Claudia Hoerig was on trial for killing her husband. She claimed she was going to kill herself, but when her husband told her not to get blood on the furniture, after years of abuse, she snapped and shot him to death. She fled the country and after being extradited from Brazil went to trial. She was found guilty. Her testimony was filled with oddness, anger, and hostility. We break it down on Law & Crime Network with my guests Joseph Scott Morgan and Marni Snyder.
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#ClaudiaHoerig found guilty. We discuss her testimony Law & Crime Network
January 28th, 2019
Robert Bianchi: All right. This is the Claudia Hoerig opening statement by the prosecution. Another great selection of a trial to cover by the Law and Crime Network. My next guest is Joseph Scott Morgan from Jacksonville State University. Who’s been, this is the guy who wrote the book. He’s only one of 200 people nationwide to attain the Fellow status to the American Board of Medical Legal Death Investigators, writes the protocol, works for coroner’s office, a good friend of the Law and Crime Network. Somebody who I’ve actually consulted with, I have a lot of regard with him on some cases that I’ve had. Joseph, welcome back to the show.
Joseph Scott Morgan: Hey, good to be here, my friend
Robert Bianchi: So, let me ask you a Joseph, in a case like this where essentially, it’s not a dispute that she did it, but it’s a question of whether or not it was done in passion provocation. That’s where the defense wants to go to try to reduce it from a murder to a lesser charge. Or the prosecution’s theory of the case, it was a purposeful and actual premeditated case. You’re a guy that’s been on crime scenes, you’re a guy assesses death scenes and in the many fatality investigations. What can we glean, if anything, or how would you go about being on one side of this equation or the other? What the ultimate defense here is?
Joseph Scott Morgan: Yeah, it’s curious, isn’t it? So, I, I, I like to liken it to when I first took an undergraduate criminal law class in, in Louisiana, they had a term for this, of referring to the heating and cooling of blood, always loved that term. And this idea that you fly through rage and you strike out at somebody, is there an immediate threat in your environment where you’re going to strike a fatal blow or did you come prepared in order to facilitate a death? And particularly in this case where we’re talking about a gunshot that is, that it’s fired at some distance and allegedly strikes him in a position that you wouldn’t normally think about somebody being an aggressor in, it doesn’t bode very well for the defense, I wouldn’t think.
Robert Bianchi: Marni Jo, the defense brought out that she only starts researching a flight to get out of town, if you will, after the murder. She had given all of the money in the bank accounts to her father in Brazil beforehand, but then went to a bank afterwards and then went to a safety deposit box and got her passport out. So, the prosecution is clearly trying to show that prior to the murder, she had no intention of shooting and fleeing. But we all know premeditation can be formed in an instant it doesn’t have to be something you planned over a long period of time. But do you think those are important facts for the defense?
Marni Jo Snyder: I think they are important facts if they can point, I mean if the prosecution can point to the fact that she either had it, she had it premeditated for longer than that moment, then boom, they win. But I think if the defense can say, well, look, this evidence, per circumstanced afterwards and how she acted is just evidence that supports our theory. That her state of mind wasn’t such that she wanted this to happen. Or it was that she thought she was reasonable and defending herself at this time. So, all of these circumstances are so important,
Robert Bianchi: Right. Each nuance is important. The prosecution was just at their point in their opening statement where they were indicating motive and while we all know that motive is not a necessary element, prosecutors surely, surely like to have motive. Let’s listen to a little bit more of the prosecutor’s opening statement because both these lawyers in this case are doing a good job.
Prosecutor: She leaves him covered up to rot and goes back to Brazil. In fact, you will hear in part of her statement, that she covered him up so he wouldn’t be discovered and it would give her time to escape. You will hear that from her. The medical examiner, Doctor Humphrey Germaniuk, who was one of the few in Ohio, we were blessed to have him. A very fair-minded forensic pathologist.
Defendant: Objection your honor.
Prosecutor: He died last year. Our witness, who was at the scene, did the pathology report, took photographs, died. The coroner, who wrote the coroner’s report, died. The law provides a remedy, to provide you evidence so justice can be done. The State hired a substitute witness, Doctor Joseph Felo. Out of Cleveland, he works for the medical examiner’s office out of Cuyahoga County. We had to give him the records Doctor Germaniuk, his report, his photographs, x rays, and have him examine the evidence and he will be a witness for us. And the current coroner Doctor James, he will come in and attest to the fact what records were given to the expert.
