The bizarre case of the death of Ronald Opus

This story has been circulating the web for years with back and forth debate as to whether or not it is a true story. I don't think it really matters, because the principles of the case are true. So, even if it didn't happen, it could have, and we all know that there are plenty of bizarre death stories that are indeed true. I post it here today for it's entrainment value because it's a cool story, and to show the twists and turns a homicide investigation can actually take.

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.

Now 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 that 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 decedent was aware
that a safety net had been installed just below
at 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.

An elderly man and his wife occupied the room on the ninth floor,
whence the shotgun blast emanated from.
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.
They both said they thought the shotgun was unloaded.
The old man said it was his 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, 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 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

So 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

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

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