Sunday, April 6, 2014

Physician, heal thyself. So... murderer, kill thyself?

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic Science, AAFS President Dr Don Harper Mills astounded his audience with the legal complications of a bizarre death.  

Here is the story:

On March 23, 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of one  Ronald Opus, and concluded that the deceased died from a shotgun wound to the head. Mr Opus had jumped from the top of a ten-floor building intending to commit suicide.

He left a note to that effect indicating his despondency. As narrated by Dr Mills, something strange happened after Mr Opus had jumped. As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast passing through a window, which killed him instantly.

Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been installed just below the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and that Mr Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.

An elderly man and his wife occupied the room on the ninth floor where the shotgun blast emanated. They had been arguing vigorously and the old man had been threatening the old woman with a shotgun. The man was so upset that he pulled the trigger! But he completely missed his wife, and the pellets went through the window, striking Mr Opus.

When one intends to kill subject 'A', but kills subject 'B' instead, one is guilty of the murder of subject 'B'.

When confronted with the murder charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant, and both said they thought the shotgun had not been loaded. The old man said it was a long-standing habit of his to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her; therefore, the killing of Mr Opus appeared to be an accident, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who had seen the old couple's son loading the shotgun about six weeks prior to the fatal accident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support, and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with pellets -- with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother.

Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder even though he did not actually pull the trigger. The case now became one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Mr Ronald Opus.

Now here comes the exquisite twist...

Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Mr Ronald Opus.

He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the ten-floor building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth-floor window. 

The son, Mr Ronald Opus, had actually murdered himself. The medical examiner then closed the case -- as a suicide.

A true story from the Associated Press.

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