Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Jan. 27
The Zahau Suicide Ruling: A Dangerous Precedent?
In Bizarre Legal Reversal, Vista Man Who Doused Ex-Wife with Gasoline and Attempted to Set Her on Fire Is Released
"Actually, it was an attempted suicide."
BY THE PUMPS AT A VISTA CHEVRON - Locals are still reeling over the stunning acquittal and release of Danny Vinci, convicted in July of assault with a caustic chemical, making a criminal threat and corporal injury to a spouse or roommate. The conviction, which earned Vinci a 17-year prison sentence, stemmed from a March 2010 incident in which Vinci approached ex-wife Cheryl Kopp and poured gasoline on her while threatening her and attempting to ignite a lighter.
Amazingly, the acquittal is not the result of any new evidence regarding the events themselves, but on the motivations behind them. "Based on our best examination of the case in light of our new findings," said Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe, "it seems that Vinci was really just a hapless pawn in Kopp's strange and Byzantine plot to commit suicide. It was only after he failed to successfully carry out Kopp's plan that she turned on him and accused him of assault."
Authorities refused to divulge the exact nature of the evidence that led them to their startling conclusion, except to say that it involved a collection of heavily annotated magazine articles clipped from old copies of Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and the German newsweekly Der Spiegel found in Ms. Kopp's self-storage unit. (SD on the QT has learned that friends of Kopp dispute whether the handwriting on the articles belongs to her, and further allege that she is unable to read German. More on this story as it develops.)
When pressed as to how the District Attorney's office managed to construe a man pouring gasoline on a woman and threatening to set her on fire as a suicide attempt, Watanable replied simply, "Why don't you ask the San Diego Sheriff's Department how they managed to conclude that Rebecca Zahau took her clothes off, bound her own hands and feet, then tied a rope to a bed, put a noose around her neck, stuffed a t-shirt in her mouth, left the bedroom, knocked herself in the head a couple of times, and then hurled herself over a balcony to her death? I think you'll find that the answers are remarkably similar."
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