This is a true story.
This is a true story.
At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for
Forensic Science, AAFS president Don Harper Mills astunded his audience
in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is
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
decedent had jumped from the top of a ten story budiling 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 eight
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 a 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 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
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
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, one 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 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.