Thursday, April 9, 2009

World's Strangest Suicide

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic
Science, AAFS, President Dr. Ron 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 ashotgun 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 that 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 descendent
were aware that a safety net had been installed just
below at 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 hadplanned.
"Ordinarily," Dr. Mills continued, " a person who sets
out to commit suicide and ultimately succeeds, even
though the mechanism might not be what he intended, is
still defined as committing suicide."
Mr. Opus was shot on the way to certain death, but
probably would not have been successful because of the
safety net, 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 a 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 subjectB.
When confronted with the murder charge the old man and
his wife were both adamant. They both said they
thought the shotgun was unloaded. The old man said it
was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with
the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murderher.
Therefore the killing of Mr. Opus appeared to be an
accident; that is, the gun had be an accidentallyloaded.
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. 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 engineerhis 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 had actually murdered himself so the medical
examiner closed the case as a suicide.

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