Suicide, Accident or Homicide?
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On March 23 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and
concluded that he died from a gunshot wound of the head caused by a
shotgun. Investigation to that point had revealed that the decedent
had jumped from the top of a ten story building with the intent to
commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he
passed the 9th floor on the way down, his life was interrupted by a
shotgun blast through a window, killing him instantly. Neither the
shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected
at the 8th floor level to protect some window washers and that the
decedent would not have been able to complete his intent to commit
suicide because of this.
Ordinarily, a person who starts into motion the events with a suicide
intent ultimately commits suicide even though the mechanism might be
not what he intended. That he was shot on the way to certain death
nine stories below probably would not change his mode of death from
suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicide intent would not
have been achieved under any circumstance caused the medical examiner
to feel that he had homicide on his hands.
Further investigation led to the discovery that the room on the 9th
floor from whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an
elderly man and his wife. He was threatening her with the shotgun
because of an interspousal spat and became so upset that he could not
hold the shotgun straight. Therefore, when he pulled the trigger, he
completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window
striking the decedent.
When one intends to kill subject A, but kills subject B in the
attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. The old man was
confronted with this conclusion, but both he and his wife were adamant
in stating that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. It was the
longtime habit of the old man to threaten his wife with an unloaded
shotgun. He had no intent to murder her; therefore, the killing of the
decedent appeared then to be accident. That is, the gun had been
But *further* investigation turned up a witness that their son was
seen loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal
accident. That investigation showed that the mother (the old lady) had
cut off her son's financial support and her son, knowing the
propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the
gun with the expectation that the father would shoot his mother. The
case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of
Further investigation revealed that the son became increasingly
despondent over the failure of his attempt to get his mother
murdered. This led him to jump off the ten story building on March 23,
only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a 9th story window.
The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.