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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Tweeter and the Monkey Man: Heroin Death of Google Exec Might Prompt Doctrine of Chances Ruling

Prostitute Alix Tichelman has been charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of Google executive Forrest Hayes,  often called the "Monkey Man" because he raised monkeys and other non-native wild animals on his property. Hayes died of an overdose, with the question being whether Hayes self-administered the smack or whether it was injected by Tichelman in attempt to make it look like Hayes killed himself. Tichelman, whose own Twitter account has pictures of her "pet monkeys," also has a Facebook page, which has posts ranging from poems about heroin to a love of the TV show "Dexter." 

Interestingly, Tichelman was previously involved with Dean Ripelle, who died of a heroin overdose back in September 2013. Police have now re-opened the investigation of Ripelle's case to see whether it was the result of foul play.

This thus sets the stage for the possibility of the doctrine of chances (which I call the John McClane rule of evidence) being invoked at either trial. As I have noted before,

Rex v. Smith...introduced into evidence law roughly the same sentiment expressed by John McClane in "Die Hard 2":  "How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?"  In Rex v. Smith, the defendant's wife died when she drowned in the bathtub, and the court allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence that two of his prior wives died when they drowned in the bathtub to rebut the defendant's claim that the drowning was accidental.  The court reasoned that the past acts were admissible not to porve propensity/conformity, but instead because the court could infer from the unusualness of the occurrence and the number of times it was repeated that the drowning was not accidental.

So, what's stranger: Three wives innocently drowning in bathtubs, or two boyfriends(?) self-overdosing on heroin? If there is no physical evidence indicating that Tichelman injected heroin into either of the deceaseds, should the judge find the two instances of ODing are sufficiently strange such that a juror could infer that they were not accidental?  We might soon find out.

-CM

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