When a victim is presumed dead yet a body is not found, is a murder conviction even possible? This is a question on many southern Utah residents’ minds after a young father went missing under suspicious circumstances and has yet to turn up.
Gone, but not without a trace
On June 27th, 2016 30 year old David Corey Heisler went missing from his Santa Clara, Utah home and many in the community are crying “murder”. When Heisler was reported missing, he and his vehicle were nowhere to be found yet his personal belongings such as a wallet and cell phone were still in the home that Heisler shared with his father, step-mother and daughter. He also had a video game on pause, alluding to the fact that he had no intention of leaving home at that time. To create more cause for concern, blood splatter was found throughout the home which indicated that a struggled likely ensued.
Extreme custody battle
During the investigation, police were able to locate three suspects in connection with Heisler’s disappearance. The first was Kelley Marie Perry, who just two weeks prior lost a custody battle for the pair’s 6 year old daughter, Mariah. The second person arrested was Francis Lee McCard, a man who witnesses said was frequently seen with Perry and is described as being strongly built and likely able of effortlessly overpowering Heisler. The third person arrested four days after Perry and McCard is Tammy Renee Freeman who is alleged to be the transportation in the case.
All three individuals arrested have admitted involvement with the suspicious disappearance of David Heisler. Perry and McCard told authorities they surprised Heisler at his home where they physically assaulted him, tossed him in his own car, and drove him out to the desert. When Perry met up with Freeman who had previously dropped the duo off at Heisler’s home, McCard claims he drove Heisler to a secluded area south of the Utah border where he left the victim alive. He then stated to ditching the vehicle and meeting back up with Perry and Freeman. Heisler’s missing vehicle was located by authorities in Beaver Dam, Arizona which is located a mere 34 miles from Heisler’s home yet a considerable distance away from where Heisler was reported to be left. Blood splatter on the car and evidence of a discharged firearm increased concern of Heisler’s well-being, and whether or not he survived the kidnapping.
3 felonies but no murder charge
Perry, McCard, and Freeman are all facing charges of first degree felony aggravated burglary, first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, and second-degree felony theft of a motor vehicle. One charge that has not been added thus far however is murder. With Heisler missing over two weeks in triple digit temperatures with no food or water and probable injuries, the public is skeptical that Heisler is alive. Heisler’s family and law enforcement officials however have told the community to not give up hope for a safe return. This hope of finding Heisler alive could be what is preventing murder charges to arise, however the possibility of not having a body may also prevent police from charging the three with murder.
Murder conviction with no body
If the trio is charged, is a murder conviction possible if a body is never located? The answer is yes, yet proving a murder without a body is not an easy thing for prosecutors to do. The reason for this is to prevent wrongful convictions, especially when it could lead to life in prison or the death penalty. In the case of David Heisler, a large majority of the public has already deemed Perry, McCard, and Freeman guilty for murder of Heisler either by a gunshot wound or by leaving him to die of exposure, yet at this time no one knows for sure if he is alive or dead. Without a body or enough circumstantial and forensic evidence to back up a murder charge, a judge or jury cannot and should not agree with a murder conviction; an experienced criminal defense attorney would help ensure that.