More than 1,475,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jeffrey Jarrett's Last Night Out: Too Bad He Was Dead

     In the 1989 comedy, "Weekend at Bernie's," a couple of low-level insurance agency employees are invited to spend the weekend at a beach house owned by their boss--Bernie. They show up at the summer house and find Bernie dead, and for the next two days, carry on as though he were alive. In one scene, these guys drive around in Bernie's convertible with the dead man propped up in the back seat. When people wave at Bernie, the guy sitting next to him grabs the dead man's arm and waves back. It's that kind of movie, kind of funny in spots, but really stupid because in real life no one would do something like this. That is until a couple of clowns in Glendale, Colorado bar-hopped one night accompanied by a dead man who picked up the tab.

     Jeffrey Jarrett, a 43-year-old real estate agent, had a problem with drugs and alcohol. In the summer of 2011, he called a friend from his days at Colorado State University. Jarrett asked his old buddy to room with him until he got his life straightened out. Shortly after his cry for help, 43-year-old Robert J. Young moved into his friend's house.

     On August 27, 2011, when Young came home from work, he found Jarrett sprawled on the floor, obviously dead. The look of the death scene suggested a drug overdose. (A toxicology report confirmed this. According to the medical examiner, Jarrett had overdosed on Xanax and Subutex--a drug addicted people take to get off opiates). Robert Young, instead of calling 911 phoned a 25-year-old drinking buddy named Mark Rubinson.

     That evening, a Saturday, Young and Rubinson stuffed Jeffrey Jarrett's lifeless body into the backseat of Rubinson's Lincoln Navigator and took off for a night on the town. They started off with drinks at a joint called Teddy T's Bar and Grill. The corpse remained in the SUV as Young and his friend used Jarrett's credit card to pay for their booze. From Teddy T's, the pair visited Sam's No. 3 where they continued to imbibe on the dead man's dime.

     Perhaps realizing that for Jarrett's credit card to work, his body didn't have to be sitting outside in Rubinson's SUV, they decided to take him home. After lugging the corpse back into the house, Young and Rubinson enjoyed a meal, at Jarrett's expense, at an eatery called Viva Burrito. (An appropriate pre-meal toast would have been, "Viva Jarrett's credit card.")

     The party animals finished off the night at a strip club called Shotgun Willie's where Robert Young used the dead man's credit card to withdraw $400 from the ATM. After the joint closed at four in the morning, Young contacted the Glendale Police Department to report his housemate's death.

     The local prosecutor charged Young and Rubinson with abuse of corpse, identify theft, and criminal impersonation. After first denying any wrongdoing, both suspects agreed to plead guilty to all charges.

     On March 6, 2012, a judge sentenced Robert J. Young to two years probation and ordered that he undergo "mental health evaluation and treatment; substance abuse assessment and treatment; and cognitive behavioral therapy." ( "Cognitive behavioral therapy"? I guess that meant that some therapist or shrink would explain to Mr. Young that hauling a corpse from bar to bar while using the dead man's credit card constitutes inappropriate behavior.)  Pursuant to his sentence, if Mr. Young can behave himself for two years, his record of shameless behavior will be expunged. (Wow, they are really tough on crime in Colorado.)

     Mr. Rubinson got off with a couple of years of probation as well. For some reason the judge didn't think he needed any cognitive behavioral therapy. He had just helped Young carry the corpse to and from the car, then drove his two companions, one dead and one alive, around town. The man drove a Lincoln Navigator, yet had to mooch drinks off a dead man.

     This is not an April fool's joke. Only in America.

      

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Lisa McPherson Scientology Case: A Medical Examiner's Meltdown

NOTE: On March 29, 2015, HBO aired its documentary about the Church of Scientology called "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief." The expose is based on Lawrence Wright's book of the same title. The Church of Scientology consists of 11,000 churches, missions and affiliated groups around the world. While the HBO documentary did not give me an understanding of the religious doctrine of the church (I'm not sure it's meant to be understood) the film did confirm my belief regarding the cause and manner of Lisa McPherson's death.
 

 For a criminal justice system to work, its major law enforcement players--the police, prosecutors, and forensic scientists--have to be hardworking, competent, and honest. In Florida's Pinellas and Pasco Counties between 1997 and 2000, the medical examiner's office was not up to par, and the effect on local criminal justice was disastrous. Dr. Joan E. Wood, the head of the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office, was the principal source of the problem.

     A graduate of the University of South Florida Medical School, Dr. Wood began her career as a forensic pathologist in 1975 as an associate in the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office. She became the chief medical examiner in 1982, and for six years was the chairperson of Florida's Medical Examiners Commission, the body that regulates the state's forensic pathologists. Her career seemed to be on track until the mid-1990s when she became involved in a high-profile and controversial homicide case. This case, the 1995 death of a 36-year-old Scientologist named Lisa McPherson, marked the beginning of the end of Dr. Wood's career.

     As revealed in court documents and reported in the St. Petersburg Times, the sequence of events began at 5:50 in the evening of November 18, 1995 when paramedics responded to a minor traffic accident in downtown Clearwater involving McPherson's sports utility van. She was not injured but took off her clothes and walked down the middle of the street telling paramedics, "I need help. I need to talk to someone." The distraught woman said she had been doing things that were wrong but didn't know what they were.

