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Vigilante Execution

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"Maybe no jury would convict you on that, but I would. I'm the jury now, and the judge, and I have a promise to keep. Beautiful as you are; as much as I almost loved you, I sentence you to death."
Mike Hammer, I, the Jury

Justice doesn't always prevail. Sometimes The Bad Guy Wins, especially in works that closely reflect the real world. And sometimes, just as an evildoer looks like he's going to be a Karma Houdini... BAM! He dies at the hand of a victim, the victim's relative, crazy outsider, or some other interested party.

A Vigilante Execution occurs when someone who has committed (or been accused of committing) a crime, who's gotten off with light or no punishment, is murdered as extrajudicial payback/punishment for that crime.

This can be either the ending to a story or the setup for a second half or prelude to a larger plot.

See also: The Killer Becomes the Killed, Vigilante Man, Framing the Guilty Party. Related to Pay Evil unto Evil and Karma Houdini Warranty. Compare Do with Him as You Will, where another party gives a victim an opportunity to kill or otherwise punish a wrongdoer. For cases where the executed was actually innocent, see Vigilante Injustice.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Magog shoots the Joker in Kingdom Come in a manner similar to this — the Joker wouldn't have walked, but he would possibly have pleaded insanity. Again.
  • Happens to Speedball about halfway through the Civil War. He survives, though.
  • Detective John Hartigan from Sin City tried to kill Junior Roark as opposed to arresting him for this very reason - Junior was the son of a powerful US Senator, with damn near the entire police force of Sin City in his and his family's pockets. Unfortunately, it didn't quite happen as planned.
  • Criminals in the Marvel universe who get off in court should always be wary, for they are likely to have an encounter with Frank Castle.
  • Solo is pretty much the same as the Punisher, except he specializes in terrorists.
  • During Dark Reign, Hawkeye, then going by Ronin (and would return to the Hawkeye alias after this was over) attempted a mix between this and political assassination against Norman Osborn, who was in charge of the government and was using it to control and punish the superhero community and planning to start a War for Fun and Profit with Asgard. The hit failed and Hawkeye was kidnapped, tortured, and Mind Raped in order to find out where the New Avengers were hiding. In a What If? story, however, he was able to successfully kill Norman, leading himself to become public enemy number one and making things worse for everyone as Victoria Hand took Norman's reigns and used this to push harsher treatment against superheroes. They also middle named him for it.
  • At the end of Red Handed, Detective Gould does this to Tess, as revenge for her putting into motion the events that led to his wife's death.
  • Tomboy stars Addison, the granddaughter of Anthony, who used to masquerade as Justicar, who murdered criminals the law couldn't beat. After her boyfriend's murder, he trains Addi to do the same, and she does, in spectacular fashion.
  • In IDW Publishing's Optimus Prime series, Optimus Prime, Soundwave and Arcee are in pursuit of Arc Villain Galvatron, eventually catching up to him near the Cybertronian space station Sanctuary Station. After a short but sharp fight, Galvatron laughs and surrenders, claiming that Optimus will need his help for a coming threat. However, Optimus Prime, heartily sick of Galvatron being a Karma Houdini since their first encounter years earlier, simply points his gun at him. As horrified realisation dawns, Galvatron frantically insists that he surrenders. In response, Optimus acknowledges his surrender... and then shoots him in the chest and pulls off his head before kicking his headless corpse into Jupiter's gravity to be crushed into nothingness.
  • Robin (1993): The Jury is an entire group of armed murderers enforcing vigilante justice by doing such public services as blowing up a purse snatcher on a busy street, and going out on a shooting spree when a bunch of people escaped extrajudicial imprisonment in Bludhaven.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Superman: Doomsday, Supes doing this to Toyman was the first sign that maybe the Man of Steel hadn't returned from the dead after all.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Batman Begins of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Bruce Wayne is about to shoot Joe Chill, the murderer of his parents, who is being released in exchange for information on Falcone. What stops him is Joe being shot by one of Falcone's minions first. During his training by the League of Shadows, he rebels against them when asked to do the same. His claims that executing a man without a proper trial is wrong shows some character development from when he was about to do the same to Joe Chill.
  • The Boondock Saints ends with the execution of the Big Bad, a Mafia boss, in the courtroom by the McManus brothers and their long-lost father. They get away with it thanks to some inside help from Agent Smecker.
  • This is the premise of Death Sentence. When Kevin Bacon finds out that his son's murderer faces a maximum of 3 years, he pretends not to recognize the perp in court, so that later on he can track him down and kill him. This ends up backfiring. Badly.
  • In The Departed, Sullivan manages to destroy all evidence of his crimes, so he's not even charged with anything, but Dignam still finds out what he did and kills him.
  • Eraser: Arnie kills off the Big Bad in this manner when it becomes clear that he will never be convicted. At the very least, the Big Bad definitely intended to use every means at his disposal to avoid a conviction (including murdering any witnesses), and with his position and goons on the payroll he likely could have pulled it off.
  • Fear City: When Rossi finally tracks down the killer just as he's about to kill Loretta, he uses his boxing skills to engage the martial artist in a one-on-one fight. They're pretty evenly matched until Rossi eventually gets the upper hand and doesn't stop until he's beaten him to death. Lt. Wheeler, acknowledging that Rossi ultimately did a good thing, lets him off the hook for it.
  • In the Back Story of The Guilty, police officer Asger killed a young criminal and covered it up, claiming it was in self-defense and getting his partner Rashid to back up his story.
  • In Hell: The protagonist's wife is raped and murdered by a criminal who is soon caught, but is later exonerated by the corrupt court thanks to the man's connections. He then shoots and kills his wife's murderer outside the courthouse in a fit of rage, which results in him being sent to prison.
  • In John Doe: Vigilante, many of the titular character's victims are not just asshole victims, they were either acquitted of or given lenient sentences for the despicable crimes they had committed.
