The C.S.I. Syndrome
The Perfect Crime
Marina Calabro had lived on her own for years, a sprightly 84-year-old, in a nice house in Quincy, Mass. Over the years at her job she had managed to save a considerable fortune, around half a million dollars. When her grand-nephew Anthony came to live with her in 2001, she proved to be quite generous with him. She even made out her will in his favor and allowed him to invite over three friends, Jim Morel, Jason Weir, and Tom Lally, who were part of his band, the Electronic Kill Machine.
The young men, as reported on 48 Hours Investigates, enjoyed watching forensics programming on television. They had plenty of programs from which to choose: C.S.I. was then in its second season, Law and Order had been televised since 1990, and Forensic Files had long been a favorite for many viewers. Three of the band members were particular fans of Forensic Files, watching back-to-back episodes and looking up the details of crime investigation on the Internet.
The death was declared accidental and it might well have remained a "perfect murder" had they not felt the need to let someone else admire their cleverness. The following October, Jason admitted the crime to Jim Morel. Jim was stunned and he eventually went to the police, volunteering to wear a wire to record a repeat confession. Jason not only told him everything again but even showed him where they had dumped the murder weapons. He said that Marina was screaming for Anthony the whole time she was being hit, begging him to help her.
All three young men were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Tom accused Jason of being the killer, but Jason turned state's evidence. In exchange for describing the crime, he would get ten years for manslaughter. Since Tom had had scratches on his face that night, evidence pointed to him as the one who had struggled with Marina. Scrapings from under her fingernails did, too. The DNA was a partial match to Tom and excluded the others. Jason said that Tom and Anthony plotted the crime together, and he had only helped to stage the 'accident.'
Tom Lally was found guilty and given a life sentence. Anthony Calabro then pleaded guilty to his part and received a conviction for second-degree murder. He got life, but with the possibility of parole after twelve years.
This case is among those in which the crime appeared to have been inspired by or conducted in the light of information obtained from the proliferating bevy of crime shows on television. By 2005, attorneys had dubbed it the "C.S.I. Effect" and the media soon picked it up. Now discussions of the phenomenon can be found in science magazines, at forensic conferences, and at gatherings of professionals in the judicial system. But what is it?