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The Law is a Tricky Thing

by Pam Reeder 3 months ago in fact or fiction · updated 3 months ago

It's not always what you know that matters - it's what you can prove or disprove that decides the case

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

I hadn't thought of this case in years. The death occurred in the 1970s and came to light in the early 1990s. I worked for a small law firm that took on filing an Ancillary Probate (a second case filed in another state to dispose of real estate there) for a process server that did work for the firm. The man's name was Doug Foote. We had all seen this man in our corridors, and even spoken with him cordially as he popped in and out of the office either picking up papers to go serve, or bringing back affidavits of return of service for papers he had served.

It was quite a shock when the news broke that the very property we had assisted him in selling in New Mexico was now in the news due to human remains being found buried in the back yard by the current owner. And officials were looking for our process server, Doug Foote, as a person of interest. Of all the people that had lived in that house, they were able to find all of them living except the whereabouts of Doug Foote's mother, Donna Foote.

Foote had an explanation of ease, the very same story he had given us. His mother had passed away, been cremated and then he had rented a charter plane and disposed of her ashes. The problem? No record of anything. No death certificate. No crematorium record. No charter records. Donna Foote simply ceased to be without a trace.

The first story we heard was that she had died of natural causes and that out of financial desperation, he had buried her in the backyard so he could conceal her death and continue to get her benefits. Certainly I didn't agree with such a thing but I tried to empathize with how desperate a person must be to do such a thing. I had not truly realized how privileged my life was to never have experienced financial hardship so severe as to trigger me to such lengths. And I didn't even know the half of it. There turned out to be so much more to the story.

The Rose Thicket is a fictional story I wrote inspired by this true crime. As I finished it and was preparing to publish it, curiosity spurred me to do a Google search and see how things turned out. That led me to the news story below from 2003, last updated in 2019. It was quite a shock to read that the details were more gruesome than I knew and even more so, that Doug Foote was acquitted.

The charismatic process server that had charmed us on his frequent visits to the office, quickly unraveled in our eyes as more sinister details came to light. The news was reporting the woman had been shot in the head and dismembered, placed in multiple black bags and buried under rose bushes in the back yard. I could no longer manage any attempts at all at empathy. In fact, being a first time mother in my early thirties of a newborn, I was appalled to think of a child turning on its parent in such a shocking way. And I was totally unnerved that I had been in close regular contact with someone who could (allegedly - innocent until proven guilty....) butcher his mother and bag her up and bury her.

Mr. Foote stayed the course that he was not guilty. And yet, his mother had vanished without a trace and the dismembered remains in the backyard of their former home could not be traced to any missing person.

We watch crime shows today and forensics and DNA references are common place. Apparently, Doug Foote refused to provide DNA to compare with the bones, though police attempted for years. It wasn't until a blood relative of Donna Foote provided DNA that they were able to match to the bones and declare it to be Donna Foote. Police then arrested and charged Doug Foote with her murder.

Now it would seem the DNA match identifying the remains would have put a cut and dried end to it, but not so. Reading other news accounts on this case provided intriguing information.

Confession testimony was thrown out.

When originally brought in for questioning, Foote gave testimony that he was heavily into drugs during his time in New Mexico and he had a feeling something really bad had happened. But because Foote had requested an attorney prior to making those remarks, that testimony couldn't be used in the case.

DNA challenged.

Foote's attorney argued "This is new science, and it's science no one should bet on," Isaacs said. "I think we had an extremely intelligent jury that listened to all the evidence."

Tables Turned in Media Depicting Foote the Victim

Though there is a dismembered woman, shot in the head, in garbage bags buried in the back yard under rose bushes and identified through DNA as Doug Foote's mother, one of the news stories went so far as to paint Doug Foote and his family as victims. "This accusation has followed Mr. Foote for 10 years," his attorney, Garvin Isaacs of Oklahoma City said. "It's hurt his children, his family, his reputation. With the acquittal, I hope he can enjoy the rest of his life, despite what he's been through.""

The Law is a Tricky Thing

Foote maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal. A jury believed him and acquitted him. His defense team was elated with the outcome. The prosecution was understandably disappointed.

It's not always what you know that matters - it's what you can prove or disprove that decides the case

Despite what the prosecution felt they knew, it turned out to be the case hinged on what you could or could not prove. The failed to convince a jury without a doubt that Doug Foote was responsible for his mother's untimely and horid demise. Under our justice system, we are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers. We do not have to prove our innocence. Instead, the prosecution has the burden of proving our guilt. That is a fail safe designed to protect us. If ever we are in the cross-hairs of a case that jeopardizes our freedom or puts us up for the death penalty, we will be glad to be afforded those rights.

But, if we're being honest, when we're safely out of harms way, we look at this case and others like it, we find ourselves in shock that the accused walked away. I believe time was on Foote's side since the case spanned thirty years. Memories fade. Good lawyers woo a jury to their side. Because yes indeed, trial lawyers are story tellers too, just like we writers are. And a tale well told can get their client freedom.

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Foote was mid-twenties when his mother disappeared in the mid 70s; in his mid 40s when the body of his mother was discovered in the back yard of their former home; was 52 in 2001 when charged with her murder and was 53 when acquitted in 2003. If Foote is still alive today, he would be 71. And if he still lives where he did when he was acquitted, he lives just 75 miles from my front door.

I wonder does Foote ever visit his mother's final resting place wherever that ended up to be?....

Rest in peace Donna Foote. After more than thirty years of being an open cold case, no matter what the true facts are of your death and what role your son may or may not have had in your demise, you deserve peace.

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I hope you enjoyed this story. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my fictional story, The Rose Thicket, that I was inspired to write based on this true case.

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If you're wondering just who exactly wrote this piece, you can find more about me here. If you're intrigued to see what else I've written, more stories by me can be found here.

On the off chance you appreciated this piece, a heart would be appreciated. It is inspiration to keep moving forward on this writing journey. There is also a tipping option for those who may want to part ways with their hard earned money and for some odd reason impart it to me.

By Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Some of my favorite pieces I've written:

fact or fiction

Pam Reeder

Stifled wordsmith re-embracing my creativity. I like to write stories that tap into raw human emotions.

Author of "Bristow Spirits on Route 66", magazine articles, four books under a pen name, technical writing, stories for my grandkids.

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