  • Played with in the Soviet comedy Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, where the Big Bad is confronted by the supposed brothers of the girl he kidnapped in order to force her to marry him. In fact, they're the protagonist Shurik and his friend, wearing balaclavas and disguising their voices to sound like stereotypical highlanders of the Caucasus with their own moral code. The goal is to scare the guy half to death, but he gets so scared he ends up falling out of his window... and one of the men shoots him in the butt with rock salt. Apparently, the fall is nonfatal, and he's shown as one of the defendants in court... unable to sit after the judge tells everyone they can do so.
  • Pre-empted in L.A. Confidential, where Exley kills Dudley because he's sure that if given a jury trial, he'll be acquitted. Ironically enough, in their first onscreen conversation, Dudley asks Exley if he's capable of such an act, and Exley demurs.
  • Law Abiding Citizen has Clyde doing this to everyone involved with the death of his family and the miscarriage of justice that followed.
    • The DA belatedly finds out that Clyde is an expert at doing this sort of thing. It never came up because his work is classified.
    • The DA and the detective make sure that Clyde himself finds himself on the other end of this trope, by planting Clyde's own bomb under his bunk and tricking him into activating it.
  • The Long Goodbye: At the end of the movie, after everything is said and done, Marlowe pieces together that Terry Lennox really was the killer and faked his death. He confronts Lennox in a Mexican villa, where Lennox simply brags that while Marlowe may have figured out what really happened, he has no proof that would hold up in court and nobody will ever believe him since they think Terry is innocent and dead, so he has no legal way of bringing Lennox to justice. Marlowe agrees… unfortunately for Lennox:
    Lennox: What the hell, nobody cares.
    Marlowe: (omniously) Yeah. Nobody cares but me…
    Lennox: Well, that's you, Marlowe. You'll never learn, you're a born loser.
    Marlowe: Yeah, I even lost my cat. (casually whips out a pistol and shoots Lennox dead)
  • With the killer cops in Magnum Force, this trope is used. The scenario described at the top of the page is the type that describes the Ricca killing at the beginning.
  • In Man on Fire, John Creasy carries out several of these during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • In New Jack City, drug lord Nino Brown walks arrogantly out of the courtroom in front of the police protagonists, confident he will not serve a sentence commensurate with his crimes. The old man who was hounding Brown throughout the film for destroying his neighborhood with his drug trade shoots him dead in the courthouse foyer.
  • Combine this trope with a torch-and-pitchfork mob attack, and you get how Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street died, at least the first time around. He got Off on a Technicality, see, and the parents of Springwood were none too happy about it. Though this also forms the reason why he later targets their children when he becomes a demon.
  • In Outrage, Robert Preston is a father whose daughter was raped and murdered by a man who is released on a technicality because the police made a mistake. After his wife dies because of the trauma of learning their daughter's murderer has gotten off scot-free, he buys a gun, drives to the area of town where the man generally hangs out, calls out his name, and when he responds, shoots and kills him.
  • The Ox-Bow Incident is about a group of men in the Old West who, after hearing of the death of a rancher, form a posse and hunt down three men for the crime. Except the rancher isn't dead, so they just murdered three innocent men. The film is a vicious indictment of the idea, pointing out that the posse is less about justice and more about bloodlust and injured masculinity.
  • The remake/reboot Shaft (2000) ends this way though in this case, the mother of the victim shot him before the trial, not willing to take the chance that he might get away.
  • Shooter: Where the protagonist hunts down the villains, who have gotten away with everything, and kills them in their cabin — making the entire thing look like a gas leak. Bonus points for the Attorney General basically hinting that he should do that, knowing that there was no legal recourse, and knowing very well that if the protagonist were to be released from custody, he would almost immediately go after the villains.
    AG: For the record, I don't like how this turned out any more than you do. But this is the world we live in. And justice does not always prevail. It's not the Wild West where you can clean up the streets with a gun...even though sometimes it's exactly what is needed. Bob Lee Swagger, you're free to go.
  • In The Star Chamber, the secret court exists to order these on obviously guilty murderers who got Off on a Technicality, two of which are shown to be killed by a hitman. The father of a murdered boy also attempts these when the suspects get off this way, but ends up instead shooting a cop by accident when he tries to stop him.
  • Sudden Impact: Spencer carries out quite a few of these on her rapists.
  • In The Untouchables (1987), Eliot Ness ultimately decides to bend the rules and shove Frank Nitti off the top of a courthouse instead of letting him stand trial and possibly escape punishment after Nitti taunts him about the fact that he killed Ness' friend Jimmy Malone. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
  • The Wolf of Snow Hollow: Sheriff's deputy John Marshal starts to proclaim that he's going to find and kill the serial killer before catching himself and saying that he'll bring him to justice. The fiance of one of the killer's victims later tells John to kill the suspect rather than take him in, which John takes to heart. In the end, after the killer is already incapacitated, John empties his revolver into the man's head, executing him.
  • In Terror at Black Falls, Manuel Avila is hanged by a mob of farmers for stealing a calf. Sheriff Cal and Manuel's father and brothers all rush to stop the hanging, but they are too late. Enraged, Juan tries to shoot Cal, who shoots him in the hand. Juan's hand has to be amputated, which gives him another reason to want revenge.

  • The premise behind And Then There Were None. The killer has a craving for violence, but doesn't want to be evil, so he rounds up a group of people who are guilty of killing others in ways that could never go to court, and murders them one by one — ending with himself.
  • Also the premise behind Murder on the Orient Express. The victim had previously kidnapped a child, demanded a ransom, and then murdered the child anyway. The other passengers on the train are friends and associates of the bereaved family, who banded together for justice/revenge.
  • The ending of every Mike Hammer novel. "The Twisted Thing" is an exception in that the killer, a child genius, commits suicide — probably because it would be too much to have even Sociopathic Hero Hammer kill a child, and impossible to claim that it was self-defense.
  • Most of the 'Home End' of Tom Clancy's Without Remorse consists of an extended series of these ... entirely justified as you would expect from J. T. Kelly (later Clark).
