Saturday, June 14, 2008

Death and money

Well, they're off and running.

Good luck.

Lots of evidence, few answers at Shue trial
By Zeke MacCormack

BOERNE — Both sides scored evidence triumphs in the first week of a marathon trial here of the negligence and wrongful death suit that Tracy Shue brought against USAA Life Insurance Co.

But little new light fell on the big mystery that underpins the proceedings — whether Air Force Col. Philip Shue killed himself, was murdered or died accidentally April 16, 2003.
Dozens of witnesses have yet to be called, and 2,100 exhibits are numbered for the trial that's drawn interest from national television news teams but few local spectators.

Jason Davis, the widow's attorney, has used USAA employees and records in his bid to show the firm reacted improperly in 1999 when Col. Shue requested it cancel a $500,000 life policy on him due to fears his ex-wife Nancy would kill him for the proceeds.

The firm told Shue only the policy owner, Nancy Shue, could cancel it, and suggested he call police, military investigators and a lawyer.

Found mutilated and duct-taped, Shue, 54, died from head injuries suffered when his Mercury Tracer hit trees beside Interstate 10 hours after he'd left his home for work at Wilford Hall Medical Center.

While plaintiff's attorney Davis refers in court to Col. Shue's “murder,” it's very much in dispute whether such a crime occurred.

Former Kendall County Sheriff's Lt. Roger Anderson, who led the local investigation, testified Friday that he doubted Shue committed suicide, but may have staged his abduction and crashed the car intentionally — expecting to survive.

More likely, Anderson said, is that he crashed the car accidentally after escaping from unknowns who'd abducted, bound and tortured him.

Investigators argued among themselves over what had befallen Shue, recalled Anderson, who labeled the suicide ruling by the medical examiner and justice of the peace “astounding.”

“There were preconceived notions that led to official findings that are not accurate,” he said.
Monica Escobar, a USAA staffer who advised Shue with guidance from a superior, testified she didn't know the firm could cancel a policy if it detected fraud, nor had she been trained to refer concerns like Shue's to the firm's special investigations unit.

Several witnesses called by the plaintiff appeared to help the defense by saying Col. Shue should have told police of the anonymous letters he claimed warned of a plot on his life — which he didn't do.

And defense attorney Bill Ford elicited testimony that Northwestern Mutual Life, which also had a $500,000 policy on Shue, gave similar advice.

The jury was told USAA paid the claims.

But so far, jurors don't know Nancy Shue got the proceeds under a confidential settlement that she and Northwestern reached with Tracy Shue to end her suit against them. Both originally had been named as defendants along with USAA.

Nancy Shue refused to answer any questions about Philip Shue's death at pretrial depositions, citing her right against self-incrimination. Her lawyer says she wasn't involved.

Spectator Don Irwin, 72, is losing hope of learning if Shue killed himself or was the victim of foul play.
“We'll probably never know because there's too many questions that are unanswered,” the Boerne man said.