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Friday, June 21, 2024

The Edward and Eric Campbell Murder Case

     On the morning of January 1, 2015, 54-year-old Edward Campbell and his 21-year-old son Eric, a pair of criminals from Texas, invaded the home of Jerome and Dora Faulkner in Oxford, North Carolina. Before that, on September 2014, the elder Campbell assaulted his own wife with a firearm and had since jumped bail on that case.

     After shooting to death Mr. Faulkner, 73 and his 62-year-old wife Dora, a pair of randomly picked victims, Edward Campbell and his son placed their bodies beneath a mattress in the back of Mr. Faulkner's red Chevrolet pickup truck. They set fire to the Faulkner house and with the father behind the wheel of Mr. Faulkner's pickup, and his son Eric driving Mrs. Faulkner's white Chevrolet SUV, the killers headed west in the stolen vehicles.

     The retired Mr. Faulkner had been a volunteer fire chief and his wife a registered nurse.

     At four in the afternoon of the double murder, Lewisburg, West Virginia police officers Nicholas Sams, a rookie just out of the police academy and his partner Lieutenant Jeremy Dove, while driving on Interstate 64 in Greenbrier County, spotted the stolen SUV driven by Eric Campbell. The officers pulled the vehicle over.

     As the West Virginia police officers sat in their patrol car behind Mrs. Faulkner's SUV, Edward Campbell pulled off the highway, got out of the stolen red pickup truck and approached the two officers with his handgun drawn. When he reached the police car Edward Campbell fired several shots into the vehicle. One bullet entered officer Sam's back and another grazed his head. Campbell shot Lieutenant Dove in the chest and neck. Both officers were wearing bullet-proof vests.

    One of the wounded police officers returned fire, striking Edward Campbell in the leg. Campbell limped into a wooded area where, ten minutes later a deputy with the Greenbrier County Sheriff's Office took him into custody.

     Shortly after his father's arrest, Eric Campbell, having driven away from the shooting scene, pulled off Interstate 64 and waited for officers to arrest him. When officers searched the stolen red pickup truck they discovered the bodies of the murdered North Carolina couple.

     Paramedics rushed the wounded police officers to the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center where they were listed in stable condition. Edward Campbell was hospitalized for the bullet wound in his leg.

     A Greenbrier County prosecutor charged the father, Edward Campbell, with two counts of malicious assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Back in North Carolina a prosecutor charged Edward and Eric Campbell with double murder, arson, burglary and car theft. In the meantime, the suspects were held in West Virginia under $500,000 bond.

     Eric and Edward Campbell were extradited to North Carolina on the murder, arson, burglary and car theft charges in February 2015. The following month, Greenville County District Attorney Michael Waters, in an April 8, 2015 hearing in Oxford, North Carolina, petitioned the court to seek the death penalty against Eric Campbell. The judge granted the request.

     In March 2016, the father, Edward Campbell, committed suicide while in custody awaiting his trials.

     Eric Campbell, facing the death penalty, told investigators that his father was a drug addict and methamphetamine manufacturer who had physically and psychologically abused him for years. Eric Campbell also claimed to have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child. He said he had been prescribed Adderall that his father had stolen from him for re-sale.

     In August 2017 a jury sitting in Oxford, North Carolina, after three hours of deliberation, found Eric Campbell guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. A month later Superior Court Judge Henry Hight sentenced Campbell to life in prison. In speaking directly to the convicted double murderer, Judge Hight said, "You need to thank God and this jury and the fact you're in the state of North Carolina that your life has been spared." 
     Both of the police officers survived their wounds.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Nathan Ballard: Protecting a Politically Powerful Arrestee

        In 2020, 51-year-old Nathan Ballard resided with his 36-year-old wife Mara in Kentfield, California, a Marin County suburb just north of San Francisco. Described as one of the best places to live in the state, Kentfield was also one of the most expensive places to call home. The couple resided with their four children, two boys and two girls. The two oldest at 11 and 12 were from a former marriage. The younger children were 4 and 18 months old.

     Nathan Ballard, in 2000, worked as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco with Kamala Harris and other local prosecutors. In February 2007 after Gavin Newsom was elected mayor of San Francisco, Nathan Ballard became his communications director. In October 2009 Mr. Ballard resigned his position with the mayor's office to begin a career in public relations. He handled public relations for the political campaigns of several prominent Democrat candidates in California and elsewhere. In 2014, after Gavin Newsom was elected to his second term as Lieutenant Governor of California, his wife Jennifer Siebel introduced Nathan Ballard to Mara Reinhardt, a pilates instructor and the owner of Parallel Pilates Studio in Larkspur, a Marin County community 13 miles north of San Francisco. Nathan and Mara were married two years later. Gavin Newsom officiated at the couple's wedding. In 2018 Gavin Newsom was elected Governor of California.

     Known as the "Media Whisperer", Nathan Ballard in 2016 formed his San Francisco based public relations firm, The Press Store. Whenever a California Democrat politician found him or herself in a public relations crisis for something they said or did, Nathan Ballard was there to either make the problem go away or mitigate the damage. This was, of course, an expensive service that only the rich and powerful could afford. When an ordinary citizen runs afoul of the law or says something that costs him or her their job or subjects them to contempt or ridicule they are on their own. There is no "Media Whisperer" to rescue non-elites in their time of need.

     Nathan Ballard and The Press Store served dozens of rich and powerful clients that included the Democrat National Committee, the California Democrat party, the Getty family, the Golden State Warriors basketball team and the California Labor Federation. Nathan Ballard was also on the board of the Representation Project, a non-profit organization started by Governor Newsom's wife Jennifer to advance women's rights. 

     In 2016 the San Francisco Police Officers Association hired Nathan Ballard following the controversial police-involved shooting of a black man named Mario Woods. Critics of the fatal encounter accused the police department of being a racist agency. A 2016 profile of Nathan Ballard in San Francisco Magazine described him as one of the city's "preeminent media whisperers" with "a junk yard persona."

     In February 2019 Nathan Ballard opened a second public relations office in Sacramento. That year he acquired, among other clients, the 30,000 member California Correctional Peace Officers Association and a statewide coalition of legal cannabis companies. Ballard, as a high profile Democrat strategist and pundit, was also a frequent talkshow guest on California television and radio. 

     In April 2019, in a University of California Hastings Law School alumni publication called U.C. Hastings Magazine, Mr. Ballard, in a piece entitled "Gamechanger," was quoted as follows: "In my crisis communications work, I parachute into a situation that I may know nothing about on day one. But I have to use my people skills and critical thinking skills to get up to speed quickly, face the media, and deal with questions about the toughest topics." In the puff piece Mr. Ballard said that when growing up his parents encouraged him to have political conversations with house guests like Cesar Chavez and Jane Fonda.

     In November 2019 Mr. Ballard was featured in another puff piece published in Better magazine entitled "The Bay Area's Most Successful Dads." In that article he talked about enjoying fatherhood and how important his children were to him.

     On Saturday, October 17, 2020, Nathan Ballard, his wife Mara and their two youngest children were spending the weekend at the luxurious Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa, California. The next morning Mara Ballard called the Napa County Sheriff's Office and related the following: The previous night, after her husband had consumed a large quantity of alcohol and some marijuana, he pushed her with both hands through a glass paneled door causing her injuries to the back of her head. Following that assault he took a pillow off his bed and placed it over the face of their 4-year-old daughter, then laid on the pillow. After rescuing the child, Mara and the children fled to another room.

     When sheriff's deputies arrived to interview Mara Ballard her husband was no longer at the resort. The next day Nathan Ballard turned himself in. After refusing to answer questions regarding his wife's accusations he was booked him into the Napa County Jail on the felony charges of willful cruelty to a child with possible injury and death, and domestic violence in connection with pushing his wife through a glass door.

      On the day of his incarceration Nathan Ballard made his $75,000 bail and was released. On November 11, 2020 a judge issued a temporary restraining order to keep him away from his family. 

     Normally, whenever an ordinary citizen is charged with a crime as serious as trying to suffocate a child and pushing a woman through a glass door, journalists will learn of the arrest through public records and immediately report what they have found. When such an arrestee is celebrity or a person of some stature, because of public interest, journalists will dig a little deeper to get a fuller story. But in the case of an arrestee who was a powerful Democrat media professional connected to all the right people leading all the way up to the governor and his wife, local journalists were simply not interested in this news story. In fact, they ignored it and as a result nothing appeared in the press regarding the arrest of a powerful Democrat accused of assaulting his 4-year-old daughter and his wife. 

     On Thursday, December 3, 2020, 46 days after Nathan Ballard's arrest, journalists with the news outlet Politico broke the story of Nathan Ballard's arrest for domestic abuse. The story included the following statement issued by Ballard's attorney, Anthony Bass: "I am confident that my client, Nathan Ballard, will be fully acquitted of the charges after the district attorney's office has a chance to review the facts and learn all sides of the story. Nate is a well respected professional and member of the bar with a spotless ethical record. He has no criminal history. Nate knows that he is not perfect, but he is facing his own challenges head-on. After nearly eight years of continuous sobriety, Nate resumed drinking in April after his father died. He is now clean and sober again, and he is currently in a residential recovery program to deal with his drinking problem in a responsible, comprehensive manner. He is a good father, he has his children's best interests at heart, and he wants to resolve this matter privately, quickly, and fairly for their sake."

     Attorney Bass, regarding his client's wife Mara, said she "would testify under oath that he has never been violent toward her, their minor son, nor their minor daughter." Just hours after that comment, attorney Bass retracted the statement. 

     Politico, in their story, included the following text message they had received from Nathan Ballard: "I've spent my career in crisis communications fighting on behalf of the wrongfully accused, and now for the first time, I really know what it feels like to be in their shoes. I will be exonerated. I love my children more than anything on earth, and will be reunited."

     Following the Politico bombshell a spokesperson for The Representation Project announced that Nathan Ballard had resigned from the board on October 19, 2020.  

     On October 23, 2020, six days after the alleged assault at the Napa resort, Mara Ballard filed for divorce in Marin County.

     In May 2021 the Napa County District Attorney reduced the charges against Nathan Ballard to misdemeanors that did not require prison time. In return Mr. Ballard agreed to stay away from his children for six years. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Jerame Reid Police-Involved Shooting Case

      On the night of December 30, 2014 in Brighton, New Jersey, a Cumberland County town of 25,000 south of Philadelphia, Bridgeton police officers Roger Worley and Braheme Days pulled over a Jaguar for running a stop sign. Officer Worley was behind the wheel of the patrol car.

     Officer Days approached the passenger side of the Jaguar and asked the two men in the car how they were doing. The passenger, 30-year-old Jerame Reid, said, "Good, how you doing, officer?"

     A few months earlier officer Days had arrested Jerame Reid for possession of drugs. As a teenager Reid had been convicted of shooting at police officers. The judge sent him to prison for twelve years.

     A few seconds after approaching the Jaguar, officer Days spotted a handgun in the glove compartment. He said, "Don't move! Show me your hands!"

     On the other side of the vehicle officer Worley pointed his gun at the driver, Leroy Tutt. Mr. Tutt sat in the driver's seat with his hands sticking out of the car door window where they could be seen. Officer Worley called for backup.

     Officer Days reached into the Jaguar and removed a silver handgun from the glove box. To the vehicle's occupants he said, "You reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     One of the men in the stopped car said, "I got no reason to reach for nothing." Again officer Days warned, "Hey Jerame, you reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     As Jerame Reid opened the front passenger door, he said, "I'm getting out of the car." By now officer Worley had joined officer Days on that side of the vehicle. Both officers had their guns drawn. Mr. Reid climbed out of the vehicle and when he stood up his hands were raised to the level of his chest in the officers' plain view.

     A few seconds after Jerame Reid exited the Jaguar officer Days shot him. Officer Worley also fired his gun but missed his target.  The shot man collapsed to the ground and died on the spot. He did not possess a firearm.

     The police-involved shooting incident was caught on the officers' dashboard camera. The chief of police placed both officers on administrative leave and turned the case over to the Cumberland County prosecutor's office.

     Shortly after receiving the case, Cumberland County prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae recused herself from the inquiry because she had personal ties to officer Days. First Assistant prosecutor Harold Shapiro took over the investigation.

     Critics of the way the authorities handled the case called for either a special prosecutor or an intervention by the state attorney general's office. Protestors, notwithstanding the fact that Jerame Reid and the officer who shot him were black, claimed racism.

    In February 2015, three months after Mr. Reid's death, a local newspaper reported that in 2011 Jerame Reid had filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the Cumberland County Department of Corrections, Warden Robert Balicki and three corrections officers. Reid claimed the jail guards assaulted him in October 2009. According to Reid the officers, without provocation or justification, repeatedly punched, kicked and pepper sprayed his face then threw a bucket of water on him as he lay on the cell floor.

     As a result of the beating Reid said he suffered broken ribs and a fractured left orbital bone that left him without sensation and nerve damage to his lips and cheek area. According to court documents the encounter began after Reid confronted another inmate over stolen belongings. The accused inmate told correction officers that Reid possessed a sharp object.

     Responding jail guards handcuffed Reid and placed him into another cell. According to the plaintiff, after he made a comment to one of the officers they gave him the beating. (The officers alleged that Reid threw the first punch.)

     Reid's lawyer, in court documents, said the corrections officers, after an internal investigation were disciplined for not filing a use of force report. The matter was not referred to the local prosecutor's office for investigation.

     As a result of the plaintiff's death the lawsuit against the county, the warden and the correction officers was dismissed.

     After a federal prosecutor decided not to pursue the shooting incident against the officers the case, in April 2016, went before a local grand jury. The grand jurors declined to indict either officer. In July 2016 members of Mr. Reid's family settled a federal lawsuit against the police department for an undisclosed amount.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Lance T. Mason Murder Case

     In 1985 Lance T. Mason graduated from Shaker Heights High School in upscale suburban Cleveland, Ohio. After earning his B.A. from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio Mr. Mason received a law degree from the University of Michigan. Not long out of law school he became an assistant prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County, Ohio. From 2002 to 2006 he served as an elected representative in the Ohio House of Representatives. 

     Lance Mason in 2007 advanced his political career by being elected to Ohio's 25th State Senate District. A year later Ohio governor Ted Strickland appointed him to fill a judicial vacancy on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. After seven years on the bench, the arc of Judge Mason's career in law took a sudden downward turn.

     On August 2, 2014 police officers took the judge into custody after he punched his wife Aisha Fraser twenty times and bashed her head five times against the dashboard of their vehicle. During the attack he also bit her and threatened to kill her. The couple's children, four and six, witnessed the prolonged assault.

     Aisha Fraser, a sixth grade teacher in the Shaker Heights School District, was so badly injured she had to undergo reconstructive surgery on her face. Following Judge Mason's arrest detectives searched his home and found an array of handguns, 2,500 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest, smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles and a sword.

     Two days after the assault Aisha Fraser filed for divorce. (She later sued her ex-husband and won $150,000 in damages.)

     On August 13, 2015 Lance Mason was allowed to plead guilty to attempted felonious assault and domestic violence in return for a sentence of two years. Following his sentencing, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty told reporters that "I am confident he [Mason] will leave prison rehabilitated and will again be an asset to our community." 
     On September 3, 2015 the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Lance Mason from practicing law. The convicted felon, a couple of weeks later, resigned from his seat on the bench.

      While sentenced lightly for two years, the man who severely beat his wife walked out of prison after serving only nine months behind bars. As a condition of his early release he was ordered to write his ex-wife a letter of apology.

     Shortly following the ex-judge's early--most would say premature--release from prison, Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson hired the convicted wife beater as a minority business development director.

     On Saturday November 17, 2018, the dispatcher with the Shaker Heights Police Department received a frantic call from Lance Mason's sister who reported that her brother had just stabbed his ex-wife Aisha Fraser to death in his home. The victim had arrived at Mason's house to drop off their children for a visit.