     The paramedics transported McPherson to the Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Following her examination, a group of Scientologists from her church came to the emergency room and escorted her away, promising that she would be cared for by the church, a decision grounded in their distrust of psychiatric medicine. The disturbed woman was taken to the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater where troubled Scientologists were taken for rest and relaxation.

     On December 5, 1995, Lisa's caretakers at the hotel rushed her to a hospital in New Port Richey, a 45-minute drive, to see an emergency room physician who was a Scientologist. McPherson had been at the Fort Harrison Hotel 17 days and when she arrived in New Port Richey the five-foot-nine-inch patient weighed 108 pounds and was covered in bruises. McPherson was also unkempt in appearance and pale. She was either dead on arrival at the hospital or pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

     At eleven o'clock the next morning, Dr. Robert Davis, a forensic pathologist in the Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner's Office, performed the autopsy with Dr. Joan Wood looking on. According to Dr. Davis, Lisa McPherson's death had been caused by an embolism of the left pulmonary artery which had partially obstructed the blood flow that carried oxygen from her heart to her left lung. She had therefore died of asphyxia. A thrombus (blood clot) located behind her left knee had traveled from her leg to her heart and into the lung. At the time of her death, Lisa was severely dehydrated, a factor that contributed to her demise. In Dr. Davis's opinion, her dehydration was so pronounced she would have been unresponsive for more than 24 hours before her death. The forensic pathologist believed that the blood clot behind her left leg was caused by a combination of dehydration and bed-ridden immobility. Dr. Wood, instead of ruling McPherson's manner of death natural or accidental, labeled it undetermined, a manner of death that did not preclude a later finding of criminal homicide.

     Because of the condition of Lisa McPherson's body following her 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel, the Clearwater police quietly began looking into the case. Detectives determined that Lisa had been a Scientologist for 18 years, and during the past two years, had spent about $70,000 on church-related counseling. Before the traffic accident she had spent relaxation time at the Fort Harrison Hotel. McPherson had worked for a Dallas publishing company that mostly employed Scientologists. She had moved to Clearwater when the company relocated there about a year earlier. McPherson had weighted between 140 and 150 pounds when taken to the Fort Harrison Hotel following the traffic accident.

     Curious about just what kind of medical care one received at the Scientologist owned hotel, investigators learned that a few of Lisa's caretakers had medical training, including one person who had been an anesthesiologist. That caregiver, however, had lost her license because of a drug problem. As far as detectives could determine, no one at the hotel had been a licensed physician. The police also discovered that during her stay, Lisa had been physically restrained. She had been tied to her bed and given injections of muscle relaxants and other chemicals.

     When word got out that the authorities were looking into Lisa McPherson's death, church officials accused the Clearwater police of religious harassment. In January 1997, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office joined the investigation. The following month, Lisa McPherson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the church.

     Looking for a second opinion regarding the cause and manner of Lisa McPherson's death, Wayne Andrews of the Clearwater Police Department and Agent A. L. Sroope of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in November 1997, traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to consult with Dr. George Podgorny, the Forsythe County medical examiner. Dr. Podgorny had reviewed medical records from from the Morton Plant and New Port Richey hospitals; pharmacy records of drugs that had been administered to McPherson; and the Pinellas-Pasco autopsy report that chief medical examiner Joan Wood had approved.

     According to police and court documents, after reviewing this material, Dr. Podgorny opined that the blood clot that had killed Lisa McPherson had been caused by her extreme dehydration and immobility. The forensic pathologist told the investigators that if McPherson had received proper medical treatment and had been taken to a hospital when she first became ill, she might not have died. What this patient needed and did not get was water, salt, vitamins, and extra oxygen. Moreover, her blood-cell count and kidney function should have been closely monitored. When asked if the blood clot in her leg could have been caused by the traffic accident, Dr. Podgorny responded emphatically that such an occurrence would be extremely rare, especially in a 36-year-old woman. He pointed out that people bruise their legs all the time without getting blood clots. In the pathologist's opinion, the manner of Lisa McPherson's death boiled down to improper medical care following the traffic accident.

     A Pinellas County grand jury, on November 13, 1998, returned a two-count indictment charging the Church of Scientology with practicing medicine without a license and abusing or neglecting an adult. In response to these charges, the church asserted that the Lisa McPherson case was being exploited by forces out to destroy the institution. Accustomed to fighting for its survival, the church hit back hard. One of those on the receiving end of the attack was Dr. Joan Wood, the forensic pathologist who had opened the door to the grand jury indictment with her ruling of an undetermined manner of death.

     In the months that followed the indictment, defense attorneys representing the church deluged Dr. Wood with subpoenas that demanded all sorts of information. These lawyers wanted her to change the manner of death ruling to "accidental" on the theory the blood clot that had killed Lisa McPherson was the result of her traffic mishap. The church also denied practicing medicine at the Fort Harrison Hotel and insisted that Lisa had been properly cared for at the Scientology retreat.

     In February 2000, more than four years after the autopsy in the McPherson case, Dr. Wood, while insisting that she had not broken under pressure from the Church of Scientology, changed the McPherson manner of death to accidental. Her decision outraged the county prosecutor and the police agencies involved in the case. As far as the prosecutor was concerned Dr. Wood had folded under pressure. Some of the journalists following the case speculated that pressure and stress had caused the forensic pathologist to come emotionally unglued. Whether she had been bullied into her reversal or not, her new manner of death ruling destroyed her relationship with the local law enforcement community. The prosecutor had no choice but to drop the case against the Church of Scientology. Dr. Wood resigned her position in September 2000.

