In July of 2002, the body of Nikki LaDue January was found seated on the balcony of her condominium in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Officers stated that she had a single gun shot wound to her right temple area.
A Sterling .380 caliber pistol was partially under her left thigh on a chair, her right leg was propped up against the table in front of her, and a cordless phone on the table was covered in blood.
There were two different brands of cigarettes and two different lighters on the table in front of her.
A bullet was located in a chair on the next balcony, and a shell casing was later found by a maintenance man in the condo's pool.
Ms. January had apparently been deceased for several hours, and her five-year old son was found in the residence unharmed.
Authorities at the scene quickly classified the death as a suicide. ___________________________________________________
The lead detective for the Nikki LaDue January case was Pass Christian Police Department investigator Thomas Pustay.
At the time, Detective Pustay had over 20 years of law enforcement experience.
He was contacted by officers at the scene and arrived at Ms. LaDue January's condo the morning she was discovered deceased.
Pustay spoke with the initial medical and police responders.
He interviewed the Nikki's husband, Phil January, as well as her friend Nancy Burge who also had entered the condo.
He examined the death scene, collected some items, and took photos.
He coordinated with the county coroner in processing the incident.
And most importantly, Det. Pustay weighed the evidence for a short time and determined that Ms. LaDue January committed suicide.
Though police agency policies vary, generally there is less work for a suicide versus a homicide.
No intensive canvassing for witnesses.
Limited tests and forensic work.
No follow-up search warrants of cell phone records, computers, or other electronic equipment.
No thorough background check of the victim to identify persons of interest in her past or in the present.
In this alleged suicide, no diagrams were completed to record the precise location of items in relation to the body.
No initial autopsy was conducted.
So, little was done at the LaDue January death scene--as it was ruled just another incident involving someone taking their own life.
But what happens when the investigator's integrity is later shown to be lacking?
In 2005, the married Thomas Pustay was convicted of two counts of touching of a child for lustful purposes and three counts of sexual battery. Prosecutors stated that the former detective began abusing the victim (a family friend) at age 9, and it lasted for 7 years.
Pustay is now serving 40 years in a Mississippi prison.
Former Detective Thomas Pustay (Source: MS Dept. of Corrections)
One item of note from the article on Pustay's conviction is his admission of lying to police investigators.
So, it is understandable for Ms. LaDue January's family and those examining the death case to question the credibility of this lead detective.
A detective who has shown a pattern of dishonesty and poor judgment.
And, a detective leading an investigation where the quality of the evidence saved was questionable--not to mention at least one item that was collected and then apparently misplaced.
The family's site includes detailed questions that seem to be unanswered in this case.
Next time, I'll take a look at some of those issues and offer my own observations.
All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.