Crime and punishment

Trinidad Express
August 14, 1999

RECENTLY some police stations in Trinidad were literally in the dark. The local power company disconnected the electricity supply to the stations because they were owing a lot of money on their light bills. While some people treated the matter as an outrage rather than an outage, it proved one fundamental fact. It is not just crime that does not pay. The law also doesn't pay.

The inability of crime to pay is, however, more consistent. Recently, Trinidad and Tobago made the international Associated Press and the 1999 Internet News under the heading of "Dimwitted Criminals Who Ruined Their Own Plans" with the story of the "Sleepy Thief Sentenced To Five Years".

Headlined: Port of Spain, Trinidad, the story pointed out that not since Goldilocks (of the three bears fame) has "sluggishness thwarted a would-be break in". The article recounted the story of a home-owner who found a thief in his home, asleep in a chair in his kitchen. The thief had a bag of stolen food next to him. The magistrate gave the thief five years instead of the chair.

A thief broke into a house in the best part of town and being sure that nobody was home, went straight for where he thought the valuables were kept. He made sure he didn't switch any lights on. Then he heard a voice say: "I can see you! Jesus can see you too." He froze in his tracks, not moving a muscle. After a short while the voice repeated, "I can see you! Jesus can see you too!" Realising something was wrong, the thief took out his flashlight, switched it on, looked around the room and saw a bird cage with a parrot in it. "Did you say that?" he asked. The parrot said again: "I can see you! Jesus can see you too!" "So what?" taunted the burglar. "You're just a parrot." "I may be just a parrot," replied the parrot. "But Jesus is a doberman."

Truth, however, is much more bizarre than fiction. At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Science, AAFS president Don Harper Mills astonished his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. The story is that 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. The deceased had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide. He had even left a note indicating his despondency and depression. As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide anyway because of this.

Dr Mills pointed out that ordinarily a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended. That Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands.

The room on the ninth floor, from which the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was threatening her with a shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and pellets went through the window, striking 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 this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. 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 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 approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. 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. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

There was an exquisite twist. Further investigation revealed that the son, one Ronald Opus, 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 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a ninth story window. The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

Tony Deyal was last seen talking about crime and Americans. A bus carrying five passengers was hit by a car in St Louis. By the time police arrived, 14 pedestrians had boarded the bus and were complaining of whiplash injuries and back pain.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples