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What if Body is Never Found in Hacking Case?

What if Body is Never Found in Hacking Case?

Posted - Jul. 27, 2004 at 10:40 p.m.



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John Hollenhorst reportingTrained searchers may be called upon in the Lori Hacking case if there's a special reason. That was the case today in the Bountiful foothills.

But prosecutors have been pondering a tough question: What if they never find a body?

A carefully targeted search took place Tuesday morning in the foothills above the "B" in Bountiful.

A Cache County Search and Rescue team spent the morning looking into canyons and along roadsides.

They say they were asked to do so by Mark Hacking's brother.

Sandafer Logan/ Cache County Search & Rescue: "Because Mark had liked to come up here and four wheel. Lots of other people like to come up and four wheel."

This cadaver dog is trained to sniff out the scent of decaying flesh.

The team went through areas where someone could have easily dumped a body....or buried one in a shallow grave.

Sandafer Logan/ Cache County Search & Rescue: " You know we always want to find people alive. Today? I'm looking, I guess, on the assumption she may no longer be with us."

A key question now: What happens if they never find a body? Could investigators still make a murder case out of what they have found?

Prof. Erik Luna/ University of Utah College of Law: "It's very difficult. I can think of very few cases in which an individual has been convicted when the victim has not been found."

Law professor Erik Luna says if the search remains fruitless prosecutors may face a tough choice.

Suppose they have the elements of a strong murder case.

Forensic evidence: blood and hair, perhaps even Lori's DNA on a knife.

Circumstantial evidence: a suspect acting suspiciously.

Even if there were eyewitnesses to key events that might establish motive and hypothetically a signed confession from a suspect, jurors may have reasonable doubt.

Luna: "Number one, is this in fact a homicide? Is the person still alive and just hasn't been found? We have a little bit of experience with that in the recent past. The Elizabeth Smart case demonstrated to all of us that improbability is not the same as impossibility."

So, as the search continues, one worry hangs over it -- if a jury has reasonable doubt, a suspect could be acquitted and never tried again.

Professor Luna says no one at the law school can remember a Utah murder prosecution in which the victim's body was never found.

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