On my last LaDue January case post, super blogger and writer Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative asked if the case was closed and could it be reopened.
Yes, Ms. LaDue January's case was closed and labeled a suicide after a brief investigation. Authorities do not like to reopen cases, but it does happen if information is received that places considerable doubt on the initial cause of death determination.
Unfortunately, appeals to local and state officials to take a second look at this death case have been unsuccessful.
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.
Two primary reports by law enforcement exist that describe the death scene of Nikki LaDue January.
I previously covered, Sgt. Willie Davis' (the first responder) report, and now I'll focus on the lead investigator, Detective Tom Pustay of the Pass Christian Police Department.*
*Note: Det. Pustay no longer works in law enforcement, and is currently serving a multi-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of a minor.
The following are excerpts from Det. Pustay's report.
"On Monday, July 29, 2002, I received a call to go to Gulf Palm Villa Condos Unit 303 in reference to a suicide."
Unlike first responders, investigators are less likely to arrive at a fluid homicide scene. Along with contacting the detective, the dispatcher or person at the scene would provide him/her (him in this case) with a summary of the situation. The "it looks like a suicide" theory would have been introduced as soon as the detective was told about the case.
As with anyone, it sometimes can be difficult to think outside the box when a theory, backed with supporting evidence, is initially proposed.
"There is post mortem lividity in her legs and the palms of her hands."
Post mortem lividity or livor mortis is the reddish purple discoloration of the skin due to the settling of thickened blood. In a body found supine or face-up, one expects to see livor mortis in the posterior parts of the body--while the opposite is true: face-down, lividity in the anterior parts.
Livor mortis can help investigators determine if a body has been moved after death.
There was a Sterling .380 caliber pistol serial number B064298 partially under her left thigh on the chair. I secured and cleared the pistol.
Pistols at a crime scene should be "secured" immediately. When a pistol is "cleared" is dictated by the situation. Unless the firearm presents an immediate danger, like when it is in an area hostile to police, it should not be handled and cleared until it is being photographed and then processed. During the clearing process, an investigator would then note the number of rounds, whether the safety was on or off (if applicable), if a bullet was found in the chamber, the type of load, etc.
Strangely, these specifics about the bullets, load, and gun were not included in this report. One has to review the coroner's summary to learn that the pistol's safety was evidently found "off" and the hammer back.
I'll be back next time to discuss Det. Pustay's notations on blood spatter at the scene.
The spatter appears to be one of the many problems encountered in matching information contained in the reports to the other evidence available in the case.
All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.
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