Episode 4 Addendum: Words Matter

I posted an addendum to our fourth podcast episode that addresses two points (on iTunes and YouTube). The first pertains to the response I received from the NH State Police regarding James Renner's claim on the second episode of the Oxygen show that “the police think she was pregnant” (referring to Maura of course). The second addresses another question I reached out to law enforcement about, which is whether it is true that Maura was about to be cited for Reckless Operation before she disappeared. The short answer to both questions is “No.” Call it quibbling. Call it semantics. Call me a smartass. But words matter. And in my opinion, these distinctions are important. Over the years, a number of little fibs, warped truths, and exaggerated claims (often based on rumors and/or questionable sources) have painted a picture that in some instances, in no way even resembles the truth. No harm can be come by providing clarification.

“The Police Think She Was Pregnant”

On the second episode of the Oxygen series, Renner stated "the police think she was pregnant." His source for this information is former NH State Police Lt. John Scarinza, who retired in 2009. Scarinza’s precise quote on page 64 of Renner’s book states, “The searches conducted on her computer before she left Amherst suggest Maura may have been pregnant.”

To take a statement like “searches conducted on her computer […] suggest Maura may have been pregnant” and turn it into what was stated on the show, which is that “the police think she was pregnant” is deceptive and misleading. First, these two statements are not equivalent. As we already pointed out, any woman of child-bearing age ‘may be pregnant’ at any given time. Second, to state that “the police think” not only implies that Scarinza speaks for the police (he does not), but also leads one to draw the conclusion that the police have evaluated all the evidence in their possession and collectively arrived at a belief, which is that she was pregnant. That is false.

As the response below demonstrates, the police have not and will not reveal what they “think” until they are ready to prosecute. Frankly the overwhelming evidence uncovered by the Oxygen series pointing toward the fact that she was not pregnant speaks for itself. But still, words matter.

Was Maura About to be Charged with Reckless Operation?

No, there was no Reckless Operations citation pending. In Episode 2, Renner claimed Maura was about to be cited for Reckless Operation. In other programs, he’s gone so far as to claim she might even be charged with a DUI. I reached out to the Hadley Police to find out about the Reckless Operations charge that Renner stated was “in the works, according to the officer who responded to the scene” (TCA, pg. 147).

Sgt. Mitchell Kuc of the Hadley Police replied to my inquiry. While they could not confirm or deny any specific statement made by former Officer Mark Ruddock, their response indicated that there was nothing in their possession to suggest the claim was true. They went so far as to perform a full records inquiry relative to Maura Murray and the only thing they came up with was the accident report, which is already public record. He stated that they have no other records in their possession relating to Maura Murray. In short, there is no evidence, no pending citations, no correspondence, no officer notes, nor anything else to indicate that Maura was going to be charged with a crime for the accident in her father’s car.

Set aside the fact that there was no pending citation, would it be reasonable for Maura to believe she –could– be charged with a crime for her accident? That also seems unlikely. In order to be charged with Reckless Operations in MA, there must be proof that a person’s driving endangered the lives and safety of the public, for instance, drag racing. Massachusetts law explicitly notes that negligent operation does not constitute Reckless Operation. Moreover, there was no property damage noted in the accident report. In short, if Maura’s accident was enough to be charged with Reckless Operation, then virtually any accident you can possibly imagine would be enough to constitute Reckless Ops.

One thing to note is that the accident site was essentially within eyesight of the university, and less than a mile from her dorm. If she was in any way worried about a drunk driving charge, she could have jogged back to her dorm in less than 10 minutes. Instead, she waited for police to arrive. No breathalyzer was administered, no ticket or citation was written, and no evidence of driving under the influence was collected. So while there does not appear to be any evidence to support the claim that there was a Reckless Operation charge “in the works,” to claim that she could have been charged with a DUI is just ludicrous.