As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Colleen Collins is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.
Above is the cover photo for her most recent book, The Zen Man, which is being released this month. Just as washed-up criminal defense attorney, life-long Deadhead (nicknamed “The Zen Man”), and current PI Rick Levine decides to get relicensed as a lawyer, he’s charged with killing one, who also happens to be his ex-wife, and ends up in the slammer with a half-million bail. Out on bond with 30 days to find the real killer, Rick and and his girlfriend Laura dig for dirt from Denver’s shady legal backrooms to the city’s tony corporate centers. Dodging bullets, trumped-up charges and the FBI’s unwanted intervention, they continue tracking key suspects who have motive…until they face a final, deadly encounter with the surprise killer.
Below is Colleen's guest article. If you leave a comment or question for Colleen, you'll be entered into a contest for a free copy of her Kindle book, How Do Private Eyes Do That? Good luck to everyone!
(Motive, Opportunity and Means)
By Colleen Collins
Recently a writer friend of mine who’s written dozens of romance novels landed a book contract where the publisher asked for a “complex crime” at the core of the story. My friend contacted me, worried. “I’ve never written a crime!” she said, “can you give me any advice?” “Sure, think MOM,” I answered, “which stands for motive, opportunity and means.”
Besides being a writer, I’m also a private investigator who’s married to her private investigator partner who’s also a criminal defense attorney. I tell you this because our lives are full of MOM, from crafting stories to trying criminal cases.
In U.S. criminal law, MOM encapsulates three sides of a crime necessary to convince a jury of guilt in a criminal proceeding. Did the defendant have a motive to commit the crime? Did the defendant have an opportunity, or chance, to accomplish the deed? Did the defendant also have the ability (means)?
Let’s look at some ways a fictional sleuth might use MOM in a story:
Conduct witness interviews. There’s the direct questions a sleuth might ask, and which we often hear in movies, such as “Where were you at nine o’clock on the night of April 12, Miss Smith?” (opportunity). But also think about your sleuth asking questions that delve into a suspect’s character (motive), history of violence or peacefulness (means/motive or lack of means/motive), or knowledge about using a certain type of weapon (means). A sleuth might also interview other people who’ve seen that suspect use the same type of weapon or conduct certain violent acts.
Examine the murder weapon. Let’s say your sleuth wants to prove the killer was someone other than the person charged with the crime. Your sleuth might looks for clues that show lack of means on the murder weapon (such as bloody hand imprints that are larger than the defendant’s or a strand of hair stuck in blood that's a different color than the defendant’s).
Recreate the homicide event. Your sleuth might reconstruct the event at the scene of the crime to prove a person had access to a weapon (means) as well as opportunity. For example, the reconstruction might show how easily a suspect could have reached for the murder weapon. Or, conversely, that the suspect wasn’t tall enough to reach the weapon, strong enough to lift it, or maybe even literate enough to have read the instructions on how to use the weapon. As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove that a witness couldn’t possibly have seen what she claimed to have seen because there wasn’t ample lighting to clearly see at the time the incident occurred.
Find an alternate suspect. Your sleuth might research other people who had motive, opportunity and means to commit a crime. For example, the sleuth might analyze someone’s character for motive (such as his/her history of outbursts toward the victim), look for clues tying another person to the murder weapon (for example, his/her knowledge of how to use that weapon), or establish someone had opportunity (by analyzing a person’s timeline).
A last point to keep in mind: a court cannot convict based solely on motive, opportunity and means. A lawyer must provide convincing proof of all three. Obtaining this proof is, of course, what your sleuth (a detective, private investigator, amateur sleuth) has been doggedly investigating, with the help of MOM, throughout the course of your story.
Thank you to Beth Groundwater for hosting me today at her blog. I’d like to give away a Kindle copy of How Do Private Eyes Do That? to one of today’s commenters. You don’t need a Kindle to download the book (Amazon provides a free, easy-to-download app for downloading the ebook onto your PC, Mac and other devices).
And thank you, Colleen, for that excellent article! I'm expecting to see lots of comments here, since Colleen is giving away such a great prize.