Hypothetical murder/suicide conundrum

The story of Ronald Opus started out life as a hypothetical problem raised in a dinner speech at a meeting the American Academy of Forensic Sciences by its then-president President Don Harper Mills. However, the (amazing) resurfaced on the Internet seven years later as an urban legend, and became a particularly virulent example of the form. The Ronald Opus story is now a feature in some law-schools, in which students are asked to evaluate the culpability of the various parties. Below is the whole story, collected by Snopes from a 1996 email (split for length). I'd love to see your thoughts on liability and culpability in the comments.

For those of you who were unable to attend the awards dinner during the annual [American Academy of Forensic Sciences] meeting in San Diego, you missed a tall tale on complex forensics presented by AAFS President Don Harper Mills in his opening remarks. The following is a recount of Dr. Mills' story:

On March 23 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a gunshot wound of the head caused by a shotgun. Investigation to that point had revealed that the decedent had jumped from the top of a ten story building with the intent to commit suicide. (He left a note indicating his despondency.) As he passed the 9th floor on the way down, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, killing him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the 8th floor level to protect some window washers, and that the decedent would not have been able to complete his intent to commit suicide because of this.

Ordinarily, a person who starts into motion the events with a suicide intent ultimately commits suicide even though the mechanism might be not what he intended. That he was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not change his mode of death from suicide to homicide, but the fact that his suicide intent would not have been achieved under any circumstance caused the medical examiner to feel that he had homicide on his hands.

Further investigation led to the discovery that the room on the 9th floor from whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. He was threatening her with the shotgun because of an interspousal spat and became so upset that he could not hold the shotgun straight. Therefore, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife, and the pellets went through the window, striking the decedent.

When one intends to kill subject A, but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. The old man was confronted with this conclusion, but both he and his wife were adamant in stating that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. It was the longtime habit of the old man to threaten his wife with an unloaded shotgun. He had no intent to murder her; therefore, the killing of the decedent appeared then to be accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.

But further investigation turned up a witness that their son was seen loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal accident. That investigation showed that the mother (the old lady) had cut off her son's financial support, and her son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that the father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

Further investigation revealed that the son became increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to get his mother murdered. This led him to jump off the ten story building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a 9th story window.

The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

Did Ronald Opus jump off a building in 1994's most bizarre suicide


    1. Hah, I appreciate that all those incidents were urban legends :p

      Fake, but neat to see them actually portrayed.

  1. I’m no attorney, but I work for one and watch t.v.

    Consider the act in a different light. Simply because one has the intention of suicide does not immediately nullify anyone from committing crimes during same. He is alive and his life ended with the shotgun blast, suicide or no. This is the case of taking someone’s life without specific malice towards the victim, e.g. manslaughter.

    Ronald loaded the gun, but cannot be held liable, at least legally, for his own death. The father’s reckless use of a firearm places the liability square on him alone. Ignorance of the actual danger of a firearm is unreasonable, even if he was “convinced” it was not loaded. Regardless of his intent, the legal fact is that the father’s discharge of a firearm caused the death of an individual and he is liable for Ronald’s death. He is also further liable for assault with a deadly weapon towards his wife.

    Culpability, however, follows a more karmically balanced result. Ronald’s intention to end the life of his mother followed a path that resulted in his own demise. The one innocent party in the entire matter is the mother, who has not only lost a son, but will likely lose a husband (albeit an abusive one) to the prison system.

    1.  By loading the gun, the Son entered into a conspiracy to commit manslaughter of the wife.  In any conspiracy to commit a felony, if another felony occurs, culpability applies to all conspirators that knowingly agree.  The son cannot be posthumously charged (he can mount no defense).  The father is guilty of reckless endangerment of the wife, plus manslaughter of the son.  The father didn’t know he was conspiring to commit manslaughter, so is not guilty of conspiracy.  It could even be reasonably argued that the wife is guilty of conspiracy to commit manslaughter, since she knowingly, repeatedly participated in an act (arguing) that endangered the people around her without calling police (though this is blaming the victim and I don’t agree personally, I just see how it could be argued). 

