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.
"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." That 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 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 unloaded. 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, if
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 had actually murdered
himself so the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.