These types of cases will be some of the hardest a prosecutor has to take to trial. As of January 2012, there have been 356 “no body” murder trials in the United States. Of those 356, 48 have been trials where the victim is under 14 years old. Of those 48, 32 were trials where the defendant is the victims parent, step-parent, or live-in significant other. Here are three of those cases:
|Logan Tucker, age 6|
Logan Tucker was 6 years old when he disappeared on June 23, 2002 from Woodward, OK. He was living with his mother Katherine Rutan, his 4 year old brother and a roommate Melody Lennington. Logan’s father had not been in his life since he was an infant. DHS had removed Logan and his younger brother from their mother’s care because she threatened harm to them but the children were returned to her in a few days. Shortly before his disappearance, Logan was caught playing with matches and Katherine tried to get help from local officials stating that Logan had burned down a previous residence. Three days before Logan disappeared, Katherine told DHS she wanted to relinquish her parental rights to both children. DHS said they would place him in residential treatment but did not have an opening for a few days and Katherine became angry. The roommate, Melody, last saw Logan on the night of June 22, 2002 when she put both children to bed. Melody woke up between 3 or 4 a.m. by Logan screaming and crying but went back to sleep. When she woke at 6 am, she asked Katherine what happened to Logan who responded that Logan was sick and she put him in the basement. Later when Melody asked about Logan, she was told various stories about DHS coming to get him, him living with his father or he was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Katherine had different stories of where Logan was for different people, she even told different stories to DHS. After Logan’s grandparents kept getting evasive answers to his whereabouts they reported his disappearance on July 7. When LE searched the home of Katherine and Melody, they found bloodstains and duct tape with hairs stuck to it in the basement. They also found plastic sheeting, rope and drain cleaner in Katherine’s car. In February 2006, Katherine was charged with first-degree murder in Logan’s case. She was convicted of murder in 2007. The jury only deliberated 2 hours before reaching a verdict and recommended a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His body has still not been recovered.
What do these cases show? That even with only circumstantial evidence prosecutors can get a conviction.
These cases also show things that we have known and speculated in Ayla's case, abuse, DHS failing the child, someone saying to stop searching, drugs, blood evidence and in two of the three above cases foul play is suspected.
The first thing prosecutors will have to do in murder cases with “no body“ is to prove that a crime has been committed before a person can be convicted of the crime, corpus delicti. In these cases circumstantial evidence is key.
Prosecutors will have to show that based on the circumstantial evidence that the only logical answer is that a murder occurred. The defense will try to come up with other plausible scenarios based on evidence or lack of as the cause of disappearance. LE will have to make sure they give prosecutors enough evidence to rule out everything but murder.
The most damning piece of evidence in Ayla’s case is the blood found in the basement by Justin’s bed. The prosecutor will have to show how “a cupful” of blood would be detrimental to a toddler of Ayla’s size without getting her medical treatment.
So why if there is such a damning piece of evidence against the people in the home the night Ayla disappeared have there been no arrests? While I am no lawyer, I would say because the prosecutors want to make sure all their pieces of the puzzle fit in correctly so that even with a missing piece, the body, the big picture is still seen and there will be no reasonable doubt with jurors that another scenario for Ayla’s disappearance is plausible.
While we all want an arrest now, we have to be patient so that those responsible can be put away for a long time and I have no doubt in my mind that LE and prosecutors are working diligently behind the scenes to find that justice for Ayla.