Rep. Amo Houghton is asking the U.S. secretary of defense to review the Army's investigation into the death of National Guard Capt. Gordon Hess, who the Army said died from 26 self-inflicted stab wounds.
Houghton, R-Corning, sent a letter Friday outlining the case to William Cohen, and asking the defense secretary's help on behalf of Dorene Hess and her three children.
"Dorene tells me that nothing in her 21 years of marriage would indicate that Gordon would commit suicide," Houghton wrote Cohen. "She obtained a lawyer and hired one of the foremost private investigators along with a forensic pathologist. Both have concluded that her husband was murdered.
"What I'm asking here is that you help me review the facts and the reasons for the military's ruling," Houghton said. "I'd like to meet with the parties involved and see if we can't resolve this conflict of information. If this, for some reason, is not possible, I'd like a more formal inquiry into this."
Before she aired the evidence she says showed her husband did not kill himself, she gave the same information to Army investigators.
That was in September. The Army said we'll get back to you.
Last week, eight months after her husband was found stabbed to death while leading a training exercise at Ford Knox, Ky., she went public with her findings.
The Jamestown woman presented reports by her experts -- two private pathologists and a retired homicide commander whose textbook is used to train Army investigators -- on why they feel Hess' death was a homicide.
The Army's response? We're still working on it.
So now she has gone to Congress, increasing the pressure on the Army to change its ruling.
Charles DeAngelo, Mrs. Hess' attorney, in the last week also briefed top aides to Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, the senior Democratic senator from New York, who pledged his efforts for a review.
DeAngelo had been offered Congressional assistance early in the case, but said Mrs. Hess, given her husband's 16-year career in the military, wanted to give the Army a chance to change its ruling.
Eight months of her husband's name being tarnished, she said last week, was long enough.
Vernon Geberth, a retired New York Police Department commander Mrs. Hess hired to look into her husband's death, says there is a reason for the delay.
The Army made a hasty, faulty conclusion about Hess' death, Geberth said in an interview, and he doubts Army investigators will be able to prove their theory that Hess killed himself.
"They're going to be hard-pressed to say with any degree of medical certainty that Gordon Hess took his own life," Geberth said. "In my opinion, it just doesn't work."
Geberth, the author of "Practical Homicide Investigations," and Dr. Dominic DiMaio, the retired chief medical examiner in New York City who also has written a leading textbook, met with Army investigators for three hours Sept. 1 in a downstate hotel room.
Once the meeting started, Geberth said, three members of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division seemed eager to show the two retired experts how they came to their conclusion.
"I think they figured they would tell us what they had and we would agree with them," Geberth said.
It didn't happen.
"I told them, 'I don't have an agenda. I didn't know Gordon Hess, I don't know his family, I don't know his attorney. But you have a problem,' " Geberth said.
"I feel the Army is locked into this," he said. "Anything that is contrary to their predisposed opinion is going to be looked at with skepticism."
Ken Miller, a spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, confirmed that investigators are working with the family's experts. But he would not comment on their findings until the report is completed.
"The CID report will stand the scrutiny of any professional investigator or peer review," Miller said. "When the report finally comes out, all of this will make a lot of sense."
It doesn't make any sense to Mrs. Hess, her family or her husband's friends, both in the National Guard and the Jamestown Fire Department, where he worked.
Hess was a decorated soldier and firefighter whose death has produced an outpouring of testimonials from those who say they could not conceive of him killing himself.
And it doesn't make sense to Geberth, who investigated hundreds of homicides and suicides during three decades in police work.
"I sense they are going to insist that Gordon Hess was stressed out from failing what I call a military video game," Geberth said. "He also happened to be a professional firefighter.
"What could be more stressful than running into a burning building while others are running out?"
Geberth, as he points out in the textbook used by the Army, said there are three considerations investigators must consider before calling a death a suicide.
"The presence of the weapon or means of death at the scene."
A handy-man's knife that Hess bought the day before at the Fort Knox post exchange was found at the crime scene and determined by the Army pathologist to be consistent with the wounds found on the body.
But there were no fingerprints or blood found on the knife, and Geberth said no one can say for sure if it was the weapon used, or even that it was the same knife Hess bought.
"The injuries or wounds are obviously self-inflicted or could have been inflicted by the victim."
Geberth notes there were numerous stab wounds into Gordon Hess' chest, including four that punctured his lung, two that pierced his heart. Both of Dorene Hess' pathologist say there were no hesitation wounds, there were no drugs or alcohol found in the body, and Hess had no history of psychosis.
There were also neck wounds, Geberth said, that would have required a suicide victim to use both right and left hands. And a defensive type wound was found on the right-handed Hess' right biceps.
Geberth said he has never seen so many stab wounds with no evidence of hesitation.
"In the absence of drugs, intoxication or psychosis," Geberth concluded, "a death like that of Gordon Hess would more properly be classified as a homicide."
"The existence of a motive or intent on the part of the victim to take his or her own life."
Geberth said Army investigators suggested during their September briefing that Hess was so distraught over a training exercise that he moped around the barracks, had trouble sleeping and had even mentioned it to his wife on the phone.
But Geberth said those in Hess' unit said he was not despondent, that he always told his troops to learn from their mistakes, and said his wife told investigators they misconstrued her last conversation with her husband.
"The military investigation conveniently disregards these facts as well as the fact that Captain Hess had made both short- and long-term plans with friends and family," Geberth said.
Geberth said he told the Army investigators that rather than label the death a suicide -- as military pathologists did -- or self-inflicted wounds -- as Fort Knox officials did on the day of Hess' funeral -- the Army should have said the manner in which Hess died was undetermined.
"One of their investigators told me, 'The Army doesn't like ambiguity,' " Geberth said. "Undetermined is a legitimate medical-legal finding when you cannot make a conclusion," he added. "Why do they come to the door and tell the family it was a homicide and then say on the day of the funeral it was self-inflicted? That's outrageous. Is that how we treat our military personnel?"
Dorene Hess also went to the meeting at the Holiday Inn in Newburgh with her lawyer, Charles DeAngelo, and two of her sisters.
"We all went in," she said. "Then we got up and left them, (the investigators). For nearly three hours, they reviewed the evidence, the autopsies, crime-scene photos, suicide cases that Dr. DiMaio brought with him. It was three hours of very tense waiting for us."
Her team later told her that Army investigators still clung to the view that her husband took his own life.
"I was very upset," she said. "I felt like I was in a boxing ring and I didn't have any gloves on."
What does she feels happened?
"I've gone through this scenario about a million times," she said. "I don't know. I wasn't there. CID doesn't know. They weren't there. No one was there, no one witnessed it. The only thing we kind of think is he happened to see something he probably shouldn't have seen."
What if the Army changes its finding to undetermined?
"It would be OK," Mrs. Hess replied, "but I would rather they put the right conclusion: homicide."
"We did our homework," DeAngelo said. "We hope they will change their conclusion."