Friday, 3 March 2017
Criminal responsibility or liability?
On March 23, 1994 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus
and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head.
Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to
commit suicide. He left a note to the effect indicating his despondency.
As he fell past the ninth floor his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast
passing through a window, which killed him instantly.
Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been
installed just below the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and
that Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way
he had planned.
"Ordinarily," Dr Mills continued, "A person, who sets out to commit suicide
and ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he
intended, is still defined as committing suicide."
That Mr. Opus was shot on the way to certain death, but probably would not
have been successful because of the safety net, caused the medical examiner
to feel that he had a homicide on his hands.
In the room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was
occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously and he
was threatening her with a shotgun.
The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger he completely missed
his wife and the pellets went through the window striking Mr. 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 the murder charge the old man and his wife were both
adamant and both said that they thought the shotgun was unloaded.
The old man said it was a long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the
unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her. Therefore the killing of
Mr. Opus appeared to be an accident; that is, if the gun had been
The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son
loading the shotgun about six weeks prior to the fatal accident.
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.
Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder
even though he didn't actually pull the trigger.
The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of
Now comes the exquisite twist.
Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Ronald Opus.
He 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 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth
The son had actually murdered himself, so the medical examiner closed the
case as a suicide.
A true story from Associated Press, Reported by Kurt Westervelt
Brilliant - facts are sometimes stranger than fiction !