Craigslist Killer Suicide: Justice Denied or Truth Silenced?

The suicide early Monday morning of accused “Craigslist Killer” Phillip Markoff forever ends any possibility of hearing from this man’s own mouth, the story of what brought death to a troubled young woman making her money as a prostitute, Julissa Brisman, and what brought down the life of a promising young future doctor. Two lives, from very different worlds, are both now ended. Many people would (and in fact, presently do) argue that Markoff’s death is a further loss to young Brisman’s family, who will now be denied seeing justice done in a court of law, but that his death is no great loss to the world. Perhaps both of those observations are true.

I do not write this post to argue that Phillip Markoff’s death is a great loss to anyone other than his family. On a legal level, a strong argument can perhaps be made that his suicide evidences the ultimate demonstration of what we lawyers call “consciousness of guilt,” concerning the murder charge against him. From the evidence made public to date, it doesn’t appear – however horrific the end result was for Julissa Brisman (and it certainly was,) – that Markoff was a savage, cold-blooded killer who set out in advance to kill this woman (or anyone.) As a Boston criminal defense lawyer, trust me, I’ve seen those kinds of cases, whether involving murder, rape or other violent crimes.

Rather, in meeting with prostitutes from Craig’s List, often in upscale hotels, Markoff was carrying out an interesting con game, to feed a bad gambling habit that he played out, so to speak, at well-known gambling venues like Foxwoods Resort and Casino, as well as possibly Las Vegas. It appeared that Markoff constructed a rather creative ploy to obtain cash to feed this gambling habit. The idea was to meet prostitutes in private hotel rooms, then spring a gun on them to rob them of the considerable cash that prostitutes are known to carry. The “benefits” to this plan, from Markoff’s view? 1) No witnesses (since the robberies took place behind closed doors); 2) Since the victims were engaging in illegal activities (usually prostitution, offered under the cover of “massage services,”), the victims would never call the police or hotel security; 3) He walked away with lots of cash to feed his gambling lifestyle.

This behavior is beyond excuse. It was intentional, it was illegal, and it was immoral. And had he lived and been found guilty at his trial of the murder charge that he faced, Markoff should have been punished severely. But even in view of Julissa Brisman’s tragic murder, I don’t think this killing evidenced a vicious, heartless, cold-blooded killer. Though Markoff carried a gun to frighten and intimidate his victims, I don’t think he ever intended to kill anyone. Markoff had pulled this con game, successfully, several times with other prostitutes – and all of them surrendered their cash and he walked out of these hotels with no police being called, no report being filed. But with Julissa Brisman, Markoff’s luck ran out. She didn’t give up her cash willingly. She resisted. A struggle ensued; a death resulted. With Markoff’s death and the opportunity for Brisman’s family to confront him in a court of law forever removed, now no one will “win” here. No one ever does in these cases.

Legally, what happens to the case now? It will be dismissed. (Yes, dismissed.) The office of Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley will ask a Massachusetts Superior Court judge to dismiss the charges, based on the death of the defendant. There will be no record of a conviction against Markoff, only a record of his arrest, his arraignment on the charges he faced, and the fact that the charges were later dropped.

These are awful cases, for everyone involved. No one ever “wins” in these cases, and no one won here: Not Julissa Brisman’s family, not Phillip Markoff’s family; and not Megan McAllister, the young woman who fell in love with Phillip Markoff, and who would have been married to him one year to the date that he ended his life in a bloodied and gory scene within the sterile confines of the Suffolk County Massachusetts Jail.