A Salt Lake man has been barred from collecting life insurance benefits from policies on his wife by a civil jury that decided he killed her, although he never was charged in the slaying.
The unusual verdict was hailed as a victory by the dead woman's father, Al Fisher, owner of a Toronto building maintenance company, and decried as a miscarriage of justice by her husband, Earl Bramhall, 37, of Salt Lake City.A six-member Pierce County Superior Court jury deliberated less than two hours Wednesday before ruling on a suit brought by Fisher under a rarely used Washington state law that bars killers from profiting from their crimes.
Chris Weiss, a lawyer hired by Fisher, said he had found only six cases in which the statute had been applied, all involving defendants in criminal cases.
The outcome "is justice as far as it goes, but I'd like to see the prosecutors bring charges," Fisher said.
The only immediate effect is to bar Bramhall from collecting $35,000 on life insurance policies. But authorities said they would re-examine the 3-year-old killing of Darlene Bramhall, 27, an investment clerk at a brokerage house.
"We will be taking a hard look at it, said Deputy Prosecutor Gerry Horne. "If we feel we have sufficient evidence so that a jury ought to convict, we want to go forward."
He noted that the burden of proof in a criminal trial requires absence of reasonable doubt, much higher than in a civil lawsuit, which requires only a preponderance of the evidence.
Curt Benson of the sheriff's office said evidence from the civil case "has certainly been helpful to us. This has not been closed by any means."
The woman's body was found Sept. 14, 1987, and had been badly mutilated by her German shepherd dog, which had been locked in the house with her during the four days after she died.
Medical Examiner Emmanuel Lacsina ruled that strangling was the probable cause of death.
Investigators said the woman had no known health problems, nor did blood and toxicological tests find any sign of drugs, alcohol or poison.
"I always had felt very strongly that Earl had killed her," Fisher said. "This verdict proves my suspicions were right."
Bramhall, a truck driver who met his wife while serving a prison term for armed robbery in Florida, denied any responsibility for his wife's death.