http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10042750Sheriff wants Edwards jailed for life for not saying where body is
Published Thursday June 14, 2007 BY TODD COOPER WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning thinks state lawmakers should make it a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of murder who doesn't lead authorities to the victim's body.
Several attorneys, however, say such a law would be unconstitutional.
Dunning floated the idea this week, as Christopher Edwards prepares to be sentenced Friday afternoon for the murder of Jessica O'Grady. A jury convicted Edwards in March of second-degree murder for killing O'Grady in May 2006. Her body still hasn't been found.
Edwards faces 20 years to life in prison. But Dunning thinks a convict like him should be required to reveal a body's location or receive a life sentence.
"All the grief he could have avoided by cooperating and telling the family where the body is," Dunning said, adding his contempt for such killers: "To hell with them guys."
Several attorneys shot down Dunning's idea this week noting that body-less murder cases are rare, that lawmakers rarely craft laws to address individual cases and that, most important, it denies a defendant's basic constitutional rights.
The right to remain silent. The right to maintain his innocence.
"There's a little thing called the Constitution," said Edwards' attorney, Steve Lefler. "Last I checked, that still trumps whatever someone might want to put into law."
O'Grady's relatives, frustrated and desperate to find her body, said they would back such a change. O'Grady's aunt, Shauna Stanzel, noted that a defendant might have more incentive to come clean if he knew he faced a mandatory life sentence.
"Maybe then, you're not going to roll the dice and see if you get 20 years instead of life," Stanzel said. "Does it happen very often? No. But when it happens, it sure is devastating for the families."
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he would support anything that helps a victim's family find a body. He said, however, that he didn't know if a law like that would pass constitutional muster.
"I share the sheriff's concerns," Kleine said. "Obviously, we want to do anything we can to help a family find their loved one.
"But when you're saying that the defendant has to tell me something, that gets into serious constitutional issues."
Other attorneys noted that prosecutors still have an avenue to try to ensure a life sentence: charge the defendant with first-degree murder.
But Dunning said the decision on charges is made more complicated by the lack of a body.
A body can help reveal premeditation, if there are multiple gunshot wounds or strangulation marks.
Edwards wasn't charged with first-degree murder because prosecutors weren't sure they could prove whether he planned the murder. Second-degree murder involves an intentional killing that isn't premeditated.
Although Douglas County had only one previous murder charge in which there was a missing body and the defendant led authorities to that body before trial Dunning said such cases could become more prevalent with DNA advances.
Though investigators couldn't find O'Grady's body, they found her blood on everything from Edwards' bedroom ceiling to his clock radio to an 8-foot section of his mattress to his car trunk.
"I think we would have had a harder time proving first-degree because you have to prove premeditation," Dunning said. "Otherwise, it was an overwhelming case."