Was Morgan Harrington’s Death Accidental?

Somewhat lost in the hubbub of the back-to-back (-to-back) snowstorms of the past few days is the press conference held by the Virginia State Police in the Morgan Harrington case last Thursday. As the snowstorm bore down on a nervous town that afternoon, the police were holding what struck me as a rather unusual press conference. The nut of the event was that Harrington’s death is being treated as a homicide, and that police want to relay “six key points” to the public. In a press release (Word file), they enumerate them as follows:

1. The person responsible may or may not have a formal connection to Anchorage Farm where Morgan was recovered, but investigators believe the person(s) responsible is likely to have traveled, worked, recreated, or lived in close proximity to this farm or some other nearby property.

2. The person(s) responsible in this tragic incident may have been inclined to return to the farm location during a period of increased stress.

3. Investigators are confident that persons, through no fault of their own, know the person(s) responsible or have knowledge of specific instances whereby the person(s) responsible visited or traveled through the general location of where Morgan’s remains were recovered.

4. Investigators believe the person(s) responsible had specific knowledge, and was comfortable operating in the area, which is a considerable distance from the nearest roadway.

5. This choice of location is quite different from the decision to leave a body on or adjacent to a major public roadway, or some other area accessed with little or no risk.

6. Traveling to the Anchorage Farm location would have created a significant risk for any person unfamiliar with the area, and not comfortable to this type of setting. Farmland like the place where Morgan’s body was discovered presents difficult obstacles such as fences, streams, and difficult terrain variations – such challenges a person unfamiliar with this particular location would most likely have avoided.

Maybe I’m reading too much into these, but there are a few things about this that strike me as odd. The VSP don’t call her death a “murder,” but instead refer to it as “this tragic incident”. The only time that they even classify the nature of Harrington’s death is in the second paragraph, in which they say that her “death is being investigated as a homicide.” They also don’t refer to her killer, or her murderer, but simply as “the person(s) responsible in this tragic incident.” Not responsible for, but responsible in. They also emphasize—indeed, it appears to be the point of this statement—that persons (plural, no parentheses around the “s”) “through no fault of their own, know the person(s) responsible.” Well, yeah, of course: everybody’s known by other people. There must be some reason that they’re pointing this out. They’ve even established a special telephone number (434-709-1685), not for the Harrington case, but for “information specifically related to the Anchorage Farm property,” which seems like an awfully specific reason for a special telephone number. The one thing conspicuously absent from their press conference was any information about how Harrington was killed. The autopsy has been finished. Her funeral has been held. Anything that the VSP knows about how she died has been learned, but that information is being withheld, surely deliberately.

Here is, interestingly, the Code of Virginia’s definition of “homicide”:

The killing of one accidentally, contrary to the intention of the parties, while in the prosecution of some felonious act other than those specified in §§ 18.2-31 and 18.2-32, is murder of the second degree and is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five years nor more than forty years.

Looking at §18.2-31 and §18.2-32, which define capital murder and first and second degree murder, you’ll find all sorts of horrible ways to die, which includes the bulk of the ways that people surely fear that Harrington died. Killing somebody while robbing them, murder for hire, killing somebody after raping them, killing somebody after imprisoning somebody, killing somebody after “lying in wait” for them, premeditated killing, etc., etc. The definition of homicide makes perfectly clear that the death has to be accidental while doing something else illegal, but not so seriously illegal that it’s capital, first, or second degree murder. (For instance, I suppose that a fraternity initiation gone wrong might result in a charge of homicide.) It’s not even considered murder. It’s possible that they start by charging somebody with homicide and then upgrade the charges to murder as they go—using an umbrella term of homicide meaning, basically “somebody died and it’s somebody else’s fault”—but after reading a handful of stories about murders in Virginia over the past few years, I don’t think that’s the case, but I’m far from certain. Though even if it is just an umbrella term, this delicate phrasing by the VSP makes me doubt whether they think it’s murder in the legal sense.