     As police officers rolled up to the murder scene, Mason, in his attempt to avoid custody stole his ex-wife's car and drove into a police vehicle, seriously injuring the officer. Police arrested Mason after he ran back to his house after crashing into the police car. The injured officer was rushed to the hospital.

     On November 29, 2018 a grand jury sitting in Cleveland indicted Lance Mason on charges of felonious assault, violating a protection order and grand theft of his 45-year-old ex-wife's car. A week later the grand jury indicted the 51-year-old former judge on the charge of aggravated murder. At his arraignment hearing, Lance Mason pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was held in the Cuyahoga County Jail on $5 million bond.
     On September 12, 2019, after pleading guilty to the murder of Alisha Fraser, the judge sentenced the 52-year-old defendant to life in prison with the chance of parole in 30 years. Mr. Mason was sentenced to an additional five years for violating probation, assaulting a police officer and stealing his ex-wife's car. 

Monday, June 17, 2024

The Tick Tock Diner Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1987 Alex Sgourdos and his two brothers-in-law bought the Tick Tock Diner on New Jersey's Route 3 west of the Meadowlands a few miles from the Lincoln Tunnel that takes you under the Hudson River into midtown Manhattan. The diner not only became a successful business enterprise, it grew into a New Jersey landmark. (Scenes from a dozen movies took place in the diner.)

     In February 2013 one of the diner's managers, 45-year-old Georgious Spyropoulos, tried to hire a hitman to kill his Uncle Alex Sgourdos. Mr. Spyropoulos was married to the daughter of one of Mr. Sgourdos' partners.

     In late February 2013 Mr. Spyropoulos asked a regular patron of the diner if he could put him in touch with a professional killer. The man Spyropoulos reached out to happened to be a regular informant for the New Jersey State Police. As is often the case, the murder-for-hire plot unraveled before it got off the ground.

     In March, 2013 the police informant came to the diner with an undercover officer playing the role of a contract killer. Later that month at a meeting in a nearby Home Depot parking lot, Georgious Spyropoulos and the undercover cop discussed how the murder-for-hire target would be killed. According to court records, the hitman was to enter Mr. Sgourdos' 6,000-square foot house late on a Sunday night after the diner owner had deposited that day's receipts in his home safe. (The daily receipts usually came to about $20,000.) The mastermind provided the phony hitman with instructions on how to circumvent the dwelling's security system, and said that if the target's wife got in the way she should be murdered as well.

     Mr. Spyropoulos, according to police affidavits, informed the hitman that his uncle kept a lot of cash in his safe. To acquire the combination, the mastermind suggested that torture might be required. "You can get anything out of anybody with a pair of pliers," he said.

     According to the plan, after the hitman murdered Mr. Sgourdos, Georgious Spyropoulos wanted the body disposed of in a way that would cause the authorities to treat the matter as a missing persons case. Mr. Spyropoulos handed the undercover cop $3,000 and a revolver and said they would split whatever was in the Tick Tock Diner owner's safe. Hinting that the Sgourdos hit would be one of a series of murder assignments, Spyropoulos said, "We'll have a lot more to do." (As is always the case the entire murder-for-hire conversation was taped by the police.)

     On April 9, 2013, officers with the New Jersey State Police entered the Tick Tock Diner at noon and took Georgios Spyropoulos into custody. Charged with conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder, the suspect was incarcerated in the Passaic County Jail on $1 million bond.

     On July 13, 2014 Georgios Spyropoulos pleaded guilty to plotting the murder of his uncle. In September 2014 Passaic County Judge Ernest Caposela sentenced Mr. Spropoulos to eight years in prison. He could have been sent to prison for up to 30 years.

     According to the state prosecutor who handled the case, Mr. Spyropoulos, even after he entered his guilty plea, showed no remorse for his role in the murder-for-hire plot. He was eligible for parole in less than seven years.

     When it comes to sentencing, our criminal justice system often makes no sense. 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Earmark Identification in the David Wayne Kunze Case

     In the early morning hours of December 16, 1994 near Vancouver, Washington, an intruder entered James McCann's bedroom and bludgeoned him to death. In another bedroom the burglar fractured the skull of McCann's son who managed, after the attack, to crawl outside where the 20-year-old was discovered by a passerby. Questioned at the hospital the boy told the police he hadn't gotten a good look at the attacker whom he described as 25 to 35 years old, dark complexioned, about six feet tall and of medium build. George Miller, a fingerprint examiner with the Washington State Crime Lab lifted a latent ear-print off the surface of James McCann's bedroom door. The killer had apparently pressed his head against the door listening for signs of activity before entering the room. Miller processed the house for fingerprints as well but they all turned out to belong to occupants of the dwelling.

     Although he had red hair and didn't otherwise fit the general description of the killer, the police suspected David Wayne Kunze, the 45-year-old ex-husband of the woman James McCann was about to marry. When Mr. Kunze learned of the upcoming marriage four days before the murder he was upset. This led investigators to suspect that he attacked the victims out of jealousy and rage. The intruder had stolen McCann's television set, VCR, stereo speakers and wallet, an aspect of the case detectives explained away by theorizing that Kunze took these things to throw investigators off his trail. Convinced that the scene had been staged to look like a burglary, the police made no effort to identify a homicidal intruder through the missing property. David Kunze consented to a search of his truck, boat, storage locker and safety deposit box. Detectives found nothing in those places that connected him to the McCann home invasion and murder.

     Three months passed without further developments in the investigation. Then Michael Grubb, a criminalist with the Washington State Crime Lab, compared the partial ear-print latent with photographs of Kunze's left ear and concluded that it "could have been made by David Kunze." Six months later, on September 21, 1995, Mr. Kunze voluntarily agreed to have fingerprint examiner George Miller and Michael Grubb take seven exemplar prints of his left ear. The criminalists applied hand lotion to the suspect's ear then placed panes of glass against it using various degrees of pressure. Following that procedure the criminalists dusted the glass with fingerprint powder then lifted the prints with transparent tape.

     Michael Grubb compared the seven exemplars with the crime scene ear latent and concluded that "David Kunze is the likely source for the ear-print and cheek-print that were lifted from the outside of the bedroom door at the homicide scene." George Miller, the crime lab fingerprint analyst, declined to offer an opinion regarding the identification of the crime scene ear latent. He said he identified fingerprints not earmarks. In June 1996, a year and a half after the murder and eight months after Michael Grubb identified the crime scene ear-print, the Clark County prosecutor charged David Kunze with aggravated murder, assault, robbery and burglary.

     In a pretrial motion to exclude the ear-print identification Mr. Kunze's attorney petitioned the judge for a so-called Frye hearing. In 1923 a U. S. District Court in Washington D. C. held that lie detection technology had not been accepted in the general scientific community as a legitimate science. As a result, lie detection results did not constitute admissible evidence. This ruling became known as the "general acceptance test." To determine if latent ear-print identification was an accepted function within the forensic science community the prosecutor and defense attorney in the Kunze case offered expert witnesses on both sides of the issue in a Frye hearing held in December 1996. This would be the most thorough in-depth judicial/scientific review of ear-print identification in legal and criminalistic history.

     On the issue of latent ear-print identification as a legitimate forensic science the prosecution presented three advocates against the defense's twelve witnesses, who in varying degrees were not enthusiastic about this form of pattern analysis. Michael Grubb, the manager of the Washington State Crime Lab in Seattle who had identified the crime scene ear-print as probably Kunze's, testified that comparing an earmark to a known ear print was not unlike other forms of impression identification. A criminalist who specialized in bullet-striation and tool-mark identification, Grubb said that if you can analyze patterns made by tires, shoes, fingers, gun barrels and tools you can render an opinion on the source of an earmark.

     The next prosecution witness, Alfred V. Iannarelli, said he had studied the evidence in the McCann murder case and was certain that the crime scene earmark was an "exact" match to Kunze's left ear. Iannarelli had never worked in a crime lab, had not been to college and had testified only once as an expert witness. He had been a deputy sheriff with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and the chief of campus security at California State University at Hayward. From 1948 to 1962 Mr. Iannarelli had photographed 7,000 ears and from this database concluded that no two ears are the same. He had also devised an ear classification system based upon twelve "anthropometric measurements," a system featured in his 1964 book, The Iannarelli System of Ear Identification. In 1989  Iannarelli self-published a second edition of this text, titled Ear Identification which included a section on latent earmark analysis. He was unable, however, to cite any ear-print studies other than his own, which explained why his books didn't contain bibliographies.

     In ear-print identification it became clear there were no texts other than Iannarelli's, no community of experts, no section within any crime lab that specialized in this kind of work and no professional organizations or certifying bodies. Besides Mr. Iannarelli there was one other analyst devoted solely to this form of identification. If anyone could claim to be an internationally known ear-print expert it was a police officer from Amsterdam named Cornelius Van der Lugt. It was therefore not surprising that Van der Lugt had examined the McCann murder scene evidence and was the third prosecution expert at the Frye hearing. Van der Lugt had become interested in the ear-print identification field after reading Iannarelli's books in the early 1990s and had since analyzed ear-print evidence in 200 cases in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and several countries in Western Europe. He had testified as an expert in six trials, all of which were in Holland where judges, not juries, determined a defendant's guilt or innocence.

     According to Cornelius Van der Lugt, many suspects when presented with his expert ear-print analysis, confessed and pleaded guilty. In one case a suspect admitted putting his ear to the door but denied breaking in to the structure. Van der Lugt never worked in a crime laboratory, attended college or received any kind of formal training in science. He was certain, however, that David Kunze was the source of the McCann murder latent ear-print. As part of his Frye testimony Van der Lugt praised the work done by Michael Grubb and George Miller in obtaining the seven ear-print exemplars, noting how they had varied the amount of pressure against the ear until the known and crime scene prints looked alike. When asked if ear-print identification as a forensic science was accepted around the world, Van der Lugt said that it was.

     While the Kunze prosecution could not have put on a stronger case for ear-print identification, it was arguably not enough to meet the Frye standards. In other words, at least in theory, Kunze's defense attorney could not win the Frye debate without mounting an anti-ear-print case. Leaving nothing to chance the defense hit back with a dozen impressive witnesses, leading off with Dr. Ellis Kerley, a physical anthropologist and former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Dr. Kerley said it was reasonable to assume that no two ears were the same but he wasn't sure this uniqueness would always reveal itself in a crime scene earmark. He didn't consider Iannarelli's books works of science and didn't approve of Van der Lugt's technique of getting an exemplar to match a crime scene latent by varying the pressure against the suspect's ear. "We don't do that in science...because we're not trying to make them look alike," he said. In Dr. Kerley's opinion ear-print identification had not achieved general acceptance in the forensic science community.

     Andre Moenssens, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, the author of articles and law school texts on forensic science and a former fingerprint expert in Belgium, testified that the "forensic sciences...do not recognize, as a separate discipline the identification of ear impressions. There are people in the forensic science community, the broader forensic science community, who feel that it can be done. But if we are talking about a general acceptance by scientists, there is no such general acceptance....To my knowledge, there has been no investigation in the possible rate of error that comparisons between known and unknown ear samples might produce."

     Following the Frye testimony of ten other recognized forensic scientists who did not consider latent ear-print identification a true science, the judge ruled that ear-print identification had in fact gained general acceptance in the scientific community. The decision was stunning in that it was so out of sync with the weight of the expert testimony. It was certainly bad news for David Kunze because the prosecution had no case without the ear-print evidence.

     The case went to trial on June 25, 1997. The prosecutor chose not to put Alfred Iannarelli on the stand but the jury heard the testimony of state criminalist Michael Grubb and the ear-print guru Cornelius Van der Lugt. The prosecution ear-print analysts were followed to the stand by a jailhouse informant who claimed that Kunze had confessed to him while in custody. The prosecution rested its case without identifying the murder weapon, connecting the defendant to the crime scene through DNA or fingerprints, or linking him to any of the items taken from house.

     For some reason the Kunze defense attorney did not call upon the testimony of Dr. Ellis Kerley, Professor Andre Moenssens or any of the other anti-ear-print Frye witnesses. As a result the jury found David Kunze guilty of aggravated murder, burglary and robbery. The judge sentenced him to life without parole.

      David Kunze appealed his conviction and in 1999 a three-judge panel ruled that "the trial court erred by allowing Michael Grubb and Cornelius Van der Lugt to testify that Kunze was the likely or probable source of the ear latent and that a new trial was therefore required. The appellate court instructed the prosecutor in the second trial not to prejudice the defense by referring to the first trial and the resulting conviction. The appellate judges didn't want the second jury to know that Kunze had been found guilty on the strength of ear-print identification.

     In March 2001, ten days into the second trial, the prosecutor made reference to the earlier conviction. The presiding judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial. The prosecutor, after several jurors announced that had the case gone to them they would have acquitted the defendant, announced that a third trial would not be scheduled. 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Pedro Portugal Kidnapping Case

     Pedro Portugal owned a small accounting and tax firm in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York. On the afternoon of April 18, 2013, as the 52-year-old married father of six walked to his car on Roosevelt Avenue he was approached by a man who called out his name and flashed a police badge. Suddenly this man and an accomplice wearing a ski mask grabbed Mr. Portugal and forced him into a SUV driven by a third man who had his face covered as well.

     The abductors, after placing a cloth bag over the victim's head drove him to an abandoned warehouse in Long Island City, Queens where they had set up a makeshift apartment. Along the way one of the abductors held a knife to Portugal's stomach. They told the victim he would be killed if his mother in Quito, Ecuador didn't pay a $3 million ransom.

     Shortly after snatching the businessman the man who had flashed the fake badge, identifying himself as "Tito," called Portugal's mother with the ransom demand. While the Ecuadorean family owned some property they did not have $3 million in ransom money. Immediately after the initial ransom demand a member of Portugal's family notified the authorities in Ecuador who in turn reported the crime to the New York Police Department.

     The kidnapped man's mother, who demanded proof that her son was alive, spoke to him several times on one of the kidnapper's cellphone. In one of these conversations the victim told his mother that "they're going to hurt me. They're going to cut off my fingers."

     Detectives were able, by tracing the phone calls, to identify three suspects, men with criminal histories who regularly traveled between the U.S. and Ecuador. The New York City Police Department sent five detectives to Ecuador who worked closely with the Ecuadorean police as well as officials with the U. S. State Department.

     In the weeks following the abduction, Mr. Portugal's captors burned his hands with acid, punched him in the face and body and threatened to kill him. In the meantime detectives began surveilling a Long Island City warehouse after a police officer noticed pizza being delivered to the abandoned building. At night officers saw a light coming through a warehouse window.

     On May 20, 2013, six New York City detectives disguised as building inspectors entered the warehouse. Inside they found Mr. Portugal. The abductor guarding the victim fled the building but was arrested a few blocks from the warehouse. The victim, whose hands were bound with nylon rope, said, "I've been kidnapped. They got nothing."

     The suspect arrested near the warehouse was Dennis Alves, a 32-year-old Ecuadorean who lived in Queens. Later that day the police arrested Eduardo Moncayo, a 38-year-old from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Moncayo had been the man with the phony police badge. The third member of the abduction crew, 35-year-old Christian Acuna also lived in the Queens.

     Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown charged the three suspects with kidnapping and first-degree unlawful imprisonment. If convicted all three men faced up to 25 years to life. They were held without bail.

     According to Eduardo Moncayo the mastermind behind the kidnapping was an Ecuadorean named Claudo Ordonez, also known as "Doctor." Ordonez allegedly paid the three-man abduction team $5,000 for the snatch and $800 a week each to guard Mr. Portugal in the warehouse. Mr. Ordonez was currently at large.

     Eduardo Moncayo, in a jailhouse interview with a reporter with the New York Daily News, said, "I made a mistake, but I'm not a criminal." (I don't see how one can mistakenly abduct a man and for a month torture him. That's a crime and the person who commits it is a criminal. People don't go to prison for making mistakes, they go to jail for committing crimes--like this one.)

