Claus von Bulow Case

Posted: September 3rd, 2013

Claus von Bulow Case









Claus von Bulow Case


            The reasoning made by jurors in determining whether an accused person is guilty of committing a crime is a manner of casual inference. Jurors need to deliberate whether the evidence submitted in during the trial the criminal action of the individual being accused or by a different cause. This paper delves in the issue of causal inference in the attempt of explaining why the jurists in the two trials came up with different verdicts concerning the same case. The case in question is about the Claus von Bulow trials where the above mentioned was found guilty in the first trial and later found innocent in the second one. There are apparent psychological and computational reasons regarding the illustrative coherence account of legal inference.

The trials in question involve the scenario in dated in the year 1980, where a lady by the name Martha von Bulow, who happened to happened to be a very affluent heiress, lapsed into a coma. This led to the husband being accused of injecting the affluent heir with an overdose of insulin. During the first trial, the jury found Bulow guilty of two counts of assault and attempted murder. However, an appeal was granted on the accuser that later acquitted him on both counts. There lies a mystery as to what led the first jury into finding the accused guilty of two counts of assault and attempted murder with the jury of the second trial finding him not guilty on all counts.

The difference in judgment can therefore be explained by taking the jury’s decision-making process as a kind of causal inference. The jury was obliged to make inferences on the possible cause of Bulow’s wife coma in particular whether the husband was involved in inducing the coma by injecting her with an overdose of insulin. The reasoning behind the testimony of the apparent witnesses is also causal. This is mainly because the jury had to infer whether the witness statements were of true events that occurred or that they were lying.




Claus von Bulow Case

            The Claus von Bulow Case is one of the most captivating criminal trials to be televised to the public in the United States of America. The beginning of the trial was depicted by an international media circus that went into play for close to five years. What made the case captivate the public were the elements of immense riches, adultery and allegations of attempted murder that involved persons in the high society. During her childhood years, she often went with the mother on yearly visits to Parisian haute couture houses and went to the extent of being listed in the Vogue magazine’s top ten best-dressed women (Dershowitz, 1986).

Sunny Von Bulow was born on September 1, 1932 in Manassas. The name was coined from the sunny deposition. The father’s name was George W. Crawford, the famous entrepreneur who founded Columbia Gas, Lone Star Gas and Northern Natural Gas. Unfortunately, the father died when she was only four years old and thereby leaving her a lump sum inheritance.

It was during one of her visits to Europe that she got to meet Prince Alfred von Auersperg, who was a tennis professional at the time. The two fell in love and later on got married in the 1958 and had two children, who were, Annie Laurie (Ala) and Alexander. However, the marriage was not meant to last as Alfred was engaged in highly publicized affair with Gina Lollobrigida, who at the time was renowned Italian film actor. This affair led to the ultimate end of their marriage with a divorce in the year 1965. it was after this marriage that she later that she met and married Claus von Bulow in the year sixth June 1965. Bulow was at the time a financier from Denmark. This marriage led to the birth of their daughter, Cosima von Bülow in the year 1967. the couple lived under glitz and glamour earning the title of America’s most socially glamorous couple (Gilovich, Griffin, and Kahneman, 2002).

Claus von Bulow under went two trials for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. However, the two trials resulted into different verdicts with the jury of the first trial finding him guilty of attempted murder while the jury of the second trial found him innocent of the intent to murder his wife. Different theories have been forwarded in order to explain the differences in judgment between the two juries. One of the theories proposes that in the first case, the prosecution’s case focused on tangible scientific evidence, statements from eyewitnesses and plausible motives.

The prosecution forwarded that it was the cause of Sunny’s coma was brought about by her husband who apparently injected her with her with insulin. The prosecution’s argument was highly supported by key witnesses who included Maria Schrallhammer, who was Sunny’s maid and Alex von Auersperg, the son Sunny had from the previous marriage. Sunny’s maid narrated of how she had come across a black back belonging to Bulow that contained insulin just a month before Sunny went into a coma. Sunny’s son from the previous marriage, Alex, testified that he also came across the black bag containing insulin in Bulow’s closet after Sunny had gone into a coma. He also added that during this time, the bag had three hypodermic needles including one that seemed to have been injected onto someone.

Scientific evidence also backed the prosecution’s case by indicating insulin residues on the needle found on the black bag. In addition, blood samples from sunny during the time of coma indicated high insulin levels, healthcare facts indicate that high insulin levels in ones blood can lead into a coma. These testimonies by Maria and Alex and the plausible scientific evidence ended up supporting the prosecution’s argument that Sunny’s coma was resulted by her being injected with insulin by Bulow.

The focal hypothesis in this case was that Bulow injected his wife with insulin. Although there was no direct witness to this happening, the reasonability of the argument largely depended on the indirect evidence that supported it. That is, sunny’s state of being in a coma, insulin belonging to Bulow, the needle with insulin belonging to Bulow and the fact that high insulin levels can result in a coma.

One paramount aspect in the belief of a testimony is the presence of a causal judgment whereby witnesses state what they do because they believe it. This belief is partly because it is true. Other plausible causes are also possible such as the case where the witness is supposedly mistaken or lying. In illustration, the case of Maria, the jury deduced that she testified in coming across insulin in Bulow’s bag because she indeed found insulin in the black bag belonging to Bulow.

During the first trial, where the jury found Bulow guilty of attempted murder, the defense seemed to have failed in discrediting the witness statements of Maria and Alex as opposed to the second trial where they forwarded that the two witnesses could have been mistaken in their testimonies. During the first trial, the prosecution forwarded a very strong causal theory and evidence that gave Bulow a convincing reason of getting rid of Sunny. In addition, testimonies from Bulow’s mistress pointed out that she had asked him to divorce Sunny.

Sunny’s banker also testified that Bulow would gain a lump sum inheritance in the event of Sunny’s death, but benefits would be highly reduced in the event of a divorce. This added to the plausibility of the hypothesis that Bulow attempted to murder hi wife was based on the presence of a possible cause of his attempt. This is hi romantic and pecuniary motive, in addition to the supposed impact of his attempt, the needle with insulin on and Sunny’s coma believed to have been resulted from an overdose of insulin.

The defense attempted to bring forward another hypothesis on the cause of Sunny’s coma. This included bringing out witnesses such as Joy O’Neill, who stated that she had on several occasions taken Sunny through exercise instruction. Joy O’Neill stated that Sunny had earlier on told her that she believed that injecting oneself with insulin was one of the most suitable ways for one to lose weight. This witness statement was used by the defense in their attempt to support their hypothesis that Sunny was in a coma as a result of injecting herself with insulin.

However, Joy O’Neill’s testimony was highly suppressed after video tapes of her with sunny indicated that she had tutored Sunny on much less that what she claimed in her testimony. The video tapes of Joy O’Neill with Sunny of the exercise studio further indicated that she not taught Sunny at all in the year that Joy O’Neill claimed to have been told by Sunny on the weight loss effects of insulin (Pennington, N., and Hastie, 1992).

Having all the evidence that was in favor of the prosecution’s hypothesis that Bulow had indeed injected Sunny with insulin, leading to her coma, it is therefore obvious that the jury found Bulow guilty of injecting his wife with insulin. However, the second trial was very different from the first one. Alan Dershowitz’s appeal was forthcoming in having the defense gain access to the information collected by a private detective hired by Alex von Auersperg. The information collected by the detective indicated that the house cleaner had not mentioned coming across Bulow’s black bag with insulin until medical practitioners had forwarded Sunny’s coma as insulin related (Pearl, 2000).

The prosecution concluded that Maria’s testimony was a result of loathe towards Claus. It did not matter to her that whether there was insulin in Claus’ bag. In addition, Alex’s was undermined because when he found the bag there were no needles in that bag. This was confirmed by a detective who was with Alex when he found the bag. Many scientific professionals were summoned by the defense to evaluate the report in the first trial. Sunny’s coma was caused by insulin. This information was backed up by an injection, which had acquired insulin through injection. Claus’ alleged aim of attempting murder was rejected when Sunny’s banker was denied a chance to testify on Sunny’s wealth. The claims that Sunny’ s coma had been  induced by insulin were dropped. Therefore, the defense did not have to debate that Sunny had injected herself.

There were also other possibilities that could result to her coma. She had so many health problems and in addition, she had abnormal behavior. She took too many aspirins and swallowed a wide variety of other drugs. She also ate a lot of ice cream yet she was aware of her unstable blood sugar levels. All these reason could have brought her coma. According to how the defense presented their story it was considered more substantial than that of the first trial. No matter how casual it sounded, it did convince the court Claus was innocent. Therefore, the self-injection story was turned down. The assumptions above are based on what the jurors found to be the cause of the coma. One weakness of the law is that it does not matter whether something is true; lack of evidence rules it out. A ruling can be made using false information just because a person was unable to prove the truth. In this case, it is still not clear how the ruling should be made. For instance, if the court would rule that the coma was not induced by insulin, it could be a wrong decision. The fact that there is not enough evidence to prove this, it could be the truth. On the other hand, concluding that the coma was caused by other reasons, could not be accurate. Therefore, it is a challenge to the court to act rightfully.




Dershowitz, A. M. (1986). Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bu¨ low Case. New York: Random House.

Gilovich, T., D. Griffin, and D. Kahneman eds. (2002). Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pearl, J. 2000. Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pennington, N., and R. Hastie. 1992. Explaining the evidence: Tests of the story model for juror decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51:189!206.

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