The final episode of Beyond Reasonable Doubt, “Murder in Vegas,” will be airing this Sunday, July 9th at 8 pm ET/PT. Are you ready? Buckle up, because this is yet another thrilling inside look into a high-profile murder case that used a new scientific technique to help solve the case.
This time, we’re in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1995. Detective Phil Ramos of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police tells us about the murder of Ron Rudin, the first high-profile murder case the department had ever seen. He was the detective assigned to the case after a particularly gruesome discovery of charred bones was called in by a hiker out in the Nevada desert.
Those of us who follow true crime might immediately leap to the conclusion that it was a mob hit given Rudin’s aggressive real estate tactics and penchant for visiting mob-owned strip clubs, but detectives were easily able to dismiss this line of inquiry. Circumstantial evidence was growing against someone with a far more personal connection to the victim. Sex and drugs are a heady motive, especially for a lover scorned.
Circumstantial evidence is defined by Merriam-Webster as “evidence that tends to prove a fact by proving other events or circumstances which afford a basis for a reasonable inference of the occurrence of the fact at issue.” In other words, if a bunch of evidence points in the same direction, you can infer that that direction is the correct one.
Unfortunately for prosecutors, circumstantial evidence is subject to interpretation, and defense attorneys can be very good at showing how each piece of evidence could point to a number of other possible perpetrators. And, as Detective Ramos says in this episode, it’s a detective’s job to gather an overwhelming amount of evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that their suspect did, in fact, commit the crime.
In this case, there were copious amounts of blood evidence in the home of the victim but no witnesses or evidence that the suspect actually committed the crime. And since Rudin had no children and his body was burned, lab technicians could not even conclusively say that the blood actually belonged to Ron Rudin. They had intact teeth and dental records, so at least they did know that the body was definitely his. All they needed to do was scientifically link the blood at the crime scene to the body. But how?
There are so many bizarre twists and turns that came up as more and more evidence was uncovered. All of it points to their suspect, but again, there is nothing scientifically conclusive to connect the victim and the killer to the crime scene. The case was getting cold, and the detectives were forced to move on to other cases despite that overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence. And then, their suspect disappears.
Ramos and his partner take every moment they have between cases to continue to follow up on evidence in the now cold Rudin case, but it’s not until the medical examiner re-examines the body during a second attempt at a grand jury hearing on this case that they get the break they needed. Using the pulp inside the teeth to get a DNA profile, they were finally able to link the body to the crime scene.
This is the first time the pulp of a tooth has been used as evidence in a murder case, setting a precedent for all future cases lacking a DNA reference from the victim and making huge strides forward in DNA evidence collection. Better yet, Torrey Johnson, the forensic firearm examiner on this case, makes an astonishing discovery in his own lab that seals the deal once and for all. Johnson is definitely the MVP on this one.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt is a really great series of short shots of information about groundbreaking techniques in forensic science. Every case this series has covered shows that even the smallest item or idea can make a world of difference in catching a killer.
My only complaint is that there aren’t more episodes! I learned so much about the science and the absolute persistence these professionals have in uncovering evidence and doing everything they can to close a case. If you didn’t already have loads of respect for the detectives, prosecutors, and especially the forensic scientists that are constantly innovating and thinking outside of the box, this series will fix that.
Check out the trailer for “Murder in Vegas,” and don’t forget to tune in this Sunday on HLN at 8:00 pm ET/PT!
Ardi Alspach was born in Florida, raised in South Carolina, and now resides in New York City with her cat and an apartment full of books. By day, she's a publicist, and by night, she's a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ardyceelaine or check out her website at ardyceelaine.wordpress.com.