The Dupont Verdict Victim's Wife: 'Dupont Is Not Above The Law' Millionaire Convicted In Wrestler's Murder

Posted: February 26, 1997

``So, it's third . . . '' - Millionaire John E. du Pont,

after a jury found him guilty of third-degree murder but

mentally ill yesterday in the slaying of wrestler Dave Schultz.

Yes, it's third-degree murder, the legal equivalent of kissing your sister.

The prosecution convicts the richest American ever prosecuted for murder.

The defense avoids a life sentence.

And the jury, after seven long days of deliberation, gets to say it did justice - even if its decision clearly was a compromise between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Everybody's happy.

Except the two biggest losers:

Nancy Schultz, the widow, the now-single mother of two children, the unblinking witness to the horrible slaying of her 36-year-old husband, the young woman whose life was unalterably changed on Jan. 26, 1996, by three bullets to the torso of the man she loved.

John Eleuthere du Pont, the 58-year-old privileged heir to one of the nation's greatest family fortunes, the once-respected patron to the U.S.A. Wrestling squad, the armed psychotic who pranced about his 800-acre Newtown Square estate like a desperado, the killer.

Justice - even when it's a compromise - can't turn back the clock.

So, when Nancy Schultz addressed the press just moments after the late-afternoon announcement of the jury's verdict, she was unsurprisingly stoic.

Just a hint of moisture glistened in her eye as she said, ``It is comforting to know that du Pont is not above the law, and he must now be held responsible for David's murder.''

Du Pont, as always, was almost completely nonverbal.

After finally reckoning with his personal lawyer, Taras Wochok, that he indeed had been convicted of third-degree murder, the mangy millioniare rose from his seat and walked to the front of the judge's bench.

There he was told by Judge Patricia H. Jenkins that he will be sentenced on April 22. Maximum sentence is 40 years in prison, minimum is five.

Because he was found guilty but mentally ill, Jenkins may decide to send him to a mental hospital for psychiatric treatment before he is sent to jail.

For the prosecution, that sentencing date should have been moot.

The DA had a corpse, a smoking gun, two eyewitnesses and a defendant who did not deny that he fired the final bullet into the back of a dying man. The prosecutors thought they had a first-degree murder and an automatic life prison sentence.

Instead, they got third-degree and the potential that du Pont - who has already served a year since his arrest - can be a free man by 2001.

Nonetheless, an apparently undaunted prosecution put its usual efficient spin on the outcome.

``I think, cynically some people thought that John du Pont, who is the wealthiest murder defendant in the history of the United States, would use his money to triumph over justice,'' said Delaware County District Attorney Patrick Meehan.

``To the extent that it resulted in a verdict of guilty, and that he will be held accountable and responsible, is a vindication for the criminal justice system, which holds all people as equals before the law,'' Meehan added.

Nancy Schultz's father, Philip Stoffel, observed, ``It's a compromise, but I think he's going to be spending his life in prison one way or another. Either metaphorically or in truth, he's going to jail forever.''

The defense team did its best to spin the outcome, too.

With the help of a huge wad of du Pont cash, the attorneys had seemed ready to squash a small-town prosecution team strapped by limited resources.

The defense brought in the same jury-selection experts who were hired by O.J. Simpson's winning criminal defense team. It hired the best forensic psychiatrists money can buy. And it found willing witnesses to testify to du Pont's long history of whacked-out behavior.

Though the jury foreman, a 47-year-old SEPTA conductor, said that he and fellow jurors would not discuss the case yesterday, they apparently dismissed du Pont's insanity plea early in their deliberations.

So, despite outspending the prosecution at a reported rate of 25-to-one, the defense lawyers couldn't keep their man out of jail.

Neatly ignoring the unfortunate fact that their client is now a convicted murderer, the jubilant attorneys hugged each other like they had just gotten him off on good behavior.

``It could have been a lot worse,'' lead defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom said. ``I think they came to a result we can live with.''

``I hope the Schultzes can live with it,'' he added. ``I can live with it. I think my client can live with it.''

``The jury has spoken; they clearly found that he is mentally ill,'' Bergstrom continued. ``I'd like to say to him at some point that he could go home again.

``Hopefully this verdict will do that.''

With a heavy sentence Jenkins could ensure that du Pont dies in jail. Bergstrom is praying for leniency.

Instead of paying for his crime behind bars, du Pont should remain at Norristown State Hospital for an extended stay, Bergstrom said.

If all goes right for the defense, du Pont will spend a short term under a doctor's care at a psychiatric hospital instead of bunking with hardened criminals at a maximum security prison.

Then, with a little luck, the killer will be back at Foxcatcher before he reaches his 65th birthday.

Will that be enough for the arrogant scion who ordered around his minions like a power-mad dictator?

Six months ago, du Pont fired a pair of high-priced lawyers because they couldn't spring him from jail.

What will he do now that the best his lawyers can offer is an extended stay in a mental hospital?

Wochok said preparing his client for incarceration was his next task. He wasn't sure the pampered millionaire was ready for it.

Though du Pont has been receiving antipsychotic medication that has eased his delusions, Wochok said du Pont continues to have delusions, even as recently as the day before the verdict.

It could be years before du Pont is well, Wochock admitted.

So, justice in the slaying of Dave Schultz is this:

For the widow, it's a chance to see the killer of her husband convicted, and hope he rots in jail.

For the killer, it's an opportunity to use wealth to avoid the harshest of penalties, and hope one day to return to his home.

And, for the rest of us, justice is just a compromise.

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