One more reason not to commit adultery

by Candace Marra

August 18, 2005

On November 12, 2004, Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his wife and unborn son. There was no physical evidence to support his guilt, no clear motive, no criminal record, and no history of violence. Yet, early on, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had declared the case “a slam dunk.” How can a case with no physical evidence be a “slam dunk?” The answer is obvious: Scott Peterson had had an affair.

He is not alone. An alarming number of people have been convicted of murdering their spouses, children, and/or mistresses, even in the face of exonerating evidence, only by virtue of the fact that there had been an affair, or, in some cases, multiple affairs. Although our Constitution guarantees that every defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence, those who have committed adultery find themselves presumed guilty. Once police learn someone close to the victim has had an affair, that person becomes the prime suspect, and they stop following all other leads. At this point, they are all too willing to stop at nothing to see that person go down for the crime.

Good Reasons Not to Commit Adultery

A lot of reasons exist to avoid having an affair. It is regarded as immoral. If morals are not a strong enough reason to avoid adultery, the consequences often are. Adultery brings about great hurt to both the spouse and the other woman (or man, as the case may be). In most cases, adultery forces one to lie to the spouse and others. It also carries with it serious widely-known risks. It can break up a marriage. It can result in venereal diseases, or even AIDS, which can then be transmitted to the faithful spouse. And, in the case studies that follow, we can see another risk, perhaps one that no one likes to think about, but one that has become obvious nonetheless: the risk of wrongful conviction. God forbid, if something should happen to your spouse, your child, or even the person you are committing adultery with, you run the risk of being convicted of that crime.

These case studies show in living color the astounding impact a history of adultery has on the presumption of innocence. A history of adultery will work against a suspect/defendant to a greater degree than even a history of violence or a criminal record. Reading through these, you will learn that anyone who has ever had an affair is vulnerable.

Scott Peterson

On the morning of December 24, 2002, Scott Peterson left his house to go fishing. Laci, his 7-month pregnant wife, stayed home to prepare food for a Christmas Eve dinner at her parents’ house. Before beginning her preparations, Laci planned to mop the floor and walk the dog. Tragically, Scott came home late in the afternoon to find that Laci never made it home from walking the dog. The dog was in the backyard with his leash still on, and Scott found no sign of Laci, even though her land rover was still in the driveway.

Of course, like most people, the thought that something terrible had happened was furthest from his mind. He assumed she had gone to her mom’s already. Famished, he had some leftover pizza from the night before, took a shower, and put his clothes in the washer. He then started calling around to find out where Laci was.

Scott slowly began to realize that something was terribly wrong. With growing horror, he began to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together: Laci’s absence, the dog with the leash still on, the absence of any evidence of food preparation, the unanswered phone calls (he had tried to call Laci twice before coming home).

The desperate search began. Before long, the whole nation was captivated by the brilliant smile of the pretty and pregnant missing wife. Scott’s in-laws were very supportive of him and adamantly expressed that Scott could not possibly have been involved.

Five days later, on December 29, police received the tip from Amber Frey, that she had had an affair with Scott Peterson. The lead detective’s response? “We’ve been praying for someone like you.” Why would a homicide detective be praying for someone like that? Most likely, the answer is because that is all law enforcement needed to get the conviction they wanted. Now they could stop following up on leads and focus on doing whatever it took to ensure that Scott Peterson paid for this crime. They had their “slam dunk.”. A conviction was all but ensured. All they needed now were the bodies.

They weren’t disappointed. The bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson were found two miles from the area where Scott said he was fishing, April 13 and 14, nearly 4 months after Laci’s mysterious disappearance. Police arrested Scott before the bodies were even positively identified. Throughout the trial, the prosecution attempted to prove that the bodies washed up there after Scott dumped them from his 14-foot gamefisher boat. Yet the defense was able to show, through the very expert the prosecution presented, that the bodies could not have washed up there. The defense was also able to induce the prosecution witness who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Brian Peterson, to concede that he could not rule out that Conner was born alive. In addition, the defense was also able to show that it was likely that Conner was handled after his birth, and that he was substantially older than his gestational age at the time of Laci’s disappearance. All of these scenarios would make it impossible for Scott to have been the murderer. Yet the jury convicted him.

The defense was able to show that eye witnesses came forward to say that they saw Laci walking the dog. They were able to show that the prosecution’s timeline was full of holes. They were able to keep the prosecution scrambling for a motive, by essentially dismantling every theory. Yet the jury convicted him.

What evidence could possibly trump any of this? The affair. The prosecution’s star witness was not an eyewitness to the murder. She was not a forensic expert who could implicate Scott. She was not a police officer or an investigator. She didn’t even have any documented knowledge of the crime. She was simply the woman Scott had had an affair with. She spent eight days on the witness stand, the longest of any witness besides one police officer, who spent the same number of days on the stand. During that eight days, the prosecution subjected the jury to hours of wiretapped phone calls between Scott and Amber—phone calls that proved nothing pertaining to the crime with which he was charged. All they proved was that he and Amber had had an affair, a fact that had already been established. These tapes had only one purpose: to make the jury hate Scott. And it worked.

Scott Peterson was sentenced to death on March 16, 2005, for this horrible crime, which he did not commit. He remains on death row.

David Camm

David Camm was a former Indiana State Trooper who had quit his job in law enforcement and gone into the construction business. He loved the change because it enabled him to spend more time with his wife and two children. He was considered an upstanding member of his community, was well-liked and respected by all who knew him, and belonged to a prominent family in the county he lived in.

David’s life was forever changed on September 28, 2000, at approximately 9:15 p.m., when he came home from a basketball game to find that his wife and children had been shot to death. He tried in vain to revive one of his children before calling 911.

Forensic evidence showed that the victims had been shot a couple hours before the authorities arrived. David Camm cannot have been the man who shot them, since he was at the basketball game beginning at 7:15, and 11 witnesses corroborated his alibi. Prior to 7:15, his wife had been out running errands, which is also corroborated. In short, David Camm had proven that he did not murder his wife and children.

Yet he was arrested just hours after the memorial service three days later. It is not unusual in murder cases for a close member of the victim’s family to find the victim. It is unusual for the family member to be arrested, especially when that family member has a firm alibi. So why was David Camm arrested? He had a history of multiple affairs.

The prosecutor was determined to convince the jury that David was guilty. First, they tried to establish a motive. They tried to use the extramarital affairs as a motive, but couldn’t seem to get it to stick. Out of desperation, they brought up the fact that there was evidence the daughter was molested just prior to being shot. Of course, they attributed this to David, and used the possible molestation as the motive. Apparently, someone capable of having affairs is not only capable of murder, but also of molestation, at least, according to the prosecution’s logic. In the end, he told the jury that he didn’t have to prove a motive, only that David did it.

The prosecutor also failed to prove that David even had the opportunity to kill his wife and children. He tried to convince the jury that David had committed the murders just before calling the police, but the defense was able to use the forensic science to refute that. Then, he tried to place David at home after 7:15, using phone records, but the defense was able to show that the times on phone records are inaccurate, especially in Indiana, where there are two time zones. In addition, there were the 11 witnesses who saw David at the basketball game. Finally, the prosecution focused on the blood spatter on David’s shirt, which held eight drops of blood. They were able to find an expert to say that this was a result of “high-velocity” blood spatter, such as after a gunshot, so he must have shot his wife and two children. As if blood from a gunshot would only leave eight tiny drops of blood! And all on one small section near the bottom of the shirt! The defense was able to show with their own expert that blood spatter is not an exact science, and that the spatter was not necessarily the high-velocity type. All to no avail. The jury convicted him, based on the blood spatter and the unproven possibility that David had molested his daughter. No motive, a firm alibi, and bad science. Yet he was convicted. There is only one explanation: he was found guilty by reason of the affairs.

David Camm has been granted a new trial. The judge has ordered that the adultery evidence be thrown out. Here is the appeals court ruling: “Camm was unfairly prejudiced by the introduction of extensive evidence and argument regarding his poor character, where the evidence regarding his philandering was not reasonably related to any proper purpose under Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b), including proof of motive. We reverse his three convictions for murder. Reversed. CRONE, J., and BAKER, J., concur” (, Ind. Decisions - Many turns in anticipated retrial of former Indiana State Trooper David Camm, 3/6/2005).

The prosecutor is planning to re-try him, this time with hopes of proving that he molested his daughter. David’s new lawyer has vowed to work hard to keep that allegation out of court as well. Without the evidence of adultery, I believe David Camm will be easily acquitted. There is simply no evidence against him. All the evidence points to his innocence.

J. Scott Hornoff

J. Scott Hornoff, known simply as “Scott” by his comrades, was a veteran police officer from Rhode Island. On August 12, 1989, Scott Hornoff was a happily married man with a 7-month-old son. He and his wife had attended a law enforcement party the night before, his wife having left early to put their son to bed. Little did he know that his life was about to take a fateful turn.

Sometime during the previous night, someone had broken into the apartment of Victoria Cushman and brutally murdered her. She was found by concerned co-workers, choked and beaten to death. A shattered jewelry box lay close by. It seemed apparent that a fire extinguisher had also been used to commit the gruesome murder. The killer had left behind a pair of rubber yellow, inside-out gloves, one of which had a splotch of blood on the middle finger.

None of this implicated Scott Hornoff. However, as fate would have it, police found a letter on Vickie’s nightstand, from Vickie to Scott, imploring him to continue his affair with her. This letter was next to a rolodex, which the police did not even look at.

Scott’s affair with Vickie had been a well-kept secret. No one, not even his closest friends, knew. After having four encounters with her, only two of which were sexual, he broke it off. She seemed to take the news well at the time, but nevertheless wrote the incriminating letter that would change Scott’s life forever.

When Scott arrived at work that day, he was immediately taken to the interrogation room, but not told about the letter. When asked if he had known her or been intimate with her, Scott reflexively said no. He was being recorded, and he didn’t want his wife to know about the affair. It did not matter that Scott came back in less than an hour and admitted the affair. The police began to reason that if he wasn’t credible on that point, that they couldn’t believe him when he claimed he didn’t murder her either. He took a polygraph and passed with flying colors. It didn’t take long before the police department had to reluctantly eliminate him as a suspect.

Nearly three years later, the crime remained unsolved, but in the forefront of law enforcement’s mind. The attorney general’s office ordered the state police to take over the investigation. Scott immediately became the top suspect, once again. The police had either lost or failed to document many aspects of the original investigation, including the recording of the first interview and the polygraph test. This worked against him.

Scott was willing to take another polygraph, to be hypnotized, or to do anything else he could to cooperate with the investigation. The second polygraph did not go well because he couldn’t remember details. To make matters worse, the police believed that someone with strong presence of mind, such as a cop, committed the crime, since the murderer had taken the time to go to the kitchen and put on the latex gloves. Scott Hornoff was arrested and later convicted.

The only evidence against him was that he had had an affair, broken it off, then lied about it. That was all it took to convince a jury to convict him for her murder. He was given a life sentence.

Scott Hornoff would most likely still be in prison today, were it not for the fact that the real killer came forward, tortured by guilt. This person had had a short sexual fling with Vickie, and she had ended it. Had the police investigated the numbers in her rolodex, they would have found him. Instead, the man who committed adultery with her was charged and convicted, with no evidence. Scott Hornoff served over six years in prison for a crime he did not commit. During that time, he and his wife divorced. He still maintains contact with his children. He has been reinstated to the police department, although he chose not to go back to work there. He has no bitterness over what happened.

Dr. Sam Sheppard

Dr. Sam and Marilyn Sheppard were living out the American dream in their beautiful home in a quiet, suburban neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. They had been high school sweethearts. They had a seven-year-old son, and Marilyn was four months pregnant, something they were both very happy about.

Their happiness was shattered early on the morning of July 4, 1954. Sam Sheppard had fallen asleep on the couch watching a movie the night before. He was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by the sound of his wife calling out to him. He rushed up the stairs to find an intruder brutally attacking her. He did his best to fight him off, but the intruder was able to knock him out. When Dr. Sheppard came to, the intruder was gone, and his wife was dead. His son was sleeping soundly in the next room. He heard a noise downstairs, got up and ran out the door just in time to see a figure with dark, bushy hair and a white shirt running towards the lake behind his house. He ran after the 6’3” figure, but when he caught him, he struggled in vain to overpower him. The perpetrator and Dr. Sheppard struggled in the darkness, until Dr. Sheppard was left unconscious with severe injuries. The murderer had escaped.

When he awakened, he struggled back to the house and called his friend the mayor. Eventually, the police were called, and the investigation began. This was a quiet neighborhood, and, not surprisingly, a huge story. The case quickly became very high profile. The headlines were favorable towards Dr. Sheppard at first, but it didn’t take long before they started to take a noticeable turn against him. The press very quickly picked up on the fact that Dr. Sheppard was the #1 suspect.

Dr. Sheppard had come from a family of doctors and had previously been well-liked in his neighborhood. His brother was a doctor also. Due to his injuries, Dr. Sheppard’s brother told the police he was in no shape to answer all of their questions right away. Of course, the police used this to turn the public against him, saying that the family wasn’t cooperating. When they finally did question him, while still in the hospital, they grilled him.

Dr. Sheppard had severe spinal injuries near his neck, lacerations to the mouth, bruises to the left side of his face, and chipped teeth. These injuries were obviously beyond anything Dr. Sheppard could have inflicted on himself.

