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Procrastinista
04-10-2013, 06:59 AM
Is there a court case if an accused murderer dies? I was thinking no, because there's no one to put behind bars,
but then I realized the victim's family would want that kind of resolution. If the accused person isn't "proven" to be the murderer in a court of law, then the real murderer might still be out there, right?

MaryMumsy
04-10-2013, 09:28 AM
MarkEsq is the one who would know, at least in Texas. But I don't think there would be court proceedings. You can't very well try a person who isn't there to defend their self. It would probably go in the cold case file, in case something else came up at a later date.

MM

Liralen
04-10-2013, 09:35 AM
There's actually a good article re proceeding in absentia that's about as on point as you're going to find readily, on Wikipedia, with good reference cites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_absentia

It might be interesting, if the defendant died during the trial, to explore whether or not the trial could or should continue, especially regarding the feelings of the victim's family.

heyjude
04-10-2013, 02:45 PM
This is a good question for Story Research and Experts. Let's head there now! :)

shaldna
04-10-2013, 03:35 PM
Is there a court case if an accused murderer dies? I was thinking no, because there's no one to put behind bars,
but then I realized the victim's family would want that kind of resolution. If the accused person isn't "proven" to be the murderer in a court of law, then the real murderer might still be out there, right?


AFAIK in the UK there will still be an inquest into it, after all, someone has to be responsbile, and just because the accused is dead, that still doesn't mean they did it - and if they didn't then they deserve the right to have their name cleared, even if they are dead. And if it's found that they did, then the victims family deserves to know the truth.

jclarkdawe
04-10-2013, 03:47 PM
Case is closed immediately upon the death of the defendant. He or she needs to be available to defend themselves under the US and most state Constitutions. Even if the jury convicts, if there is an appeal filed before the defendant's death then the jury's verdict disappears.

In absentia refers to when the defendant has voluntarily refused to participate in the court's proceedings. It is not commonly done and requires very specific circumstances for it to apply.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

WeaselFire
04-10-2013, 04:57 PM
Is there a court case if an accused murderer dies?
No prosecutor would waste time or funds on it. Provided no evidence pointing to other possibilities exist, the case would normally go dormant and likely be closed.

This all assumes that the murderer has been charged (accused) already. If not, it may drop into cold case status if there are no other suspects. End result is the same, nobody will waste time on it. You can't bring a dead man to trial.

Jeff

benbenberi
04-10-2013, 05:25 PM
The case against the defendant dies with the defendant. If the prosecutors and police are reasonably certain the person accused was actually guilty, the official investigation would be closed too. There's nothing stopping the family or other unofficial party from continuing their own investigation if they're not satisfied with the outcome, of course, and if significant new evidence against a non-dead person turns up it's possible the case could be reopened.

Procrastinista
04-10-2013, 05:27 PM
Sorry, I should have been more clear. I'm wondering about a situation where the assumed murderer is found dead at the scene of the crime. For example, suppose that the assumed murderer has been framed (well). From earlier posts, it sounds like the case would go dormant and likely be closed. For a high-profile case, I'm guessing the police might look into things a bit longer, just to make sure they've fingered the right person, but if the evidence stacks up against the assumed murderer the case would be closed (without a court case), maybe within a couple of months, maybe sooner. Yes?

DeleyanLee
04-10-2013, 05:45 PM
Seems to me that the first rule of business would be to determine if it was a double/multiple murder (with your assumed murderer as a victim) or if it was a murder/suicide. If it's determined to be murder/suicide, then I think the case would be closed. If there's something that niggles a detective into thinking that it's not, then you might have something to go on.

Procrastinista
04-10-2013, 05:52 PM
Seems to me that the first rule of business would be to determine if it was a double/multiple murder (with your assumed murderer as a victim) or if it was a murder/suicide. If it's determined to be murder/suicide, then I think the case would be closed. If there's something that niggles a detective into thinking that it's not, then you might have something to go on.

Yes, it was a multiple murder with the assumed murderer as a victim. (Simultaneous gunshots were fired.) The assumed murderer is actually assumed to be a serial killer. My hope is that the case would in fact be closed within a couple of months, thus, creating the opportunity for my main character to step in and prove someone else is in fact the serial killer.