Now, Lord knows I’m no expert in this field, but I think that two things have come together here. The first is the possible signal from the VSP that Harrington’s death was accidental. The second—which involves a real leap of logic—is that this odd series of six points looks to me like a dog whistle press release. It’s meant for just a small number of people to understand. (“Persons” plural, remember?) The VSP believe that there are people who were witness to, had foreknowledge of, or likely learned afterwards of Harrington’s accidental death. (To use our fraternity example, other pledges, or perhaps existing members of the frat.) By not using the word “murder,” by saying “responsible in this tragic incident” and not “responsible for her death,” I think they’re telegraphing the message hey, we know it was an accident—just reach out to us, we’ll understand while trying not to let on to the public that this may have just been an accident. Why? Because a murder is a big deal: it stays in the news, it gets people talking, it triggers a primal response of fear, and it’s more likely to churn up tips. But an accidental death is a tragedy that’s quickly forgotten, that may result in Harrington’s death remaining unsolved.

Like I said, I’m no expert, and I’ve take some leaps of logic here. I’m hoping that some folks familiar with law enforcement can weigh in, my fellow armchair forensics officers and pop linguists can suggest where I’ve gone terribly wrong (or right). I do think it’s clear that this six-points press release is unusual in a way that should tell us something, accidental death or otherwise. But what?

48 thoughts on “Was Morgan Harrington’s Death Accidental?”

  1. In the comments of the Hook article I noted that there’s a good possibility that someone panicked and dumped the body. The “homicide” thing may also be a scare tactic to make the people involved come forward — they may not have been at fault enough to warrant those charges.

    I’m envisioning something like a drunken party with drugs involved, and the woman OD’ing on alcohol or a combination.

  2. There is a LOT of information that’s already been withheld in this case, so it would not be surprising in the least that they’re still withholding.

    As a basic example, initially the report was that Morgan disappeared outside of JPJ. It was several weeks later when they reported that she was last seen near Copley Road Bridge. That seems like an important bit of information for potential witnesses. Someone who didn’t remember seeing a girl near JPJ might have remembered seeing her near the bridge. Why hold that info back?

    There are several other details about the case that law enforcement has skirted around and never answered directly, all of which would all have a similar affect on the publicity as them plainly stating this was an “accidental death” if it was.

  3. This bit about her t-shirt being found near The Corner was withheld for months, too. I think that only became public a couple of weeks ago because The Hook found out from people who lived in the building adjacent to where it turned up. There may well be a good reason why this was withheld (it seems a lot less crucial than your example about from where she disappeared), but it is a part of a pattern here.

  4. I think it’s totally reasonable to ask if her death was more of an accident and less of a classic grab-and-go abduction/murder scenario. But I also think the politics of making this suggestion amongst the online community of people following this case are kind of explosive. A lot of people seem very invested in believing it was a grab-and-go.

  5. Hi there

    First, what exactly is a “grab-and-go”? No matter what it is, why would a lot of people be invested in believing one specific theory?

    It seems to me that the best theory and outcome would be that it was indeed a big mistake/accident and then we can lay to rest the idea that there is a stalking killer wacko at large.

  6. Hi Lisa. Grab-and-go is just a phrase I totally made up. I meant to refer to the kind of abduction where someone grabs, almost literally, an unsuspecting and unwilling person, forces them away, and then does some nefarious deed. That’s as opposed to a more complicated scenario in which the eventual victim is not necessarily forced away, kicking and screaming. More of a tragic accident scenario, with complicated forms of culpability.

    And why would people be invested in one kind of theory? Heck if I know for sure, but like I said, from my observations of people who are extremely engaged in following this case online, there is a high level of emotional investment in believing it was one kind of scenario than another — and more, I believe, have put their bets, so to speak, on the Evil Child-Snatcher scenario than on the Tragic Complicated Accident scenario.

    Yes, I agree, one would think that people would be relieved to learn it was a Tragic Complicated Accident rather than a serial killer. But people don’t always think the way one would think they should think.

  7. Where is law enforcement on this issue? I may have missed it, but has anyone talked about cause of death? There must be some report somewhere that reveals cause of death and/or toxicology. Why has it NOT been made public?

