by: Beattie, Robert
Publisher: SIGNET, Penguin Group USA Inc
Location: 375 Hudson, NY, NY 10014
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 11/1/2010
Summary: Kansas Professor Tom Murray convicted of murder based on circumstantial evidence arising out of his interview.
How circumstantial can circumstantial evidence be to point conclusively to guilt? That is the question LANGUAGE OF EVIL answers-in a way.
As the author Robert Beattie points out, the case of Professor Tom Murray was an episode of the CBS program 48 Hours Mystery in 2005 and COURT TV’s The Investigators. The reason the murder case of Professor Murray was of such interest was the circumstantial nature of the evidence against him.
Tom Murray was convicted of the murder of his former wife primarily based upon information police gathered during a ten hour interview. There was no confession. It is a key point and the point that makes this book worth reading. Aside from the interview, there was no conclusive evidence linking Murray to the murder.
Douglas County, Kansas Sheriff’s deputies discovered the bloodied and battered body of Carmin Ross on November 14, 2003 when at the home to conduct a wellness check. The events Robert Beattie describe following that discovery may have been slanted to support the eventual outcome of what appears to have been an intense investigation. Before Murray is even brought into an interview room-“interview room #2”-there is his odd reaction when deputies arrive at his home to inform him of his former wife’s death. The deputies deny Murray’s request to “discuss this later” and he is taken to the Riley County police station in Manhattan, Kansas where Murray lived.
The author takes apart the interview-interrogation-almost item by item. It was not so much the inconsistencies of Murray’s story that nails him. Rather, it is the consistency in which he is the main character, dutifully exercising his parental rights of taking care of his young daughter at the time of his estranged wife’s murder, no where near the home at the time of her murder. Details shifted, but the central plot remained that Murray was at his home grading papers or making the motions to run an errand when the murder occurred.
Beattie concentrates on the police interview of Murray in covering the details of Carmin Ross’s murder and singles out the skills of the interrogating officers. If you contrast the interrogation conducted by Detective Doug Wood with the reported interrogations conducted in other murder cases, you spot the difference immediately. In the interrogation transcript excerpts, it is pretty clear that Detective Wood is seeking the truth. Professor Murray on the other hand is focused on explaining why he could not have been anywhere near the murdered woman’s home on the day she was murdered. The two objectives should have merged seamlessly into a picture of what Murray was doing on that day. Instead, there are little flakes of detritus in Murray’s story that look like lies. And yet, Detective Wood stays on track–looking for truth.
A year after the sparring in “interview room #2”, Murray was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife. Yet, the events-from the murder to the eventual conviction-is not the real story of LANGUAGE OF EVIL. The real story is the atmosphere surrounding the events. The search for truth. The mechanizations to hide the truth. The goal to achieve justice. Not having been there, not having observed firsthand the interplay of events and consequences, it is impossible to determine what ultimately was real about the events. But if you care about the integrity of our legal system, you can only hope that what the book describes is accurate and wish that all criminal investigations were imbued with the same truth seeking objectivity as Murray’s appears to have been. LANGUAGE OF EVIL is definitely worth reading.