February 27

This Day in History

Crime

Feb 27, 1991:

Video recreates the crime

Artie Mitchell is shot to death by his brother Jim in his Corte Madera, California, house. When police responding to a 911 call by Artie's girlfriend arrived at the house they found Jim wandering aimlessly outside carrying a rifle. Artie had been shot multiple times in the chest and head and was already dead.

The Mitchell brothers had made a fortune in the pornography business. They also owned a popular strip club in San Francisco and had wild lifestyles to match their profession. Despite their success, the brothers were constantly fighting, often in violent physical encounters. Jim Mitchell claimed that his brother's death resulted from one of these fights.

However, based on the 911 call, the prosecution argued that it was first-degree, premeditated murder. Five out of the eight total shots from the rifle could be heard in the background of the 911 call with a 30-second gap between two of the shots. Thus, authorities maintained that Jim had shot the already-wounded Artie to death in cold blood.

At the trial in 1992, prosecutors sought to introduce an animated video that reconstructed the events of February 27, 1991. This video showed Jim shooting Artie with a final shot to the head. The defense attorneys vehemently objected to this evidence, maintaining that it was impossible to know which shots came at what time. Despite this major problem with the re-creation, the judge admitted the video.

Although the video was shown to the jury, the defense attacked the prosecution's forensic experts and forced them to admit that pure speculation was at the heart of the video presentation. In the end, the jury only convicted Jim Mitchell of manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Computer-generated video re-creations of crime scenes are being used more often today. The public got a taste of their quality during the O.J. Simpson trial, when several were presented on television news shows. However, they remain controversial. With so much left to interpretation, courts are sometimes hesitant to admit re-creations as evidence.

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