      1. Wait. If the father “didn’t know he was conspiring” he wasn’t conspiring. Conspiracy is the crime of making a plan with others and taking any action  in furtherance thereof. It requires, by its terms, that the conspirators know that they are making a plan.

        I think the wife bears zero culpability.

    2. She loses the son who actively tried to get her killed and the husband who threatened her regularly with a lethal weapon….sounds like a WIN to me.

    3. Note: Nowhere in the story does it say that Ronald is the son. It fact it’s pretty clear that he’s *not* meant to be the son.

      Therefore the line “Ronald loaded the gun, but cannot be held liable, at least legally, for his own death” is invalid. The son could still be liable for Ronald’s death.

      I think that the most the son could be convicted with would be attempted murder (for the mother). He could not be charged with murder of the man because no murder was committed (see next).

      The father might possibly be convicted of manslaughter, but certainly not murder because murder requires intent. It is clear that there was no intent at any time to murder the man falling out of the window, therefore the man falling out of the window was not murdered.

      1.  Someone else already pointed out that in murder cases the intent to kill does not necessarily have to be directed at the person who actually is killed.  If you shoot at someone, miss, and end up killing someone else you don’t get downgraded to negligent homicide or manslaughter, it’s straight up homicide.

      2. Read that second to last paragraph again.  It implies that the son and Ronald are the same person.  (I suppose it could mean the son jumped off another building and was killed by another shotgun blast from another 9th story window, but come on)

  2. It seems pretty straightforward to me…it is manslaughter on the part of the shooter…loading a gun is not a criminal act so it does not matter why the gun was loaded…you fire a weapon and you are responsible for the result (loaded or not)…the fact that he missed his wife is irrelevant…the bullets are his…you also cannot predict the future so you can’t go around killing people who would die anyway…whether you rob the guy of 1 second or 20 years is irrelevant, it is not your decision to make…but there is no premeditation so it is manslaughter…

    1.  Loading a gun with the intent that whosoever then uses the gun might, through deliberate or negligent action or inaction, criminally commit murder or manslaughter, is aiding, abetting, commanding, counseling, inducing, or procuring a crime — as such, the son’s loading of the gun was in fact a criminal act.

      Otherwise – yes, negligent manslaughter.

      1. “Loading a gun is not a criminal act” is a silly thing to say.  Dropping a penny is not a criminal act but if I drop it onto the beginning of a complex Rube Goldberg machine that I know will kill someone at the other end then it is.

        Loading the gun attempted murder, the gun actually killing someone makes it first degree murder, regardless of who the gun kills, as long as the person who uses the gun does so under the belief that it is not loaded.

  3. That this ever gained currency as an urban legend says something depressing about some people’s bullshit detectors.

    1. Yeah, waving around an “obviously” empty gun is a little different than pointing it at someone and pressing the trigger.

      1.  There is no such thing as a safe firearm. Many venues treat a firearm in hand as declared intent to use the firearm.

  4. Seems pretty straightforward: The father is definitely guilty of brandishing a weapon with intent to harm, domestic abuse and reckless endangerment. The son (if he had survived) could probably be charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder, since he intentionally created a situation which he knew would cause another person to commit involuntary murder. 

    The only real questionable charge is the manslaughter charge on the father. He WAS firing a weapon, and the fact that he didn’t know it was loaded doesn’t count for anything. The fact that he hit a person who was committing suicide and literally dropped out of the sky before he could react should (in my opinion) mean a reduced sentence on an involuntary manslaughter charge…

    You could make a comparison to a speeding driver hitting a man who jumps off an overpass onto the highway: the driver was breaking the law, but not in a way which would have had deadly consequences except for the extraordinary and suicidal actions of the victim.

    1. It can’t be a conspiracy because there were not two people in on the plan. I don’t think it can be attempted murder either. I think that the simple act of loading a gun is legal, and so the intent in loading it may not be relevant.