     After leaving the medical examiner's office, Dr. Wood disappeared for two years, eventually showing up at a conference of state medical examiners in Gainesville, Florida. A reporter with the St. Petersburg Times asked her if her disappearance had anything to do with the McPherson case and if she planned to get back into forensic science. Dr. Wood denied that her reversal in the McPherson case had anything to do with pressure from the Church of Scientology, but she did admit that after 25 years as a forensic pathologist, the stress of the job had finally caught up with her. She said she still had panic attacks when she walked into a courtroom.

     Lisa McPherson's estate, in May 2004, settled the wrongful death suit for an undisclosed amount. In July 2005, Dr. Wood voluntarily relinquished her medical license following a state health department declaration that in the McPherson case she had become "an advocate for the Church of Scientology." After that, she lived in obscurity, hardly ever leaving her townhouse in Tampa. On July 8, 2011, she had a stroke, and eight days later, died in the hospital. At the time of her death the former medical examiner was 67.
    

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Corriann Cervantes Lust Murder Case

     Jose Reyes and Corriann Cervantes, 17 and 15 respectively, attended the Clear Path alternative school in Clear Lake, Texas, a Greater Houston community in southeast Harris County. (Kids enrolled in alternative schools struggled as students in mainstream education systems. Some of these youngsters have learning disabilities, low I.Q.s, or personality disorders.)

     A passerby at four in the morning on Saturday February 8, 2014, noticed an open door at the El Camino Real apartment complex in Clear Lake. When the man entered the abandoned apartment he saw a half-nude woman with her head bashed in. The victim turned out to be Corriann Cervantes.

     At the murder scene, detectives determined that Cervantes had been bludgeoned to death with a toilet tank lid and an ashtray. According to a Harris County forensic pathologist, the victim had been raped before her assailant or assailants murdered her. On her abdomen someone had carved an upside-down cross. The killer or killers had placed various religious trinkets around her bloody corpse.

     The day following the gruesome discovery, police received a call from one of Jose Reyes' relatives who reported that the teenager admitted that he and a 16-year-old classmate named Victor Alas had raped and murdered the girl in the abandoned apartment.

     At the police station, Reyes told detectives that he and Atlas had taken Corriann Cervantes to the vacant apartment where they raped her. When she tried to leave, they beat her to death with the toilet tank lid and ashtray, then carved the cross into her body. They placed the religious items around her body. Reyes told his interrogators he sold his soul to the devil. He and his friend had raped, murdered, and mutilated the girl so the other boy "could sell his soul to the devil, too."

     Police officers booked Reyes into the Harris County Jail on the charge of capital murder. Because of his age he was not eligible for the death penalty. However, if convicted as a adult, he could be sentenced up to life in prison without parole.

     On Monday, February 10, 2014, police officers took 16-year-old Victor Alas into custody. Charged with capital murder as well the prosecutor referred Alas to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Authority. If convicted as a juvenile offender, the kid faced a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.

    At his first court appearance, Jose Reyes was all smiles. He obviously enjoyed the media attention--a nobody who was suddenly a somebody. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     The Jose Reyes murder trial began on Monday December 8, 2014 in the Harris County Courthouse under District Judge Brook Thomas. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor John Jordan said the defendant, his accomplice Victor Alas, and Corriann Cervantes went to the vacant apartment that night after consuming alcohol and smoking marijuana at a friend's house. While the sex was initially consensual, the encounter degenerated into a brutal beating, repeated stabbings, torture, disfigurement, and murder.

     Reyes and Alas, according to prosecutor Jordan, gouged out Cervantes' eyes as she begged for her life. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy found pieces of porcelain embedded in her face. "What happened in that apartment," Jordan said, "was sadistic."

     Defense attorney Jerald Graber, in his address to the jurors, argued that his client should have been charged with a lesser form of criminal homicide than capital murder. Mr. Graber said the state could not prove that the defendant had committed an intentional homicide in the commission of an underlying felony such as kidnapping or sexual assault, the legal requirements of a capital murder conviction. (This was an absurd argument. The second Reyes and his friend kept Cervantes from leaving the apartment they committed the crime of kidnapping. Moreover, the consensual sex had quickly turned to rape.)

     On December 9, the second day of the trial, prosecutor Jordan put 19-year-old Miranda Leal on the stand. Leal was one of two people the defendant had bragged to about the Cervantes murder. According to the witness, Reyes told her he stabbed the victim while having sex with her. He said the Devil ordered him to do what he had done to the girl. While providing Leal details of the horrific crime, Reyes laughed and smiled as he talked about it.

     According to Miranda Leal, Reyes, in bragging about the murder, performed a freestyle rap about a threesome with a girl that led to torture and murder. To prove that he wasn't making any of this stuff up, Reyes showed Leal a cellphone photograph of himself, his friend Victor, and a girl having sex.

     Miranda Leal testified that the defendant revealed to her how he had choked, bludgeoned, then stabbed the victim in the face and torso with a screwdriver. When Cervantes tried to escape the attack he "clotheslined" her then hit her in the head with the porcelain toilet tank lid, breaking it in half. The witness said the defendant's story was so bizarre and sick she didn't believe it until she learned that Cervantes' body had been found in the vacant apartment.

