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bizarre-case
1994's MOST BIZARRE SUICIDE

 At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for
 Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his audience
 in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the
 story.

 "On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and
 concluded that he died from a shotgun wound of the head. The decedent had
 jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide
 (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he fell past the ninth
 floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which
 killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was 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 anyway because of this."

 "Ordinarily," Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit
 suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what
 he intended. 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. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been
 successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had homicide on his
 hands. "The room on the ninth floor whence the shotgun blast emanated was
 occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was
 threatening her with the shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled the
 trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the
 window striking 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 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. That is,
 the gun had been accidentally loaded.

 "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 becomes one of murder on the part of
 the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

 There was an exquisite twist. "Further investigation revealed that the son
 [Ronald Opus] 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 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast
 through a ninth story window.

 "The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide."