“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
In 1994, at the annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Science, their then president, Don Harper Mills, astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death.
Needless to say it featured an idiot, in fact several idiots, which is why it is being recounted on the fasab blog.
This is the unlikely story.
On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head.
The deceased had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide. He had left behind a note indicating his depression.
As he fell past the ninth floor, his attempt to kill himself was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly.
Neither the shooter nor the jumper were aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide because of this.
Ordinarily, if a person sets out with the intention of killing himself and ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he originally intended, the death would be deemed a suicide.
Thus, in normal circumstances, the fact that Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide.
However, in this case, the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been successful, because of the safety nets, caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands.
The room on the ninth floor where the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by and elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was threatening her with the shotgun. But he was so upset that when he pulled trigger he completely missed his wife and the shotgun pellets went through window striking Opus as he fell and killing him.
The Coroner held that, “When one intends to kill subject A, but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B.”
However, when confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded.
The old man said it was his long standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her – therefore, the killing of Opus appeared to be an accident in that the gun had been accidentally loaded by someone else.
The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple’s son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. 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.
The case now became one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.
But even that would not be enough to feature in this blog.
Further investigation revealed that the son, was none other than one Ronald Opus, who had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother’s murder.
This had led him to jump off the ten story building on March 23, only to be killed by a blast from the shotgun he had loaded himself some six weeks previously as he fell past the ninth story window of his parents’ apartment.
The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.