     In February 2017, Christian Acuna and Dennis Alves, following their guilty pleas, were sentenced to 13 years in prison. The judge sentenced Eduardo Moncayo to the maximum sentence, 25 years behind bars. There were no further arrests in the case.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Professor James Aune Chose Death Over Disgrace

     Dr. James Aune, the holder of a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Northwestern University, joined the faculty at Texas A & M in 1996. He published a book about Rhetoric theory and the First Amendment in 2003 and eight years later was named head of the university's Department of Communication. He lived with his wife in College Station, Texas. The short, pudgy academic with the full beard, long, unruly hair and glasses, cut the figure of the stereotypical college professor.

     In December 2012 a 37-year-old man from Metairie, Louisiana named Daniel T. Duplaisir, under the email address pretty-gurl985@yahoo.com, sent sexually explicit photographs of one of his underage female relatives to Dr. Aune and several other men. The 59-year-old professor took the bait, and with the girl, who called herself Karen McCall, set up a website on MocoSpace.com. Over the next five or six weeks the professor and the girl communicated online. These exchanges included the transmission of sexually explicit photos of each other.

     On January 7, 2013 Daniel Duplaisir, holding himself out as Karen McCall's outraged father, sent Professor Aune a message demanding $5,000 in hush money. The extortionist wrote: "If I do not hear from you I swear to God Almighty that the police, your place of employment, students, ALL OVER THE INTERNET--ALL OF THEM will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent. And if by some miracle you get away with this, I will use every chance I get to make sure every place or person associated with you knows and sees what you have done. Last chance, you better make the right move." Duplaisir demanded the money by January 8, 2013.

     Shortly after he received the extortion demand the professor transferred $1,000 to Duplaisir. In an email to the girl he wrote: "I answered and said I would do whatever he wanted....I sent him $1,000 and then promised more in January. I am scared shitless about this, and can't figure out how to come up with more money."

     At ten-thirty in the morning of January 8, 2013, 90 minutes before Dulpaisir's extortion payoff deadline, Professor Aune sent him the following email: "Killing myself now, and you will be prosecuted for blackmail." One minute after sending the message the 59-year-old professor jumped to his death from the sixth floor of a campus parking garage.

     On March 26, 2013, FBI agents arrested Daniel Duplaisir in Metairie, Louisiana, an unincorporated community within metropolitan New Orleans. The suspect was charged with the federal crimes of using a phone and the Internet to extort money. At his arraignment in a federal courtroom in Houston, Mr. Duplaisir pleaded not guilty to all charges. The judge denied him bail.

     In 2011 the authorities in Louisiana had charged Duplaisir with aggravated incest and oral sexual battery for allegedly abusing the girl Professor Aune thought was Karen McCall.

     In the immediate aftermath of the professor's death his family, friends and colleagues were baffled by the suicide. What was hard to understand in this case is why a man of Professor Aune's intelligence and stature would establish a sexual online relationship with a young girl. As a professor of communications didn't he realize that his exchanges with this Internet personality were quasi-public?

     In November 2013 Daniel Duplaisir pleaded guilty to extortion in a Houston federal courtroom. At his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, professor Aune's wife Miriam testified that her husband had confessed to her a week before he killed himself. She said she found it absurd that a man who was so brilliant could have fallen for a blackmail scheme by a so-called father who was supposedly outraged but would take $5,000 to keep silent. She conceded there was a side to her husband she did not know. He had struggled with alcoholism and had been changed by a bout with prostate cancer. Miriam Aune said she regretted not trying to help her husband raise the rest of the blackmail money. Because of the expense of caring for their two sons with autism that would have been difficult. There was just no money, she said. (Had they paid off this degenerate he would have asked for more.)

     Regarding her feelings toward the man who caused her husband's suicide, Miriam Aune said, "I truly wanted to hate him, I tried very hard to hate him. How much sadness there must be in this man's life. How much anger there must be in his heart."

     Prior to the sentencing hearing, Duplaisir, who had been behind bars eight months, wrote Judge Hughes two letters asking for mercy. "Please do the right thing for everybody," he wrote. "Put me in a mental hospital so I can begin longterm care. I need to stop being so twisted up and lost in my own mind."

     Judge Hughes, noting that Duplaisir had not been charged with causing professor Aune's suicide, sentenced him to one year in prison.

     Professor Aune must have gone through hell between the period of Duplaisir's extortion demand and his suicide. It's tragic that a criminal like Daniel Duplaisir could exploit and destroy a man who was, by all accounts, an outstanding professor. Some people pay dearly for their weaknesses and flaws.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

When in Rome: The Finnegan Lee Elder Murder Case

     In 2016 Finnegan Lee Elder lived with his parents in Mill Valley, California, an upscale suburban community in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 16-year-old was a junior at the $19,000 a year Sacred Heart Preparatory School in San Francisco's Cathedral Hill neighborhood.

     In October 2016, Elder, in a pre-arraigned fight with a fellow member of his school's football team, hurt his opponent when the teen struck his head on the pavement. The injured youth had to be placed into an induced coma. A local prosecutor charged Finnegan Elder with assault. (The disposition of the case, not a matter of public record, was resolved in juvenile court. Finnegan Elder ended up graduating from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley.)

     In July 2019 Finnegan Lee Elder, now a student at Santa Barbara City College, was vacationing in Rome, Italy with his childhood friend, Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth. The young men were staying at Rome's Le Meridien Visconti Hotel.

