By Larryse Brown
From possessed satanic dogs, to strange celebrity obsessions, the defense for murder over time has come in all varieties and never ceases to be at the very least original.
The latest case involves Edward Ates, a 62 year old man who was accused of driving from his Florida home to New Jersey, where we allegedly shot and killed his former son-in-law Paul Duncsak in 2006.
His defense: morbid obesity.
Duncsak was shot six times as he walked down a hallway. The defense says the killer first fired from a staircase leading to the basement, followed by a volley fired from head-on. In order to do that, the defense says, Ates would have had to run up the stairs – impossible for a man of his size who suffers asthma, sleep apnea, and other obesity-related ailments.
“You look at Ed, and you don’t need to hear it from a doctor,” Walter Lesnevich said of Ates, who at 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed nearly 300 pounds at the time of the killing.
However, according to well-known Las Vegas attorney Conrad Claus, the obesity-based defense is risky. “If jurors think you’re treating them like an idiot, it’s going to go really badly,” Claus told ABC News.
Nevertheless, while it is an unusual defense, it would credible if the factual evidence fit in.
Unfortunately, this is not the only example of an outlandish alibi against a murder accusation.
The HBO hit television show “Curb your Enthusiasm” saved a man from a potential jail sentence. In early May last year, Juan Catalan, a reputed gang member, was arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Martha Puebla. After an unsuccessful attempt at confession, he told police that he was with his six year-old daughter at the Dodger Stadium and Melnik, his lawyer set out to verify his story.
“I subpoenaed the Dodger Vision tapes, which show shots of the crowd, and I also got the Fox Sports broadcast of the game,” Melnik said in his defense.
“I knew where Juan was sitting, and in some of the shots I could tell that the seats were occupied, but you couldn’t tell it was him sitting there.”
Melnik picked up another lead, however, through his negotiations to obtain the tapes from the Dodgers. He learned that on the evening of May 12 the HBO comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” had been shooting scenes in the ballpark.
In that episode, which aired in 2006, Larry David, the star of the show, attends a Dodgers game with a prostitute. (David didn’t hire her for sex but, rather, to sit with him in his car so that he could travel in the car-pool lane on his way to the game.) Melnik asked if he could examine the HBO footage, too. Melnik was able to spot out Catalan, which gave him a solid defense releasing him from his charges.
He was a free man.
Unhealthy food never served as an alibi for murder until Dan White and the “Twinkie Defense.” The “Twinkie defense” was a phrase coined in the 1979 trial of White who assassinated Mayor George Moscone and gay supervisor Harvey Milk 25 years ago. The defense was that White gobbled down Twinkies, which blasted sugar through his arteries and drove him into a murderous frenzy.
Needless to say, White was found guilty.
In truth, the stories of these outlandish alibis could continue. However, the results always end tragically with a person being stripped of the will to live by having his life taken away. Without taking lightly a crime stemming from love, rage, pride, jealousy, and revenge, all expected emotions that could possibly lead to murder, the hope that alibis such as Twinkie consumption will allow a less harsh jail sentence remains laughable.
That being said, in 2002 a man was on trial for two accounts of first degree murder along with other charges. He lost at a pool game, got into a fight and then returned with a gun firing 20 bullets, killing two men and hurting three others. His behavior was drug induced, and he lost all control, sending him into a violent rage. His defense was that the Prozac made him do it.
As for Ates and his “obesity” defense, the jury convicted him of murdering his former son-in-law, rejecting the man’s defense that he was too fat to have run up and down a flight of stairs to commit the crime and make a quick getaway.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Wayne Mello termed Ates’ defense “nonsense” and credited dogged work by investigators, particularly Det. Sgt. Russ Christiana, that built a circumstantial case around cell phone records and computer forensics.
“This was a complicated case, and it was good old-fashioned police work combined with new technology,” Mello said.