  • A Time to Kill follows the trial of the vigilante executioner after he does this. Samuel L. Jackson would like you to know that, Yes, they deserved to die and he hopes they burn in hell.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Wings of Fire, Chris Wohl kills Pavel Kazakov, who Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All.
  • In Dale Brown's Shadow Command, Patrick McLanahan kills Russian president Leonid Zevitin, who for obvious reasons would not be prosecuted, face-to-face.
  • The Saint in New York opens with Simon Templar gunning down a murderer on the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
  • Happens frequently in the John Sandford Prey series, usually with the protagonist, Lucas Davenport, claiming self-defense after gunning the perp down.
  • In Insurgent, the Candor Court decided to spare Eric’s life, but Dauntless decides, on its own, to kill him for his crimes, and the execution is performed by them. So technically, may count as a subversion, since Eric was a Dauntless.
  • In Snuff, Vimes cannot arrest Pleasant Contrast's murderer because the crime was committed before goblins were considered sentient. Willikins takes care of it for him.
  • Mickey Haller doesn't do this himself, being as he's just a slightly conflicted Amoral Attorney rather than a Vigilante Man, but the central case of The Brass Verdict is resolved when the relatives of one of the victims shoot and kill the perpetrator, who was acquitted due to Mickey's defence. The title of the book is (allegedly) LAPD slang for this sort of thing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Walker, Texas Ranger episode "The Brotherhood" had three Dirty Cops who did this to criminals they feel didn't get the punishment they deserved. Their downfall begins when they kill a person who was actually innocent; DNA evidence exonerated him, but the cops never checked. Needless to say, Walker warned them this sort of thing would happen!
  • The Law & Order franchise loves this trope. While parodies tend to exaggerate the propensity for defendants to die in this fashion, they are gunned down way out of proportion compared to reality in this series. What kind of security do they have at the NYC Supreme Court, anyway? To be fair, in the original series, most of the killings happen on the courthouse steps, not in the courthouse.
    • One episode featured a crazed Strawman Conservative who stole a bunch of embryos from a fertility clinic as a publicity stunt. The embryos expire and a widower whose late wife's donated eggs were in the batch shoots him after his arraignment.
    • An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had a child molester who actually reformed. He was framed for a murder-rape and got off, but then someone shot him.
    • In yet another episode, a sociopathic child killer was going to be released and the victim's father shoots him. The rest of the episode asks the question of whether he was temporarily insane at the time or not. After being acquitted, he admits that he knew exactly what he was doing.
    • Another episode plays with it; a girl is kidnapped and murdered, and a previously convicted rapist is arrested for the crime. The girl's mother brings a gun to court and shoots him at the arraignment. Everyone supports her and is lenient to her, because she's killed the man who killed her daughter — until it's revealed that she and her lover actually hired the man to kidnap her daughter, in order to spite her ex-husband. She wasn't avenging her daughter, but silencing a witness. McCoy couldn't get her on shooting the man, but managed to do it on her own daughter's murder instead.
    • Another one: a convicted murderer escapes custody and kills four teenage girls, with the father of one of the girls standing close enough to hear the shots. The father later kills the convict; after he refuses a plea bargain, McCoy takes him to trial and is able to secure a conviction despite the circumstances (by pointing out that an acquittal would be an inherent endorsement of vigilantism). The creepy part, though? The killer's Amoral Attorney had actually sent him information about the other man's release, manipulating the guy into killing the culprit so she could make herself look good by defending him (she was running for political office). McCoy and his team get a spectacular revenge by foiling the last part of her plan and getting the lawyer indicted for murder and conspiracy, and the client she effectively suckered in gets a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against her.
    • In another episode of SVU, a teenage boy sneaks into a TV starlet's dressing room and rapes her when he finds her sleeping and drunk, under the influence of a radio show host a la Howard Stern. The kid's Knight Templar Parent of a mother shoots (though does not kill) the host because she blames him for her son's crimes.
      • It turns out he was just as much a "Well Done, Son" Guy and the mom (who's a Moral Guardian in every sense of the word) used the shooting to fuel her own campaign that has completely taken over her life, so it's a subversion where the supposed execution was a publicity stunt.
    • And another (get a pattern?) SVU example, a girl was raped and murdered by a club owner. Elliot decides to tell the girl's father that they do not have enough evidence to charge the club owner, so the father decides to kill the man and then gets shot himself.
    • From the core series, a team of brutal home invaders had killed ADA Borgia, and they were connected to a corrupt federal agent. After going through immense pains to try and keep the agent in custody as he tries to get evidence, McCoy lets him go. However, the killers, believing he talked, gun him down in broad daylight, and the police capture them.
    • In the episode "World's Fair", one of the suspects (the boyfriend of the victim) goes to her family with the intention of assuring them he didn't do it. The victim's brother gets confrontational and the boyfriend ends up being shot by the victim's father (who believed he did it). It turns out that the brother killed her, and knew full well the boyfriend was innocent.
    • An episode of SVU had the guy's own lawyer gun him down because the defendant, who he had gotten off on an Insanity Defense that the lawyer apparently actually believed, reacted to the acquittal by thanking the lawyer for freeing him so he could kill more kids. The lawyer clearly recognizes that his actions were wrong, but he felt he had to stop his former client from achieving that goal by any means necessary.
    • An accidental example occurs in another SVU episode; a teenage girl accuses a man of rape, and the detectives let him go due to a lack of evidence. The girl's father then kidnaps him and tries to beat a confession out of him but winds up killing him by accident. The kicker? He was just an innocent bystander trying to return her purse, the real rapist was the girl's dentist uncle who drugged her, and the ending implies that the father will probably get off easy since he attempted CPR.
    • Possibly the first example in the Season One episode "The Torrents Of Greed" had Stone going out of his way to get a mob boss. After making the arrest, the mob boss makes bail, only to be gunned down by assassins. His sister put up the bail and had him killed in revenge for her husband's murder. While the detectives are glad to have him off the street, they are aware that his death will bring about more violence.
