All in the Family featured the curmudgeonly Archie Bunker. Archie was television’s most famous grouch, blunt, blustering, straightforward and untouched by the PC crowd. He was the archetype of the conservative male. Michael desprately tried to reeducate him, but he persisted in his breviloquence.

Looking back at the last 40 years, we realize: ARCHIE WAS RIGHT!


Forensic Science

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic Science, AAFS President Dr. Don Harper Mills astounded his audience with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story:

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, "someone 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.

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 not loaded. 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, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded.

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. 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 Ronald Opus.

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-story window. The son had actually murdered himself, so the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

This hypothetical story was presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1987 by Don Harper Mills.


  1. Susan8:16 AM

    I love it!! I have such a fondness for watching forensic TV shows, Agatha Christie and Perry Mason. It fascinates me watching the experts and detectives slowly unwinding the knot that has been placed before them.

  2. Giraffe10:52 AM

    That made me want to shoot myself.

  3. That made me want to shoot myself.

    Why, are you expecting a big inheritance?

  4. WaterBoy3:43 PM

    It's funny, in a convoluted way. But it's got too many flaws to make either a legal or logical case for suicide.

  5. Giraffe9:15 AM

    No. More reason to shoot myself.

  6. Susan9:17 AM

    I didn't think so. I mean, for what other reason would he be up on the roof?

    Comes a time in an investigation where the investigator has enough evidence to speculate in order to fill out the rest of the picture. That is where the "what if" game comes into play and you try out various scenarios that might fit the evidence.
    For instance, the son might have become despondent over owing a large debt such as gambling or maybe he was losing his own home. Being hounded like that could make a guy depressed and desperate.

    I think in a proper investigation, a little speculation has its place, as long as you always keep in mind the big picture. And there are always going to be unknown factors lurking in the shadows that an investigation might never find except for dumb luck.

  7. WaterBoy3:03 PM

    I meant the coroner's conclusion of suicide, based solely on the fact that the son loaded the gun with live ammunition.

    From a logical standpoint, it does not follow because:
    1) He did not pull the trigger himself.
    2) He did not devise a situation wherein he knew it would result in his death by gunshot.
    3) Therefore, he was no more complicit in his own gunshot death than he would have been had he been walking on a sidewalk after swallowing a bottle of poison and gotten killed in a drive-by shooting. The jump and the safety net do not enter in to the determination at all¹.

    From a legal standpoint, it does not follow because:
    1) The coronor cannot reach a conclusion of Murder²; that is a legal charge that a DA/grand jury must determine. All a coroner can determine is the cause of death, whether it be homicide, suicide, or accidental (also natural, which obviously does not fit here). Under these conditions, it best fits the category of accidental. However, the coroner could also rule it as homicide, allowing the DA to go for a case of negligent homicide or manslaughter, for example.
    2) Both the parents stated that the shooting was not intentional; therefore it could not be Murder.
    3) Since the son loaded the shotgun with live ammo with the intent that his father would kill his mother, this would have made him an accessory to that crime (which was never committed).
    4) Under two different legal principles, he could not be guilty of Murder:
    a) No murder was committed.
    b) Accessorius sequitur: One who is an accessory to the crime cannot be guilty of a more serious crime than the principal offender. Since the father did not commit Murder as the principal, neither could the son as an accessory.
    5) Since the son did not murder himself, the finding of suicide based on that determination is invalid.

    ¹ A similar scenario arises whereby a man jumps from a bridge intending to be killed when he hits the water below. If he does, it's suicide. If a boat passing underneath at the time intercepts his path and the man hits the boat instead of the water but is still killed, it's also suicide. But if the man hits the water and lives, then is run over by the boat and killed; accidental death, not a suicide.

    ²In the same way, a coroner cannot make a determination of justification in a case of lethal self-defense; all he can do is call it a homicide and let the DA/grand jury determine if it was justified or not.

  8. WaterBoy3:57 PM

    Speaking of coroners and guns...can you think of any good reason why a coroner would need an M-16?

    On the one hand, I have nothing against a citizen -- even one employed as a public servant -- possessing one. Especially since this program can save taxpayers money in the long run.

    On the other hand, doesn't this program just encourage all government agencies with arrest powers to overmilitarize themselves? At least now we know another reason every Tom, Dick, and Harry Public Employee are armed for war....

    Because they can.

  9. I was expecting a bad punch line that never came. I'm disappointed. You've set a standard, Res, and failed to live up to it.

    I'm trying to come up with a bad pun that includes the word 'opus' or some derivitave thereof, but have come ion with zilch.

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