  8. Thanks Cecil for your thoughts and for clarifying the grab and go concept.

    As a local resident and a parent, I am most definitely putting my hopes in the idea of a situation where things went terribly wrong and a tragic accident happened. If that does turn out to be the case, let’s hope the public deals with it in a manner that would be appropriate and doesn’t vilify the person that may end up being charged.

    Peace Sign

  9. Richard, this is a serious question: why should it be made public at this stage of the investigation?

  10. If Harrington was seriously intoxicated prior to the point that she “hooked-up” (for lack of a better word) with whomever transported her to the farm, it may be that no one can be held criminally responsible for her death.

    Something doesn’t sit right with the good-girl image that she has been painted with. It’s an understandable reaction on the part of her parents to want to show Morgan Harrington in the best possible light. But what upper-middle class college woman doesn’t know that she should NEVER hitchhike? I am more than twice Harrington’s age, and was repeatedly warned about this when I was younger.

    Let’s hope that forensics can solve this puzzle.

  11. Um, how to put this without going into too much detail here… What LE says publicly to convince either the murderer or their friends/family to come forward, and what they actually think happened, are often two entirely different things. There’s a methodology at work here, and you can’t take their words literally.

    They know a lot more than they’re letting on. There’s every good reason not to give up the game at this point. It’s still an active investigation. Hope that makes sense.

  12. Here’s what I think whenever I think about this sad death: there but for the grace of the gods. I was an upper-middle class college-aged woman once. I stupidly put myself into danger quite a few times. I was very, very lucky not to end up on the losing end of some very, very dangerous situations. I think that Morgan Harrington is not very different from many other upper-middle class college-aged women: it’s not that she was stupider, or more poorly raised, or more reckless, or whatever. I think she was just unluckier.

  13. If it is true that fences and creeks must be crossed to get to the location where the body was found, then I have to figure that either she walked to the place of her death or there were multiple people involved in moving the body.

    As a deer hunter, I have had to move dead things of roughly the same size and weight as a human of Morgan’s size. Many times I have done this, often dealing with fences and creeks in the process. Moving a 120 pound deer several hundred yards across varied terrain with those types of obstacles ALONE absolutely sucks. I’m not saying that it is impossible, but I will say that if a specific location is not absolutely required then one would be likely to stop rather sooner than later. Like, right in front of the first creek or halfway up the first big hill.

    If that body was found more than 100 yards from where someone could have driven an SUV in, then I would bet money that there were several people involved.

    They say two can keep secrets, if one of them is dead.

  14. Cecil-

    Please don’t think I don’t have any appreciation for the tragic loss of a young life. What I was trying to point out, though, is that ingesting large quantities of either drugs or alcohol could very likely be a factor in Harrington’s death. Activities that may not have be life-threatening otherwise can become deadly under those circumstances.

    Sorry if this doesn’t seem tenderhearted enough for you. I do think it happens to fit with the fact pattern that has been reported so far.

    Why is it so much easier to think that a murderer is on the loose (a white, undereducated redneck that lives in the southern part of Albemarle seems to be the favorite stereotype), rather than to consider the possibility that unwise behavior may have been a contributing factor in all of this?

  15. Cville Resident, I’m not sure why you thought I was questioning the tenderness of your heart. I wasn’t. My post wasn’t really in response to yours, even though it followed it in the linear-layout sense. I pretty much agree with you.

  16. The easiest way to the part of the farm where Morgan was found seems to be the approach from Blandemar. But,though somewhat level, that route crosses creeks and bottom-land. If this forecast was accurate, there would have been too much rain leading up to the night of the 17th to make that route passable, despite the cold temps. Being shaded and protected from the wind, that area would have been very slow to dry out and thus difficult to traverse even on foot.
    Does anyone know where one can find actual historical weather info? My 10 minute search just led me to old forecasts…

  17. Thanx, CSM,
    According to them .35 inches of rain on the 14th and 15th combined, with the bulk of it on the 15th. Then overcast all day on the 16th and mostly cloudy/overcast on the 17th with trace rain late.
    I hope the investigators working this case revisit the site after similar conditions to see just how accessible that location is or isnt.
    getting Morgan to a remote location would have been counterproductive if doing so had left muddy tire tracks from the roadway off toward that creek…

  18. Waldo,

    I hate to agree with somebody named “Voice of Reality”, but (how’s that for a left-handed compliment?) you are reading waaaay too much into this.

