Sunday, September 16th, 2007
Family not satisfied with police

Man's death ruled suicide, but relatives call it murder

By SHANNON MURPHY
Times Herald

Even though Robbie Simpson's death was ruled a suicide last year, his family says the St. Clair County Sheriff Department's investigation was botched and wants the case reopened.

Police said Simpson, 25, shot himself in the head Dec. 27 while at the Wales Township home of a family acquaintance.

Simpson's family, however, believes another person, who is documented as having been at the house in police reports, shot him. Family members said Simpson was not depressed and was looking forward to starting the next chapter of his life. He had a nearly 2-year-old daughter at the time whom he spent a lot of time with and was to start classes at Baker College of Port Huron the next week.

"He was happy and always fooling around," said his grandmother Anna Jackson of Wales Township. "He was joking all the time."

The family said sheriff department deputies responded to the scene with the preconceived notion that there had been a suicide. The owner of the home where Simpson was found dead told 911 dispatchers Simpson was agitated and had shot himself in the head, according to the police report.

"That night (sheriff deputies) didn't do anything," said Marie Sontag, Simpson's sister. "I've seen pictures from that night, and it was not done in proper protocol for a homicide. They went in there like it was a suicide."

Sheriff department spokesman Gary Albrecht said any sudden death is considered suspicious until proven otherwise, and investigated in that way at the scene.

However, family members contend that a full autopsy was not done and the medical examiner's office was told ahead of time that Simpson's death was a suicide.

The family has contacted Oakland County Medical Examiner Dr. Kanu Virani for a second opinion. He supplied them with a letter that stated:

"I have reviewed death certificate, autopsy (partial) report, photographs and police report you and your family have brought to me regarding Robert Simpson. It is my opinion that the manner of death in this case should not have been classified as suicide. Based on circumstances it is homicide until it is proved otherwise."

St. Clair County Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz said he is confident the cause of death was correctly named. He said the autopsy was done completely and correctly.

"We're basing it on science and not speculation," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not what other people are doing. This was a contact-range gunshot wound and has every hallmark of being a suicide. The investigation does nothing to contradict that."

Spitz said it's unfortunate the family is being "strung along" by hired experts who are telling them that the investigation was done wrong.

"It's not uncommon with suicides, especially in young people that don't exhibit depression or leave a note, that the family can't accept it," he said. "Someone else has to be responsible."

Albrecht said detectives investigated the case for about three weeks before Simpson's death was ruled a suicide and the investigation was closed.

He said evidence collected at the scene, as well as follow-up investigations, caused the case to be ruled a suicide. Albrecht would not say what kind of evidence was collected. The only evidence listed in police reports is a .22-caliber handgun found at the scene.

"It wasn't a 15-minute investigation," Albrecht said.

Albrecht said the sheriff department has had contact with Simpson's family several times, but there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

"They have suspicions," he said. "We investigated those and are unable to substantiate them. You can't have a case on suspicion or hearsay."

Family members have attempted to get the case reopened by talking to the sheriff department and St. Clair County Prosecutor Mike Wendling, who also has said there isn't sufficient evidence to do so. The family also has hired retired Port Huron police Detective Lt. Herb Welser, who now runs a private investigation agency, to look into the case.

"(Police) have to prove to us (that Robbie shot himself)," said his grandmother Anna Jackson. "Robbie's personality tells me that he did not do it. There are so many inconsistencies (in the case)."

The family also has contacted the state attorney general's office, which referred them to local law enforcement. The family is considering filing a civil case against the person they believe is responsible for Simpon's death if no local agency will re-examine the case.

"Eventually we are going to get something because we are not going to give up," Robert Jackson, Simpson's grandfather, said.

Contact Shannon Murphy at (810) 989-6258 or semurphy@gannett.com.

Link to article: http://www.thetimesherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070916/NEWS01/709160303