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NCJ Number: NCJ 176762     Find in a Library
Title: Murder Masquerading As Suicide: Postmortem Assessment of Suicide Risk Factors at the Time of Death
Author(s): R I Simon
  Journal: Journal of Forensic Sciences  Volume:43  Issue:6  Dated:November 1998  Pages:1119 to 1123
Date Published: 11/1998
Page Count: 5
  Annotation: This discussion of the role of forensic psychiatry in distinguishing suicide from homicide presents several cases in which the cause of death was unclear, as well as a case in which postmortem assessments of suicide risk factors at the time of death were used to expose a murder masquerading as a suicide.
Abstract: The discussion notes that the deaths of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, Robert Maxwell in 1991, and Vincent Foster in 1993 have been sources of debate. The case history involved a married but separated woman found hanging naked in her bedroom closet by her landlord. The prosecution's pathologist believed that the death was suspicious. The defense forensic pathologist testified that the death was a straightforward suicide. Further police investigation revealed that the husband had a police record for physical spousal abuse and that the woman was moving forward with a divorce. Hair samples in her apartment matched those of her husband. These and many other factors led the prosecutor to request a postmortem psychiatric assessment regarding suicide risk factors. Analysis of individual, clinical, interpersonal, situational, and statistical risk factors revealed a low or minimal suicide risk at the time of death. The husband was prosecuted and convicted of first-degree murder. This case demonstrates the role forensic psychiatrists in equivocal suicide cases. Postmortem assessment of suicide risk should readily meet prevailing evidentiary criteria of reasonableness. Forensic opinions in such cases should avoid conclusory statements that invade the province of the fact finder in determining criminal responsibility. Table and 35 references (Author abstract modified)
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Homicide ; Suicide ; Psychological evaluation ; Forensic psychiatry ; Death investigations
Country: United States of America
Language: English
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