      1. Well, you could make the case that he intentionally misinformed his father knowing the deception would lead to a lethal action. 

        As a similar but less drawn out example: Dave is an actor, about to do a scene where he shoots Charlie with a blank from a prop gun. Bob wants to kill Charlie, so he swaps the blanks in the gun for real bullets and hands it to Dave. Dave shoots Charlie with a gun they both think is loaded with blanks and kills him.

        Bob is clearly guilty of initiating Charlie’s murder: if not for his actions, the murder would not have occurred. Even though he did not himself commit it, he performed those actions with the knowing intent of causing a death. I don’t know the correct legal term for this, but I’m sure it’s come up at some point and been given a name.

        Plus, a “the act of loading a gun is legal” defense isn’t valid. Unscrewing a bolt is legal too, but if I do it on a bridge it’s destruction of property. If I do it on a scaffold and people die it’s manslaughter. The fact that an action was legal in itself doesn’t indemnify someone from the result if it was done with criminal intent.

        1. Similar example just sprung to mind: Chef poisons tea, unknowing waiter delivers it. The waiter isn’t guilty, the Chef is.

          1. In each case, none of the methods of murder are considered dangerous. Adding a bullet to a gun does not create the potential danger of a firearm, it is inherent in the weapon itself. One could argue that perhaps the father loaded it for a myriad of reasons and simply forgot. It is unreasonable to consider a firearm 100% safe at any point in time.

            A prop gun is considered safe, as is water at a restaurant. Waving a gun in someone’s face and being ignorant of it being loaded has not stopped many from being convicted of manslaughter, regardless of how the bullets ended up in the gun.

            Where it gets interesting is in cases like People v. Carmen and People v. Colantuono (California case law) where the Court found that reckless use, i.e. brandishing a weapon and threatening someone, even if the person believes it to be unloaded, is a form of battery and can potentially result in a second-degree murder charge. However, hitting someone who falls past the window is simply coincidence, but certainly makes the case stronger against the father, who will likely see jail time due to assault, battery and manslaughter.

          2. I’d expect that brandishing a gun at someone (unlike delivering tea) is likely to be reckless and/or criminal, even if both wielder and target expect that the gun is unloaded.  Especially if you go so far as to aim and pull the trigger.  Do something reckless and/or criminal and kill someone as a result, that’s manslaughter.  Whether conduct is reckless has to do with standards for safe conduct in general, it’s not a defense that the particular death caused was incredibly improbable.

          3. @ Travis, looks like bardfinn knew the term: Accessory. 

            The son is an accessory to the murder, because he took actions he knew would facilitate or encourage the murder, even though he did not himself commit it. 

            Also, unless his chargest were reduced because he was decieved and honestly thought the gun to be empty (if he did not own any bullets, for example, and could prove he never acquired any) the father would be charged with third or second degree murder, even though hitting the falling person was an accident. Since he was threatening/aiming at the wife when he fired the gun, whatever death results would be charged as if it was fired at his intended target.

        2. Well, foreseeability is an issue as well. I guess we’d need to know the details of how the father regularly menaced the mom. In some circumstances I would agree with your analysis. If he typically waved it around without touching the trigger, loading the gun would be less like the examples above. If he regularly pointed the gun and pulled the trigger, I agree with your analysis.

          1. Well, I’m working here from the assumption that the son was rational. It’s not a real case so we don’t have all the details, but we do know that an investigation found  “her son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation…”. That implies that the son knew the father would pull the trigger. Perhaps he was subjet to the same threats and knows exactly how his father behaved? We don’t know the details of the investigation, but we have to assume in this hypothetical that there was evidence to lead to that conclusion. If he knew the father never actually pulled the trigger, why bother loading the gun as a means to his ends?

        3.  The word you’re looking for is Accessory. These two — the father and son — would likely have been charged as joint principals under a common cause.

          1. Yep, that’s it! Thanks! 

            The son is an accessory to his own murder, as he loaded the gun his father used to shoot him, with the intent of having it discharged at his mother. 