    • Perhaps the most messed up case of this appeared in the season 13 episode Spiraling Down. A retired football star gets gunned down on the steps of the court after having been found not guilty of statutory rape of an underage prostitute by reason of insanity (the prostitute never divulged her age, but it's made clear that isn't a defense). Standard fare, right? Well, this retired football star was suffering from severe dementia from repeated concussions, so by the end of a day would become so disoriented that he could barely hold a conversation for more than two sentences before he forgot what he was talking about. They let him off with an insanity defense, but the guy realizes that he really did do it... so he grabs a gun off a police officer and executes himself.
    • The one at the end of "Trade" which was the case of a murder-suicide was worse. As was the one in Season 12's finale "Smoked." We all know where that lead.
    • The bombastic finale of the original series' Season 16 episode "Criminal Law" is another very good example. The sadistic mass-murderer (having prompted one of his sons to kill several witnesses and innocents to get him released from prison) is then gunned down on the steps of the precinct (by his other son, no less).
    • An SVU episode had this happen to a boy that had accidentally shot a classmate when he was trying to kill some gang members that he thought were about to try and kill him. When the real story comes to light, he's acquitted and forgiven, but another kid kills him because "You can't just kill a sister and get away with it", in his words.
    • This trope was used so often that when Robot Chicken did a skit on the show (with anthropomorphic chickens of all things), this was the fate of the murderer. "BA-KAAAAAW!"
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Release", Doggett is in a bar, talking to the man he knows killed his son, but hasn't got enough evidence to arrest him. As the suspect leaves the bar, he is shot by Follmer, who had been taking bribes from him in his early days.
  • JAG: The season four episode "Act of Terror" has two vigilante executions. First, a suspected terrorist is transported back to the United States, but a Marine guard shoots at him on live TV coverage. The Marine is charged with murder in a court-martial. However, the suspected terrorist survived because he wore a protective vest and the FBI takes the suspect away for interrogation, unbeknownst to everyone. Harm discovers this because there was a major discrepancy between the autopsy report and the video footage. The Marine charged with murder receives top civilian counsel provided by a right-wing businessman. But it turns out that the businessman has made money transfers to terrorist suspects in Saudi Arabia, and while he agrees to let the FBI apprehend the next receiver, that one is gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The episode ends with the businessman smiling.
  • Happened several times on NCIS:
    • In one episode, the man they're pursuing turns out to be too valuable to the CIA to be arrested, despite being a murderer and all-around disgusting person. As soon as they let him go, NCIS headquarters receives a live video transmission from an unknown source. They watch as the man walks out of the building and promptly drops from a bullet to the forehead, fired from behind the camera.
    • In another episode, it looks like a crime lord is going to walk after having two Marines tortured to death after they witness a shooting. Their comrade (who had lied and claimed to be the witness in order to protect them) can't stand it and shoots him outside the courthouse.
    • In one episode, the killer was a member of a local gang who had told the other gang members that he was getting messages from the boss. Turns out he had killed the boss and caused the death of other members in the gang along with a Marine. Unable to pin him for the crimes, Gibbs shows his evidence to other members of the gang and tells them that the killer will never be convicted for lack of evidence. He then drops the man off at the gang's headquarters. You see him slowly being surrounded by other members. Cue next scene at NCIS headquarters where on TV it says his body was found ridden with bullets.
    • And in another example, a sicko who confessed to poisoning ice cream treats (one of which killed a boy) gets off because the DNA evidence that led NCIS to him is ruled inadmissible. Shortly thereafter, he gets into his car and is garroted to death by a bailiff who's tired of seeing killers like him get Off on a Technicality.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer, being an adaptation of The Brass Verdict (see Literature, above) carries over the resolution from that novel, although it changes the identity (and fate) of the executioner - in the novel, the executioners have left the country before their crime is even discovered, and no-one seems particularly keen to extradite them back; in the series, the executioner carries out their attack in broad daylight, in the presence of many reporters and cameras, and doesn't even try to get away, meaning they're pretty much certainly going to be convicted of their crime.
  • Season 3 of 24 sees Big Bad Stephen Saunders shot by the wife of one of the agents he was responsible for killing before he could be interrogated by CTU.
  • The Practice:
    • Played straight in one episode: a man actually helped the man on trial for murdering his wife get off, then hired someone to shoot him on his way out, because he wanted him dead, not in prison.
    • The firm has also defended a number of people who committed vigilante murders.
  • Played with in an episode of Murder City: the jury did it.
  • The Closer:
    • In "Heroic Measures", the DA decides there is no winnable case to be made against the doctors who made a judgment call to let a boy die on the operating table, so while they're walking back to their cars, the mother shoots them.
    "He thought he was God. Turns out he was wrong."
    • Much of Season 7 is taken with Brenda deflecting accusations that she committed one by proxy. When a vile gangbanger fixes it so he can get off, Brenda, stating that they have nothing to hold him on, takes him back to his hood, where everyone knows what he did.
  • Medium:
    • "Wicked Game pt 2" ends with Cynthia Keener sitting on the front step waiting for the police to come arrest her for murdering the woman who masterminded her daughter's kidnapping/torture/murder 10 years ago. Though Allison had identified the killers, the case was too old to find evidence, and the woman killed her repentant accomplice before he could confess.
    • An early episode had Allison unable to get involved in a case because Joe was on the jury, but she knew the defendant was guilty of killing his wife. After the defendant was acquitted, Allison led the police to evidence that he was guilty, after which he was killed by his father-in-law, who up until then had been his strongest supporter.
  • In L.A. Law, it happens twice in the same episode. A woman is on trial for shooting her rapist dead, after learning that, as the son of a South American ambassador, he has diplomatic immunity. The lawyer gets her acquitted by persuading the judge and jury to go along with the fiction that she was temporarily insane, although really she knew exactly what she was doing. In the corridor outside the courtroom, the ambassador's other son has a handgun. "Thees is for my brother!" Blam!. Blam!. "Diplomatic Immunity!"
  • In Lost, Ana Lucia refuses to testify against the man who shot her (killing her unborn child), then guns him down herself when he's released.
  • In an episode of Carnivŕle, one of the cooch dancers is murdered by a local bartender. He is subjected to a sort of Russian roulette and lives. After he is allowed to go free, Sampson follows him and shoots him, trapping him in the town of the dead.
  • Subverted quite effectively in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Duet" when a highly notorious Cardassian war criminal just goes free, he is killed by a Bajoran vigilante. Except the victim was innocent (he was a file clerk who was actually extremely sympathetic to the Bajorans, to the point of disguising himself as the war criminal and trying to get himself executed as him to force his people to face their crimes), and the attacker was a violent drunk who felt that just being a Cardassian was enough of a reason to kill him.
  • CSI:
    • Catherine stupidly informs the husband of a victim that they suspect the man his wife was having an affair with. The husband shoots the suspect, only for it to turn out that her death was a freak accident.
    • Warrick informed the father of a little girl killed in a drive-by that it could have been one of the local gangsters. The father went after the guy. The real killers were some kids that he had thrown out of his youth center.
    • And another one happens to a Serial Killer couple in the two-parter "Assume Nothing"/"All for Our Country," though for once it doesn't have any relation with this time Nick stupidly giving information about the case to an old college friend. The vigilante, in this case, is a court clerk (and an ex-cop), who's tired of seeing guilty people getting Off on a Technicality.
  • CSI: Miami:
    • In "Rio," a woman, Fanny Silver, is found beaten to death, and suspicion falls on her husband, Carl. Fanny's son by a previous marriage, Scott, has a bad relationship with Carl, and Natalia assures him that the killer will be brought to justice. This backfires disastrously when the killer turns out to be a house painter who thought Fanny was flirting with him and killed her when she rejected his advances, but Scott, who's convinced Carl is the killer, shoots him as he is being released from police custody.
    • In one episode, the mother of a vacationing college student kills the gang-wannabe who'd murdered her son as an initiation.
  • CSI: NY:
    • In season 4's "Admissions", Inspector Gerrard bursts into an interrogation room and fatally shoots his daughter's rapist.
    • Late in season 4, frustrated taxi drivers take it upon themselves to kill the person they believe to be the "Cabbie Killer" and to dump the body outside the precinct. Turns out they are wrong.
    • It is heavily implied that Flack shot Angell's killer in cold blood in the season 5 finale. This is later verified during Mac's "limbo" period in the season 8 finale.
    • It's also the M.O. in season 7's "Vigilante".
  • Happens multiple times on Homicide: Life on the Street, as listed on that page.
  • A variant in Noah's Arc: When one of the guys who gay bashes Noah gets off with a minimal sentence, Wade goes to beat them down (and judging by how badly he beats on the guy, he probably did intend to kill him).
  • Pushing Daisies had this happen to a killer who hadn't even made it to trial; he was on the run from the law when he was tracked down and killed. As far as we know, the protagonists never found out that this happened.
  • Ashes to Ashes (2008) subverts this: The Corrupt Corporate Executive defendant seems to get away with buying underage prostitutes and two murders because of being protected by Mac, who has control over the police unit that investigates the crimes. However — due the fact that Gene and Alex gave him a 'What have you become?' speech earlier — Mac confronts the executive in the hallway after his release and shoots the bastard where he stands. He then turns the gun to himself but is stopped by Gene before shooting himself. He dies moments later when fighting over the gun with Gene.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • One episode features a serial killer who targets people acquitted of murder or manslaughter. He was a court reporter who heard his targets claim to be "victims", sometimes of the people they killed, and couldn't get their voices out of his head until he killed them.
    • "True Night" plays with this. The UnSub is taking revenge for the rape and murder of his pregnant girlfriend, but doesn't realize he's doing it until Rossi points out the scar on his torso. The gang forced him to watch and nearly eviscerated him, and the trauma caused him to have a psychotic break.
    • In "To Hell ... And Back", the fourth season finale pair, Hotch doubts his own ability as a prosecutor to convict the (quadriplegic) unsub, which leads to William Hightower shooting the UnSub with a shotgun.
    • In the episode "Reckoner", the killer is a hitman hired by a judge who went nuts after the death of his wife and became obsessed with killing people he deemed to have escaped justice.
    • Early in the second season of the show, the team tracks down a serial rapist but is unable to arrest him because they have no evidence. So Elle confronts him outside his home, gets him to confess, then guns him down with a smile on her face. She then plants a gun on his corpse, and it's ruled self-defense. However, while it's impossible to prove that she did anything wrong, Hotch doesn't buy it, and she ultimately feels like she has no choice but to quit the team as a result. She also screwed up a sting on the rapist, leading Hotch to conclude that she intentionally messed up the sting so she could execute him.
  • Dexter: Modus operandi for Dexter Morgan. Particularly unusual in that he would have been a Serial Killer in any case, but his adoptive father Harry steered him in a "constructive" direction, and gave him pointers on how not to get caught.
  • In the season 2 finale of Veronica Mars, Clarence Wiedman, acting on Duncan's orders, executes Aaron Echolls, who has just weaseled his way out of conviction for killing Duncan's sister Lilly (by framing Duncan for it) and nearly burning Duncan's ex Veronica alive.
  • In the Cold Open to one episode of Spooks, a radical Muslim cleric is set free after the judge rules the evidence gathered by MI-5 through wiretaps to be inadmissible. Then a Christian radical shoots the cleric dead outside the courthouse with the battle cry "Death to the enemies of Christ!" He then turns the gun on himself.
  • In The City Hunter, Lee Kyung Won is executed by the hero's Knight Templar father when it appears he is going to escape charges. Unfortunately for the City Hunter's public image, two cops are also killed in the process. Later, the death of Kim Shik-jong is assumed to be this same trope, though actually, it was only a case of Driven to Suicide.
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "Deathwalker", a female evil alien scientist war criminal who did experiments on prisoners walks out of her trial because she has found an immortality serum (extracted from dying sentient beings), and the judges decide that getting it is more important than punishing her. Then a spaceship flown by the mysterious and cryptic Vorlons appears out of the jump gate and blows her ship up because the younger races "are not ready for immortality".