Weirdmage
04-10-2013, 05:59 PM
Sorry, I should have been more clear. I'm wondering about a situation where the assumed murderer is found dead at the scene of the crime. For example, suppose that the assumed murderer has been framed (well). From earlier posts, it sounds like the case would go dormant and likely be closed. For a high-profile case, I'm guessing the police might look into things a bit longer, just to make sure they've fingered the right person, but if the evidence stacks up against the assumed murderer the case would be closed (without a court case), maybe within a couple of months, maybe sooner. Yes?

When the assumed murderer is found dead at the scene, it's usually labelled "Murder/Suicide" (although not sure that is the way you write that) if it's thought he/she jilled himself. Or in some cases the presumed killer will have been killed by law enforcement. In rarer cases, it's presumed there's been a fight, in those case I've rarely seen any mention of who was the aggresive part, and I guess it would be very hard to prove.
I have not seen, or heard of, any such case that has been taken further, and those are situations/cases that are usually reported on in the press. That goes for cases all over the world BTW. If the presumed murderer is found dead at the scene, I've seen that there in some cases is an investigation to make certain there was no one else involved.

I'm not sure how you would go about framing someone for a murder in that way, there would have to be absolutely no evidence that there was someone else at the scene. With modern DNA methods that is almost impossible to hide, and there could be witnesses not seen by the real killer at the time. In the few cases where I have seen any detail, there has been forensic evidence that the dead person either killed himself, or died of injuries sustained in the course of doing the murder(s) after they were done.
Generally, either someone is classified as a victim, or the dead perpetrator.

I see you have gotten an answer, and replied, while I was writing this. -I don't think there would be an official investigation, so the one investigating something like this would either be a (paid) private detective, or someone from law enforcement working on the case in their spare time.

Myrealana
04-10-2013, 06:02 PM
Yes, it was a multiple murder with the assumed murderer as a victim. (Simultaneous gunshots were fired.) The assumed murderer is actually assumed to be a serial killer. My hope is that the case would in fact be closed within a couple of months, thus, creating the opportunity for my main character to step in and prove someone else is in fact the serial killer.
That sounds like a likely scenario to me.

Of course, all of my extensive legal knowledge comes from Law & Order, so...

King Neptune
04-10-2013, 06:17 PM
The victim's family could sue for wrongful death against the estate of the deceased. I believe that this has been done, but I don't know what the results have been.

benbenberi
04-10-2013, 07:38 PM
Depending on how complex the scene and situation are, and how high-profile the incident, the police investigation might wrap up quickly or continue for an extended period, to make sure all the loose ends are tied and nothing was overlooked or ignored even if there's no question who the killer was. If there's a lot of forensic evidence to process, it could take months just to get all the lab results (contrary to what TV procedurals tell us). Frex, the Newtown massacre investigation is still very active going on 4 months later, even though no one doubts what happened or who did it.

Assuming a simple crime scene and no major unanswered questions, a couple of months certainly sounds like a plausible timeframe to close it, & they may even wrap it up faster if they can. But if this crime is linked to others (your serial killer scenario), that may be a complicating factor: more pressure to make sure they've got it right, but also more pressure to declare victory and close the book.

MarkEsq
04-10-2013, 07:50 PM
Yes, it was a multiple murder with the assumed murderer as a victim. (Simultaneous gunshots were fired.) The assumed murderer is actually assumed to be a serial killer. My hope is that the case would in fact be closed within a couple of months, thus, creating the opportunity for my main character to step in and prove someone else is in fact the serial killer.

Yep, sounds like you have it right. Good luck!

Dave Hardy
04-10-2013, 07:55 PM
An example (for US law) might be the Anthrax Poisoning, which a lot folks no doubt remember. The FBI announced they believed their main suspect was the person responsible. The suspect was also dead. That's the FBI's opinion, not any kind of court finding, but it was pretty important in terms of taking a public position on a major case that hit the country while still in the throes of shock from 9/11.

AFAIK, police investigators can re-visit any investigation at any time, closed or not. Or they can decline to. If there's an investigator on this board, feel free to contradict me, but I'd assume any number of variables might come into play, public scrutiny, work load, interest by politicians or victims' advocates, new evidence (a biggie I'd think), the results of appeals, an investigator's own discretion, etc.