            I’d say first degree murder, but the father wasn’t intending murder so it would probably be an accessory to third-degree murder voluntary manslaughter depending on the circumstances.

      2.  The intent of loading a gun doesn’t change the danger in using a weapon. Consider adding poison to a pitcher of tea that someone may drink weeks later. That is a viable intent as the person is creating a situation that causes danger that normally would be considered safe. Great points though, one must consider that he would have lived (due to the safety net) had the father not shot him, thus solidifying the manslaughter charge.

        1. Well . . . I don’t know any reason anyone would ever poison tea except to kill or do grievous harm. That is not the same as loading a gun.

          1.  They are similar here, in that the son’s loading of the gun and the chef’s poisoning of the tea were both performed with full knowledge that they would be used on or served to or administered to human beings.

          2. Leaving aside that the point of loading a gun is almost ALWAYS to “kill or do greivous harm”…

            My point is that he took what was essentially a safe prop (a gun that the father never loaded) and made it dangerous as a way to commit murder by proxy. Again, I don’t know what that crime is *called*, but it must be illegal. The father is really guilty of intent for the far less serious crimes of domestic abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, and he only accidentally discharged a firearm because of someone else’s deception.

      3.  The son likely could have been charged with conspiracy, for aiding, abetting, counseling, commanding, inducing, or procuring a crime.

        1. At least in the U.S. the son did not form a plan with anyone to kill anyone, so there could not legally be any conspiracy. Conspiring to induce a killing would require two parties to plan to do the inducement.

          1. You’re correct, the term he’s looking for is “Accessory”, not conspiracy. An accessory is someone who encourages, facilitates, or otherwise enables a crime without actually committing it or actually conspiring to do so.

          2.  He did, in fact, form a plan with someone to kill his mother; His father was not in fact forming the plan with him, except insofar as he should have understood that placing a finger on the trigger of a brandished weapon and pulling it is intent to discharge the weapon, loaded or not.
            To say otherwise is to lend credence to the argument that “It’s not my fault that the victim can’t dodge bullets / stood in the path of the bullet / walked in the path of the bullet.” It’s saying “It’s not my fault that, while I was using a firearm in a manner to convey the notion that it was loaded, that it was actually loaded.”

            It’s not sufficient to claim that “I didn’t know he was going to rob the grocery store when I drove him there, let him “run in for cigarettes”, and then drove him away afterwards.”

            If a conviction for accessory can be secured on those grounds, then it certainly can be secured on the grounds of being the gunman who believes he is [holding up a bank / threatening his wife] with an empty firearm that was, unbeknownst to him, loaded by another person with the intent that homicide or bodily harm be committed.

          3. @boingboing-b23975176653284f1f7356ba5539cfcb:disqus Setting a course of events in motion is different from forming a plan with someone. I take your point otherwise, but this conspiracy thing has to be disposed of. That’s one thing that is legally impossible here.

    2. The idea that the son is guilty only of conspiracy or of abetting a murder is absurd.  Suppose he did not attempt suicide and his father actually shot his mother dead?

      Obviously he would have committed first degree murder.  Suppose a many lit a candle under a rope that was holding up a guillotine, would you absolve him because lighting a candle in itself is not illegal?

  5. I would start with the shooter. His act is the act that caused a death and working backwards from his act will yield the only possibility of a criminal act. I think to really know the maximum possible charge, you’d have to know if it is a felony to menace someone with a firearm, even if it is believed to be unloaded. If it is, the old man intended to commit that felony and someone died during the course of the felony, so he may be a murderer. see 

    Absent a felony murder theory, the old man clearly lacked intent to kill anyone, so murder is off the table. Now it’s a matter of manslaughter or not. Since that is a sliding scale of culpability that has significant jurisdictional variations, I don’t see any point in getting into degrees of manslaughter.

