The trial of Florida developer Adam Kaufman who is charged with the murder of his wife begins tomorrow. The primary defense theory is that his wife collapsed onto the magazine rack where Mr. Kaufman discovered her body after experiencing an allergic reaction to a spray tan. The defense has been ridiculed by prosecutors and commentators as offensive and ridiculous, but the defense theory may not be as farfetched as the prosecution is making it out to be.
To be clear, the medical examiner has ruled the death as a homicide. But homicide is simply a cause of death. It's not the crime in and of itself. So the fact that the medical examiner has ruled the death as a homicide does not necessarily speak to the prosecution's ability to prove the crime of murder at trial.
The primary ingredient in the self-tanning spray used in spray tan booths is dihydroxyacetones (commonly referred to as DHA). DHA is a colorless chemical which causes a browning effect when applied to the skin. It has been FDA approved for topical application to the skin. Significantly, however, the FDA has not approved the spray application or the incidental inhalation that can occur during the spray application process. It is certainly plausible that accidental inhalation of this chemical could cause a person to react adversely. In this respect, it is certainly plausible that any adverse reaction to chemical inhalation could include fainting. With that being said, Adam Kaufman's wife could have fainted as a reaction to DHA inhalation earlier that day and fallen onto the magazine rack where her husband discovered her body. In this respect, it should be noted that the medical examiner's determination of homicide was largely based on bruising and trauma in the neck area which could be consistent with strangulation. But this type of neck trauma could also be consistent with falling onto the magazine rack. Moreover, the manner of death (i.e. suffocation) could still be accurate based on pressure placed on the victim's neck by the magazine rack.
The bottom line is this: the level of proof required in a criminal trial is "beyond a reasonable doubt." In light of the foregoing, I think it is unclear whether the prosecution will be able to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This is especially true when you consider that the victim's own family believes the defense theory. Indeed, some of the victim's family members are expected to testify as defense witnesses at trial.
As a final note, consider what I consider to be the three most ridiculous legal defense theories to have been successfully asserted in a court of law.
1. The PMS Defense
Geraldine Richter was stopped for erratic driving and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. A breathalyzer test administered at the scene revealed a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit. During the course of the traffic stop, the defendant directed offensive language toward the state trooper and attempted to kick him in the groin. She was acquitted on all charges after her lawyer successfully argued that her violent behavior at the scene of the traffic stop was due to PMS rather than intoxication and that the breathalyzer result was skewed because she was holding her breath in her fit of rage.
2. The Gay Panic Defense
In 2009, Joseph Biederman was acquitted on murder charges after stabbing Terrance Hauser 61 times with a medieval sword after his defense attorney asserted what is known as the gay panic defense. In essence, this is a legal defense in which a person claims temporary insanity as a result of having been at the receiving end of a homosexual advance.
3. The Twinkie Defense
In Dan White's 1979 trial for the murders of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone, defense counsel was able to obtain a lesser conviction of voluntary manslaughter by arguing diminished capacity due, in part, to defendant's poor diet which was high in sugary junk foods.
Is the spray tan murder defense up there with these three or does it have legitimate merit? Personally, I think that supporting facts and evidence are present in what has been dubbed the spray tan murder case which were lacking in these other cases. With that being said, I think that the defense theory has a reasonable chance of success at trial.