My very learned friend – and former prosecutor – Rich Weill gives some cracking insight into what would be needed in court to secure guilty convictions for the first 14 Columbo killers. I recommend reading his views here.
I come from nothing like such an educated position. I’m merely a humble fan trying my best to share my love of the show with fellow fans. But my mind, as is the case with many other viewer’s, does occasionally turn to that interesting conundrum of what would actually happen to Columbo’s cases in court.
“With most of the killers having masses of cash to pay for the best lawyers in the land, sealing their fate in court will not be easy.”
I get that what happens next isn’t the point of the show. But I’d like to think, nevertheless, that the Lieutenant’s sagacity, charm and exacting standards would resonate with jurors and succeed in sending all the killers off for a lengthy stretch behind bars.
Of course, with most of them having masses of cash to pay for the best lawyers in the land, sealing their fate in court will not be easy. For what it’s worth, and with my layman’s juror hat on, here’s what I think would have happened when Columbo’s cases went to court.
The People vs Dr Ray Flemming (Prescription: Murder)
I reckon Raymundo has got a whole world of hurt awaiting him in court. Joan Hudson’s vengeful testimony against him will be hard to counteract. She can handle herself in a pressure-cooker situation after all (see how she fended off Columbo’s tirade during the episode), so is likely to withstand an attack from Dr Flemming’s legal team.
Columbo’s testimony about the ‘hypothetical’ chat he had with Ray about the killing is likely to be just as damning, and the cerebral doctor has little in common with the people of the jury to win them over to his cause.
Verdict: Guilty! 25 to life!
The People vs Leslie Williams (Ransom for a Dead Man)
What an interesting spectacle this would be! Ace lawyer Leslie Williams might even defend herself in court, adding a delicious edge to proceedings as she again went head-to-head with Columbo – this time in a setting she’s uber-familiar with.
It would be risky, but she could pull it off if she’s able to convince the jury that she simply stole the ransom money because she loathed her husband, but that she didn’t actually kill him. Leslie could surely convince enough of them that hate-filled whelp Margaret had it in for her to discredit her evidence, which could mean that even the everyman charm of Columbo might not be enough to send Leslie down.
Verdict: Hung jury. Leslie lives to fight another day.
The People vs Ken Franklin (Murder by the Book)
I’ve always thought that the final clue that brought about Ken Franklin’s downfall was rather weak. Sure, a scribbled note in the victim’s hand that ties in with the method of his actual murder looks bad for Ken, but after pulling himself together in the presence of his handsomely paid lawyer, his confidence would be back in spades.
A silver-tongued charmer, admired by millions of Americans due to his effortless grace in promoting Mrs Melville books on TV, radio and in print, Ken would have the ability to easily win hearts and minds of jurors. I imagine he could come up with a dozen plausible reasons why Jim Ferris’s note and his eventual fate were so similar – none of them incriminating himself.
Verdict: Not guilty! A lifetime of fat-cattery awaits
The People vs Investigator Brimmer (Death Lends a Hand)
Another interesting one in that Brimmer didn’t intentionally kill Lenore Kennicut. That’s unlikely to stop him receiving a significant jail sentence, though. For starters, he’s made a dreadful enemy in media mogul Arthur Kennicut, who would do all in his considerable power to bring Brimmer down. Evidence of Brimmer’s furious temper, plus his desperate search for – and attempt to be rid of – the planted contact lens in his car boot has essentially sealed his fate.
The investigator is intelligent enough to know when he’s beaten, as his confession in the garage showed. But a plea bargain would be out of the question due to Kennicut’s insistence that justice be served. In that case, Brimmer’s royally screwed.
Verdict: Guilty, parole in 15 years.
The People vs Major General Martin Hollister (Dead Weight)
A confusing case for the layman, much will hinge on how well legendary war hero Hollister is able to explain away why he’s claimed for so many years that his famous pearl-handled Colt 45 was stolen – and how it ended up being the murder weapon if he himself didn’t fire it.
Helen Stewart’s testimony is likely to be viewed with some skepticism by the jury (especially if her doubting mother is also called to the stand), so it looks like a straight head-to-head between Hollister and Columbo as to who holds the trump card. And with it being so hard to prove that the General himself pulled the trigger, this might well be yet another battle he claims victory in.
