A qualitative methodology based on the standards of criminal defense investigation was used to analyze the social and family histories of 16 men sentenced to death in California. Using a multisource cross-validation methodology, we assessed patterns of impairment, injury and deficit at each of four ecological levels: family, individual, community and social institutions. Investigation documented consistent and pervasive patterns of serious impairment, injury and deficit across the cases and levels. The men share numerous risk factors and few resiliency factors associated with violence. We found family violence in all 16 cases, including severe physical and/or sexual abuse in 14 cases; individual impairments in 16, including 14 with post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 with severe depression and 12 with histories of traumatic brain injury; community isolation and violence in 12; and institutional failure in 15, including 13 cases of severe physical and/or sexual abuse while in foster care or under state youth authority jurisdiction. Appropriate interventions might have made a difference in reducing lethal violence and its precursor conditions.