The tragic results of the search for Celina Cass, the 11-year-old girl from Stewartstown, N.H. was announced earlier this week. After a nearly weeklong search, dive teams found the missing girl Monday about a quarter mile from her home. Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said the girl’s death was suspicious because of the condition of the body, but she declined to be specific.
How Celina came to be where she was found officially remains unknown. So far, even the autopsy has not been able to determine the facts.
Folks are understandably impatient and anxious to find an answer to the mystery. Almost from the start, the pressure was on the police for immediate answers. People were furious that the autopsy did not yield an immediate solution.
In the experience of this experienced Boston criminal lawyer, such pressure does not necessarily help the cause of Justice.
Quick results speedily obtained are often misleading. In this case, rushed suspicions of guilt began to be forecast right away…if you understood the “between the lines” messages.
A pickup truck parked near Celina’s home was towed away as they investigated the area of the house in which she lived. According to accounts, the bed of the silver truck was filled with two trash barrels, with a pizza box showing in one. A New Hampshire State Police major crime unit truck was also parked in the driveway along with another similar truck.
In the area…the all-too familiar scene of a town mourning its own remembers and questions. At a make-shift shrine near the home a note was left saying, “I promise to think of you each day. You are the greatest person. I love you Celina Cass. I miss you. You never deserved anything like this. I thank you for being a great friend and for being in my life. You are the greatest. I LOVE YOU!
On the radio yesterday, sound bites could be heard of suspicion and even a few folks indicating that they believe they know who the responsible party is. Of course, they don’t…but sometimes suspicions can be as powerful as truths. And when it comes to criminal justice, this is a very dangerous fact.
Meanwhile, almost as soon as the body was found, we were treated to little updates about Celina’s stepfather and his behavior.
Stories circulated among media outlets that “Celina’s stepfather was taken to a hospital Monday morning” and that he “was taken by ambulance after repeatedly lying down in the family’s driveway and rolling around, and video showed him dropping to his knees in the driveway and then lying face-down, with his head resting on his hands.”
During this time of crisis, reports were also released that the stepfather, in 2003, was “involuntarily committed to a hospital in Concord after he entered his girlfriend’s house in the middle of the night and threatened to throw her down stairs, according to court documents. An order signed by a probate judge indicated that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed corrections officials implanted a transmitter in his body to keep track of him.” Further, it was released that, in that case, he had “served in Operation Desert Shield before receiving a medical discharge from the Air Force because of schizophrenia. ”
These statements were released even before any autopsy was performed.
Do you see where we are going here?
Particularly if there is a history of any domestic violence, most police officers will tell you that, when someone disappears or is mysteriously found dead, the first suspects are members of the family. Sometimes it is a spouse. Sometimes it is a parent.
In any case, that is where the criminal investigation begins.
I remind you of the tragic tale and still unanswered case of JonBenét Ramsey () back in the 1990’s. Everyone had “the answer”, usually focusing on one or both of the deceased’s parents and/or brother.
Law enforcement is trained to investigate crimes. Many detectives will also tell you that they develop a “sixth sense” in their investigations. After dealing with them for over a quarter century, in two states, they probably do. The problem, as we have often discussed in this blog, is when they turn off said sense, close their mind, and simply decide what the truth is before all the evidence is in. However, that is a topic for another day.
The pressure upon law enforcement to find the answer is great enough. However, there is added pressure in matters of high publicity like this one. That’s when the need to find an answer outweighs the need to find the answer.
There is a reason why details about Celine’s step-father’s past are being floated like trial balloons. People suspect, and are led to suspect, the man of her death. Pure and simple.
“Yes, but Sam, you must admit his reactions are a bid…well…strange.”
Maybe. But then again, I have been involved with criminal justice for a very long time as you know. If, G-d forbid something happened with one of my kids (either as victim or suspect), I really cannot imagine how I would react. I know how I like to think I would react, but do any of us really know unless and until we are in that position?
Why not leave the investigating to the investigators and not overly press them for immediate results. I can tell you that officers involved in what they suspect to be the murder of a young child feel enough inner pressure to solve the mystery and catch the “bad guy”.
“Sam, by writing about it, aren’t you doing the same thing in terms of keeping the media frenzy going?”
Maybe you are right. So I will stop now. “See” you tomorrow.
To view the article upon which this blog is based, please go to http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1356173&srvc=rss and http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?&articleid=1355626&format=&page=1&listingType=Loc#articleFull