    • In "Passing Through Gethsemane", as punishment for his crimes, a serial killer gets his personality erased and a new one installed in its place. The relatives of his victims refuse to see it as a fit punishment, even though the man who'd killed their loved ones is essentially dead, and track him down and murder him after their psychological abuse of the man brings back memories of his criminal past.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • Happens fairly often to human-form Cylon prisoners, although generally Cylons don't get a trial, and are murdered on the way to and from the specially-constructed holding cell. Notably, shortly after Boomer had shot Commander Adama and was being transferred, Cally pushed through the near-riotous crowd of crew and shot Boomer herself. The writers confirmed this was a reference to Lee Harvey Oswald. Cally got 6 weeks in the brig for "unauthorised discharge of a firearm".
    • In a similar vein, Lieutenant Gaeta stabbed the deposed president Gaius Baltar shortly before Baltar's trial for crimes against humanity. This is a subversion in that Baltar survives.
  • One episode of Nash Bridges had a gang of three get let off when a witness recants her testimony. Soon after, the witness and two of the gang members are killed by a vigilante, a juror in the trial whose wife was killed in a similar crime. The surviving gang member admits to bullying the witness and agrees to go to jail in return for protection from the vigilante (who's already been killed, a fact Nash neglects to share with the gang member).
  • The Breaking Bad episode "Half Measures" features Mike at one point tell Walt a story from when he used to be a cop. He came very close to executing an abusive husband by the side of the road. He eventually decided against it and threatened to kill him if he ever hit his wife again. Of course, the husband later killed his wife. It says something about the bleakness of the show when vigilante execution seems like it would have been the right thing to do in retrospect.
  • Almost happens in Moonlight in a flashback. A battered wife comes to Mick and tells him that she bought a gun to protect herself. Mick advises her to get rid of the weapon, as it's more likely that the husband would be able to grab the gun and shoot her with it. A few nights later, she is found dead from a gunshot wound. Enraged, Mick tracks down the husband and nearly rips his throat out, showing his Game Face. However, the cops arrive to arrest the guy before Mick is able to finish the job. Now, the husband claims to be have been wrongfully accused and is getting out of prison. The problem? He had many years to read up on his vampire lore and is about to "go Van Helsing" on Mick.
  • A memorable episode of Midsomer Murders had the murders committed by the village priest. When the victims were teens, they accidentally killed a little boy in a way that looked like he'd hanged himself, and the lack of closure caused the boy's mother to commit suicide. In the present day, the first victim gets wrongly diagnosed with cancer, and goes to confession. The priest didn't commit the murders out of conscience, though... the boy was his, resulting from an affair with the woman.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Villains", after Warren shoots Buffy and Tara, Dark Willow executes Warren in this way, first hunting down a fleeing Warren and effortlessly snapping his head off, then discovering it was a robot, then finding the real Warren and torturing him with the bullet Buffy was shot with, before death by Flaying Alive.
  • Happens at the end of the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Let Us Ask the Maiden". Knowing that the real killer will get off due to lack of evidence, one suspect shoots him in front of the police and allows himself to be arrested. He believes that his arrest (and probable execution) will free his fiancee to marry the man she truly loves.
  • Sisters: Teddy's daughter Cat is raped and beaten by a date she's rejected. During the trial, it comes out that Cat isn't his first victim. When he's acquitted, the girl in question shoots him.
  • In an episode of New York Undercover, a black man takes his sick daughter to a hospital and demands that she be treated by a white doctor, believing that black doctors are less competent. After some time, the white doctor comes out and tells him that his daughter is going to be fine. Sometime later, a black doctor comes out and informs him that she has died due to complications. The father is enraged, believing that it was the black doctor's fault. At the end of the episode, he is found having just murdered the black doctor with an injection and is informed that it was the white doctor's fault, who has a habit of prescribing potentially lethal doses of medication to his patients.
  • Daredevil (2015): Karen Page shoots James Wesley to death with his own gun when he tries to scare her into backing off of Wilson Fisk. Before firing, she heavily implies that she may have done something like this in the past:
    Karen Page: I don't know. [pulls back the hammer] Do you really think this is the first time I've shot someone?
  • In the Highlander: The Raven episode "So Shall Ye Reap", the head of the Government Conspiracy to unleash a Sterility Plague on the Third World to save on foreign aid budget gets acquitted, so the old friend of Amanda's who drove the investigation shoots him on the courthouse steps, before being gunned down by his bodyguards.
  • In Black Lightning, Gambi shoots Tobias's right-hand man for his role in distributing the new designer drug Green Light, which causes far too many people to OD. The titular superhero/vigilante's goal is to invoke this trope against Tobias for killing his father in front of him.
  • Comes up a couple of times in Flashpoint, with SRU usually being put in the position of trying to stop the would-be vigilante.
    • "Between Heartbeats": a previous subject's father plans to do this to Ed in retaliation for Ed having shot his father in the earlier incident.
    • "Clean Hands": A customs agent inserts herself into the case of the serial killer who murdered her sister in order to kill him. Donna ends up having to shoot her in order to stop her, much to her horror.
    • "Perfect Storm" involves a bullied teenager bringing a gun to school and going after the boys who bullied him. Subverted as it turns out he never planned to kill anyone, he just wanted to scare and humiliate them like they did to him.
    • "Acceptable Risk": A woman goes on a shooting spree against executives from a drug company after her husband died from the side effects of a medication they sold.
    • The most heartbreaking example comes in the final season premiere "Broken Peace". SRU is called into a situation where a woman's abusive ex-husband takes her hostage, only for the couple's teenage daughter (who had previously bonded with Parker and Ed) to show up and attempt to kill her father in order to protect her mother. Ed is forced to shoot the girl in order to stop her, which leaves him with severe trauma, ultimately leading to him having a mental breakdown in the series' penultimate episode.
  • Chicago PD's Hank Voight regularly threatens criminals and suspects with this in order to get information out of them, run them out of Chicago, or simply to show them how easy the justice system will be compared to what they'd have coming if he had his way. He actually sees it through when his son and his right-hand man are murdered.
