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  1. #1
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    French police come to California to investigate death of engineer with French-US dual citizenship

    SAN FRANCISCO - The last time anyone saw Hugues de la Plaza alive, he was out celebrating a promotion with a few friends at a nightclub.

    Later that night, the gregarious audio engineer with U.S. and French citizenship made a drunken call to a friend and they made plans to see a movie the next day. Some six hours later, a neighbor noticed blood dripping from the doorknob and porch at de la Plaza's apartment building.

    Police found de la Plaza lying in a pool of blood in his living room, an open laptop on a coffee table and a broken wine glass nearby. Suicide, San Francisco police say.

    The French, however, aren't so sure.

    To de la Plaza's parents, Francois and Mireille de la Plaza, who live in Paris, the San Francisco police appeared too busy or uninterested to fully investigate their only son's death. They lobbied the French government, which has taken the unusual step of ordering Parisian detectives to investigate and conduct their own forensic tests.

    De la Plaza, 36, was found last June with stab wounds to his neck, chest and stomach. Strands of hair were stuck to the fingers of his left hand. And yet, neither a bloody weapon nor a suicide note were found. Blood was tracked from the kitchen, through the living room and out the front door.

    Nothing was missing from the apartment, and a security camera in the front of the building showed de la Plaza coming home alone. His doors were locked.

    The homicide detectives' theory which strikes his family and friends as unlikely, even absurd was that de la Plaza took drugs, stabbed himself, then washed or disposed of the knife before dying.

    An autopsy found that de la Plaza had no drugs in his system and his blood alcohol level was just above the legal limit. However, the medical examiner's report said his injuries were "not inconsistent with self-inflicted stab wounds."

    And while police have pointed to the locked doors as evidence of suicide, a former girlfriend said the apartment's back door was only locked with a doorknob lock and someone leaving could have closed the locked door behind them.

    De La Plaza's parents are astonished.

    "In France we see CSI and all these American programs, so everyone thinks American police work this way. So when we tell stories of our situation, no one believes it," said Francois de la Plaza, 71, sitting next to his wife during a recent visit to San Francisco. The interview was translated by a family friend.

    Mark Bartscher, the man de la Plaza called at 2 a.m. to make plans to see "Hairspray" at Dolores Park, said his friend didn't sound like someone about to take his own life.

    "He did sound drunk on the phone, but definitely not depressed," Bartscher said. "After all, he was making plans for the next day."

    French officials say that if their investigators find anything of interest from tests on the blood, hair and electronics taken from the apartment, it will still be up to San Francisco police to decide if a homicide investigation should be opened.

    The homicide detectives assigned to the case declined interview requests because the case is still open. But a police spokesman, Sgt. Neville Gittens, said the department has so far cooperated with the French.

    "The opinion in homicide is 'We don't have anything to hide. If they want to send somebody, send somebody,'" Gittens said. "They're not going to do better than we can do coming from another country."

    Friends said de la Plaza was an avid online dater and that his computer could hold clues to his death.

    A former girlfriend, Melissa Nix, said the French government paid for tests on de la Plaza's computer and cell phone that showed he'd logged on at 2:38 a.m. and that the power cord had been yanked from the machine. She said there is more work that can be done, like finding out who he e-mailed.

    And she said de la Plaza got queasy at the sight of the smallest amount of blood and never would have chosen to commit suicide in such a gory manner.

    Nix has testified before the city's police commission and filed a complaint with the city about the investigation, but she said police stopped speaking with her months ago.

    "Homicide has tried to spin this as a suicide while maintaining, deceptively I believe, that they were pursuing this as a homicide. I've lost all confidence in the homicide department," said Nix, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee.

    Last summer, after police told the de la Plazas their suicide theory, the family hired private investigator John Murphy. He said in an interview that he is convinced de la Plaza was murdered.

    For one thing, Murphy said, a couple who lived next door to de la Plaza told him they heard doors open and close three times after he came home that night, and that footsteps were heard in an alleyway that connected to de la Plaza's back door.

    Murphy said police never interviewed the couple.

    Criminal law professor Erin Murphy of the University of California, Berkeley, agrees that police could have done a lot more.

    "There are a lot of questions that haven't been answered that could be by looking at his e-mails, or what was he searching for on Google before he died?" she said. "There are all of these kinds of questions, and it's unfortunate, but as time goes on they are more difficult to answer."

    Whether the French detectives find new evidence, the de la Plazas are relieved that attention is finally being paid to their son's case.

    "This is unbelievable for us," said Francois de la Plaza, his eyes tearing.


