Fire and Water

"A time of grief, a death like that, it creates imagination," Payaitis says. "Why they want to destroy Johnny by accusing Maria, I don't know."

Joe Davis, Dade's chief medical examiner, says he is comfortable sticking by his office's present opinion that the drowning was an accident -- at least for the time being. "We realize that often times the answers we get, the conclusions we make, have a sliding degree of certainty," Davis says. "The sum total of any investigation is a combination of the police and the ME's office. Hopefully what will emerge out of it will be unequivocal and clear. But that's a relative thing. I'm not a staunch defender of opinions coming out of this office. An opinion is only good as the data base that creates it. Opinions can change.

"If it is a homicide, it is very cleverly contrived, to the point where you have details like a mouthpiece being torn off a respirator," the medical examiner muses. "To be that devious, to be that smart...." Davis's voice trails off into uncharacteristic silence, and then begins again. "I think there's legitimate reason for concern. But I've seen six people arrested for murder who weren't murderers. My greatest fear is to be an active participant in an accusation of murder where no murder took place. That gives me nightmares.

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