Sunday, November 30th, 2007
Sheriff re-opens death case
Suicide ruling was wrong, mother says
By SHANNON MURPHY
Nearly a year after police ruled Robbie Simpson's death a suicide, the St. Clair County Sheriff Department has reopened the case.
Police have said Simpson, 25, shot himself in the head Dec. 27 while at the Wales Township home of a family acquaintance.
Simpson's family has been adamant since then that the death was not a suicide and that another person shot him.
"I'm just looking for the truth," Simpson's mother, Carol Nye, said. "I want to know what happened that night."
She and other family members said they felt the case was botched by a sheriff detective who went to the scene with the preconceived notion there had been a suicide. The owner of the home where Simpson was found dead told 911 dispatchers that Simpson was agitated and had shot himself in the head, according to the police report.
The family has taken several avenues to get their questions answered, including hiring private investigator Herb Welser, a former police detective, to review the case; getting second opinions from outside police agencies and medical investigators and sending a letter to the state attorney general's office.
"There isn't ever going to be any closure for my son," Nye said. "I just want something done."
Family gathered Thursday at Nye's Clyde Township home to talk about the case and how it has affected their lives.
Nye recalled the last time she had seen her son, about two hours before his death. He had been arguing with the man who owns the house where he died at and had come inside to grab his cigarettes.
"I found it very unnerving that (Robbie) left with him," Nye said.
Family members recall Simpson as a happy man. He was looking forward to spending more time with his daughter, now 2 years old, and recently had enrolled in college. He was buying a truck from his aunt, Laura Steele of Marysville.
"I saw him the day it happened," Steele said. "He said he'd be at my house the next day to get the title for the truck. He didn't go over (to the neighbor's home) to commit suicide."
Nye has a hard time staying in the home where Simpson lived with her and her husband. She said she sees him in everything around the house, such as the curtains he helped hang or the indoor pool he helped install. She still can't bring herself to go into his bedroom and is considering selling her home to get away from all the memories.
St. Clair County Sheriff Dan Lane would not say much about why the case was reopened, other than new information involving the case recently has been brought forward.
He would not say if the new information implicates anyone in Simpson's death, where the information came from or what it contained. Lane still maintains that the original investigation was done correctly.
A sheriff detective is working with officers from the Michigan State Police on the case because they have more resources available to them, such as a forensics laboratory, said St. Clair County Prosecutor Mike Wendling.
Two attorneys in his office also are reviewing the case to see if it warrants criminal charges or further investigation.
"Often when cases are presented to us, we might have ideas for further investigation and different ideas on how to proceed with the file." Wendling said. "In this case we thought there might be something state police could do to help."
State Police Detective Sgt. Patrick Young said he has just started reviewing documents about the case.
"I understand it's been reported as a suicide and the family is concerned with that," he said. "We want to take a look at it and see if there is anything more to be done to determine that it is anything otherwise."
Simpson's family credits the new investigation in part to publicity generated by a September Times Herald story on the incident and subsequent postings to the StoryChat forums at the paper's Web site.
Lane said he has not read the StoryChat comments, which now number more than 1,100, and said they did not play a role in the investigation.
"The StoryChat helped a lot because of the publicity," said Simpson's sister Marie Sontag of Fort Gratiot. She and Steele frequently go online to update readers, many of whom have been very supportive, she said.
The family also created its own Web site with information about the case, which they frequently link to from the Times Herald site.
"There's nothing that can tell me Robbie killed himself," Nye said.
Scott Libin, managing editor of Poynter Online and a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in Florida, said responsible local government officials do read newspapers and can't afford not to check online forums to see what residents are talking about.
"I think it's responsive for officials to pay attention to not just what journalists say, but what readers and residents say," Libin said.
While he said not all comments on an online forum have value, if only a few are capable of provoking new ideas it can help change the course of an event.
"There might not be a single comment that convinces a police official of anything," Libin said. "But it might simply be, 'Boy, this has enough of a conversation going and enough opinion on this that perhaps we ought to give it another look.'"
Contact Shannon Murphy at (810) 989-6258 or semurphy@ gannett.com.
Times Herald photos by WENDY TORELLO
LOST: Carol Nye of Clyde Township pauses a moment Thursday while showing a locket with a photo of her son, Robbie Simpson. Police said Simpson, 25, killed himself Dec. 27 while at the home of an acquaintance, which Nye refuses to believe. The sheriff has reopened Simpson's case
MEMORIAL: A poem printed with a photo of
Robbie Simpson lies in a wreath in the home of his mother, Carol Nye.
By WENDY TORELLO, Times Herald
NOT FORGETTING: Robbie Simpson's mother, Carol Nye, right, examines a Web
site her family created about Simpson's death. Family members Marie Sontag,
Laura Steele and Alyssa Steele look on. The family met Thursday afternoon at
Nye's Clyde Township home to discuss the case.
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