    I think the son’s attempted suicide is a red herring. The father’s action was the proximate cause of his death and determining the culpability there is key. I also think that the son loading the shotgun is a red herring, since “I didn’t know it was loaded” is a pretty thin defense.

    I’m curious to see where others end up.

  6. The solution is obvious: Rube Goldberg did it!

    This is a good example to distinguish the legal sense of cause and effect from the scientific sense.

  7. My own personal reaction to this is that the son’s death wasn’t suicide, but it was involuntary manslaughter, and I would expect the father to, if not get off, at least get a somewhat minimal sentence.  And I would base that largely on the repeated experience argument – if this had been a single event then “I didn’t know it was loaded” would be a terrible defence.  But it wasn’t.  It was merely one  incident in a long string of otherwise identical incidents, which even the son was counting on.  (The fact that the father should probably have been prosecuted for threatening behaviour a long time ago is irrelevant, although I think he should have been.  And it’s entirely possible that he would end up with a longer punishment for that than for the shooting of his son, since the circumstances would become known; even if the wife didn’t previously want to press charges, it may be that he would be charged anyway.)

  8. Since attempting suicide is a crime then the old man just prevented a crime from being committed.

      1. Attempting suicide is often something that can be construed as criminal, if done in public, or if done negligently so as to waste emergency responder resources, or to damage the property or well-being of other human beings. Succeeding at suicide might somehow be on the books somewhere as a criminal act; I suspect that would be the case strictly for the purposes of determining fault in the death as impacts civil litigations impinging upon the status of the death. that there is no way for the case to be tried and thus it could never be enforced nor a disposition entered.


  9. Wow.  If Ronald Opus had lived, I would have charged him with the attempted murder of his mother. 
    I would charge the “old man” with involuntary manslaughter.  If you have a gun, you should check to see if it is unloaded before you handle it or loaded if you mean to actually shoot it.  The onus is on the gun owner to make sure it is safe before he fools around with it.  It’s kind of like drunk driving, you don’t mean to kill anyone but that can be the result when you are using a dangerous machine irresponsibly.  He easily could have killed his wife or a neighbor and did kill his son so I have to hold him responsible. 
    Shooting someone who is falling from the building is unlikely but seems immaterial given that his wife was there during the gun play.  He knew that there were people in the vicinity of his gun while he was fooling around with it.  I would say that even if there were no one in his near vicinity that he knew of, he still holds responsibilty for using the gun in a safe manner.  Same as I would with a drunk driver who drove down a street he thought was deserted and ended up hitting someone.
    Whether the son was attempting suicide does not make a difference. The person falling off the building could have accidently fallen.  Even a person attempting suicide can still be murdered if it happens before their suicide attempt.  You have to take into account the actions of the murderer.  In this particular case, there was no intent to kill so no murder but there was reckless endangerment resulting in death, hence involuntary manslaughter.  I think that still applies to a victim intending to commit suicide.

  10.   The (amazing) always resurfaces on the Internet seven years later, Cory.  In fact I calibrate my watch by the reappearance of the (amazing).  It’s like Hailey’s comet, you know?

  11. Obviously, no one is at fault but gravity. If it wasn’t for gravity, the son wouldn’t be falling when the father fired, meaning the shot would have missed and he would not hit the ground.

    1.  There’s still inertia to deal with. If there had been no gravity, the son could have shot himself from a clown cannon at the ground.

  12. Note: Please do not invite the moderator(s) to shut down discussions by asserting that a firearm is “safe” in any condition; Such assertions will invite, at the least, correction from commenters and at worst a flame war fueled by rhetorical thermite.

    I speak from experience.

  13. The son is definitely not guilty of conspiracy – because you have to conspire with someone else. 

    However, he may be guilty of attempted murder against his mother and his own murder.  When the son loaded the gun, he knew that his father would eventually pull the trigger while pointing at his mother.  That is clear intent to kill, which is one of the main requirements for first degree murder. 