  • The Boys (2019): In Season 3, the "hero" Blue Hawk manages to escape justice for going on a racist rampage at a Black community center (where he was supposed to give an Ordered Apology, no less) by blaming everything on Antifa, with Vought working to cover things up. A-Train, who wanted him to give the apology in the first place and whose brother Nathan was permanently crippled at said incident, kills him the next by dragging him along a highway using his Super Speed until Blue Hawk becomes red paste.
  • Accused: In "Kenny's Story" Kenny and his friends attack the man they believe violated his daughter. The plot shows why this is a very bad idea, however. The man was innocent, and Kenny's convicted of murder after he dies.
  • Accused (2023):
    • In "Kendall's Story", after his daughter is molested at the park, Kendall's friend Lamar convinces him to join Lamar and David in hunting down the pedophile and beating the shit out of him. After Lamar goes too far and the man dies the next morning, Kendall becomes an immediate suspect for this very reason. Lamar and David proceed to invoke this as Kendall's reason when they claim he was the sole perpetrator and they "tried stopping him".
    • In "Esme's Story" Esme ran down Ancel and Shaggy, two Neo-Nazi terrorists, on locating them with her car (just as the latter had to a friend of hers), killing them both.


    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dick Tracy in the 1960s had Moon Maid taking it upon herself to kill various street criminals and, in an extreme example of the strip's spiteful Later-Installment Weirdness attitude about contemporary reforms to due process, had Tracy and his fellows quietly approving of this vigilante murdering.

  • Parade: The musical adapts historical events: Leo Frank, a Jewish New Yorker living in The Deep South, was convicted of the rape and murder of one of his white employees, Mary Phagan. He was initially sentenced to death, but when it was changed to life imprisonment two years later, a group of armed men kidnapped him from prison and lynched him in Phagan's hometown of Marietta, Georgia. Although it's left unconfirmed in the show, general historian consensus is that Frank was innocent and Jim Conley (whose account of events had glaring discrepancies) was guilty. The real Frank was eventually posthumously pardoned in 1986, but not absolved of the crime.

    Video Games 
  • The first case of Aviary Attorney features a cruel subversion of Good Lawyers, Good Clients and a murderer walks. In one of the ending paths, Jayjay Falcon, the protagonist, loses all faith in justice and society and murders that person, going on to kill dozens of innocents while pursuing someone else.
  • In Condemned: Criminal Origins, SKX's MO, in a nutshell. He is exactly as inhumane as the killers themselves, to the point where he crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
  • One of the main overarching mysteries in The Great Ace Attorney is about the identity of a vigilante known as the Reaper of the Bailey performing such acts to guilty parties, usually corrupt members of high society, who walk free. At first, pretty much everyone is convinced that the culprit is prosecutor Barok van Zieks, as the defendants who are killed are almost always from trials he prosecuted, but he's never been formally charged since no evidence has ever been found to support this. However, as the story goes on it becomes increasingly clear this might not be the case and comes to a head in the final trial when it's revealed that the Reaper is not a single person but an organization led by London's Chief Justice that's been using van Zieks as a scapegoat for 10 years.
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, the various deaths of Teppei (Curse Killing, Atonement, and Exorcism arcs) and Rina (Atonement) are motivated by vigilantee action (either against some VERY nasty child abuse or a badger game). Given this series and the resident Hate Plague, this does NOT end well.
  • In the RuneScape quest "The Chosen Commander", a H.A.M. agent tries to kill the goblin children by selling the vendors poisoned food. He is arrested and brought to trial, and Zanik advocates the death penalty for him, but the treaty says they can't kill him. Zanik storms out, waits, and then shoots the agent in the back with her crossbow once he leaves the meeting room. Of course, she's Not Herself while she does this.
  • In Tales of Vesperia, two high-ranking nobles fall "victim" to this trope after kicking one too many dogs and getting away with it. One gets slashed across the chest and dumped into a river, while the other is led by sword point into a quicksand bog and buried alive. Main character Yuri Lowell is the vigilante behind both kills.
  • The first episode of the Telltale Games series Law And Order: Legacies has one — early in the "Order" segment, a Russian diplomat, whose claim of Diplomatic Impunity is still being determined, is gunned down in the courtroom by the father of the woman he raped and murdered, very narrowly missing Abbie Carmichael. The rest of the game is Michael Cutter's prosecution of the father.
  • Several Town roles from Town of Salem do this. The Vigilante can shoot three people during the night, but he'll commit suicide if he accidentally shoots another townie. The Jailer can put anyone in jail and can execute three jailed people. The Veteran can go on alert three times, shooting anyone (most likely the Mafia, but town investigative roles can also fall afoul of this) who visits him.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Upon learning that Lord Shojo had been faking senility and was ignoring the rules of the Paladin, Knight Templar Miko accuses him of treason, and, believing the Azure City justice system has been corrupted by him, personally kills him. As a result of her actions, she is stripped of her Paladin status.
    • In another strip, Vaarsuvius preemptively executes Kubota as he lays out his plan to get away with his crimes. However, V's interest is not in justice or revenge, only in removing a tedious distraction.

    Real Life 
  • Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination by Jack Ruby. Of course, there are still those who believe otherwise...
  • This sort of thing happens all the time in countries where war or internal strife leaves the general public vulnerable to violent crime. Some examples have begun to pop up in Mexico's ongoing war on the drug cartels.
  • Lynchings are basically vigilante executions carried out by an angry mob. Many lynchings are racially or ethnically motivated, such as the ones that happened in the US around the turn of the 20th century.
  • Such was the fate of several collaborators and Quislings after the end of World War II. Ironically, this didn't include the actual Vidkun Quisling, who was tried and executed.
