Murder convictions without a body challenging, not impossible

Crime

Brian Walshe, of Cohasset, faces a Quincy Court judge charged with impeding the investigation into his wife Ana’ disappearance from their home Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger via AP, Pool)

(NewsNation) — Prosecuting a murder case without a body is uncommon and presents additional challenges for investigators, but multiple experts to whom NewsNation spoke said “no-body” murder convictions are not unheard of, especially if there’s strong evidence the alleged victim is dead.

That may be the challenge before Massachusetts authorities, who have yet to find the remains of Ana Walshe, a mother of three who has been missing since around New Year’s Day.

The day after her disappearance, prosecutors said Ana Walshe’s husband, Brian Walshe, searched, “Can you be charged with murder without a body?” on his son’s iPad. The short answer is yes, you can.

Murder cases without a body can be difficult to bring to trial because authorities have to prove the alleged victim was actually killed and isn’t just missing, said Tad DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in “no-body” murder cases.

Without a body, authorities may also have a harder time establishing precisely when a murder occurred and that can further complicate the timeline of events.

Despite the evidentiary challenges, DiBiase’s research found that when “no -body” murder cases go to trial, they have high conviction rates around 86%. By comparison, the national conviction rate for all murder cases is about 70%.

“When you do get to trial, you tend to have very strong cases,” DiBiase said.

In part, that’s because the other evidence — both circumstantial and forensic — has to be strong enough to overcome the lack of physical evidence a body provides.

Prosecutors revealed over a dozen disturbing internet searches in court Wednesday that they say Brian Walshe made on his son’s iPad on Jan. 1, just minutes before he told police he last saw his wife.

The searches — made between 4:58 a.m. and 5:47 a.m. — included “How long before a body starts to smell,” “How to stop a body from decomposing,” and “10 ways to dispose of a body if you really need to.”

In addition to the suspicious Google searches, prosecutors found trash bags with articles of clothing corresponding to what Ana Walshe was believed to have been wearing when she disappeared.

Investigators also found a Tyvek suit, cleaning rags and a COVID-19 vaccination card with Ana Walshe’s name on it, among other items. Some of those items had blood stains, as well as DNA linked to Brian and Ana Walshe, prosecutors said.

Authorities also recovered “a hacksaw, a hatchet and some cutting shears” from the trash bags. Those materials are in addition to a bloody broken knife that was discovered in the basement of the family’s home.

Prosecutors said Brian Walshe was recorded on surveillance video buying hundreds of dollars of cleaning supplies at Home Depot just days after his wife’s disappearance. It’s a trip to the store he never mentioned to investigators.

Based on the evidence presented so far, DiBiase believes prosecutors have enough to convict Brian Walshe without a body.

“This is a strong case that’s going to be very hard for him to get out of,” DiBiase said.

Other experts NewsNation spoke to agreed that “no-body” convictions are uncommon but not out of the question.

Criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos told NewsNation the prosecution in the Ana Walshe case will start by focusing on the circumstantial evidence. For example, why would Ana Walshe leave her kids without notice?

Sarah Cailean, a homicide investigator, said authorities will attempt to show “that the events that took place at the scene of the crime were not something that a human was likely to be able to survive.”

Brian Walshe has been charged with murder as well as disinterment of a body in connection with his wife’s death. He has maintained his innocence.

“I intend to win this case in court, not in the media, which has already tried and convicted Mr. Walshe,” Tracy Miner, Brian Walshe’s attorney, said Wednesday.

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