Murder mystery hits airwaves

It’s an international whodunit, with one of the suspects being the deceased — and now the case will be featured on national television.

In June 2007, a 36-year-old with dual French and American citizenship was found dead with three stab wounds inside his locked apartment. Despite there being no bloody knife or suicide note found, San Francisco police determined the death was a suicide. The medical examiner later ruled it an “undetermined death” and closed the case six months later.

The case, however, did not end there.

The family of Hugues de la Plaza asked French authorities to investigate the death. As two French detectives and a judge from Paris walked through de la Plaza’s apartment, there was also a producer from the crime TV show “48 Hours Mystery,” who was helping to document the case.

French authorities ruled the death to be a homicide, and a recently released independent autopsy reportedly backs that
finding.

Bill Fazio, a former homicide prosecutor-turned-private attorney, is the latest to enter the cast of characters. He represents de la Plaza’s parents, who have traveled back and forth from France to keep pressure on police.

Fazio said an independent autopsy from former San Francisco Medical Examiner Michael Ferenc concludes that de la Plaza’s death was a homicide. The attorney received the report this week, about nine months after it was completed.

In the report, Ferenc said de la Plaza was most likely stabbed by someone outside the front door of his apartment. He then retreated back into his apartment and locked the door. That would explain why there was no knife found.

But that doesn’t mesh with the report from the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office. Pathologist Venus Azar concluded the manner of death was undecided. She and homicide Inspector Tony Casillas have made the case that de la Plaza stabbed himself.

“I don’t understand why they’re making such a big deal out of the suicide,” Fazio said. “Even if they’re not sure it’s a homicide, just treat it as a homicide and work from there.”

There also are the Los Angeles Police Department investigators called in to do their own assessment of the case. Their conclusion has yet to be released, and the French are 100 percent sure it was a murder.

It’s a vexing case that has come to symbolize the deficiencies in San Francisco’s homicide investigations. It didn’t help that The City was experiencing decade-high murder tallies and solving them less than 25 percent of the time.

Police spokesman Sgt. Wilfred Williams said Thursday that homicide investigators are still on the case.

On Saturday, the nation will have a chance to decide on its own when the case is profiled on “48 Hours Mystery” on CBS (KPIX, Ch. 5).

On TV

What: “48 Hours Mystery:
A Case For Murder”
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Channel: KPIX (Ch. 5)

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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