Wired Crime: the murder of Gretchen Anthony and staging 2.0

Wired Crime: the murder of Gretchen Anthony and staging 2.0

Wired Crime

When we talk about crime, by staging we mean the staging at the scene of a crime, like that of someone who adds details to the scene or alters the evidence, perhaps leaving around glasses in which, some time before, he made a colleague drink: the DNA, in the event of a test, it will not be that of the criminal but of a colleague who may be at the center of a murder investigation.

Using the victim's cell phone to make them believe she is still alive is another staging most used by killers: sending text messages to family members, perhaps asking them not to worry that, soon, he will be back, that he needs some time to think; or even continue to interact with followers on social networks. If the crime scene appears overly elaborate or if a house seems far too clean to consider it used normally, it means that, in the face of a missing person report, the irreparable has probably happened.

But the staging usually it does not last long, even if there have been cases in which the simpler and not at all premeditated staging have had the desired effect: diverting investigations.

In this episode of sportsgaming.win Crime we will talk, among other things, about the case of Gretchen Anthony, a Florida woman killed by her husband who then ran away after having sent messages from the phone of the victim. In that case the coverage was Covid-19. The killer had sent messages pretending to be the woman in which she, in despair, told her she had fallen ill and that, while she was writing, she was about to enter intensive care to be intubated. Her parents, shocked, had looked for her first at home and then in the hospital where their daughter had said she had been hospitalized ...

In the office, criminologist and journalist Cristina Brondoni with Sara Uslenghi of sportsgaming.win editorial team. At the production, Giulia Rocco.

Note: This episode of sportsgaming.win Crime was recorded prior to incidents relating to the murder of influencer Gabby Petito. Some time references are therefore not updated.

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Is Leaking a Supreme Court Opinion a Crime? The Law Is Far From Clear

The leak of a seismic draft opinion from the US Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade has somehow managed overnight to elicit roughly equal outpourings of anger from the right and left: The left has rallied to decry a decision that would overturn a 50-year-old cornerstone of reproductive rights. Conservatives, despite the historic victory the ruling would represent for their side, have meanwhile targeted their political outrage at a far more specific individual: the leaker.

Just hours after Politico published a draft of the majority ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito calling the Roe decision 'egregiously wrong from the start' and overruling that five-decade-old precedent, figures across the right issued a chorus of calls for the investigation and prosecution of the anonymous source of the 'illegal' leak. CBS News went so far as to report—somewhat vaguely—that it expects an investigation “involving the FBI” into the leak's source. And Chief Justice John Roberts has opened an investigation into the disclosure.

But all of that furor is undermined by an inconvenient legal truth: Leaking a Supreme Court decision doesn't actually seem to be a crime—at least not by any clear and undisputed definition. 'Right now, it's unclear whether the leaker broke any law at all,' says Trevor Timm, a First Amendment–focused lawyer and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. 'Even the people claiming this act is beyond the pale and the FBI must investigate haven't pointed to a definitive law this leaker allegedly broke.'

Timm cites a lengthy Twitter thread published late Monday by the well-known UC Berkeley legal scholar Orin Kerr, who responded to the leak Monday night by pointing out that a Supreme Court draft doesn't meet any of the obvious criteria that would make it an illegal document to hand to a journalist: Most important, it's not classified, so leaking it doesn't open the leaker to prosecution under the Espionage Act. 'As far as I can tell, there is no federal criminal law that directly prohibits disclosure of a draft legal opinion,' Kerr concluded.

Of course, if the source is someone who hacked into a computer of, say, a Supreme Court justice or law clerk—or swiped the paper off their desk—the leaker could be prosecuted with computer fraud and abuse or theft, Kerr points out. But otherwise, despite the historical rarity of Supreme Court leaks and the politically radioactive nature of this one, Kerr argues there's no slam-dunk argument to federally prosecute the leaker.

Instead, Kerr suggests that any federal prosecutor seeking to make a case against Politico's leaker might have to resort to a far shakier statute, known as 18 U.S.C. § 641. That broad statute forbids the theft or misuse of government-owned 'things of value'—a broadly written law seemingly designed at a surface level to prevent embezzlement or graft by those with access to the government's property. But whether it applies to information—and what kind of information, given to whom—remains an open question in federal law, with different circuit courts fundamentally disagreeing in their rulings.

'Legal scholarship provides little clarity regarding § 641’s interpretation; only a few scholars have even recognized § 641’s application to information,' reads a Columbia Law Review article about the statute's use for prosecuting leakers, written by Jessica Lutkenhaus, an attorney focused on criminal defense at the law firm Wilmer Hale. 'The circuits disagree about whether § 641 applies to information, and, if it does, what its scope is: What information constitutes a 'thing of value'?'

Sharing information is arguably fundamentally different from stealing 'a thing of value,' Freedom of the Press Foundation's Timm points out. 'You can't steal a government Jeep or take something tangible or physical from government offices,' Timm says. 'But copying something can be construed as different from stealing something. You copy it, and the original thing is still there, and you just leave with papers that didn't exist before.'