  • Ossetian father Vitaly Kaloyev lost his wife (Svetlana) and children (Konstantin and Diana) in the in-air collision of Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937 and DHL Flight 611 over Überlingen, Germany on July 1, 2002. Vitaly held Peter Nielsen, the sole air traffic controller in Switzerland who was handling traffic the night of the collision, responsible (in reality, Peter was a victim of circumstances caused by maintenance shutting down phone lines and other resources, his coworkers leaving him to handle it alone despite the fact that this was illegal, important backup systems that would alert him of the problem being down for maintenance, and an Airbus taking up his time). In 2004, Kaloyev hired a Moscow private investigator to find Nielsen's address, traveled to the Swiss town of Kloten where Nielsen had peacefully retired, and stabbed him to death. He was imprisoned for two years, but was later called a hero in his hometown for the act while the Swiss government declared him Persona Non Grata. This was the basis for the Schwarzenegger movie Aftermath.
  • On 9 November 1933, Thomas H. Thurmond and John M. Holmes abducted 22-year-old Brooke Hart in San Jose and killed him by throwing him off a bridge. Both were soon arrested, and a rumour was spread that they would plead insanity, causing widespread anger. Throughout the day, the media reported that a lynching was going to take place. At midnight, the gathered mob did indeed drag the two out of their cells and hanged them in St. James Park on live radio.
  • The April 29, 1945 liberation of the Dachau concentration camp brings with it a few tales of American GIs, horrified at seeing the emaciated living and dead inmates, either participated in vigilante justice itself, summarily executing the remaining guards, or simply turned a blind eye when the inmates descended upon the guards themselves; some stories even claim that the GIs temporarily "misplaced" some weapons that the inmates made use of against their former guards.
  • It was how SS officer Oskar Dirlewanger has been rumored to have died: even though he was officially dead of "natural causes", his cellmate claimed to have seen Polish guards beating him to death.
  • On February 16, 1947, a black man named Willie Earle was arrested for the murder of white cab driver Thomas Brown in Greenville, South Carolina. That night, a mob of several dozen armed cab drivers stormed into the county jail, forced jail guards to hand over Earle, and then beat, shot, and stabbed him to death. The crime was so shocking that South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond, a notorious pro-segregationist, publicly condemned it and actively worked with the FBI to apprehend the killers. A total of 31 people were arrested and went to trial, but all of them were acquitted. The presiding judge in the trial, Robert Martin, was so outraged by the verdict that he angrily stormed out of the courthouse without thanking the jury for their service. The event inspired South Carolina to pass a new anti-lynching law in 1950 that made lynching a capital crime. Earle's case is believed to be the last lynching in the state of South Carolina.
  • Such is the fate of many rapists and child molesters who either escape legal justice or whom the victim's families and/or community find before the police do.
    • In 1984, Gary Plauche murdered 25-year-old karate instructor Jeff Doucet as he was being escorted through Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport by police officers. Doucet had been arrested in California for kidnapping and sexually assaulting Plauche's son Jody, and was being extradited back to Louisiana to by police to stand trial for his crimes. As Doucet was walking through the airport, Plauche shot him in the head and then surrendered to the police at the scene. The entire incident was recorded by television crews who were on hand to film the extradition, and was made famous by the line "Why Gary, Why?!", shouted by one of the officers who recognized Plauche. His 7-year prison sentence was suspended by the judge and Plauche only served 5 years probation and 300 hours of community service for the killing.
    • Ellie Nesler shot and killed her son's accused molester in the courtroom in 1993.
    • In 2005, a man named Michael Mullen shot and killed two convicted child molesters execution-style.
    • In 2012, Prell Gilton and Lupe Mercado found that their daughter Alicia had been forced into prostitution by her boyfriend Calvin Sneed. After the police failed to help them, the couple took revenge by tracking Sneed down and shooting him to death in his car.
    • In June of 2012, an unidentified father beat farmhand Jesus Mora Flores to death after finding out he molested his daughter.
    • When convicted Argentine child molester Marcelo Fabian Pecollo was able to continue working as a trumpet teacher as if nothing had happened after his release from prison in mid-2010's, the parents of his victims attacked him and beat him to death with his own trumpet.
    • Indian serial killer, rapist and gangster Akku Yadav was stoned, castrated and stabbed over 70 times by a lynch mob of mostly women while seeking police protection in a courthouse.
    • In June 2013, a Bolivian teenager named Santos Ramos raped and killed Leandra Arias Janco. The local community responded to the crime by getting together and burying him alive in his victim's grave.
  • One of the more infamous examples occurred in 1981, when the residents of Skidmore, Missouri, ganged up and murdered Ken McElroy, a local resident who had committed various crimes ranging from arson to attempted murder to statutory rape, but had evaded any legal punishment through intimidation. To this day, exactly who killed McElroy is unknown.
  • A gunman was killed by an Angry Mob with paving stones after he shot and killed someone at a party.
  • The case of Betty Frieberg, who was a longsuffering wife to an abusive husband. She endured all the physical abuse, sheriff would only jail her husband for a short time before he got out and went back to abusing her. Until he sexually abused her daughter. She shot her husband and carved up his body, until a piece of it was found. She refused any plea, explained that she felt she had no choice, and how the justice system failed her. The jury found her not guilty due to extenuating circumstances, and she was acquitted.
  • Vigilante groups seeking to hunt and entrap suspected paedophiles in Britain, usually via online stings in which the suspect believes he is talking to a child, have followed through with mob attacks on the suspects which are filmed and released online as "proof" of guilt. In at least one case they have targeted innocent people; and in several others the suspect who is publicly outed by them has committed suicide. Concern is growing at the techniques used by the vigilantes, who outright deny they have pushed socially inept and often mentally fragile people into suicidenote . Spokesmen for the vigilante groups veer between indignantly denying they are breaking the law themselves and applying mob justice, and if pushed, will admit they don't care as "he had it coming to him" and "Good, that's one less". Links between these vigilante groups and far-right groupings have also caused concern.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Vigilante Justice


Nino Brown

After getting off on a light sentence for his crimes, Nino takes the time to smugly gloat at Scotty and threatens to come for him once he gets out. An old man he threatened earlier makes sure he never makes good on his word.

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