I once met a NYPD cop who worked cold cases, including some that were pretty well in permafrost. He said at one point the cold case squad looked into some evidence relating to the Judge Crater disappearance, which had gone cold about seventy years before.

melindamusil
04-10-2013, 10:28 PM
Depending on how complex the scene and situation are, and how high-profile the incident...


After the Connecticut school shooting, I read an interview with a detective who basically said what has been said above - that when the shooter has been killed/committed suicide, there is very little reason to continue the investigation, beyond ensuring that there was no one else involved. However in a case like the Connecticut shooting which is especially shocking and high profile, there is often pressure on the PD to explain "why" this happened. (i.e. what went wrong in this person's life to cause him to snap, and how can we prevent it from happening again.) Cases where the accused is dead but the investigation continues are exceptions.

In cases where the accused is dead, the case is only continued long enough to tie up the loose ends. (i.e. if the person was killed by a police officer or in self defense, that it was a good shot; if it was a murder suicide, that there's no one else involved.) So your scenario sounds legitimate to me!

Buffysquirrel
04-10-2013, 10:54 PM
AFAIK in the UK there will still be an inquest into it, after all, someone has to be responsbile

One thing inquests are not allowed to do is blame anyone for a death. In fact, for a while in NI it was even ruled that the coroner couldn't bring in a verdict of suicide, as that was 'blaming' the suicide. Pretty sure that must have been overturned, though.

ironmikezero
04-11-2013, 12:16 AM
There is an important distinction between the death of a suspect and that of a defendant. A suspect may not yet be arrested, whereas a defendant has been brought before a court of record (arrested, surrendered, or appeared pursuant to another variety of court order - summons, subpoena, etc.), and jeopardy has attached (been formally charged/arraigned).

Re: the deceased suspect... The option to keep an investigation open/pending prior to an arrest lies with the agency with primary investigative jurisdiction. That decision is typically based upon evidence garnered to date, the propensity for the discovery of additional evidence (that may lead to, or clear, others of possible involvement), the availability of appropriate resources, and the public relations impact of the case (don't underestimate this concern).

Re: the deceased defendant... The option to proceed typically lies with the prosecutor, assuming the court rules so allow (the court can usually dismiss the case, but typically does so in response to an appropriate motion). Proceeding in absentia is rare and is usually under circumstances as Jim has described above.

There is no statute of limitations on murder; so, a homicide case can stay open indefinitely.

It would seem that might fit your story - a cold case that, for whatever reason, no one wants to touch.

onesecondglance
04-11-2013, 12:58 AM
One thing inquests are not allowed to do is blame anyone for a death. In fact, for a while in NI it was even ruled that the coroner couldn't bring in a verdict of suicide, as that was 'blaming' the suicide. Pretty sure that must have been overturned, though.

Dead on (ha). Inquests are about whether death was natural or not, not who did 'em in.

jclarkdawe
04-11-2013, 01:42 AM
I didn't remember this case this morning, but you might want to look at Kenneth Lay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Lay). He was convicted by jury in Federal court for fraud with Enron and was out on bail awaiting sentencing and appeal. Had a massive coronary and died.

Over the objections of the Feds, the courts abated his conviction, meaning that according to the official records, he was never charged, tried, or convicted.

His estate could be civilly liable, but that liability would not include punitive damages.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Jamesaritchie
04-15-2013, 09:23 PM
Trial in absentia is not at all the same thing as a dead defendant. We all have the right to defend ourselves in court, and we can't do this if we're dead. Nor should taxpayer money be wasted in this way.

In many states, however, if there is any doubt about who the murderer might be, the case is left open. It becomes a cold case, but it may not be closed for decades.

DennisB
04-16-2013, 04:50 PM
If you haven't already, you might contact your county prosecutor to get some insight into the legal aspects. Also, a homicide detective might discuss it on a purely hypothetical level.

I know there have been cases like Kenneth Lay (the most infamous was Lee Harvey Oswald being killed by Jack Ruby, which added fuel to all the conspiracy fires).