People v. Scott

The Facts

Defendant charged with murder of his wife, who disappeared from their home in 1955.  Victim “simply disappeared from her house, dropped out of sight, and has not been heard from.”  Evidence at trial shows a motive by defendant to have his wife’s estate of $400,000.  Defendant relied on his wife for financial support.  Defendant did attempt to conceal her death by canceling her appointments and had not informed anyone of her absence.  Defendant told family and friends she was ill.

Procedural History

Defendant convicted at trial of murder. All evidence at trial was circumstantial.  Defendant appeals on the principal of corpus deliciti: that it must be proven that a crime occurred before the defendant can be found guilty.  Prosecution relies on the theory that “it would be utterly unreasonable to believe that Mrs. Scott would have run away from her home, her husband and her friends; it would have been an irrational thing for her to do.”

The Issue

Whether defendant can be guilty of murder of a missing person where only circumstantial evidence exists to prove the act of murder.

Whether murder can be proved without the finding of a body.

The Holding/Reasoning

Yes.  “It is not enough that the jury should have believed that the proved circumstances tended strongly to establish the guilt of appellant. The final test to be applied was whether the facts found and the reasonable inferences from them proved the nonexistence of any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.”  Normally, where only circumstantial evidence exists, there must be confession by the defendant.  However, the circumstantial evidence that exists in this case is so strong to show death by criminal means, it is “as strong and convincing as a confession would have been.”  Evidence showed that defendant knew his wife was dead; he knew she would not return.  The only reasonable conclusion for the court to hold is that which the jury in this case reached – that she died by criminal means, and only the defendant was capable of causing her death.

Yes.  If murder could never be proved without the existence of a body, no person would ever be convicted of murder where he hid the victim well enough to leave it undiscovered.  The law should not be powerless in these circumstances.

Leave a Reply