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June 30, 2012

Did (white-collar?) arsonist poison himself in courtroom right after hearing verdict and sentence?

The main question in thie title of this post present the interesting mystery in reported in this Huffington Post piece, which is headlined "Michael Marin, Ex-Wall Street Trader, Dies In Courtroom After Conviction." Here are the details:

An ex-Wall Street trader collapsed and died in a Phoenix-area courtroom Thursday, shortly after being found guilty of setting his mansion on fire in a ploy to escape his mortgage debt.

Police are now investigating whether the man, Michael Marin, purposefully killed himself. Shortly after the jury read its verdict and sentenced him to 16 years in prison, Marin appeared to place something in his mouth several times and drink from a bottle he brought with him into the courtroom. Minutes later, he suffered from a seizure and died. Police can't yet confirm whether Marin’s death was a suicide.

Marin’s mansion in a ritzy Phoenix neighborhood caught fire in 2009, the Arizona Republic reports. Marin claimed he had to escape from the house wearing a scuba tank and mask to protect himself from the smoke, but investigators found evidence that he set the fire himself. Though he had grown accustomed to a lifestyle that reportedly included owning Picasso sketches and $800 climbing boots, Marin’s financial situation grew dire the year before the fire. His bank account balance fell to only $50 from $900,000 even while he had a monthly mortgage payment of more than $17,000, according to the Arizona Republic.

In addition to the interesting possibility that the defendant here decided to sentence himself to death rather than go to state prison, I have also flagged this story because I wonder just how we ought to characterized Marin's crime of arson.  Is this crime properly called vioent or non-violent?  Is it a white-collar offense?  A property offense or a fraud offense? One of the many challenges of studying crime and sentencing data is trying to fully understand what gets placed into which data catergories, and this kind of case reinforces my persistent concern than many crimes defy easy categorization.

June 30, 2012 at 12:22 PM | Permalink


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Is the death penalty crueler than a long prison term? We should be offering the choice to prisoners, and offering incentive to allow themselves to commit suicide with the assistance of the state. Offer better conditions, great meals, conjugal visits, etc.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 30, 2012 5:15:13 PM

It's interesting because there are in fact extremely few poisons that kill in that manner. Cyanide is the most obvious but it normally kills much more quickly than the news reports are indicating and cyanide is not that easy for the layman to get a hold of.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 30, 2012 5:50:28 PM

It sounds like it was all three of the catagories you listed. But, I have always thought that arson is a crime which endangers the lives and safety of other people.

Posted by: Dana | Jul 1, 2012 6:10:55 PM

The challenge you mention is a common one. Generally, data set preparation is well over 90% of the effort involved in any type of meaningful analysis. In any discipline.

I always like to take those sorts of challenges and turn them on their head. For example: can one infer anything about the perceived categorization based on the sentence imposed?

Enjoy reading your blog. Makes me think about questions I don't always come across through other channels.

Posted by: David Starr | Jul 2, 2012 1:50:53 PM

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