Verdict: Not guilty
The People vs Dale Kingston (Suitable for Framing)
Dale Kingston might be his own worst enemy in court, alienating the common man and woman of the jury with his pomposity and haughty attitude towards witnesses and prosecutors.
Columbo’s ability to communicate effectively with prince or pauper will hold sway here, with his explanation of the fingerprint scenario (backed up by Captain Wyler) causing ‘oooohs’ galore around the courtroom. Kooky Aunt Edna would need to be exceptionally well prepped to avoid coming across as a dear old loon, but her inherent loveliness would further highlight Dale’s utter beastliness.
With ace lawyer Frank Simpson barred from defending Kingston due to being implicated in the case, the velvet tuxedo-wearing critic will be dragged kicking and screaming from the dock to a lifetime behind bars.
Verdict: Guilty. Gas chamber (while wearing velvet tux)
The People vs Beth Chadwick (Lady in Waiting)
Now I’m not sure about the lie of the land on this one given that Beth had already been found not guilty in a coroner’s court. Whether she can stand trial again is a mystery to me, but assuming she can, much will depend on which Beth she shows to jurors: the downtrodden, wronged Beth we first encounter, or the saucy minx we later see who’s unable to keep her mouth shut.
If it’s the latter (as I suspect it would be), much as I love her, Beth will be saying ‘Bye Felicia’ for good as she’s totters off to jail – with the additional agony of knowing it was former lover Peter Hamilton’s changed testimony that did for her.
Verdict: Guilty, but parole after 5 years due to years of mental abuse from brother and father.
The People vs Roger Stanford (Short Fuse)
Chemicals genius Roger Stanford puts the ‘mad’ in madcap, and despite being clearly guilty as sin (as demonstrated in his own actions in the cable car) he may just escape a lifetime in a high security prison.
Given the state he was in at episode’s end, it’s quite conceivable that Roger had gone permanently loopy and as such would be monitored at a mental health facility. If not, then he’s going down for a long time – to a place where his ‘hilarious’ practical jokes are unlikely to ingratiate him to his fellow prisoners.
Verdict: Guilty! Life in prison. Slain by fellow inmate 1 week into jail term after spraying contraband silly string at him.
The People vs Elliot Markham (Blueprint for Murder)
No murderer has ever been caught quite as red-handed as Elliot Markham, who’s bid to outsmart the Lieutenant only saw him caught in the headlights of a mass of police black and whites as he attempted to fling the body of Bo Williamson into the foundations of a skyscraper.
It’s an open and shut case if ever there was one, and the shaggy-haired architect hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting out of this one.
Verdict: Guilty. Life.
The People vs Alex Benedict (Etude in Black)
Were it not for his quiet confessions to Columbo and wife Janice in the projection booth at episode’s end, one would suspect the evidence wouldn’t quite stack up enough to put Maestro Alex Benedict behind bars. The flimsy evidence around the carnation would never be enough to convict – unless Columbo had some crime scene photos that showed the flower was definitely there before Benedict returned to the crime scene (which was never mentioned, so we must assume don’t exist).
In the cold light of day, I don’t see Benedict as the confess-in-court type. His wife’s testimony about the carnation isn’t strong and that’s pretty much what the whole case rests on. As a result, I can see Benedict walking out a free man – albeit a man who’s professional and personal life are in ruins.
Verdict: Not guilty.
The People vs Jarvis Goodland (Greenhouse Jungle)
As indicated in my review of Greenhouse Jungle, here we have another case distinctly lacking in damning evidence. I believe a fiery type like Jarvis would put on a bombastic – not to mention NOISY – display on the witness stand, browbeating the prosecutor and doing enough to plant the seeds of suspicion in the minds of the jurors (puns one trillion per cent intentional).
Given the lack of proven motive, I think the laymen and ladies of the jury will struggle to find Goodland guilty – meaning he’ll be heading home to cuddle his orchids before you can say ‘wife-ridden weakling’.
Verdict: Not guilty
The People vs Paul Hanlon (The Most Crucial Game)
Admittedly, angry man Hanlon’s reaction when Columbo catches him out over the missing clock chimes on the recorded phone message doesn’t look good. However, I’ll eat my hat if any jury in the land would send Hanlon down on trivia like that.