Robert Bianchi: All right, here’s the prosecutor’s opening statement. Joseph, you were saying when we were watching it, that you had something that you could address with respect to what the prosecutor is saying. What’s that?
Joseph Scott Morgan: Yeah. You know, many times people pass on, relative to a forensic pathologist and coroners. And in Ohio they actually have both. And so, it’s not unusual to have someone come in as a proxy and testify to the notes that were, you know, glean not just from the scene but also from the autopsy. And that’s what prosecutors are referring to. He’s kind of setting or laying the groundwork for this because I’m sure that the defense will move forward and they’ll say, oh, well, we don’t, we don’t have a firsthand statement from somebody. This is stuff that can still be testified to in open court. This has happened. Hey, people might not realize this, but the guy that actually testified in the OJ Simpson case, the forensic pathologist was the chief MA for Los Angeles County and it wasn’t even the forensic pathologist that did the autopsy. So, this is nothing unusual and it’s certainly nothing new under the sun.
Robert Bianchi: Yeah. Marni, what is your, what do you think about the idea that she fled the jurisdiction? Flight is always something that a prosecutor can bring out there. But what about all the evidence of the extradition and a lot of people been asking in the chat room, why did it take so long to extradite? Does the length of the extradition, is that something you would try as a prosecutor to get out or it’s just the flight alone enough, or would that be overly prejudicial?
Marni Jo Snyder: It actually does depend on the circumstances because often there are very valid normal procedural reasons why extradition might take a long time. You’re talking about an agreement between two entities that have their own power. Those different governments. For instance, sometimes there’s issues of countries that don’t have the death penalty, extraditing someone somewhere where they might be facing the death penalty. So, I think it would depend on the circumstance and for the judge to decide whether the jury needs to know that, whether it would be either too complicated or too judicial for them to bring out. But certainly, the flight they want, the prosecution is going to want to show that she left and how long she was kind of I guess at large in Brazil before the Brazilian authorities took her into custody. I think that would be the relevant thing.
Robert Bianchi: And to your point, we just covered a case where three defendants were on trial for murder. The State used one as a witness tried one as a death, I think it was a death penalty case, yeah, the death penalty but would not try the real perpetrator because she was extradited from Mexico and the only way Mexican authorities would give her back to the States is that there was an agreement, they wouldn’t pursue the death penalty. So, point well taken Marni. Thank you, Joseph. We’re going to break. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.
Robert Bianchi: All right. There’s a defense opening in Hoerig case, Marni Joe, I just found it a little peculiar. I get the whole piece about, gets the passport, and she leaves all her clothes behind, and starts looking for plane reservations to get out of dodge. This thing about she’s polite and puts the gun back in the [inaudible 8:43] rigged suicide gun wood thing that she had created was just really odd to me. Is there any sense to you when you listen to that, that maybe she was trying to make it look like a suicide and it went sideways and she kind of went through with the plan? Sometimes they do it, they go through with the plan anyway, even though it didn’t develop the way they wanted?
Marni Jo Snyder: Yeah, I didn’t really like that part either. I think the interesting part, to harp on is that none of those searches were done ahead of time. That there was no preformed plan, that she was literally had to get everything together in order to travel. And honestly, you know, in a case like this where she’s saying that he was abusive and that, you know, if she hadn’t killed herself, you know, she, this had to happen to protect herself. I can’t imagine spending more than 30 seconds on flight, and dealing with it, between being a woman at was abused and then only making those plans to leave the jurisdiction after that happened, and that would have been it. I would rest there. I think that that was confusing and it paints pictures of her afterwards that I don’t necessarily want the jury to see if I’m the defense attorney.
Robert Bianchi: Yes, it will be very interesting to see if any experts are going to be testifying in this case. We’ve got more activity in the courtroom. Let’s go inside and hear what’s going on. Okay man, this is yet another witness. Let’s not forget the first guy, the gun shop owner where she had the gun modified to have a laser scope, a grip that would shoot out an infrared outwards towards its target. Now we got this guy coming in, very interested in guns, just like the other guy said. Wanted one with more power, ones that were more powerful. She didn’t have the money to purchase this gun, but as the chatters are saying in the chat room and I happened to agree completely. The thing that I thought was really relevant, Yankee girl is the one who came up with this one. I agree. The cleaning kit and the oil, I mean it’s, are these the actions of a person who is looking to kill themselves as opposed to a person who’s looking to commit carnage with respect to her husband Karl Hoerig who was an Air Force major. Marni, I don’t think that that bodes well for the prosecution. I mean for the defense.
