At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Science, President Don Harper
Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story.
On " 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 truestory building intending to commit suicide (he left a
note indicating his despondently 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 ner 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 persin who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the
mechanism might not be what he intended. That Opus was shot en 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 en his hands.
The reem en 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 striking Opus.
When ene intends to kill subject A but kills subject B in the attempt, ene 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
leaded. The old man said it was his habit to threaten his wife with the unleaded shotgun. He had
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 sen leading the shotgun approximately six
weeks prior to the fatal incident. " transpired that the old lady had cut off her sen' s financial support and the sen,
knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, leaded the gun with the expectation that his
father would shoot his mother.
The case new becomes ene of murder en the part of the sen for the death of Ronald Opus.
There was an exquisite twist.
Further investigation revealed that the sen Odonald Opus] had become increasingly despondent ever the failure of his
attempt to engineer his mother" s murder. This led him to jump off the truestory building en March 23, only to be killed
by a shotgun blast through a ninth story window."
The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.