    It doesn’t matter if your try at a legal interpretation of the word “homicide” is right or not. This is a press release, not a legal brief.

    I wouldn’t conclude they’re saying this was accidental. My take is, they just aren’t saying.

  19. Just because someone has been drinking does not mean that it is Okay for them to suffer the loss of their life. It is Never Okay to blame the victim. Never !
    No- one ever said Morgan was perfect .
    No child is perfect.
    But we are all children of God.

  20. It doesn’t matter if your try at a legal interpretation of the word “homicide” is right or not. This is a press release, not a legal brief.

    Even if totally ignoring the legal definition of “homicide,” John, you don’t think that this six-point statement is awfully strange? You don’t think it’s odd that the VSP has never said that she was “murdered,” has never stated the cause of death, and has never said that they’re looking for her killer, merely for “the person responsible”? Because, having spent an hour or so reading a whole mess of Virginia State Police statements to the media about murders in the past few years, this is the only instance of those things that I’ve found.

    Just because someone has been drinking does not mean that it is Okay for them to suffer the loss of their life. It is Never Okay to blame the victim. Never !

    It sure is lucky that nobody’s doing that, MOMOF2, isn’t it?

    No- one ever said Morgan was perfect .
    No child is perfect.
    But we are all children of God.

    I don’t understand who you’re disagreeing with here.

  21. I was responding to cville resident.
    The comment was posted
    cville resident
    Feb 10th, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    And yes , he /she said something about Morgan being painted with a good girl image .
    Also said that they had been told repeatedly been warned not to hitchhike.
    Said that it may be that no one can be held criminally responsible for her death. (the way it was worded essentially said if she was drunk & left to go hop in the sack with a guy.)

    First of all Morgan’s Family NEVER said she was perfect !
    Secondly , her behavior was not consistent with her normal behavior. Something was “off” that night.

    It could be that she had something slipped into an open container unknown to her that caused this change in behavior. She fell in the arena & bloodied her face & was seen crying in the restroom. Next she was seen outside. and yes ..she was seen trying not once but several times to gain re-entry into the arena.
    It’s obvious something was not right that night.

  22. Your response is illogical. Again, nobody said that “because someone has been drinking does not mean that it is Okay for them to suffer the loss of their life.”

  23. I just discovered a website, Blink on Crime, where people are scary-obsessive about this case. (I don’t want to link to the site because I don’t want them to know they’ve been mentioned here, lest they link to cvillenews.com. That would require some quick action to block those people from commenting here.) Cecil, that must be what you meant about the online people following this case who are invested in the idea that Morgan Harrington was murdered. That website is populated by a thousand Nancy Graces, all eagerly speculating on things based on zero evidence. (She was killed by a military school student! No, she was killed by somebody named Shifflett! No, it was a Morris! Etc.) These people are vultures. The whole website is premised on obsessing over the latest celebrity missing/dead girl case. When this story becomes uninteresting, they’ll move onto the newest hot young (dead) thing. It’s bizarre and unsettling.

  24. The Blink site is terrifying. Some of the people that migrated from that site were speculating that there might be a connection between the death of Willie Morris and the disappearance of Morgan Harrington. Really sick voyeurism.

    Once again, the VSP is choosing their words and phrases very carefully, most likely with some assistance from the FBI profilers. That choice of words might not be resonating with you, hence your taking it literally, but then the message isn’t intended for you at all. It’s meant to resonate with a specific potential audience.

    If you possibly knew something– for instance, a relative of yours fit some of the criteria that have been mentioned, or you’d seen something odd about a friend– wouldn’t you be much more likely to call the info in to the VSP if you were led to believe it might have all been a tragic accident vs cold-blooded murder?

  25. That choice of words might not be resonating with you, hence your taking it literally, but then the message isn’t intended for you at all. It’s meant to resonate with a specific potential audience.

    Well, yeah: that’s the thesis of this blog entry. :)

  26. Of course you’re right, Waldo. :-) Mea culpa, I hadn’t read the part of your entry where you talk about telegraphing to a particular group.