    By JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 17 minutes ago

  2. #2
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    The article sure makes the SFPD homicide detectives sound inept. If this is all there is to it it sounds like they are trying to clear a busy case load. I wonder how much more to the story there is though that the media doesn't have access to?
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  3. #3
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    Ok, they watch CSI and think that's how we do things. Well buddy, I watch the Pink Panther.
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  4. #4
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    "In France we see CSI and all these American programs, so everyone thinks American police work this way. So when we tell stories of our situation, no one believes it," said Francois de la Plaza, 71, sitting next to his wife during a recent visit to San Francisco.
    I hate these kind of shows! Little do people know there can be a 6 month turn around on DNA tests here. Sympathies to them and hopes the French can help.
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  5. #5
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    Another case where they originally thought it was suicide

    Kristin Rossum Convicted Of 'Perfect Poisoning'

    Former Toxicologist Could Be Sentenced To Life Without Parole

    POSTED: 3:14 p.m. PST November 12, 2002
    UPDATED: 7:30 a.m. PST November 13, 2002

    SAN DIEGO -- A former coroner's toxicologist who prosecutors said was afraid her husband would reveal her drug addiction and affair with her supervisor was convicted Tuesday of killing him with what they called "the perfect poison."

    Kristin Rossum hung her head as the verdict was read, as did her parents, who were seated two rows behind her. The defendant shook her head as the judge read the jury's finding that she killed Greg de Villers with poison.

    Rossum, 26, had been the top chemistry student in her class at San Diego State University and prosecutors said she used her expertise to kill de Villers two years ago with an overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. They said she then staged a suicide, strewing rose petals around his body to mimic scenes from her favorite film, "American Beauty."

    She wanted to keep de Villers from telling her bosses that she was having an affair with the chief toxicologist and was using methamphetamine, stealing the drug from the coroner's lab, prosecutors said.

    Prosecutor Dave Hendren called fentanyl "the perfect poison," because it is odorless and colorless, and can be dissolved into liquids to mask its bitter taste. Investigators suggested Rossum chose the drug because she knew the coroner's office was unlikely to test for it.

    Rossum, he said in his closing rebuttal, hadn't anticipated that de Villers' tissue samples would be sent to an outside lab, which discovered the fentanyl.

    A Superior Court jury of five women and seven men deliberated eight hours over three days before convicting Rossum of murder with the special-circumstance allegation of poisoning.

    Jurors left the court without speaking to reporters. A gag order that prevented attorneys and anyone connected to the case from commenting will remain in effect until Rossum's sentencing on Dec. 12.

    Rossum will face a sentence of life in prison without chance for parole. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty.
    Rossum was a toxicologist at the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office when de Villers died on Nov. 6, 2000. Tuesday would have been his 29th birthday.

    The victim's mother, Marie de Villers of Thousand Oaks, and his two younger brothers held hands and bowed their heads while the verdicts were read.

    Rossum stood when the jury left the courtroom but appeared to buckle and braced herself by placing her hand on the table. A bailiff helped her sit back down.

    She then was handcuffed and led out of the court.
    In the hallway outside court afterward, her father, Ralph Rossum, spoke on a cell phone while her mother, Constance, clasped her hand over her mouth and stared out a window. Ralph Rossum is a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration.
    During the trial, lawyers for Rossum claimed de Villers took his own life because he was despondent that she was about to end their 17-month marriage. Defense lawyers said Rossum had no reason to kill her husband.

    Rossum said she found de Villers unconscious and not breathing in the couple's bedroom, a wedding photo nearby and red rose petals scattered over him. No suicide note was found.

    When investigators questioned Rossum, she told them de Villers said he had taken a combination of old prescription drugs she bought in Mexico years earlier while she was trying to kick her addiction to methamphetamine. But she never mentioned the drug that actually killed him, fentanyl, an opiate commonly given to cancer patients that is some 80 times more powerful than morphine.

    Prosecutors argued de Villers had no access to fentanyl, which is highly regulated. They accused Rossum of conspiring with her lover, Michael Robertson, to kill him with drugs stolen from their office.

    Robertson, who returned to his native Australia in 2001, has not been charged and did not testify. He and Rossum were fired from the office in December 2000.

    An audit done after de Villers' death found several doses of fentanyl missing from the lab. One vial that was last checked in by Rossum turned up empty; several fentanyl patches that had been handed to Robertson also were gone.

    Near the end of her three-week trial, she took the stand and repeatedly denied any role in de Villers' death. Prosecutors, however, forced Rossum to admit she had a history of lying to family, friends and police about her drug addiction and affair. They painted her as untruthful and urged jurors to throw out her entire testimony.

    At times tearful, Rossum said the final days with her husband were tense, with the couple arguing over her desire to separate. She recounted the hours before his death, saying that he spent most of the day in bed and that his voice was slurred by the medications she said he took. But she said she did not seek help because during a lunchtime talk with de Villers, he seemed to be improving.
    "I thought he was just sleeping it off," she said. "I've wished every day I'd called someone."

    No syringes or other administration devices were found in the apartment, which prosecutors said suggested Rossum had tried to hide any evidence. They said Rossum's version of events didn't make sense and pointed out that experts testified de Villers was comatose for six to 12 hours before his death, making lunch with Rossum improbable.
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