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Monday, November 9, 2009

Saturday's '48 Hours Mystery' Episode Fills Missing Pieces in de la Plaza case

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge Hugues de la Plaza
  • Hugues de la Plaza

Saturday's episode of CBS' 48 Hours Mystery is dedicated to examining the bizarre 2007 death of French-American citizen Hugues de la Plaza in his Hayes Valley apartment. He perished in a pool of blood after he'd spent time walking around bleeding in his apartment. Blood stains also appeared on his porch. Police investigators indicated he'd probably killed himself -- though the knife was nowhere to be found. The medical examiner said there wasn't sufficient evidence to determine whether de la Plaza killed himself or was stabbed.

French government investigators, meanwhile, conducted their own review of the evidence, weighing in solidly in the murder column.

The case was cited in new stories around the world as evidence of possible San Francisco police incompetence.

And veteran 48 Hours Mystery producer Josh Gelman was assigned to get as close as possible to the bottom of what really happened the night de la Plaza died. In doing so, he turned up a copy of a heretofore unreleased report, conducted by a consulting medical examiner at the behest of the San Francisco Police Department, that concludes de la Plaza was murdered.

"This was the definitive statement by a consulting expert that this was a homicide," said Gelman.

The SFPD has been instituting reforms designed to correct problems identified by critics of the de la Plaza investigation. Witnesses were interviewed too long after the de la Plaza death, the victims' friends and family said.

Blood evidence may have been compromised, and both police and the Medical Examiner's office offered unusual explanations for gaps in the suicide theory; for de La Plaza to have committed suicide, he would have had to have either spent his death throes painstakingly cleaning the knife he used, or disposing of it where crime scene investigators couldn't find it.

Until late October, however, few people outside the police department knew of the existence of the independent medical examiner's report, conducted at the SFPD's behest by consultant Michael Ferenc, a former San Francisco medical examiner now working in Marin.

The police department requested the report in Febrary of 2009, Gelman said, a year after the official San Francisco Medical Examiner's report was published stating de la Plaza's cause of death couldn't be determined.

"Nobody knew about this outside the Police Department and the Medical Examiners office, and everybody was kind of stunned by it," said Gelman.

Bill Fazio, a well-connected attorney hired by the de la Plaza family to represent them in dealing with the police, saw the Ferenc report last month, but was unable to obtain a copy.
"I'd like to know where 48 Hours got it," Fazio said. "I wish I had a copy."

SFPD spokeswoman Sergeant Lyn Tomioka hadn't responded to a request for the file by press time.

And Gelman didn't reveal his methods. But he did say CBS will post a copy of the report online in conjunction with Saturday's 48 Hours Mystery episode.

He also didn't reveal all the other tidbits he unearthed in putting together what could be the definitive record of the de la Plaza investigation -- other to say he's put assembled sufficient information for viewers to be "quite satisfied with being able to make their own conclusions."

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