      Miranda Leal was followed to the stand by Agapita Gonzales, the second person Reyes had confessed to. According to this witness, "he said somebody wanted his soul." Gonzales revealed that the defendant's account of his activities that night caused her to fear for her own life. At times during her testimony she broke into tears.

     On the third day of the Reyes murder trial, prosecutor Jordan introduced letters the defendant had written from the Harris County Jail in which he claimed the Devil watched him that night and directed his activities. Reyes had written, "He [the Devil] was standing there, watching me and Victor. It's all good. It's what the Devil asked for."

     After the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Graber did not put his client on the stand. In his closing remarks to the jury, the defense lawyer assured the jurors that finding the defendant guilty of a lesser homicide offense than capital murder would not mean that Corriann Cervantes was denied justice.

     On December 11, 2014, the jury, after deliberating just one hour, found the defendant guilty of capital murder, a crime that carried a mandatory life sentence without parole.

     Victor Alas awaits his trial in the Corriann Cervantes murder case.
    

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Dynel Lane Case: Getting Away With Infanticide

     On Wednesday March 18, 2015, 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins, in response to a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes for sale, showed up at the seller's house in Longmont, Colorado. Michelle was seven months pregnant. The woman who had placed the online ad, 34-year-old Dynel Catrece Lane, had told her husband and her relatives that she was pregnant. She was not.

     Shortly after Michelle Wilkins entered the Craigslist seller's house, she was attacked and brutally beaten by Dynel Lane. Following the assault, Lane cut the fetus out of the victim's body.

     That afternoon, Mr. Lane came home from work early to accompany his wife to a prenatal appointment. He found her covered in blood. He also discovered, in the bathtub, a baby. Michelle Wilkins was nowhere in sight. Dynel told her husband she had just had a miscarriage.

     Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced the Wilkins baby dead.

     Two and a half hours after having her baby cut out of her belly, Michelle Wilkins, from the basement of the Lane house, managed to call 911. When Longmont police officers and emergency personnel arrived at the dwelling they heard a woman calling for help.

     Michelle Wilkins, as she was rushed to the same hospital, told the officers what had happened to her and her baby girl. (The victim underwent emergency surgery and a week later was discharged from the hospital.)

     Police officers arrested Dynel Lane and booked her into the Boulder County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and child abuse resulting in death.

     On March 27, 2015, the Boulder County Coroner announced that the Wilkins baby did not take a breath outside her mother's body. This meant the infant had been killed as a fetus. Because Colorado was one of twelve states that did not consider the intentional killing of a fetus murder, the district attorney had no choice but to charge Dynel Lane with the lesser offense of causing the death of a fetus.

     In Colorado, first-degree murder carried the maximum sentence of death. The fetus killing felony came with the maximum penalty of 32 years in prison.

     People who believe that killing a fetus under circumstances like this is no different morally than killing a baby out of the womb, are upset with this case. They want legislators in Colorado to pass a law that recognizes, for purposes of criminal homicide, the fetus as a person. Such a proposal is opposed by people who worry that such a law would threaten a woman's right to an abortion. The fact the fetus in this case was seven months old makes the situation all the more controversial. 

Infanticide: Postulant Sosefina Amoa's Secret

     Sosefina Amoa came to the United States from the Pacific nation of Samoa to become a Catholic nun. The 26-year-old postulant sought admission to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order that operates nursing homes and assisted living residences for impoverished old people in the United States and around the world.

     On October 15, 2013, Sofefina, following a 7,000 mile journey, arrived at the Little Sisters of the Poor Elderly Center, a 100-unit complex in Washington, D. C. located across the street from Catholic University. Five days later, while alone in her convent room, Amoa gave birth to a six pound, two ounce boy she named Joseph.

     To muffle the infant's cries, Sosefina covered his nose and mouth with a wool garment. Unable to breathe, the baby died.

     The day after she suffocated her child, Sosefina told one of the nuns she had found the dead infant on the sidewalk outside the convent. She and the nun carried the little corpse in a satchel to a nearby hospital.

     When questioned at the hospital by detectives, Sosefina admitted the baby was hers. Not knowing she was pregnant, the stillborn infant had been a complete shock. Police officers, skeptical of her story, searched Amoa's room at the convent.

     A few days later, while being interrogated at the police station, Sosefina Amoa admitted that in trying to silence the infant with the garment, she had killed him. She said she had considered throwing the body into the trash but decided instead to alert one of the nuns.

     Following the autopsy, the medical examiner's office announced that Baby Joseph had been asphyxiated. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

     On October 15, 2013, a District of Columbia prosecutor charged Sosefina Amoa with first-degree murder. If convicted of this charge, she would spend no less than thirty years in prison. Held without bond, jail authorities put the murder suspect on suicide watch.

     At a preliminary hearing on October 24, 2013, the prosecutor offered Amoa a plea deal. If she pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, thirty years in prison would be the maximum rather than the minimum sentence. Her public defender attorney said he and his client would consider the offer.

    In February 2014, Sofefina Amoa pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. At her sentencing hearing on May 23, 2014, defense attorney Judith Pipe asked federal judge Robert Morin to sentence Amoa to time served after which she would be sent back to her family in Samoa. "Of course this is a case that deserves punishment," said attorney Pipe. "But she will be punished by it every day of her life."

     Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright pointed out that Amoa had been "plagued by fear" of being thrown out of the convent and made a "conscious decision" to end her baby's life. The prosecutor argued that Amoa chose to have the baby herself in her room then lied about the dead infant.

     Judge Morin sentenced Sofefina Amoa to four years in prison and five years of supervised release. Upon completion of her sentence she will face deportation back to Samoa.

     This sentence, in view of the facts of the case, was unbelievably lenient. Four years in prison for the intentional killing of an infant is outrageous. In the plea deal the prosecutor gave away the store. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Nolan M. Burch: Another Fraternity House Death

     West Virginia University in Morgantown is well-known for being a party school where excessive drinking is part of the student culture. As anyone familiar with campus life knows, ground zero for the drinking/party scene are fraternities that are essentially drinking clubs. WVU, of course, is just one of many universities and colleges where students can take bone-head courses and party more than they study.

     On October 15, 2014, the national chapter of Kappa Sigma suspended the WVU charter of the organization for breaking the fraternity's code of conduct. Notwithstanding this action, the Morgantown chapter did not curtail its pledging or social activities.

     On November 6, 2014, 19 members of WVU's Sigma Chi fraternity were arrested following a booze-fueled disturbance on the street near the frat house. All of the students involved had been drinking and under the legal age for the public consumption of alcohol. Four days later, the national chapter of Sigma Chi withdrew the Morgantown charter.

     Just before midnight on Wednesday November 12, 2014, Morgantown police officers, in response to a 911 medical emergency call, arrived at the off-campus Kappa Sigma fraternity house. At the scene, police and emergency medical personnel found someone performing CPR on a WVU student.

     The first responders found no signs of traumatic injury on the body of 18-year-old Nolan M. Burch. Paramedics rushed the freshman to Morgantown's Ruby Memorial Hospital where he was placed on life support.

     Nolan Burch, from Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, graduated in 2014 from Canisius High School where he played hockey and lacrosse. At WVU he majored in pre-sports management. In Williamsville Burch had worked at a car wash.

     On Friday November 14, 2014, after he was taken off of life support, doctors pronounced Nolan Burch dead. The university placed an immediate moratorium on all Greek activities that meant no parties or pledging activity.

     A spokesperson for the Morgantown Police Department, on November 15, 2014, confirmed what everyone suspected: Nolan Burch's death was alcohol related.

     As detectives gathered information regarding the events leading up to this student's death, they learned that at ten o'clock on the night of November 12, 2014, a blindfolded Burch and 19 other pledges walked from the Kappa Sigma fraternity house to a nearby building. It was there each pledge was handed a bottle of liquor by a big brother. Burch drank an extreme amount of liquor in a short period of time. It raised his blood-alcohol content to 0.49 percent, six times the legal limit for driving.

     A member of the Morgantown police officer said he had never seen such a blood-alcohol content so high. It suggested that the student had gulped down the liquor the way someone would chug a beer or a bottle of soda.

     Following the liquor drinking initiation, Burch was taken back to the fraternity house where fraternity members laid the passed-out young man on a table. At 11:50 PM, a fraternity brother noticed that the pledge's face had turned blue. Unable to revive him, the student began CPR and called 911.

     On February 10, 2015, after a Monongalia County prosecutor charged him with the offenses of conspiracy and hazing, 20-year-old Richard Schwartz turned himself in at the Morgantown Police Department. According to a police spokesperson, these charges could be brought either as misdemeanors or felonies. The judge set the suspect's bail at $10,000.

     Richard Schwartz stood accused of providing the victim with alcohol that night. With the help of another fraternity brother, the suspect allegedly carried the passed-out Burch back to the fraternity house. No trial date has been set in this case. 

The Brinda Sue McCoy Case: The Police Chief's Wife

     Brinda Sue McCoy, a 48-year-old registered nurse, lived with her husband Frank and their 5 children in Cypress, California, a suburban town of 47,000 in Orange County. Frank McCoy, a former Cypress Councilman and commander with the Long Beach Police Department, was chief of police in Oceanside, a southern California city of 174,000. Frank McCoy had been chief of the 260-member department since 2006. His wife Brinda worked at Hoag Hospital in the Orange county town of Newport.

     At seven in the evening of December 16, 2010, Brinda, while alone in her house and feeling "overwhelmed and distraught," called friends and relatives to inform them of what songs to play at her funeral. Earlier in the day she had argued with her husband and her son.

     Under the influence of prescription medicine to calm her down, and a few martinis, Brinda called 911 for "police assistance." She had recently read a news account about police in another town killing a man wielding a garden hose nozzle. She thought she might be able to get the local police to kill her. Since this would end her suffering, she thought her death would be a relief to friends and family.

     When members of the Cypress Police Department responded to the call, Brinda refused to come out of the house. During the standoff, the distraught woman appeared at a window with a pistol in her hand. She pointed the gun at her head, at the ceiling, then at the police outside. After being warned that if she discharged the gun police officers could get hurt, Brinda fired a shot out the window in the direction of police officers positioned behind a parked pickup truck. The police did not respond in kind. Twenty minutes later, she fired again.

     About an hour after the shootings, the police talked Brinda out of her house. As she crawled out the front door, members of a SWAT team subdued her with a beanbag gun.