  27. Waldo ,
    quote from cville resident
    “Why is it so much easier to think that a murderer is on the loose (a white, undereducated redneck that lives in the southern part of Albemarle seems to be the favorite stereotype), rather than to consider the possibility that unwise behavior may have been a contributing factor in all of this?”

    My comment to the above is the poster is pointing the finger Back at the victim citing “unwise behavior.”
    I know 1 thing for certain , Morgan did not drag her body into the field , nor did she carefully cover her remains to be hidden away forever.Someone else did that , & that person needs to come forward!

    If you begin to think you can analyze why people reach out to help those whose children are missing and or murdered , well then obviously you have never had a friend or loved one suffer in such a manner. I do forget however that not everyone has compassion in this world, especially not reporters. Seems to me that those who support the missing & murdered children families are the ones who stick by , and the reporters are the ones who run from 1 sensational story to the next moving along to pick apart the bones as a vulture would of anything that remains behind.

    I pray that sometime in your lifetime you allow your heart to grow & to feel compassion. The world is not based upon all logic or all compassion , but is a relationship built upon with a respectful blending of logic & emotional responses that are within the boundaries of the law. Perhaps when you “grow up” you will realize that.

  28. Whoever left the body there obviously did not wish for it to be found. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure that out.
    If and until forensic experts determine the cause of death, we will not know if it was murder or some sort of accident. We do know that someone did something wrong.
    Lets take a nypothetical case-an overdose.(I am NOT saying thats what happened.) Someone might panic and flee, leaving the person dead or unconscious. Or drop them off by the ER door and flee. But taking them to an isolated farm- there is something sinister involved.

  29. re:”Secondly , her behavior was not consistent with her normal behavior. Something was “off” that night.”

    According to whom? I have not read any credible source state that her behavior that night was inconsistent with her prior behavior.

    What I have read is descriptions of her behavior that evening and zero to little commentary on her behavior by the police and her “friends”. One is left to connect the dots as they wish.

    Obviously her behavior that evening is NOT the issue. But to point out that her behavior may have led her into a dangerous situation is not to negate the horror of what happened.

  30. MOMOF2

    If I go running up to the local military security gate wearing a ski mask and yelling “Allah Akbar” I am doing nothing “wrong” but I am not being very smart.

    If I go wandering around East LA flashing a big wads of money I am doing nothing “wrong” but I am not being very smart.

    I can tell you that in either case I will end up in a bad situation, a victim. But a victim that made some very clear and stupid choices that will have contributed to what happens.

    If I am in an altered state, wearing a mini shirt etc and hitchhiking I am not being very smart.

    She should not have had to die, but she should have made better decisions.

    Just because you should not be a victim does not exempt you from making good choices.

  31. MOMOF2,

    If you know for certain that Morgan Harrington was killed at another location, rather than her having walked there on her own feet and then being killed, then I think you had better make a phone call to the County Police.

    But you don’t know that. You’re just spouting crap because you want to feel like this super-sensitive internet white knight, smugly superior to the regular users of Cvillenews.


    This sentence and the one that follows it is pure gold:

    “The world is not based upon all logic or all compassion , but is a relationship built upon with a respectful blending of logic & emotional responses that are within the boundaries of the law. Perhaps when you “grow up” you will realize that.”

    Wha…? Seriously, this is the vaguest wishy-washy nothing of a sentence that I have read all week. Complete with an attempted bon mot at the end (loving the mis-used quotation marks there). These words of yours, in their sum, communicate no intelligible point.

    We’re all laughing at you. Now go away.

  32. “I know 1 thing for certain , Morgan did not drag her body into the field , nor did she carefully cover her remains to be hidden away forever.Someone else did that , & that person needs to come forward!”

    Well, actually we all know for certain that no one covered Morgan’s remains to hide them away forever. We’re discussing the fact that she was found. She was found in a field by someone who was busy with another task. What none of us know is how she got there.

    It is also pretty clear that Morgan’s actions had everything to do with her ending up there. If she had stayed inside once she got to the concert, there would be no story.

