Monday, August 04, 2008

Real Life Murder With a Twist

If you read this blog (and the authors here) I have to assume that you like a good mystery with a twist, so I'm going to share this story with you as yet another example of why you can't write real life into fiction - it's just too friggin' weird!

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 Ronald Opus, and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide.. He left a note to the effect indicating his despondency. 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 Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned. The room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously and he was threatening her with a shotgun! The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger, 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' in the attempt, 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 that they thought the shotgun was not loaded. The old man said it was a long-standing habit 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; that is, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw 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 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 didn't actually pull the trigger. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

Now comes the exquisite twist... Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, 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-story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window.

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

Jeez - and I'm supposed to write something that will hold your attention for 3 hours or more, when that's going on in real life. Right.

Deadly (and apparently dull) DeLeon

20 comments:

Wendy Roberts said...

Holy crap what a story!!! Let's face it, if we wrote it our editors would say it's too far fetched LOL!

Keri Ford said...

LOL! too wierd, but I guess that's karma for ya!

Tori Lennox said...

I read this story once before quite some time ago. And it's STILL freaky-weird. *g*

Jude said...

Take heart from the fact that this story is not true -- it was made up to illustrate a point. Don Harper Mills did tell the story at the meeting, but it was a fictional example to show how a few small facts can completely change the legal outcome.

Jana DeLeon said...

Wendy - you are SOOOOOO right, but how fascinating is real life?

Jana DeLeon said...

Keri - very good point - karma is definitely a bitch. And the guy had it coming, right?

Jana DeLeon said...

tori - freaky is a great word

terrio said...

True or not, that's just crazy.

Jana DeLeon said...

jude - bummer it's not true, but i had to wonder. Still, I LOVE the twists since I always try to put them in my own work and this is a very short story that illustrates a HUGE point.

Jana DeLeon said...

terrio - what a fun story, huh?

Suzan Harden said...

Actually, it's a criminal law exercise. For most crimes, there must be intent formed by the person plus his action causing the harm to equal a crime. I was totured with this one in law school.

And yes, all it takes is a slight tweak of the facts to change the legal ramifications.

MsHellion said...

This is probably the ONLY time I went, "The jumper is the son." before getting to the end of the story. I finally FIGURED OUT A TWIST.

Miracles do happen.

Gemma Halliday said...

I LOVE that story. Love it.

Jude said...

@Suzan

Mills did get tons of mail/calls/emails on it, including from law students, and from law professors who wanted to include it in their curriculum/text. But its origin is with Mill's speech.

Jana DeLeon said...

suzan - and i never imagined law school as being any fun! We didn't get to do anything like this in accounting.

Jana DeLeon said...

LOL mshellion!!!! Good for you!

Jana DeLeon said...

Thanks, Gemma!

Christie Craig said...

Jana,

I agree. Real life is so much more stranger than fiction.

Thanks for the chuckle.

Christie

Jana DeLeon said...

Hi Christie - glad you liked it!

Suzan Harden said...

Hey Jude!

(Sorry! Couldn't resist bad pun - LOL!) Seriously though, thanks for letting me know who to blame for the migraine.

Suzan