At the annual meetings for Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper
Mills related the following true story from San Diego:
On March 23rd, 1994, the medical examiner in San Diego viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. The deceased 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, however, he was hit in the head by a shotgun blast through the window, which killed him instantly.
Neither the deceased nor the shooter was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect a window-washing crew, and that Opus would not have been successful in his suicide because of it. The fact that Opus was shot on the way to certain death would not ordinarily have changed the cause of death from suicide to homicide. But because the net was present, and would have prevented Opus' suicide attempt from being successful, the medical examiner felt he had a homicide on his hands, and an investigation was launched.
The room on the ninth floor from whence the shotgun blast originated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. At the time of Opus' suicide attempt, they were arguing, and the husband was threatening his wife with the shotgun. During the argument he pulled the trigger, missing his wife and discharging the weapon out of the window, striking Opus in the head.
Thus, the elderly man seemed guilty of murder, since by law, when a person intends to kill Subject A, but kills Subject B in the attempt, that person is guilty of murder. When confronted with the murder charge, both the elderly man and his wife insisted that neither knew the shotgun was loaded. Further, the old man said it was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun when they argued, and he had no intention of murdering her. Since the old man had not loaded the shotgun, the murder of Opus now appeared to be an accident. The investigation continued.
A witness was discovered who claimed to have seen the elderly couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. It was subsequently learned that the son's mother had cut off his financial support and the son, knowing it was his father's habit to threaten his mother with the shotgun, loaded it without their knowledge with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother, granting him his revenge.
Thus, the son was charged with the murder of Ronald Opus. Upon further investigation, however, it was discovered that the son one Ronald Opus had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder... so despondent that, on March 23, 1994, he jumped off the 10-story building where his parents lived, only to be killed by a shotgun blast to the head as he passed the ninth floor.
The medical examiner ruled the case a suicide.