  33. It is not blaming the victim to note that she may have made unsafe decisions the night she died. However, I feel that we know so little about this case that it is impossible to know how impaired Morgan really was. Even things we think we “know” like the account of her hitchhiking seem pretty uncertain. Nevertheless, it is important to get the message out that looking out for each other is wise.

    Danpi,I think that most of us have been vulnerable at some time in our lives without becoming the victim of a serious crime. Have you really never done anything stupid and survived just fine?

  34. Quote: “We’re all laughing at you. Now go away.”

    Just for my edification: is there some kind or webcam feature on cvillenews that I don’t know about? Or are the 20 or so regular posters here all part of some extended family and you all meet daily to gather the latest ‘family’ wisdom?

    And if you are truly ‘LOL’, wouldn’t you want airhead MOMOF2 to stay for more good laughs?

  35. Gail, I’m not sure I heard danp(r)i saying he had never done anything stupid in his life. I heard him saying that of course bad things shouldn’t happen to foolish and/or vulnerable people, but often they do, and we shouldn’t be shocked, shocked, when they do.

    I understand that people who feel intense loyalty to Morgan Harrington and her family do not want to hear that her own decisions played some role in whatever happened to her. But there’s a big difference, IMO, between saying “she deserved it” and saying that she put herself at an increased risk for an accident or worse. When I think about what I want my own daughter to learn from an example like this one, it is definitely NOT that her decisions bear no relationship to what might happen to her, as if there were no such thing as “unwise behavior.” I would like her to learn the opposite, in fact.

  36. Gail, I am alive in spite of myself. Camino Cielo Pass goes through the moutnains by Santa Barbara. A highway we skateboarded on in 1982. Wiped out and in a wheelchair for a long time. I can still roll do one handed wheelies in wheelchairs…

    Dad says to me…”well boy, you do something stupid and bad things are going to happen…”

    I have also hiked deep into the woods to party with frends that knew a “safe place”…

    I have done much stupid and survived. But this is what I have told my beautiful daughters since day one: The day you do not double check the door is locked, is the day you leave it unlocked, and someone you dont want checks…

  37. I have a beautiful daughter too and I tried to teach her how to take care of herself without being afraid of the world(still an issue with daughters).

    Maybe Morgan Harrington’s condition played a role in her tragedy but maybe it did not. Alicia Showalter Reynolds was not drunk and neither were the Lisk girls. Nevertheless, sober young people in groups at events are less vulnerable and both UVa and Virginia Tech should be making efforts to remind students of this reality- whether they seem to be listening or not.
    Danpi- glad you survived. Most of us somehow do but I think it is more due to good fortune than locked doors…

    Cecil, I have learned the hard way that sometimes our decisions determine whether we survive and sometimes that is not the case. We need to believe we have more control than we actually do. It really is the down side of being a parent.

  38. Gail writes, “sometimes our decisions determine whether we survive and sometimes that is not the case.”

    Well, of course.

    and then, “We need to believe we have more control than we actually do.”

    For me, I’d rephrase that to “we need to focus on the things we can control and not the things we cannot.” It’s probably a minor difference, but it moves away from the fatalism of your phrasing. I can’t prevent a drunk driver from swerving into me head-on, but I can prevent myself from driving drunkenly into a tree (by choosing not to drink and drive). I can’t prevent an extremely clever, determined serial murderer from breaking into my home when I’m asleep and murdering me, but I can prevent myself from being murdered by someone I hitch a ride with (by choosing not to hitchhike). I tend to think that the former scenarios, in which some random person drops from the sky to ruin a completely unsuspecting person’s life, are statistically less likely than the latter scenarios, where people put themselves in greater danger than is prudent and wind up in terrible trouble. And I think we CAN control the latter scenarios, maybe more than you think.

  39. Bianca Spinosa at CBS-19 reports:

    [VSP spokesman Corinne] Geller said they are treating Morgan’s death as a murder. They have ruled out an accidental death.

    Spinosa must have asked about this point-blank, because this is the first time (to my knowledge) that the police have volunteered either of these facts. Assuming that they’re being truthful (and, in an investigation like this, they have every right not to be, IMHO), this would sharpen the narrative and narrow down the possibilities quite a bit. It’s very different than the tone that they set in their six-points press conference.