Marni Jo Snyder: Right. I’ve heard a lot of things in his testimony that I thought were not so great for the prosecution and they were not so great for the defense. Buying a second gun is a bad factor or trying to buy a second gun. I certainly don’t think it was good. I’m actually okay with the cleaning kit. I think that when you buy something you most likely, especially if you’re not trying to draw attention to yourself at all, for either the reason that you’re a battered woman or you know, it doesn’t go either way too intense. You want to buy this stuff to take care of it. This guy talked about how he was getting her a lot of help. You’ve probably recommended that stuff. I’m totally okay with that. The power thing I’m great with, right? If you’re going to shoot someone, you shoot, you stop them from hurting you. That was a fabulous self-defense comment that she made. How can I find the thing that will stop the someone? I thought that was phenomenal. You know, but all of these things can be argued either way. I’m just concerned because I don’t think many of them can be argued for suicide at all. That was just ridiculous.
Robert Bianchi: Yeah. How do you see it Joseph?
Joseph Scott Morgan: Yeah. I mean maybe she’s a strong believer in good maintenance of weapons. You need to have a cleaning kit in order to clean your weapon and keep it clean and yeah, it doesn’t necessarily go to this narrative of someone wanting to take their life. I found it, interesting. Marni had pointed out the, you know, stopping power and all of this sort of thing. Yeah, he kind of guided her away. She had thought about the 38, which is a revolver, it’s not quite as efficient, and pointed her toward the 45 ACP 1911, which is a semi-automatic hand gun, ejects the rounds and can do it rather briskly. And you can put a lot of rounds on target with that. So, and it’s got, you know, I don’t particularly care for the term stopping power, but for our purposes here, yeah. It’s, it’s highly effective in that realm.
Robert Bianchi: Okay. Excellent. Thank you guys so much. Let’s go back into court and listen to a little more of this guy’s testimony. That’s Pete Pizzulo he is on the crime scene task force the homicide task force, as we find out. Joseph, this is right up your alley. So obviously we’re only getting to the beginnings of his testimony, but he’s talking about the methodical. I think the audience would be surprised. Maybe you can illuminate on how tedious crime scene processing is.
Joseph Scott Morgan: Yeah, this is something you don’t want to go into halfcocked, you take your time. Keep in mind this is not an urgent event that you’re having to rush to save somebodies life. At this point in time, the individual is deceased and we have evidence of that because the body’s displayed one of the seven cardinal signs of death and that is in fact decomposition. So, the scene is secure. That guaranteed that they know that their lives were not in danger nor anyone else’s. So methodically they would go through documenting every inch of that scene as thoroughly as they possibly can. And of course, one of the ways we do that is photographically and the detective is describing that right now.
Robert Bianchi: Right? Do you think really quick, is there a way that they’re going to be able to tell from the crime scene processing whether this was a suicide or whether or not this is a premeditated act? I know that’s hard to ask you right now with not knowing everything.
Joseph Scott Morgan: Well, one of the things that we’re going to look for, is there any, any evidence of a forced entry or struggle, that’s quite compelling for us as investigators. And one more thing that they mentioned that is very compelling, the detective mentioned that the body had been covered. Let that ring in your ears as we move forward with that. Body covering is very essential in deaths where we come to a scene and find a face is not visible.
Robert Bianchi: Marni. What do you think? I think it’s a good thing for the prosecution, real quick. I’ve got a short period of time.
Marni Jo Snyder: Yeah, I think it is too, and obviously Joseph is the expert, so I can’t wait to hear what else he has to say.
Robert Bianchi: Okay guys, listen, I really appreciate it. You’re going to stay on, I’m going to go. I’ll be back next Monday. If get a chance R Bianchi Esq on Twitter or if the Bianchi Law Talk on YouTube, I’d appreciate you subscribing. More Law and Crime, Arron’s coming next.