    The issue to focus on here is causation.  When you pull a trigger on a loaded gun the causation is obvious. Here, loading the gun is similar to pulling the trigger because the son performed an act that he knew would lead to his mother’s death.  But causation isn’t clear, because the father had to pull the trigger.  It would be a question for a jury — whether loading the gun would have been the cause of death if the mother had been killed.  If so, the son is guilty of attempted murder of the mother.

    But note that if you have intent to murder and someone else is killed during the commission of the crime, the intent is transferred to that person and you are guilty of first degree murder of the person who actually died, regardless of whether you could foresee the accidental killing.  (Note that this is different than felony manslaughter which makes a criminal guilty of manslaughter if anyone is killed during the commission of any felony.) 

    The son had intent to kill the mother.  During the commission of that crime (assuming there is causation) the son was killed.  The son’s intent to kill the mother is transferred to himself and he is guilty of first degree murder of himself.  I’m not sure if that is technically a crime or just suicide.

    1. Actually, it seems he would be charged as an accessory to whatever type of murder the husband would be charged with if he had shot the wife. Reasoning?

      Accidentally killing the wrong person during an attempt at murder doesn’t reduce your charge. If he was threatening the wife when the gun went off, he’d be charged as if he’d hit her. The craziness of how the falling person got into the line of fire is irrelevant, it’s just as if he accidentally missed her and hit a bystander who was standing behind her.

      He would probably 2nd degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, since there was a history of abuse but he wasn’t actually planning to kill her so it wasn’t premeditated. 

      Accessory is the charge for someone who encourages, enables, or otherwise facilitates a murder without actually conspiring or participating in any way. The son is definitely responsible for enabling the murder through his intent and actions (loading the gun knowing how it was regularly used), so he is an accessory.

      1. I disagree with this. The father did not, in fact, kill the mother. He also lacked the intent to attempt to kill the mother. Thus, basing a charge against the dead son (which is not relevant anyway) on the putative crime of the father is a dead end (pun intended).

        The son’s potential crimes are moot, since he’s dead. Had the mother died and the son survived the entire discussion would be different.

    2. I would argue that the father is definitely culpable for conspiracy. By repeatedly performing a criminal action (brandishing / terrorising his wife with the shotgun), in a way that the son could know of the act and know that it would be repeated in the future, is essentially a form of speech. It is speech that serves to express the message that under conditions XYZ, the father will acquire, fail to check the chamber and/or magazine and/or safety switch(and/or turn off the safety) brandish, take aim, and pull the trigger of the shotgun.
      This is little different than a pair of stereotypical mobsters walking into a pizza joint, asking the proprietor to let him wet his beak, and making statements about how it would be a shame if the place burned down, and Goomba A: flicks on his lighter and tosses it to illustrate his point, while unbeknownst to Goomba A, incompetent Goomba B had begun dousing the place in kerosene, to make the point his own way, independently.
      Goomba B dies in the fire. Pizzeria owner and employees and customers escape unscathed physically.
       They still committed conspiracy to commit murder, by making it clear that the thing that actually occurred was an imminent and possible scenario upon the pizzeria owner, by independently conveying — in their own ways — that firey murder was going to happen. That their intended target of their terror was not the ultimate victim is beside the point.

      There is also a legal tenet in common law that the criminal must “take his victim as he finds him” or “eggshell skull” – which means something to the effect of the criminal cannot claim that he is not guilty of committing murder because he was ignorant that his victim had a fragile skull when he struck the victim in the head. Likewise, the father cannot claim that he would be innocent of conspiracy, when he repeatedly sent a message to his son that a gun would be brandished and triggered at his wife, and was ignorant that the son had placed the shell in the shotgun.

      1.  And a conviction on conspiracy does not require that all conspirators be found guilty or even tried for the crime in question. Our justice system offers plea bargains, witness immunity, and juries sometimes fail to convict on the crime in question. Conspiracy is a separate charge that can be indicted upon, tried, and convicted separately from the main charge.

