Wieman case status assessed

It has been eight weeks since the body of UC Davis student Andrew Wieman was discovered in his bedroom at an on-campus fraternity house. Much has transpired in the investigation since that Jan. 4 incident. Dateline has checked in with the top officials of the lead investigating agencies on the case, UC Davis Police Chief Calvin Handy and Yolo County Sheriff/Coroner Ed Prieto. Both provide their candid summary and assessment of the case so far.

Q: What is the current status of the Andrew Wieman case?

Chief Handy: We are working very hard across three agencies to reconstruct a situation that is a very tragic event for this campus. For the UC Davis Police Department, this case remains our No. 1 priority. We are committed to working this case in collaboration with investigators from the Yolo County Coroner's Office and scientists from the state Department of Justice. We have three full-time detectives assigned to this situation, gathering and evaluating evidence, and interviewing and re-interviewing dozens of people.

We're following every potential lead. We, all of us, understand the concerns of the Wieman family, people who knew and loved him, and the campus community. People want to know more. We want to provide as much information as we can, but some information we just can't release because it could jeopardize our investigation.

Sheriff Prieto: Speaking for Yolo County, we also are making this our primary case. It's an ongoing investigation that has included collecting evidence from the death scene, taking photos and conducting the autopsy.

We also have assigned three investigators to this case who are conducting interviews, reviewing findings and contributing information. We are still awaiting results from the Department of Justice on certain issues that we're concerned about, results that may help us establish if this is a homicide or a suicide.

Q: Why is this case listed as a suspicious death?

Sheriff Prieto: The reason we are listing Andrew's death as suspicious is because of the wounds sustained to his body. It is clear through the autopsy that the cause of death was stab wounds to his chest and neck. But because we don't yet know the manner of death, who inflicted these wounds, we must list it as suspicious.

Test results from trace elements collected in his room, being analyzed by the Department of Justice now, may help us establish if this was a homicide or a suicide.

It's not uncommon to consider an incident a suspicious death. In Yolo County, probably 30 percent to 50 percent of the deaths we review are listed initially as suspicious. It could take months, but we solve most of them. Only 2 to 3 percent remain undetermined.

Q: What has been accomplished so far in this investigation?

Chief Handy: The coroner's office has established the cause of death and has collected trace elements (such as hair, fabric and blood samples) from his fraternity room that are being examined by experts at the Department of Justice.

We have conducted many, many interviews-at least dozens of interviews-with family members, students, staff, faculty and acquaintances of Andrew.

The coroner has established that Andrew had been dead about 12 hours when our first emergency responders arrived on scene. The toxicology report that was completed after the autopsy revealed no drugs or alcohol in his system.

We know through handwriting analysis that a note found in his room was written by Andrew. Fingerprints on the note and on a knife found in his room also were Andrew's. Our detectives have examined and re-examined the death scene, determined timelines, and they're following up on all leads that come across.

Sheriff Prieto: Ditto what the chief said. We have also been in contact with the profiler from the Department of Justice. DOJ has a tremendous amount of information from the scene, as well as information that we obtained from the family. They are working on it now, but we're probably looking at about two months down the road for them to generate their reports.

  • psychological autopsy is the term that we've been using for the profiler, and essentially what this can provide us is another piece of information, another piece of the puzzle. Was he capable of carrying out this act himself? What was his state of mind? That type of information.

It's important to note that the more investigators you bring in, the less you are going to miss. The more ears you have, the more eyes you have, the better your investigation.

We use the forensic skills of the criminalists from the Department of Justice for many of our cases.

Chief Handy: The forensic specialists are ultimately going to process all the trace evidence for us. We don't have a lab in our unit nor does the coroner's office have labs equipped to handle the sophisticated analysis that is required to obtain good and reliable results.

No law enforcement agency in the state can do what the justice department can do. Bringing them in from the beginning, within hours, has proved valuable to our joint investigation. It was a good call.

Q: Does the independent pathologist hired by the Wieman family have a role in this investigation?

Sheriff Prieto: They actually hired a pathologist at our suggestion. They have wanted information regarding the injuries that we couldn't provide because of the investigation, so we recommended they go ahead and hire someone outside to examine the body. Will we use those findings? I can honestly say, no, not at this time.

Not only the independent pathologist, but any doctor of pathology, their main responsibility and their job focus is determining the cause of death, not the manner of death. Determining manner of death is the job of the coroner's office.

For a pathologist to come out and basically state this has to be a homicide, or this was a homicide, just isn't appropriate. Especially from a pathologist who has not had all the evidence in front of them. In reality, the manner of death is based heavily on the evidence and investigations.

Q: What's next?

Chief Handy: This is not something that happens on TV between four commercials on some detective show. This is real life, and it's very complex.

The key to this whole process is very careful, thorough examination. Just like a scientist doing research, we need to follow steps and procedures. We can't sacrifice any part of this. It takes us a long time to get here because there is no other way to really do it.

Sheriff Prieto: This is not unusual at all in this type of investigation. Even if you had a victim, a motive, a suspect in custody-and we don't have that here-it is still a methodical process of putting everything together.

Should this case ever need to go to a prosecution, you need to have everything in order to be successful. Here, you start from actually nothing-just a victim-and you start building from there. It's a huge research process.

Criminal investigation, just like any kind of major research undertaking, is a process. Who can better appreciate our challenge than a research community like UC Davis? It's difficult for investigators, and it's difficult for someone sitting on the sidelines waiting for the information; it is particularly agonizing for the family.

It's going to take more time. And I'm sure it will take months.

It's important to add that there may be the possibility that this particular death could fall in that 2 percent, where we would be unable to determine the manner of death, a homicide or suicide. Every effort is being put forth to try to determine that, but there is a really strong possibility we will never know with certainty.

Media Resources

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, abagronis@ucdavis.edu

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