  40. I see I stirred a hornet’s nest with my earlier comment. I also see now that Cecil and I are on the same wavelength. It does no young girl any good to let her think that there will never be bad consequences for dumb decisions.

    This is not to say that I don’t sympathize with the Harringtons’ plight. Keep in mind that some of us here may also have family members who have died at a very young age and under tragic circumstances. There are very few things in life harder to deal with than the death of a child.

  41. Cecil, I think I used to have your point of view but several “statistically unlikely” events in my family’s life in the last decade have caused me to revise my views about how much control we actually have. That said, as parents or friends we must influence people to use good sense where safety is concerned.
    I see that VT and UVa are providing their students with reminders about personal safety at the request of Morgan’s family, which is commendable.

  42. I’m not a lawyer, but it’s worth noting that “murder” has a legal definition that not all homicides meet.

    “Homicide” may be the name of a crime as well, but it’s also a generic term used by law enforcement to describe a killing under investigation in which natural causes have been ruled out but the exact circumstances have not been determined.

    All murders may be homicides, but not all homicides are murders. If police or the media start tossing the term “murder” around before the facts of a case are known, they are presupposing the charge that a suspect would eventually face. (The man stabbed to death on the Corner a few years wasn’t murdered – in the eyes of a Charlottesville jury, at least – but he was the vicitm of a homicide).

    Waldo, I’m not convinced the TV reporter whose story you linked to has learned this lesson, though I don’t know that for sure. It’s not hard to imagine a case where a state police spokesman says “we’re investigating this as a homicide” – a pretty common cop line after any suspicious death – and a green TV reporter substitutes the word “murder” in a brief written quickly for the Web. Course maybe she asked the question directly and got an answer, like you said. I don’t know.

    Still, with an investigation this big, I bet the prosecutor had a heavy hand in determining what information went into that press release. That’d presumably be Denise Lunsford, right? Maybe she doesn’t want the word “murder” tossed around just yet, either for legal reasons or because they want to indicate to whoever did it that they are willing to hear what they have to say (the whole “just tell us what happened, we understand…” routine). Maybe both.

    Not to be Captain Obvious, but it’s also worth noting that investigators usually keep a tight lid on most of the details of a case. They hold stuff back for all kinds of reasons, including to verify the credibility of people who come forward with information.

    I think authorities only release information to the media at this stage if they think it could reap some benefit for the investigation. So if they think that someone familiar with the area dumped the body there, it makes good sense to put out a targeted release like this focused on the geography. Maybe somebody reads the subsequent coverage and thinks, “Hey, Bobby goes hunting down there all the time. He sure has been acting weird lately…” and makes a call. Let’s all hope that happens.

    It would be great to be wrong, but this release also makes me think they don’t have a lot to go on and are hoping someone out there can help them out. I don’t think it necessarily means they think her death was accidental.

  43. I think we live in a very evil world and someone who probably has done this before is guilty. Either Morgan got there voluntarily or involuntarily and no one will probably ever know the truth. She had a great family, was getting an education and was very beautiful, but she was also alone and very young. I pray that her family gets some truth and justice.

  44. I would imagine the police are being “gentle” and “unspecific” in their description of Morgan’s death to create and environment in which someone, or someone’s family member, or someone’s friend would be apt to come forward with vital information. Voice of Reality sums it up perfectly.

    Almost anyone who has attended college should remember at least one time that he/she partied too much and ended up in a situation,which in retrospect had the potential to be dangerous. As it was, I wasn’t unlucky, and my stories and the stories of my (also lucky) friends became part of what makes us laugh when we get together now, years later.

    And, I don’t think that drinking too much and getting locked out of an arena is even remotely the same as running up to a military security gate and screaming “Allah Akbar”. The law is about consent, and no matter what Morgan did the evening of her homicide I seriously doubt that she consented to being ripped from her family, her friends, her life and being tossed in a field. I know exactly what Mom of 2 is getting at and she is right.

  45. Some of the weirdo national groups obsessed with this case have linked to this blog entry, so I’m closing this down to further discussion before outsiders make a mess of things.

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