Tuesday, April 1st, 2008
by Irvin Muchnick
On Monday I talked with Detective Ethon Harper of the Fayette County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office. Harper wrote the closing report on the Benoit investigation, which was released in February. In future posts I’ll offer the detective’s perspective on specific topics. First, I want to share his assurance that his office did not inform World Wrestling Entertainment on June 25, 2007, the day the bodies were discovered, that the case was a double homicide/suicide.
I accept this isolated factoid with respect. I also process it with realism. Figuring out when Vince McMahon knew Chris Benoit was the perpetrator, not a victim, is a matter of intense public curiosity. But it is not the mission of law enforcement per se. The sheriff was charged with investigating only the crime itself.
Harper told me he had reviewed the events of June 25 with Lieutenant Tommy Pope, who that day was the sheriff’s office coordinator at the crime scene. Harper and Pope agreed that no one from their agency told WWE anything that specific about Chris Benoit’s role in the three deaths, and I believe them.
“We were just doing our job, gathering and evaluating evidence,” Harper said. It was not a moment for announcing findings, no matter how obvious the crime might have been on its face. Details might still influence the underlying narrative, if not the very direction of the investigation. To give you a quick example, Nancy was bound as well as strangled. Therefore, investigators had to ponder the possibility that Chris, at least initially, might have had a plan to take off alive, perhaps with Daniel.
So it is only fair to reemphasize Detective Harper’s insistence that no one pulled aside someone from WWE in the hours prior to the Raw tribute and said, in these or similar words, “What we have here, we’re pretty sure, is that your wrestler went on a rampage.”
But I think it’s equally essential to point out that the absence of such a conveyance from the sheriff to the company does not automatically exonerate the latter. I say so for several reasons: