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Stuart Shooting: The Crime Is Still the Major Mystery

January 15, 1990

BOSTON (AP) _ Despite the intense scrutiny given the Charles Stuart case, investigators still are not entirely sure of the answer to the major remaining question in the twisted drama: Who shot Stuart and his wife, and how?

Police are leaning toward the scenario that Stuart, who died Jan. 4 in what is believed to be suicide set off when a brother implicated him, shot his wife and himself last Oct. 23. But they cannot rule out a different gunman.

In a hospital interview several days after the shootings, Stuart told police an assailant entered the back seat of their car at a red light, forced him to drive to a remote area of the city, robbed the couple, and then shot them.

In a short time, police came up with a suspect with a long criminal record. Stuart’s deception, legal experts say, got the investigation off on the wrong track by shifting the focus away from him and the physical evidence.

″It’s very common that once the police have a suspect who satisfies them they will stop looking at other people,″ said lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor. ″They don’t want the defense later saying that they were looking at other people because they had doubts about your case.″

It has been determined that three bullets were fired that night: One hit the roof of Stuart’s car, one hit Stuart in the stomach, and one struck his wife.

An affidavit indicates Carol Stuart was struck on the left side of the head, which would seem to rule out a gunman shooting from the outside right of the car. The possibilities remain that Stuart could have shot his wife and then himself, that another person could have shot both of them from the rear or the outside left of the car, or a combination of the two.

An investigator who would not be identified by name said Stuart’s car was examined by the city crime lab and that the angles of the shots appeared consistent with Stuart’s account.

When asked where the results of that examination might be obtained, the investigator said: ″I don’t know that anything was ever put into writing; I never saw any paper on it.″ Dershowitz said investigators have a tendency to avoid producing documents that defense attorneys might later poke holes into.

Police would not comment when asked if fingerprint and fiber checks were made on the car, which Stuart traded in on a new car after he left the hospital in December.

Authorities have said Stuart was a suspect - as are all husbands and wives when a spouse is slain - but only a remote one because they had no reason to doubt him until he was implicated by his youngest brother.

In hindsight, a question about the shootings might have been stirred by a comment Stuart made in the very early moments after the crime. In his car phone plea for help, Stuart was asked if his wife was shot. He told the police dispatcher: ″Yes. In the head.″ The dispatcher asked: ″In the head?″ Stuart responded: ″Yes, I ducked down.″

Was Stuart saying that he avoided being shot because he ducked or that his wife was hit because he ducked - an almost impossible result of a shot fired toward Stuart from the back seat?

The investigator indicated Stuart was not pressed on the point.

Stuart might also have been pressed when, according to an affidavit, he was interviewed in the hospital several days after the shootings. Although Stuart could not tell the dispatcher where he was the night of the crime until he drove to a major thoroughfare, in the hospital he was able to steer investigators to a street - where he said the shots were fired - so obscure that it cannot be found on at least two detailed city maps.

Of witnesses who said the arrested suspect, William Bennett, admitted the shooting, one has since said he was coerced into making those statements, and another has said he was coached by investigators. Bennett has been cleared but remained in jail on other charges.

John Julian, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney, who is in charge of the investigation, said the office stands by its procedures.

Meanwhile, investigators have turned to Charles Stuart’s youngest brother, Matthew.

Matthew has said, through his lawyer, that Charles arranged for him to follow Charles to a meeting place, where Charles tossed him his wife’s bag and a gun, and that Matthew then left, having no indication that a shooting had occurred. He said the bag and gun were thrown in a river in Revere.

Had Charles or someone else already done the shooting? That would mean Stuart had driven to the meeting place and tossed the bag while he was suffering from a life-threatening injury.

The gun believed used in the crime was pulled from the river last week and is being analyzed by the FBI crime lab.

A grand jury has taken a recess in the case. One prosecutor has said the panel might not indict anyone, and that no one may ever know what happened.

″Just about anything’s still possible,″ he said.

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