WILMINGTON, Ohio - No matter what verdict Clinton County jurors return in the murder trial of Vincent Doan, the issue of whether Carrie Culberson is officially dead will remain unanswered, at least for now.
The "murder without a body" case is expected to go to the jury on Monday. But state law - not
the jury in a murder case - determines when a missing person is presumed legally dead.
Debra Culberson testified that she hoped her daughter was still alive, but deep down, Mrs. Culberson said, she knows the eldest of her two children is dead.
"As a mother I hope . . but I know that Carrie is dead," Mrs. Culberson told jurors last week.
Miss Culberson, 22, of Blanchester, was reported missing Aug. 29, and her boyfriend, Mr. Doan, 25, also of Blanchester, is charged with kidnapping and killing her.
Mr. Doan has maintained his innocence, and has repeatedly said he believes Miss Culberson is alive. Witnesses took the stand on behalf of Mr. Doan to testify they had seen Miss Culberson or her car in the last 11 months. But Miss Culberson has not contacted her family and friends since Aug. 28, Mrs. Culberson and authorities have said.
What the law says
According to Ohio law, people are presumed legally dead if: They disappear and have been continuously absent from their last domicile for a five-year period without being heard from during that time. They are "exposed to a specific peril of death" - including suicide or murder - at the beginning of their absence. If so, the missing person could be declared legally dead before the five-year waiting period.
When someone is missing and presumed dead, many other lives are affected. A declaration of death can be obtained in the courts - allowing, for example, for the deceased's spouse to remarry, or heirs to collect inheritances, said Christo Lassiter, a criminal law professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
"If you own a home in joint tenancy with someone (who is missing) and you wanted to sell it, you would be stuck for that period," Mr. Lassiter said. A declaration of death in such cases would allow the survivor to sell the property.
Once the declaration of death is issued, any parties in dispute are given the legal green light to proceed with civil action, he explained.
Mrs. Culberson said she hasn't thought much beyond finding her daughter's remains and bringing the man she believes responsible for Carrie's death to justice.
Once the jury renders a verdict, Mrs. Culberson said she wants to organize a memorial service that will help everyone find some closure.