Looking at it through the uncomplicated eyes of the average juror, the police have established no motive, no weapon, no telling witnesses and merely a hint of opportunity. There are so many ways Hanlon can wriggle out of it that he’s simply certain to go free. After all, can you see him confessing? Don’t make me laugh…
Verdict: Not guilty (and that’s three in a row)
Her Majesty vs Nicholas Frame and Lilian Stanhope (Dagger of the Mind)
Different continents and legal landscapes notwithstanding, thespian husband-and-wife duo Frame and Stanhope have got a fight on their hands to avoid gaol-time.
Despite planted evidence ultimately bringing about their arrest, the pair acted suspiciously throughout and one suspects that fast police work at Scotland Yard will have elicited genuine confessions of guilt from them both by the time their lawyer arrived at the scene. Given that they were both in a very fragile state of mind at the Wax Museum (Lilian essentially confessed then and there), this seems an entirely likely outcome.
If their lawyer was a good one and got them to keep their mouths shut at the station, then they could make a fist of it in court, but my money’d be on Lilian cracking under pressure and giving the game away.
Verdict: Guilty. Get ye to the jayle for 20 years apiece
The People vs Nora Chandler (Requiem for a Falling Star)
In what would be one of the most high-profile trials in US history, fading film star Nora Chandler would put in the performance of her life on the witness stand – but ultimately justice would be done.
The corpse of her late husband Al Cumberland being dug up in her back garden would stun the nation. Autopsy evidence in court would confirm that he had been slain by a violent blow to the head. However, Nora would be on trial for the killing of Jean Davis to prevent word of Cumberland’s death leaking to the gutter press, and proving that would be more difficult.
However, finally racked by the guilt she didn’t show at all during the episode, Nora would tearfully confess her willful intent of killing Jean, giving the jury and audience front row seats to gripping drama that even Hollywood writers couldn’t script. In short, the fading film star would go out on a high, commanding global headlines in a way she hadn’t done for 30 years.
Verdict: Guilty. Sentenced to 20 years. Out in 10.
The People vs Dr Barry Mayfield (A Stitch in Crime)
A tricky case for the jurors because, unlike we viewers, they don’t know he slew Sharon Martin and Harry Alexander and there’s not nearly enough evidence to try the ‘good’ Doctor for that double homicide.
Instead, prosecutors will have to settle for an attempted murder charge against Dr Mayfield for his beastly stunt of using dissolving sutures in his elderly colleague Dr Heideman’s replacement heart valve.
Given a lack of witnesses for the prosecution, the verdict will hinge largely on whether they believe Mayfield shoved suture into Columbo’s pocket in the operating theatre, or they think the detective planted the evidence. Heideman’s testimony will be crucial. If he retains faith in his young protege, Mayfield will go free. If he sides with the Lieutenant, then Mayfield is going down!
Verdict: Guilty of attempted murder. Sentenced to 15 years, out in 10.
The People vs Emmett Clayton (The Most Dangerous Match)
Despite the heinous nature of his crime (killing one of the most lovable chaps the Eastern bloc states have ever known), unhinged chess ace Clayton is unlikely to face jail time. Why? He’s simply too mentally unstable to realistically be found guilty.
Despite his attempts to appear cool, calm and collected on the surface, Clayton’s madness swiftly gains on him and finally overtakes him over the course of a two-day period where he sandwiches pushing his Russian opponent into a trash compactor between repeatedly flipping out – even, ultimately, in public.
If it even gets to court it’s highly likely mental health experts would give a gloomy forecast for Clayton’s long-term well-being. No jury will be able to convict.
Verdict: Not guilty by way of insanity. Will spend at least 10 years in a psychiatric health facility.
“Despite his attempts to appear cool, calm and collected on the surface, Clayton’s madness swiftly gains on him.”
So there we have it. My uneducated views on what would happen if Columbo’s cases went to court. Let me know your views – but do remember that I’m not trying to take myself too seriously here.
I’ll keep adding the killers’ projected fate on an episode-by-episode basis, so do check back once in a while to catch up with the latest. Until then, be seeing you!
With thanks to Dave Knight for use of his General Hollister newspaper cover image! He’s a big Columbo fan, so make sure you give him a follow on Twitter @DaveWKnight