     Following 72 hours of observation at a local hospital, police took Brinda McCoy into custody. She posted her $250,000 bail and was released.

     Charged with 5 counts of police assault with a firearm, felonies that could send her to prison for 30 years, McCoy went on trial in an Orange County court on May 24, 2012. Twenty-five days later, after the defendant testified on her own behalf for two days, the jury, after deliberating 5 hours, found Brinda McCoy guilty on all counts. She would await her September 10 sentencing under house arrest.

     In 2011, the police in the United States shot 50 women, killing about half of them. Most of these women were armed with knives, and had histories of mental illness. Most of them, like Brinda McCoy, did not have criminal records. Many of these police involved shootings were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Had Brinda McCoy been a mental case or a drug addict in Philadelphia, Chicago, or Miami, she would have been shot. But in Orange County, California, where the officers knew they were dealing with the disturbed wife of a police chief, they were patient and used nonlethal force.

     Four days after she was released on bail to await her sentencing, police officers found Brinda bleeding in her back yard following an attempted suicide. Judge Francisco Briseno ordered the police to take the suicidal woman into custody for her own protection.

     Prior to Brinda McCoy's sentencing date, Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivier, in a rare legal action, agreed to retroactively modify the charges against the defendant by removing the firearm discharge count, the conviction of which carried a mandatory 20-year sentence. In return, defense attorney Lew Rosenblum withdrew his motion for a new trial.

     On September 7, 2012, Judge Briseno sentenced Brinda McCoy to fifteen years in prison. Had the charges against her not been modified after the fact, she would have been sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

     As deputy sheriffs escorted McCoy out of the courtroom in handcuffs, she spoke to her husband, relatives and others there to support her. "Thank you guys," she said. "Everyone, I love you."

     Justice was not done in this case. Fifteen years in prison for a mentally ill woman who tried to use the police to commit suicide was way too harsh.

   
     

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Joyce Garrard Murder Case: Running A Child To Death


     On Friday, February 17, 2012, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin scolded her 9-year-old step-daughter for lying to her grandmother about eating a candy bar. As punishment, Savannah Hardin was told to run, and keep running while carrying a load of firewood. At four that afternoon, a neighbor saw the third grader running laps around the family's doublewide on a dirt road in rural northeast Alabama. At six-forty-five that evening the stepmother called 911 after Savannah started having seizures. Finding the girl unresponsive, emergency medical personnel rushed her to the Gadsden Regional Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

     On Monday, February 20, the 9-year-old died. According to the state forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, she had been severely dehydrated with a dangerously low sodium level. Before she collapsed, Savannah had been running for three hours.

     Deputies with the Etowah County Sheriff's Office took the stepmother and the victim's 46-year-old grandmother, Joyce Garrard, into custody. The grandmother was charged with capital murder. If convicted, she faced either life without parole or the death penalty.  The pair were booked into the Etowah County jail, each under a $500,000 cash bond. The stepmother, Jessica Hardin, faced the charge of felony-murder,.

     According to the step-mother's estranged husband (apparently not the girl's father), the suspect suffered from bi-polar disorder and was a heavy drinker. Both women denied any wrongdoing in the child's death.

     In January 2013, after a judge reduced Jessica Hardin's bond to $150,000, the stepmother posted bail and walked out of the Etowah County lockup. The authorities continued to hold the grandmother without bond.

     On August 26, 2014, Etowah County Circuit Judge William Ogletree moved the grandmother's murder trial from September 2014 to February 2015. The judge cited "discovery and procedural issues" as reasons for the delay.

     The Joyce Garrard murder trial got under way in the Etowah County Courthouse on March 9, 2015. Following the selection of jury made up of ten men and six women, four serving as alternates, Chief Deputy District Attorney Marcus Reid made his opening statement. According to the prosecutor, the defendant acted like a "drill sergeant who ran her granddaughter to death.

     Defense attorney Dani Bone told the jurors that her client had meant no harm to her granddaughter. The girl wanted to run and to get faster after she had finished second in a race at school. As for the cause of her death, the girl had recovered at the hospital before dying from prior health complications.

     Prosecutor Reid put Dr. Emily Ward on the stand, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Savannah Hardin. The expert witness testified that the victim had died from her seizures linked to abnormally low sodium levels caused by "prolonged physical exertion and heat exhaustion." According to Dr. Ward, the victim's left arm had three bruises caused by carrying the firewood as she ran.

     Heather Elgin Gibson, a nurse who was on duty at the Gadsden Regional Medical Center when the girl was brought in, said the victim was unconscious and unresponsive. The witness said she mistakingly "clicked a wrong button" on an electronic chart that made it appear the patient was alert at one point. She was not.

     On March 16, 2015, defense attorney Bone, after the prosecution rested, asked Judge Ogletree to direct a verdict of acquittal on the grounds that the state had not proven its case. Attorney Bone said that if the defendant had wanted to punish the child for a lie, there was no reason for her to force the girl to run until she died. "Discipline means teaching a lesson," he said. "How is the defendant going to teach a lesson if she kills her?"

     Prosecutor Reid, in arguing that the state had presented enough evidence to require a defense, pointed out that the defendant had kept yelling at the child to run even after she was on the ground vomiting and begging to stop. "You judge a person's state of mind by what they do," he said.

     The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution which meant that the defense would have to put on its case.

