An Open But Shut Case

Paul Beauchamp's death was ruled a homicide. So why isn't the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office investigating?

But, unlike Alfred, Edie Connelly sees no grand or evil conspiracies within the sheriff's office to cover up Paul's death or any other homicide in Montgomery County. Instead, she believes it has more to do with a lack of ability or ambition, or both. As an example, she points out that it was several days before investigators from the sheriff's office bothered to take a written statement from Charles Turner in the bathtub death of his wife, Kelly Koch.

"I had hoped for a more collaborative effort," says Connelly. "Instead, they were very defensive. But I have some deep concerns about these cases. And to sign a death certificate, I have to be convinced [about the cause of death]. And if that means I disagree, then I disagree."

Ironically, it was Connelly who initially signed off on Paul Beauchamp's death as being an accidental drowning.

"I never believed that the guy died from a drowning," admits Connelly. "To this day, I have regrets that I signed that first death certificate that way."

Nevertheless, going against her better judgment, Connelly signed the paper. The Beauchamps continued to rail at her and other law-enforcement officials. But in February 1994, two months after Paul's death, an attorney from Mitchell Energy informed the JP that Paul's death benefits could not be paid to the Beauchamps unless and until the death certificate was signed.

Since the sheriff's office had long since closed its investigation into Paul's death, on February 9, Connelly wrote a letter to his father giving him until March 1 to bring her evidence that Paul was murdered. Five days later she received a letter from Alfred indicating that he still had questions, but little else. On February 24, Connelly met with the Beauchamps in her office.

"I felt he and his wife needed closure," says Connelly, who signed off on the accidental drowning theory four days later. "But, as it turns out, they just couldn't let it lie." Amazingly, almost three years after the death of Paul Beauchamp, the combination of Connelly's behind-the-scenes efforts and the Beauchamps' refusal to go away finally got the investigation moving again -- albeit very slowly.

In September 1996, Connelly received a visit from Glennie Beauchamp, a quiet woman who gives the impression of having a lot going on below the surface. Two years and nine months after her son's death, Glennie was still troubled.

Connelly, who has three children of her own, was moved by her talk with Glennie Beauchamp, who also informed the JP that she and her husband had asked the new chief medical examiner of Harris County to take another look at Paul's death. But Dr. Joye Carter, who took over as head of the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office in August 1996, told the Beauchamps that she needed a reason to step in, and suggested that Connelly hold a public inquest into Paul Beauchamp's death.

Under Texas law, in counties without a medical examiner, a justice of the peace can convene an inquest in cases in which the cause of a person's death is uncertain. But an inquest is a tool that is seldom used by justices of the peace and, although she initially agreed to do it, Connelly was reluctant. Then, she came up with a better idea -- and one that removed her from the spotlight. Instead of an inquest, Connelly suggested to Carter that an exhumation of Paul Beauchamp's body and a second autopsy was the way to go. Carter agreed, and Connelly ordered Paul Beauchamp's remains unearthed.

On November 18 at 9:40 a.m., Carter began the reinspection of the almost three-year-old corpse. She was assisted by Dr. Sparks Veasey, a Galveston pathologist; Dr. Eduardo Bellas, a former assistant Harris County medical examiner who had recently retired after serving one year as interim chief of the office; and Dr. Vladimir Parungao, the assistant Harris County medical examiner who had performed the original autopsy on Paul.

The examination focused on the two gunshot wounds in Paul's head and the hemorrhaging of the soft tissue around those wounds.Three months later, the pathologists released their findings. Three of the four doctors -- Carter, Veasey and Bellas -- agreed that Paul Beauchamp died as the result of gunshot wounds, and that his death was a homicide. Only Parungao dissented, standing by his initial determination of accidental death by drowning. However, Parungao noted that he had had his own doubts during the first autopsy, and that he now believed that the "circumstances are questionable between homicide and accident."

As for Minnich's account of the shooting, the medical examiners seemed puzzled.

"The story of the alleged perpetrator has some merit," wrote Carter in her report. "The circumstances presented about the shooting appeared to be fantastic but were in the realm of medical possibility."

Additionally, all the doctors agreed that the investigation into Paul's death had been severely flawed. They accused the sheriff's office of misplacing evidence, of not testing Minnich's rifle or Paul's clothes, and of not conducting "a true physical examination of the pond."

Sheriff Williams vehemently disputed the accusations, telling the Chronicle he was unaware of any missing evidence.

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