      2.  So, there, the distilled question over conspiracy being indictable is:

        Father’s actions constituted a form of speech, to wit, “I’m going to shoot my wife”;
        Father’s repeated action under circumstances XYZ established a pattern of statements, that “When XYZ occurs, I’m going to shoot my wife.”;
        Father made said statements in the presence of those who were, or would become, capable of taking further actions to ensure conditions XYZ were met, by fulfilling Y (loading a shell into the chamber);
        Father’s statements, made in the presence of a society (of one) that had means, motive, and opportunity to fulfill conditions XYZ, constitute recruitment;
        Father’s criminal negligence made it likely that conditions XYZ would be met;
        Therefore Father would be qualified to be conspiring, by the fact that the Father had not merely talked about the homicide of his wife but had taken steps to prepare for the homicide of his wife, and advertised to potential co-conspirators that he was preparing for the homicide of his wife.

        For it to be conspiracy, there has to be someone with intent who approaches or advertises his/her intent to potential co-conspirators, who then undertake actions to forward the crime being conspired upon. Ignorance of whether the conspirators had or had not actually taken these actions, is immaterial; What is material is that the main conspirator had advertised his/her intent to potential co-conspirators who then also took action. The pivot point from free speech to conspiracy occurs not when the advertisement occurs, but when the co-conspirators take action; By advertising, the main conspirator has relinquished control of the crime to those advertised to.

        1.  And, of course, it doesn’t matter who ultimately is shot and killed as fruit of the conspiracy; if you intend to shoot the Wife but shoot the Son instead, who dies from his injuries, it’s still murder, and still conspiracy to commit murder.

  14.  Here’s another interesting point. The mother stated that at no point did she know that the gun was loaded. If so, then all potential charges of assault could be thrown out, along with anything upgrading the crime beyond manslaughter.

    There are also key components missing in the examination. Was the gun intended to be pointed at the wife? If they are both aware the gun is unloaded, why did he pull the trigger? Did the wife physically move the gun when it went off? What evidence shows that the son became more despondent over the failure of his murder plot / what does the evidence regarding the murder plot outline?

    All of these variables could change the case from one of second degree murder to an easily dismissible accident.

    Or at the very least cause someone to spend far too much time on their workday poring over the potential legal issues of a case that doesn’t exist, resulting in charges of first-degree procrastination, distraction and sentencing to one hour of berating by an actual attorney, aka Big Boss Man.

  15. Subsequent investigation revealed that the witness to the son’s loading of the father’s shotgun was a beneficiary of the mother’s life insurance policy.

  16. So, without reading the comments, and not knowing much about killin’ law, here’s my take:

    It can’t possibly be ruled a suicide, because the suicide was not successful: Ronald threw himself off a building. If he landed and died, it would have been suicide regardless of whether he hit every pigeon and window ledge on the way down, or if someone had hit him with a paper airplane or a bullet. The fact that he did not land and die means it can’t be suicide (only attempted suicide).

    Even if Ronald had been killed because of something he did unintentionally, like set up an automatic gun to shoot intruders, which then gets him killed, can’t be suicide — at least it’s a tragic accident, passing through tragicomic, and at most it’s a Darwin Award. Suicide has to be intentional, and you can’t rule it a suicide just because he happened to have loaded a gun which subsequently and unintentionally ended up killing him.

    His dad ended up killing him because he didn’t notice his shotgun was loaded. That’s at least involuntary manslaughter (death caused by unintentional but criminally neglectful behavior) for the father, so he gets to go to jail.

    The son can’t be convicted after he’s dead. So that’s that.

  17. This story was played out in one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Homicide: Life on the Street. 


  18. If this story had not been posted none of us would know anything about this,
    so. . .
    clearly Cory, this is all your fault.

  19. How can we sure that Ron didn’t know about the safety net?
    Maybe he was trying to fake an attempt to suicide just to move his mother in supporting him again

  20. They are all guilty of felony murder.  The medical examiner is guilty of negligence.  The window washers failed to provide notice of the net to residents and may be liable under city or county construction codes and/or OSHA regulations.

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