     Donna Johnson, Savannah Hardin's principal at Carlisle Elementary School, testified that the defendant had shown concern for her granddaughter. (This countered the testimony given by a physician who had treated the victim. The doctor had described the defendant as uncaring.)

     Dr. Deborah Smith, a physician with Quality of Life Health Services took the stand for the defense. Dr. Smith said she had treated Savannah Hardin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Under cross-examination, the witness admitted telling investigators that she was concerned that the patient did not have a normal relationship with the defendant and her stepmother, Jessica Hardin.

     On March 18, 2015, Joyce Garrard took the stand on her own behalf. She testified two hours during which time she became tearful as well as defiant. According to the defendant, she had punished her granddaughter that day by making her pick up sticks in the yard for 30 to 45 minutes. As the witness relayed her version of the case, she drank freely from a water bottle at her side on the witness stand.

     When asked about the running, Garrard described it as "more of a jog, not a full run." The witness said, "You can't make Savannah run. She runs when she wants."

     "Did you ever intend to hurt Savannah?" asked the defense attorney. "Absolutely not," came the reply. "I would rather die than harm Savannah."

     The defendant denied that Savannah was ever down on all fours vomiting. When pressed about this on cross-examination, Garrard admitted that the girl had vomited once then continued with her activities.

     Late in the day on Saturday March 21, 2015, the Etowah County jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder. As the jury foreman read the verdict, Garrard lowered her head and cried. Others in the courtroom expressed their approval of the jury's decision.

     The penalty phase of the trial began on Monday March 23, 2015. Three days later, the jury recommended life in prison for the convicted grandmother. Five of the Etowah County jurors had voted for her death.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Harold Sasko Murder Case

     Harold Sasko lived in a middle-class, ranch style home in suburban Lawrence, Kansas with his chocolate labrador Oliver. The 52-year-old businessman owned three CiCi's Pizza restaurants, one in Lawrence and two in Topeka. In 2014, Mr. Sasko informed the woman he was dating at the time that one of his employees, a 18-year-old named Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn, would be temporarily staying at his house. He said she needed help with her drug problem and wanted to separate herself from street gang influence. McLinn, a former employee at CiCi's Pizza Buffet in Lawrence, worked at a local Bed, Bath & Beyond store.

     On Friday, January 17, 2014, a member of McLinn's family reported  her missing. The relative informed officers with the Lawrence Police Department that the 19-year-old had been missing for three days. They became concerned when she didn't show up for a family dinner on January 14.

     On January 17, 2014, pursuant to the missing persons investigation, a Lawrence police officer knocked on Mr. Sasko's door. When the resident didn't answer, the officer looked through a window and saw a man lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

     The body in the house turned out to be Mr. Sasko's. He had been murdered and the killer had presumably driven off in his 2008 Nissan Altima. Mr. Sasko's dog Oliver was also missing. A local judge issued a warrant for Sarah McLinn's arrest as a prime suspect in the Sasko murder.

     At ten-thirty Saturday night, January 25, 2014, 1,560 miles from the murder scene, Everglades National Park rangers in Dade County, Florida arrested Sarah McLinn. They found her sleeping in the park after hours in the back of the murdered man's car. She also possessed Oliver, Mr. Sasko's dog. The park rangers took McLinn into custody on charges related to the possession of illicit drugs.

     The authorities in Florida also discovered in the Nissan what detectives believed to be the Sasko case murder weapons--two knives and an ax. The day after her arrest on the drug charges, the district attorney of Douglas County, Kansas charged McLinn with first-degree murder.

     At a press conference on January 27, 2014, Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib told reporters that, "Based upon our investigation, evidence suggests Ms. McLinn gained control over Mr. Sasko and then killed him." According to the police chief, the victim had been attacked with an "edged instrument." Moreover, Mr. Sasko had not been conscious when he died. Chief Khatib said that Mr. Sasko was murdered on January 14, the day McLinn went missing. He did not identify a motive. The suspect, however, had confessed.

     On February 1, 2014, McLinn, after waiving an extradition hearing in Florida, was transported back to Kansas where officers booked her into the Douglas County Jail. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     According to Sasko case investigators, McLinn, several hours after the murder, was in Bishop, Texas, a small town 100 miles from the Mexican border. She had stopped at two gas stations in Bishop, about 900 miles south of Lawrence, Kansas.

     Carl Cornwell, McLinn's attorney, told reporters that the issue in the case would center on his client's motive to kill, not on whether or not she had committed the murder.

     The Sasko murder trial got underway on March 5, 2015 in the Douglas County Courthouse. Prosecutor Charles Branson told the jury in his opening remarks that Sarah McLinn had carefully planned Mr. Sasko's murder.

     Defense attorney Carl Cornwell, in his opening address to the jury, said his client had not been in control of herself when she killed the victim. The murder, according to attorney Cornwell, had been committed by Alyssa, one of the defendant's multiple personalities.

     Lawrence police detective Robert Brown took the stand for the prosecution and testified that prior to the murder, McLinn had searched Google with the key phrase "neck vulnerable spots." In her confession she admitted stabbing the victim then slicing his throat. When asked by the detective why had she murdered Mr. Sasko, she said, " I wanted to see someone die."

     Detective Brown testified that the defendant had disabled the victim by crushing six sleeping pills and pouring the powder into his can of beer. A toxicology report confirmed the presence of this substance in the victim's system.

