There is a truly horrific case out of Minnesota after David J. Gherity, 60, was arrested for setting his girlfriend on fire in his condominium. What struck me as odd was that he was not charged with attempted murder as opposed to assault in the attack. However, Gheirty’s lawyer says that there is a videotape of Gherity at work at the time of the crime that will vindicate his client.
Gherity is accused of dousing his longtime girlfriend with hair spray, nail polish and nail polish remover before setting her ablaze. She lost an ear and suffered burns to her scalp, face, neck, both legs and one hand. Yet, Gherity was charged with first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree arson. It is odd that this was not charged as attempted murder. I would think that someone setting another person on fire was doing so with an intent to kill given the extent of these burns.
The woman had previously left a message with a friend in a whisper that Gherity “has gone berserk. I can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later.” The crime and the message suggests mental illness might be playing a role in the crime.
What is notable is that the woman, who was Gherity’s girlfriend for 10 years, said that none of these products were hers. That suggests a possible premeditated act if Gherity went out to buy the items.
Yet, there is also the defense claim that a video shows Gherity at work from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the day of the fire and, while medical staff said that Gherity arrived smelling of smoke, he denied being responsible and he could have acquired the smell visiting the condo after the fire.
Police were no doubt suspicious given Gherity’s a history of violent behavior and professional misconduct. He was previously convicted of assault in 2001 for kicking a girlfriend. He was stopped by a neighbor who saw the attack in the hallway and he was accused of then chasing the neighbor to a 26th-floor balcony and pushed him to the railing. The victim said that he was punched and that Gherity had his hands around the man’s throat. He has also been disciplined by the state’s Office of Lawyer’s Professional Responsibility at least four times and his license was suspended in 2004.
The claim of the videotape makes the case particularly intriguing. All of the other facts point to Gherity, including his prior history. If the tape is real, the scene would constitute a virtual frame job. If the tape is not real, it would add to the criminal conduct in an effort to fabricate evidence. In the latter circumstance, it would also undermine a mental illness claim by showing considerable planning and premeditation.