Laura Babcock: Can it be first-degree murder without a body?
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Can police really lay murder charges without a body? Legal experts say that such charges, however counterintuitive, are not unheard of.
“There have been quite a few murder convictions without a body. Circumstantial evidence is used to prove death and the killing,” said Osgoode Hall Law School professor Alan Young.
Those murder convictions have typically been made on the strength of a confession, he said.
Dellen Millard has been charged with murdering both his father Wayne — long ago cremated since his 2012 death — and murdering his former girlfriend, Toronto woman Laura Babcock, last seen that same year. Mark Smich has also been charged with first-degree murder in Babcock’s case, yet police have never announced the discovery of her body.
“Proving the intention to kill normally comes from the type of injuries inflicted or the number of injuries inflicted or some other evidence of motive,” said Toronto criminal lawyer Daniel Brown, who recently defended a client in a murder case where the body was never found.
Kitchener’s James Parise, who was initially charged with second-degree murder, plead guilty in February to manslaughter in the beating death of Catherine Todd. It’s believed her body was dumped at a landfill site in Waterloo. A 50-day search turned up nothing.
Without a body, prosecutors could not demonstrate the extent of Todd’s injuries and couldn’t prove a murder charge in the absence of other evidence, Brown said.
A murder charge could be downgraded at trial if no body is discovered, he said.
“It would be uncommon for the police to lay a first-degree murder charge where they didn’t think there was good evidence to justify it,” he said. “But reasonable and probable grounds a crime has been committed” — the standard for laying charges — “is a different standard than what needs to be met in court.”
The charges have not been proven in court. Millard plans to plead not guilty.