Joran Van Der Sloot is back in the news.
Long suspected of murdering Natalee Holloway and now arrested for the murder of Peruvian Stephany Flores, Van Der Sloot supposedly has told police he will tell them where Miss Holloway’s body is in exchange for transferring him from a Peruvian prison to one in Aruba. http://dailycaller.com/2010/
06/13/van-der-sloot-willing- to-tell-where-holloways- buried-in-exchange-for- transfer-to-aruba/
Having studied no body murder cases for several years, I‘ve observed an increasingly disturbing trend: more and more defendants are using the body of their murdered victim as a bargaining chip. Van Der Sloot is far from the first.
Hans Reiser was convicted of murdering his wife in California in 2008. She had disappeared in 2006 and Reiser denied the murder for years and fought the charge at trial. After a five month trial, an Oakland jury convicted the Linux inventor of first degree murder. After the conviction, however, in exchange for a reduced sentence, Reiser led the police to his wife’s body which he had buried less than half a mile from his house. Instead of facing a sentence of 25 years to life, Reiser’ s charge was reduced to second degree murder which carried a term of only 15 years to life.
In 2008, prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (my old office) permitted Michael Dickerson to plead guilty to second degree murder and in exchange he agreed to lead police to where he buried the body of his girlfriend, Shaquita Bell. Dickerson then led police and prosecutors on a futile two day search for Ms. Bell’s body which has never been found. Yet he was still sentenced to just 15 years in prison. http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Just this past May in Tennessee, Douglas Whisnant was able to plea bargain into second degree murder charges by agreeing to show police where he buried his ex-wife’s body. Whisnant was sentenced to 15 years. Perhaps more galling, Whisnant is currently serving a 25 year federal firearms sentence and will get credit for his murder sentence, a state charge, will serving his federal time! Thus, he does no additional time for the murder. http://www.knoxnews.com/news/
2010/may/17/details-net- reduced-sentence/ Also in May of this year, Lawrence Gaudenzi was permitted to plead guilty to second degree murder. As part of the plea he was not required to reveal the whereabouts of his wife’s body. http://fredericksburg.com/ News/FLS/2009/052009/05072009/ 464607
Now there are clearly some good reasons to let a defendant take a plea in a no body murder case: weak evidence, getting closure for the family and sometimes getting something is better than getting nothing. But letting a defendant call the shots and use his victim’s body as a bargaining chip is particularly distasteful given that most of these murderers fit the classic profile of domestic abusers.
It’s all about control and they want to be the ones in control. Letting murderers use their victim one last time to win themselves leniency is their final act of control and prosecutors ought to be loathe to let them do it.
Winning a conviction in a no body murder case is difficult and dealing with a grieving and often angry family is equally difficult. But letting a murderer run the show and determine what charges or sentence he faces is simply unacceptable.