In Senseless Crimes, Sex Is Often The Motive
At trial, the of question ‘who did it?’ is bound intimately to its partner. ‘Why did they do it?’
“This is a head scratcher,” says noted homicide investigator Dallas Drake. No small remark from a man who’s seen thousands of murders. “The hardest type of case to solve is the motiveless homicide.”
Motive is crucial for investigators and prosecutors alike. For investigators because it directs the finger toward the accused, sorting innocent from guilty. And for prosecutors, because motive is the one thing that connects the thousand isolated – and hard to digest – facts into a single, coherent, sensible narrative for the jury.
Motive is the story that sells the conviction. One of the biggest gifts a defense team can get is a charge against their client with no clear motive.
Still unclear in Robert’s case is what motive the prosecution will settle with. Sexual assault? They’ve wavered back and forth on that, and it’s uncertain how much evidence Judge Leibovitz would allow. Jealousy – but of what or who? We’ve heard no such theories. Old standbys money or revenge? Not a lint-trap’s worth of evidence.
The defense has a similar problem: was the intruder a thief? Not so, says the evidence. Was it a targeted killing? Improbable: how could anyone have known where Robert would stay that night – let alone which room – allowing the “intruder” to enter and depart so unerringly? Yet similar is not same: the defense doesn’t have to offer motive to win acquittal.
Failing the guilty party/ies coming forward, the Wone case remains impenetrable precisely because it appears to be locked in this black box of being a motiveless crime.
But perhaps science provides a key.Dallas Drake is co-founder and principal researcher at the Center for Homicide Research, a Minnesota-based non-profit. The CHR began to research GLBT crime and remains home for the National Database for GLBT Homicides. The center has since expanded its mission to include all homicide research, “…ultimately in the hope of preventing them,” he says.
Obstacles remain. One may be surprising.
“The GLBT community has been resistant to looking at gay offenders. Back in 1985 the first report came out that…looked at intimate partner violence and homicide. That was by the Communities United Against Violence in San Francisco. And they took a lot of flak for that.”
Motive, says Drake, helps point out particular offenders. Even in this CSI-crazed-era, 40% of homicides remain unsolved – straight and gay. “It’s important to look not just at who someone is killing, but why the killer kills.” Straights kill. And so go Gays. Drake’s years of investigation confirm this…and another surprising finding:
“Most motiveless crimes are sex homicides. (Here) there appears to be some crime scene staging. Something was cleaned up, somehow. So if there isn’t an apparent motive, which there doesn’t seem to be in this case, then we start looking to sexual motive.”
In samples of valid (i.e., ending in conviction) murder cases, gays are still killed by straights at higher rates than the other way around. But compensate for population disparities (and the often murky nature of the crimes) and the proportional numbers come out just about even. More disturbing: in “motiveless” solved homicides, sex becomes the prime motive in more than 70% of cases.
That may seem counter-intuitive given the amount of coverage the gay press devotes to GLBT hate crime…and deservedly so. But coverage does not equal actual statistics.
Drake is no homophobe. But, he cautions, hobbling questions of motive for political or public relations concerns serves no-one, and makes justice less likely. When it comes to murder, even more so.
Three years plus into the crime, Drake opines “…the chances of solving this case appear slim to none.” He calls the charges brought against Price, Zaborsky and Ward “…a fishing expedition.” Still, he’s seen such mysteries unwind.
“A lot of times this has to be sequential. You have to nail down certain forms of evidence first. Once they realize they’re going to face some serious charges, sometimes one of them will knuckle-under and cut a deal and turn state’s evidence. Then the whole thing starts to unravel, but you have to have some charges to start that whole process.”
When we contacted Mr. Drake a few months back, he was unaware of the Wone murder. In the weeks following, he and the CHR staff have made clear their intention to work with us to bring every tool available to understand what happened that night.
And finally, there is another group for whom finding motive becomes a matter of special import: those close to the victim. Especially in a murder – and more so for the ugliness of this crime – closure for Robert’s family and friends will not likely come with just a “who”…but the “why.” The more brutal the end, the greater the human need to explain it.
–posted by Doug