Can a Blog Post Get You Convicted of Murder?
Last year, a jury in Portland, Oregon, convicted romance novelist Nancy Crampton Brophy of second-degree murder for the 2018 death of her husband, Daniel Brophy. The state's case against her was pretty straightforward: Surveillance footage showed a van matching Crampton Brophy's outside her husband's workplace around the time he was killed, and she stood to gain $1.4 million in life insurance money upon his death.
But the case caught national attention when it was discovered that Crampton Brophy had written a blog post several years earlier titled "How to Murder Your Husband." The essay, which was later removed, laid out several motives and methods for killing a spouse.
This was certainly not a good look for Crampton Brophy as she headed toward a murder trial, but is it the reason she was convicted?
Evidence Excluded at Trial
The judge in Crampton Brophy's case tossed the blog post on the first day of trial. State and federal rules of evidence allow judges to exclude evidence that they believe will unfairly turn the jury against a defendant, even if it is relevant to the case.
In Oregon, where Crampton Brophy stood trial, relevant evidence can be excluded if its value to the case is "outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury."
Crampton Brophy's defense attorneys asked the court to exclude the blog post based on these rules. The judge agreed, ruling that because Crampton Brophy wrote "How to Murder Your Husband" many years before the murder as part of a writing seminar, it likely didn't have much value in the case. Meanwhile, its potential to prejudice the jury was very high.
So the prosecution in Crampton Brophy's case could not point to this blog post and say, "Look, she wrote this, and therefore she's guilty." But that doesn't necessarily mean the essay played no role in the case.
The Jury Element
The Oregonian reported on the blog post's existence shortly after authorities arrested Crampton Brophy in 2018. Other news outlets picked up the story, and before long, it was national news.
Jury selection in Crampton Brophy's murder trial took place several years later, so there's a good chance many potential jurors had heard about "How to Murder Your Husband." But jury pools go through a process called voir dire, where the attorneys from both sides question potential jurors to look for potential bias.
In a case like this, defense attorneys would likely ask potential jurors if they've heard of the defendant and, if so, whether they could make a decision based only on the evidence presented at trial. If they can't, the attorneys can dismiss them from serving on the jury.
So while it's difficult to unring a bell as loud as "How to Murder Your Husband," in the end, we trust juries to make their decision based on the evidence admitted at trial. And the prosecution in this case had plenty of other evidence at their disposal.
It's certainly possible that jurors knew of the blog post — it's even possible that it crossed their minds as they deliberated Crampton Brophy's second-degree murder charges.
But did her writing get her convicted? Probably not.
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