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 a window
"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."
If true, the jumper is guilty of attempted murder but
in the process he accidentally got himself killed.
It was definitely not death by suicide! Since he did
not die by suicide, even though it started out that
way. I think the medical examiner was stumped. I consider
it accidental death with extenuating circumstances.
and the image in Magnolia