Monday, December 8

"Choo-Choo". As In "Railroad".

Look, it's not my usual practice to defend guys who've
appended "von" to their names just to impress society dames.

--James B.S. Riley

Enid Nevy, "Sunny von Bulow, Focus of Society Drama, Dies". December 7

Guest expert: Dr. Michael Baden, Bulow defense expert and author of Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (Random House, 1989).

LET'S us start with what can, and should, be agreed upon: Martha Sharp "Choo-Choo" "Sunny" Crawford-von Auersperg-"von" Bulow was found deeply unconscious on the morning of December 21, 1980; she was taken into hospital, but her coma was never reversed. Mrs. Bulow's children from her first marriage hired a private investigation team, which discovered the mysterious black bag Mrs. Bulow's maid had claimed to have seen several times, containing an exotic form of valium, amobarbitol, and a syringe with insulin residue. A Rhode Island grand jury indicted Claus Bulow for attempted murder. He was tried and convicted. The conviction was overturned, the state retried him, and he was found not-guilty.

So now let's have a brief word about fact vs. belief. Some people believe Claus Bulow tried to murder his wife. The presumption of innocence belongs before the Bar; we are not required to be agnostic inside our own skulls. But most of us feel that the Newspaper of Record ought to, at the very least, consider the matter in light of the ultimate finding of fact, instead of acting as though the first trial revealed theological certainties which were then negated by the bête noir of all those Charles Bronson actioners, the criminal released on a niggling technicality.  And we feel this, it should go without saying, despite the almost daily evidence that it does nothing of the sort:
The appeal was guided by Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, and the conviction was overturned on the grounds that certain information had not been made available to the defense and that there had been no search warrant when pills were sent for testing.

Mr. von Bülow was acquitted in 1985 after a second trial in Providence, R.I., where his chief defense counsel was Thomas P. Puccio.

That's it; we are then treated to several column inches detailing the "facts" of the case as presented by Maria Schrallhammer, Mrs. Bulow's long-time maid and a woman who admitted in the second trial that she'd lied at the first. We have the suspiciously European-seeming contents of the peripatetic black bag, but no mention of the fact that its provenance is entirely mysterious, nor that it was available to the suspiciously European-sounding von Auerspergs for several months before it was located. Nor that the maid had originally neglected to mention she'd seen the insulin.

That bag is the dog that didn't bark.

(By the way, we'll also note here--and, again, anyone checking this blog for legal advice ought to see a mental health professional as quickly as possible--that should you find yourself convicted of a crime you did not commit, and faced with the decision whether to appeal on grounds of "niggling little legal technicalities" or the findings of Paul Drake Jr, P.I., which conclusively prove your alibi, take the former. That's what appeals are won on.)

Okay, here's Dr. Baden's take: Mrs. Bulow had actually been admitted to hospital while comatose three times between December 1979 and one year later. The first episode was diagnosed as bronchial pneumonia; afterwards her doctor discovered hypoglycemia. The second, in early December 1980, was caused by acute aspirin toxicity. She'd swallowed at least 60 tablets due to a "sinus headache". Baden says this was an obvious suicide attempt, and one which almost worked. The Times report says exogenic insulin was found, or suspected; Baden says no.

On December 21 Claus found his wife unconscious on the bathroom floor. The window was open to the 5ºF. weather, and she was seriously hypothermic. Based on certain facts about the discovery, including an open medicine chest, the EMTs suspected barbiturate overdose. But somehow, at the hospital, her low blood sugar became the basis of her treatment; they may not have known she was naturally hypoglycemic. They didn't treat for overdose which Baden says should have been SOP. They put her on a glucose IV. Then someone managed to futz up the blood samples in the lab, which included a lab tech tossing out one of two samples. The first two results were contradictory. The third, weeks later, showed a high insulin level, but not--according to Baden--an unreasonably high one given that she'd been pumped full of glucose. But the reading would eventually be used to charge Bulow with attempted murder.

But the dog didn't bark. The attending physicians had misdiagnosed her, then discounted the alcohol and barbituates levels when they were returned (she had "only" 0.01 BAL, but that was several hours after she'd ingested anything; Baden puts her at 0.12 when she lost consciousness). The insulin vial is "remembered", and the dirty syringe is "discovered", after her insulin levels became the focus of her treatment. But that's not what sent her into her final coma.

The Baden book came to me by recommendation, and it's a great read. I've never read the Dershowitz book; I'm not that interested in the case as such, so I don't know how much of Baden's medical testimony, if any, it includes. But the fact is that not only was Bulow eventually found not guilty, there are explanations out there which not only suggest reasonable doubt, but which suggest the final verdict was the right one. It's also possible, in the mathematical sense, that the Times sorry tabloid recitation is actually the correct one. But that don't make it right.


heydave said...
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heydave said...
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heydave said...

There you go again, with that truthiness obsession.

Hattie said...

I'm picking up a tone here that interests me. It's like of course we are fascinated by all this, but we are above really caring what these rich people do.
I guess now with the New Regime we have to take the high road. Damn I'm going to miss celebrity gossip.

KathyR said...

Look, I don't care whether Jeremy Irons did it or not.

Dershowitz just irritates the hell out of me. I continue to be offended by his choosing this very important cause to pursue.

So sue me.

map106 said...

The Dershowitz/RonSilver combo irritates me even more.

Anonymous said...

Hey, but it was great casting: a douchebag playing a douchebag.