Law professor explains how murder charges hold up in court without a body

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Jeffrey Fairbanks

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (August 28, 2015) – Three months after baby Janna Rivera’s disappearance, her father, Jeffrey Fairbanks, has been charged in connection with her death.

Fairbanks is charged with murder and neglect of a dependent resulting in death. Janna’s body still hasn’t been found. Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said they made the decision to file charges after no new evidence came forward.

“In any sort of situation like this, the thought was to see if any additional evidence developed, if we were able to locate baby Janna’s body and when it became apparent that there probably wasn’t going to be anything additional, we made the decision to file the charges,” said Curry.

Without a body, law experts say it’s difficult to prove murder, but it’s happened before in the State of Indiana. IUPUI Law Professor Novella Nedeff said the prosecution will have to prove a number of things.

“First of all, there was a death and then, that the death was at the hands of the defendant not that the child died of natural causes and the defendant disposed of the body but that he caused the death,” said Nedeff.

Court records show Fairbanks told Janna’s mother he buried the baby’s body in a cornfield and laid a cross on top. Fairbanks told FOX59 in an exclusive interview he put the baby’s lifeless body in a dumpster, but he didn’t kill her.

Nedeff said Fairbanks inconsistent stories could be beneficial to the prosecution.

“The fact that a person makes different statements, contradictory statements, shows that a person has something to hide and could be considered that’s circumstantial evidence of guilt,” said Nedeff.

A probable cause affidavit shows when investigators interviewed Janna’s sisters, they said they witnessed Fairbanks often times put a pillow over the baby’s face to get her to stop crying.

Without a body, we may never know how baby Janna died. Nedeff said it’s also hard to prove scientifically that the baby was murdered.

“When you have a body, obviously, a big witness for the prosecution is the pathologist, the doctor who does the autopsy and who looks at all parts of the body and eliminates natural cause of death,” she said.

If Janna’s body is recovered, experts like Nedeff said the only way prosecution will able to be use it as evidence is if the baby’s remains are found before the jury reaches a verdict.

“If somebody’s acquitted and then the prosecution finds better evidence, but then it’s too late. you can’t retry the person, that’s double jeopardy.”

If Fairbanks is convicted, he could be sentenced to more than 100 years behind bars.

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