     The key witness for the defense, Dr. Marilyn A. Hutchinson, a psychologist, testified that during the 17 hours she spent with McLinn, the defendant spoke to her as four personalities--Sarah, Alyssa, Myla, and Vanessa. Based on these interviews, Dr. Hutchinson diagnosed McLinn as suffering from Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID), a psychological condition once called Multiple Personality Syndrome. According to Dr. Hutchinson, Alyssa had told the defendant to murder the victim.

     Defense attorney Cornwell rested his case without putting Sarah, Alyssa, Myla or Vanessa on the stand.

     On March 20, 2015, the jury, after deliberating just four hours, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. The judge will sentence her at a later time.

     The Sasko case illustrates that a defense attorney, regardless of how idiotic the defense, can find a psychologist to go along with it. Fortunately, most juries are smart enough to cut through the nonsense.

     

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Susan and Sarah Wolfe Murder Case

     Dr. Sarah Wolfe and her sister Susan grew up in Clinton, Iowa. Their father, Jack Wolfe, headed a law firm in Clinton where his wife Pierrette practiced. Mary Wolfe, the eldest child in the family of ten, also a lawyer, had been elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 2011.

     Since 2007, Dr. Sarah Wolfe, a 38-year-old child and adolescent psychiatrist, had been treating victims of domestic abuse at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The graduate of Iowa University School of Medicine, she also held the position of associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Psychiatry.

     In November 2012, 44-year-old Susan Wolfe left her job as a special education teacher in the Chicago public school system. She returned to Clinton where she worked at the YWCA. After Susan moved to Pittsburgh in November 2013, she and her younger sister purchased a 93-year-old, two-story brick house in the East Liberty section of the city. Susan had accepted a job as a teacher's aide at Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. At the school she worked with students with behavioral problems.

     On Friday, February 7, 2014, the sisters' co-workers at the psychiatric clinic and the academy became concerned when Sarah and Susan failed to show up for work. This prompted a visit to the Chislett Street house by a Pittsburgh police officer.

     The police officer, at forty-five minutes past noon, knocked on the Wolfe's front door. When no one responded, the officer walked around the dwelling and peeked into windows. Seeing nothing unusual inside the house, the officer headed toward his patrol car. Before he drove off, Matthew Buchholz, a man who identified himself as Sarah Wolfe's boyfriend, approached the officer. The resident of Friendship, Pennsylvania possessed a house key the officer used to enter the dwelling.

     In the basement of the home, the officer discovered the bodies of Sarah and Susan Wolfe. Susan was nude, her sister clothed. They had been each killed by a single bullet to the head. The killer had poured some kind of liquid over one of the bodies in an effort to destroy physical evidence. Susan Wolfe had been badly beaten as well as shot.

     Detectives at the murder scene found no evidence of a forced entry. Dr. Sarah Wolfe's car, a lime green 2011 Ford Fiesta, was not at the house. The vehicle was last seen by a neighbor at 9:25 PM on Thursday, February 6, 2014.

     A police officer, at l:15 in the morning of February 8, spotted the Wolfe vehicle parked about a mile from the scene of the double murder. Crime scene investigators processed the Ford for traces of physical evidence that could shed some light on the murders.

     Homicide detectives theorized that when Dr. Sarah Wolfe arrived home that Thursday night, she walked into a crime in progress. Police found her sister naked and doused with chemicals. Sarah lay nearby at the foot of the basement stairs with her coat half off.

     On Wednesday, February 19, 2014, detectives searched a house next door to the Wolfe sisters' residence and hauled the occupant, a man with a history of burglary and robbery, to police headquarters for interrogation.

     On March 5, 2014, the authorities charged next door neighbor Allen D. Wade, 43, with two counts of criminal homicide, robbery and theft. A forensic scientist with a private Pittsburgh laboratory found, under Susan Wolfe's fingernails, a mixture of male and female DNA. Traces of Wade's blood were found on a pair of gray sweatpants connected to the murder scene. Detectives took DNA samples from the suspect who denied any involvement in the killings.

     In April 2014, at a preliminary hearing before District Judge John Scott Schricker, a prosecutor with the Allegheny County District Attorneys office presented enough incriminating evidence against Allen Wade to justify moving the case to trial.

     Dectetive Harry Lutton, the lead investigator in the Wolfe double murder, testified that the victims' bank cards had been used by Darell at the Citizens Bank ATM across from the East Liberty Target store.

     Deputy District Attorney Simquita Bridges showed clips from nine surveillance videos showing a man believed to be the suspect using the victims' bank cards. The prosecutor also read the results of a crime laboratory report that identified the defendant's DNA as being under Susan Wolfe's fingernails.

     In May 2014, the district attorneys office announced it will seek the death penalty against Mr. Wade. According to prosecutors, the Wolfe case featured two aggravating circumstances that justified the application of the death sentence. The defendant stood accused of killing Dr. Sarah Wolfe because she witnessed the murder of her sister. Secondly, Mr. Wade was suspected of committing the murder during the commission of a felony.

     Given the fact the current governor of Pennsylvania recently placed moratorium on capital punishment, the death sentence in this case is unlikely.

     On November 16, 2014, the process of selecting a jury got underway in the Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. The next day, however, Judge Edward J. Borkowski postponed the murder trial to give defense attorney Lisa Middleman more time to prepare her case. No trial date has been scheduled.