world, and Gonta happened to have mixed up the two wires he had to plug into his headset before logging in, so when everyone logged out, he ended up having no memory of anything that happened within the virtual world, and even worse is that the end of the world scene that drove him to murder was likely faked by Monokuma.
      • Kaito Momota becomes a murderer in Chapter 5, but not because of malice or the desire to escape: he kills Kokichi Oma (with his consent) to save Maki Harukawa - who had shot Oma with poisoned crossbow bolts - from being executed by Monokuma.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry has this in spades. Most of the main characters end up like this in some version of the world. Keiichi killed Satoko's abusive uncle to protect her, Rena killed Satoko'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.
    • And then there is the Big Bad Miyo Takano, who masterminds everything because of her Dark and Troubled Past and manipulation by her superiors. However, she goes way too far and starts being a sadistic Troll to the main heroes, which diminishes this status.
    • 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 one's motive. See the Higurashi analysis page for more on this.
    • The sequel, Umineko: When They Cry, has Beatrice/Sayo Yasuda, who sets up the Ushiromiya Massacre as payback for how they were treated by the family (thrown off a cliff as a baby, bullied by the maids, being a Child by Rape, painful love life and gender issues), and EP 7 even reveals they were not even the actual culprit.
  • In Person of Interest this can be an interesting source of tension. Given the nature of The Machine, in which it predicts that a person will be involved in a violent crime but doesn't give context as to their role, this trope can cause problems. It often makes the perpetrator appear to be the victim, causing the heroes to be caught off guard.
    • A notable example is found in the episode Cure Te Ipsum, in which a doctor appears to be a potential victim given her habit of going to nightclubs despite her busy job. When she attracts the attention of a man who has previously committed a date rape, it appears that her life is in danger. In truth, she knows exactly who he is and is planning to kill him.

  • Anthony Adler of Adler's Watch. He murdered a few people (the exact number is unclear), among them his mother, because of what is hinted to be mental illness. And yet he's tongue-in-cheek, sometimes dorky, and fun to be around main character. It helps that he became The Atoner for what he's done.

    Web Originals