No real evidence existed to convict or even try Dr. Sheppard. He himself was severely injured in the attack, and two witnesses even claimed to have seen the bushy-haired man in that area that morning. In addition, the killer had left a cigarette in the toilet, which police failed to collect. Neither Dr. Sheppard nor his wife smoked. Police said they were bothered by the fact that there was no sign of a break-in, and no fingerprints. They said they found it strange that his son had slept through the attack. Obviously, none of that is evidence to point directly to Dr. Sam Sheppard by itself.

One factor did, however, make the case for the police: Dr. Sheppard had engaged in an affair with a nurse by the name of Susan Hayes. In fact, he had engaged in other affairs as well. To make matters worse, he lied to the police when initially confronted with the information. Susan Hayes proudly posed for newspapers, while allowing law enforcement to do her talking for her. Although the defense presented a strong case to show that Dr. Sheppard’s injuries were inflicted by an actual intruder, and presented witnesses that saw the man leaving the scene of the crime, they could not overcome the testimony of this woman who was dubbed the prosecution’s star witness. Her testimony lasted less than an hour, but its effect was enormous.

Dr. Sheppard was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. A short time later, his mother shot herself in the head. His father’s death soon followed. Ten years later, Dr. Sheppard’s conviction was thrown out on the grounds that there was too much publicity. He was awarded a new trial. In the new trial, no mention of Susan Hayes or the affairs was permitted, and the judge allowed very few media members in the courtroom. The jury found Dr. Sheppard not guilty. He was at last a free man.

But he wasn’t free. His life had been destroyed. Not only was his wife gone, but his parents were dead. Sadly, Dr. Sheppard was unable to put his life back together. He deteriorated physically and mentally, dying of alcoholism just four years later.

This case was not without its suspects. This crime remains unsolved, but there still remain several very likely suspects. Although the police did investigate some of these, they kept their focus on Dr. Sheppard. They had no need to prove anything. Dr. Sheppard had been involved in extramarital relations, so they were assured of the conviction they wanted.

What These Cases Reveal

I don’t condone adultery. I think it is very wrong. I think our society has become too casual about it. I think it’s one of the worst things you can do to a person. I am, however, troubled by what I see. In all of these cases, not only was the evidence insufficient to point to guilt, but the evidence actually pointed to innocence.

Sadly, whenever someone is wrongfully convicted, the real killer gets away with it. It wouldn’t be hard for a serial killer to get away with murder for a long time by simply choosing victims with unfaithful spouses.

It doesn’t matter how lily white your record is, or how upstanding a citizen you are in your community. It doesn’t matter how prominent your family is, or what your profession is. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never committed a violent act in your life. It doesn’t matter how many witnesses can corroborate your alibi. It doesn’t matter if you were almost killed in the attack yourself. It doesn’t matter if the forensic evidence fails to implicate you, or even if it shows that you couldn’t have done it. It doesn’t even matter if you can pass a polygraph. If you have had an affair, and someone close to you is murdered, you have good reason to be paranoid. If you are charged with a crime, and you have had an affair, my advice to you would be that you had better hire a good investigator who can find the real killer, because short of that, you are most likely going to pay for the crime of murder, even if all you are guilty of is adultery.

Disturbing Logic

A close look at these cases reveals the reason for the leap from adulterer to murderer: faulty logic and social pressure. Laci Peterson’s family began to suspect Scott after they learned he had had an affair, reasoning that “he wasn’t the person they thought he was.” Even worse, Scott had lied to them, and also to police when asked if he had been involved in any extramarital relationships. Police were then easily able to persuade Laci’s family, as well as the general public, that Scott murdered Laci.

Having an affair, is, in and of itself, a dishonest act. It almost always requires the adulterer to lie, not only to the spouse, but also to the other party. The adulterer sometimes even has to live a lie in order to continue the affair. Lying and cheating go hand in hand.

Yet so many times, I have read the argument, “If he would lie about an affair, he would lie about anything.” That logic is faulty because nearly everyone who would have an affair would also lie about it. Most people would have plenty of reasons to cover up an affair, so I would argue that most people would lie about it. People who have affairs go to great lengths to cover it up. Chances are, they aren’t going to own up to it when confronted about it.

President John F. Kennedy didn’t. He had multiple affairs, yet history remembers him as one of our most popular Presidents. How many people would say that President Kennedy was capable of murdering his wife? And President Franklin D. Roosevelt only owned up to his affair because his wife found the love letters, and it was impossible for him to deny it. Furthermore, he promised his wife he would stop seeing the other woman, and he didn’t. The lying continued, as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt put on a façade in front of the entire nation, to appear that they had a happy, normal marriage, when in reality, they were no longer intimate and only stayed married for the purpose of appearances. Yet history remembers Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of our best and most popular Presidents.

