Following the ‘Clues’ in a Homicide Investigation
Most of us know about being bored in lockdown. Clue (Cluedo in most other countries) was the product of a much earlier lockdown. As he was bored at home during World War II bombing raids, Anthony Pratt drew on Agatha Christie books and murder mystery party games to create Clue. With some variations, the game that was released in 1949 is the same game on store shelves today. In case you’re wondering, Cluedo is a combination of clue and ludo, which is Latin for “I play.”
Players examine clues to deduce who killed who where with what. Law enforcement investigators use basically the same approach to solve homicides and other violent crimes that no one witnessed. The investigation process often identifies a targeted suspect, a fact which a Tampa criminal defense lawyer can use in court. Furthermore, as outlined below, the process itself is deeply flawed. The combination of a pre-selected suspect and a flawed process often leads to inaccurate results.
The list of people with a motive is very long, which is usually why law enforcement investigators begin with this area. The list is so long because, in many cases, investigators confuse intense dislike with a motive for murder.
The 1990s O.J. Simpson “trial of the century” is a good example. Before the murders, Simpson’s ex-wife swore out a restraining order against him. Investigators assumed that since Simpson didn’t get along well with his ex-wife and was physically violent toward her, he had a motive to kill her.
That logical leap might work in civil court, where the burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). But the burden of proof is much higher in criminal court. Legally, jurors cannot connect the dots. Prosecutors must connect the dots for them.
It’s no coincidence that investigators focused on Simpson. Investigators usually assume that one spouse harmed another spouse. Truthfully, that’s a good place to start. However, investigators sometimes fixate on suspects, even if there’s little evidence connecting them with the crime. We’ve seen that pattern in some recent high-profile cases in Florida.
Investigators broadly interpret this prong as well. Opportunity usually means the suspect lived in the same area, like the same ZIP code, and knew the victim’s daily routine. Lots of people live in the same ZIP code. Furthermore, most people have very predictable daily schedules. They drop off the kids, go to work, pick up the kids, and go home. You don’t have to be a detective to figure that out.
In the final area, investigators usually try to match the cause of death with an item in the suspect’s possession. Sometimes, the match is straightforward (e.g. a .22 caliber bullet killed the victim and a laboratory matches that bullet with a bullet from the suspect’s gun).
Other times, the match isn’t straightforward. If blunt force trauma killed the victim and the suspect owned a set of golf clubs, that doesn’t mean the golf club was the murder weapon or that the suspect was strong enough to wield the club in such a way.
We should also take a moment to touch on “scientific” evidence in criminal cases. Ballistic and DNA evidence is usually solid. Other such proof, like tire tracks and blood samples, aren’t nearly as reliable.
Reach Out to a Hard-Working Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Pinellas County and nearby jurisdictions.