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Father Accused

Aired July 22, 2003 - 09:08   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Prosecutors have evidence, but not the most important piece of evidence, the bodies of Sarah and Philip. Let's talk to Dr. Cyril Wecht in Pittsburgh this morning. He is a nationally known forensic pathologist.
Dr. Wecht, good morning. Thanks for joining us.


O'BRIEN: No body found, and yet there's a charge of first-degree murder. In your experience, how rare is this, or how often is this case?

WECHT: Well, traditionally, in Anglo-Saxon law, you have to have the corpus delicti, the body. In recent years, there have been several successful convictions in the absence of the body. I don't think that will be a big problem here, because of the circumstances.

However, they want to find these bodies, obviously, just for humanitarian reasons. Sometimes, prosecutors will make a deal they will not seek capital punishment of the accused if he will tell them where the bodies are. They find the bodies, and then can look for the slugs, the bullets, that presumably were used to kill these children. They will find these bullets, possibly, if they were shot in the head, depending upon the kind of ammunition and the caliber of the gun, it's possible that the bullet could still be within the chest or the cranial wall if that's where the children were shot.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting there, but I want to ask you a question, what if they don't find the bodies in a short term, let's say? What can the gun provide? What can the shovel provide?

WECHT: The shovel can have earth, and in a case scenario could be quite dramatic to match dirt from the shovel with dirt from the place that bodies are found. It he says, hey, I know nothing about this, I left the kids off at Howard Johnson's, I went to the men's room and I came back, they were abducted.

So in the meantime, they find the bodies, they find the earth, obviously, where the bodies are buried and they match it with the dirt on his shovel. That would be wonderful forensic geological evidence.

But, obviously, you have to first find the bodies. In the absence of the bodies, you don't have the dirt to match to the shovel. You don't have the bullets to match to the gun in his car.

So right now, they've got very strong, overwhelming circumstantial evidence he has got the kids on July Fourth, he shows up in California July 10th, no kids. But there is no kind of physical or forensic scientific evidence I could possibly conceive of here. And he may not even know where the bodies are. You've got 300 miles of route 80 in Pennsylvania alone, and about that much in Ohio. If he just pulled off the road somewhere and buried these bodies, he may not remember, unless there's some special landmark that is in his mind. They may never find these bodies.

O'BRIEN: If the bodies then are recovered, you're saying, they're going to reveal a lot. Is there sort of a window within which investigators need to find these bodies? And forgive me, because we're kind of getting a little graphic here, where the evidence from those bodies won't have disintegrated in time?

WECHT: Well, soft tissue injuries, of course, are important, but I think if they believe he shot them, then the passage of time, while not obviously beneficial, will not make a big difference, because bullet holes will leave their marks on the bones, no matter how long they will have been there.

So presumably, and I am, of course, conjectures, but I think reasonably, I doubt that he shot them in the about abdomen or so on. He probably would have shot them in the head, and there will be the bullet holes then in the cranial bones, and they could be matched. So the passage of time is not going to make a difference if they do find the bodies.

O'BRIEN: Manuel Gehring now charged with first-degree murder. Of course, that case has yet to go to trial.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, thanks for joining us.

WECHT: Yes, thank you.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Legal analyst right now Geoffrey Toobin stops by to talk about really a case now where you have a charge without a body. How common is that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's not common, but although interesting, as Cyril Wecht said, in the old days, it used to be legally required that you had a body for a murder case, but that hasn't been true for a long time. And in recent years, there have a lot of successful prosecutions involving what are known as missing body murder cases. Probably the best known of which is Kenneth Ensanti (ph) Khimes, who were known as the grifters, the mother and son here in New York City. They were convicted of killing their landlady, whose body has never been found, and they are now serving life sentences.

HEMMER: And a heck of a job for investigators, too, even if you get the soil from the underneath the truck or from the shovel, it's a big country.

TOOBIN: It's a big country. And matching soil is not like matching DNA evidence. It's very difficult to match soil and using that... HEMMER: We saw Carlton Dotson about 20 minutes ago up in Maryland. What happens now? extradition? Does it go back to Texas, because the charges originated in Waco?

TOOBIN: That's right. The prosecution will be In Waco, and what's happening today, it's basically just a proceeding to establish that he is the person named in the complaint, and oftentimes, defendants simply waive that, and admit they are the person named in the complaint. They're not admitting anything other than that, and so there's never really -- there's rarely an actual identity proceeding, and they waive that proceeding, and then the case goes forward.

HEMMER: What do you read into the fact that on Sunday, he says I need to talk to the FBI?

TOOBIN: I read that that's probably -- I mean, that certainly, what press reports indicate, is that he was confessing in some way or another. Obviously, you don't want to prejudge anything, but clearly, that's the implication. And given that there really has been no other suspect in this disappearance, other than Dotson since this whole investigation began, it make as certain amount of sense. And also, since they were best friends, you would think an element of remorse might be...

HEMMER: Quite possibly. We're jumping around a little here, but we talking earlier today before we came on the air as to whether or not this Kobe Bryant case will be televised eventually in the state of Colorado? Research tells you what?

TOOBIN: Research says that in Colorado, cameras are allowed in the courtroom at the sole discretion of the trial judge. No cameras in pretrial hearings, where there's going to be one on August 6th. So they'll be no cameras on August 6th. But if the case goes a jury trial, there might be cameras. Interestingly, unlike a lot of states, it's completely at the discretion of the judge. The parties, the prosecution and defense, have no role in determining whether there are cameras in the courtroom. It's solely up to the judge, and you can bet that there will be certain cable TV networks going to court saying, you know what, we think there should be cameras in courtroom.

HEMMER: Where's one? Listen, I said we were jumping around. I'm just hearing right now from our producer, Ted Fein (ph), that the Associated Press is now reporting that Carlton Dotson has refused to waive extradition to Texas.

TOOBIN: So what that means is that the prosecutors there will have the burden of showing that the Carlton Dotson named in the complaint in Houston, in Texas, is the same person who was arrested in Maryland. It's usually not much of a problem to do that. You know, driver's license, fingerprints, doesn't take long.

HEMMER: Thanks for being patient with my legal bouncing ball over here.


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