Furthermore, people lie about other things all the time. In fact, who among us has never lied? People lie in an attempt to secure employment, or to be promoted. People lie to make themselves look good to potential romantic partners, landlords, creditors, churches, or other organizations. People lie to get themselves out of trouble. Some people even lie when there is no good reason to lie. If any of us claimed to never have lied in at least one of these scenarios, then the rest of us would surely declare that statement itself a lie.

While habitual liars often have bad reputations, most people don’t assume them to be murderers. That seems to change, however, when the lies are an attempt to cover up an affair. At that point, the police will say, and the public, including a potential jury, will also agree, as in the cases above, that if he lied about an affair, we can’t believe him when he says he didn’t commit murder.

I would argue that statement is made by people in a society that has pushed them into denial. Although adultery has gained much more acceptance than it has had historically, deep down, most people are still far from okay with it. This is evident in the shame experienced by those who engage in adultery, which is evidenced by the propensity to lie about it. I believe people who say they are upset about the lies about adultery are really upset about the adultery itself. The sexual revolution in this country has made all sexual relationships untouchable. While adultery itself used to be taboo, now expressing a distaste for it would cause a person to be labeled judgmental or intolerant. Many have subconsciously swallowed this, with the result that they will not allow themselves to believe they are swayed by the suspect’s adultery, but they have no trouble believing they are swayed by the fact that the suspect lied about it.

As a result, it seems that the average police officer, the average judge, the average citizen, the average jury, becomes blind to any exonerating evidence once the defendant is known to have committed adultery. They often make statements such as, “I know he did it,” or “I feel in my gut that he did it.” All evidence pointing away from guilt becomes moot. The cases hang on the logic that if the defendant was able to commit adultery and lie about it, then he was able to commit murder and lie about it too.

What Can Be Done?

Surely this is a symptom of a broken system. Since when are adulterers murderers? Why is it that society in general links adultery to murder? Are they related? Are adulterers more violent than the general population? Where is the logic in that? What has happened to the presumption of innocence? Why are adulterers exempt?

Most states have laws that prevent the prosecution from presenting information about past crimes except in certain circumstances at the judge’s discretion. Yet it is my opinion that police and juries are more forgiving of people who have previously committed crimes, than people who have committed adultery. In the Scott Peterson case, for example, the burglars who had robbed the house across the street from Scott’s, on the same date Laci was murdered, were given the benefit of the doubt by the police.

These laws were put on the books because evidence of previous crimes can and often do unfairly create prejudice against a defendant. Yet precious few things can prejudice a jury like evidence of an affair. For that reason, the laws about previous crimes should also apply to adultery. Evidence of an affair should only be admissible in exceptional cases, and the prosecution should be required to petition the judge before being allowed to admit it. In addition, if the judge errs, he should err on the side of not letting it in. Adultery is just too damaging, and too often, it blinds juries to the truth.

News about an affair also blinds society at large to the truth. Scott Peterson had the full support of his in-laws until the affair came out. Once the affair did come out, his in-laws, as well as the public at large, were ready to lynch him. The same can be said of David Camm. Once the word gets out that someone close to the victim has had an affair, if the case happens to be high profile, then the press is ready to pin the crime on him. The police and the press then work together to turn the entire nation against the person, poisoning the jury pool in the process.

Police should not disclose to the public the details of their investigations anyway. This tips off any suspect that might be out there, plus it can unfairly prejudice the public against an innocent person. This is especially true about affairs. The only way to put a lid on this problem is to pass laws restricting police from disclosing these details. I think it is sad that we need laws in order to force law enforcement to preserve the integrity of their investigations, but from what we’ve seen here, it is obvious that we do.

It Can Happen to You

You may be tempted to think this can never happen to you. When we think of people most likely to be wrongfully convicted, we may find ourselves thinking of poor people from the inner cities, perhaps drug dealers or petty criminals. Yet none of the men in these studies fit this profile. All these men had a lot going for them: beautiful families, promising careers, popularity within their families and/or communities, and a lack of any criminal record or past violent behavior. They simply made the mistake of committing adultery. If adultery is all it took to make even these men look like murderers, then no one is safe. Just one more reason not to commit adultery.


Scott Peterson story: the Brocchini interview

David Camm: “The Alibi: Disturbing the Peace”

J. Scott Hornoff: “Buried Under a Blizzard” by Seamus McGraw

Dr. Sam Sheppard “The Murder of Marilyn Sheppard” by Fred McGunagle