     At eleven o'clock on the night of July 25, 2019 Elder and Natale-Hjorth were in the Trastevere section of the city, a place popular with tourists and young people. The young Americans were looking for 80 euros worth of cocaine. It was there they met an Italian man named Sergio Brugiatelli and one Brugiatelli's associates. Brugiatelli, a police drug informant, took the cocaine money and departed on foot to acquire the drug, leaving his friend behind with the college students. He also left his bicycle and his backpack that contained his cellphone.

     A short time later when Brugliatelli returned, he handed Finnegan Elder a bag containing ground up aspirin. This led to a heated argument that ended when the two college students grabbed Mr. Brugliatelli's backpack and fled.

     Back at the Le Meridien Visconti Hotel, Finnegan Elder took a call made by Brugliatelli to the cellphone still in his backpack. The drug snitch and Elder agreed to meet on the street near the hotel where Brugliatelli would return the drug money in exchange for his backpack and phone.

     Sergio Brugliatelli had no intention of meeting Elder and Natale-Hjorth in the early morning hours on the deserted street near the college students' hotel. Instead he reported the fraudulent drug transaction and the theft of his backpack to the authorities who dispatched two plain-clothed Carabinieri officers with Italy's military police. The officers showed up at the meeting site to question the two students from America. Neither officer was armed.

     At some point after the police officers confronted the students, Finnegan Elder pulled a serrated-edged combat knife with a 7-inch blade and stabbed 35-year-old police officer Cerciello Rega eleven times. Rega, bleeding profusely, collapsed to the street as Natale-Hjorth scuffled with Rega's partner, Anorea Varriale.

     Following the knife attack Finnegan Elder and Natale-Hjorth fled the scene while officer Varriale attended to his bleeding partner. Officer Rega died a few hours later at a local hospital.

     Back at the hotel Elder cleaned off the knife he had brought in his luggage from California. Natale-Hjorth hid the weapon in a hotel room ceiling panel.

     Later that Friday Italian police officers arrested Elder and Natale-Hjorth at their hotel. They were both charged with the murder of officer Cerciello Rega. The American college students were held without bail at Rome's Regina Coeli Prison.

     When interrogated, Finnegan Elder, in admitting stabbing officer Rega, claimed self defense. He said that he believed the two officers were thugs sent by Sergio Brugiatelli. Natale-Hjorth told his interrogators he had no idea his travel companion had brought a knife to Italy.

     If convicted as charged, both defendants faced life sentences. (Italy does not have the death penalty.)

     The Elder/Natale-Hjorth murder trial got underway on February 26, 2020 in Rome, Italy. At this point, due to media coverage of the case, public opinion was strongly against the defendants. Two judges presided over the trail that included a panel of six jurors. Finnegan Elder's parents were in the courtroom and planned to stay in Italy for the duration of the trial. The first few days of the proceeding were taken up with procedural issues.

     On March 9, 2020 the judges postponed the Elder/Natale-Hjorth murder trial for five weeks due to the Coronavirus crisis in the country.
     Two years after the trial postponement both defendants were found guilty of murder. The judges sentenced Elder to 24 years in prison and Natalie-Hjorth to 22 years behind bars. Both men appealed their convictions which were upheld by a higher court. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Dr. Jon Norberg's Nightmare: False Accusations of Rape

    Dr. Jon Norberg, an orthopedic surgeon in Fargo, North Dakota who specialized in hands, elbows and upper extremities was estranged from his wife Alonna, a former pediatrician who suffered from Sjogren's Syndrome, a rare immune system disorder. In 2011 the couple, in their early 40s, were in the midst of a contentious divorce and child custody battle. In June of that year Dr. Alonna Norberg filed a complaint with the Fargo Police Department in which she accused her estranged husband of endangering her life by repeatedly and without her consent injecting her with the powerful anesthetic drug propofol. (This drug gained notoriety after Michael Jackson overdosed on it in 2009.) According to Mrs. Norberg, Dr. Norberg had injected her with the drug thirty times between September 2010 and June 2011. The complainant also accused her husband of rape. She told detectives that on the morning of June 17, 2011 she awoke to discover physical evidence that her husband, while she was under the influence of the drug, had forced her to have oral sex. She found on the nightstand next to the bed a bottle of Diprivan (a propofol brand).

     On August 2, 2011 a prosecutor with the Cass County State Attorney's Office charged Dr. Jon Norberg with gross sexual imposition, a class AA felony that carried a maximum sentence of life. For injecting his wife with propofol the surgeon was also charged with reckless endangerment, a class C felony that could put him in prison for up to five years. As a result of these criminal charges Dr. Norberg took a leave of absence from his medical practice. (The State Board of Medical Examiners would later suspend his medical license indefinitely.) Following his arrest, arraignment and release from custody on bail Dr. Norberg pleaded not guilty to both charges.

     On November 7, 2012 Cass County prosecutor Reid Brady, in his opening remarks to the jury, said, "At the end of this case you will know that the defendant defied dangerous risks by unsafely using propofol on his wife. You will know that he obsessed with sex so much that he perpetrated sex acts on her when he knew she was unaware."

     Defense attorney Robert Hoy, in his opening address to the jury, said that Alonna Norberg had concocted the drug and rape allegations to get the upper hand in the couple's divorce and child custody battles. The defendant had injected his wife with the drug three times to alleviate her pain from Sjogren's Syndrome and to help her sleep.

     Two days into the trial Dr. Alonna Norberg took the stand as the prosecution's principal witness. For two days she gave in a breathless manner graphic and dramatic testimony of being constantly drugged, and on the one occasion raped under its influence. "I remember," she said, "looking around thinking I've got to get up and I got to get away...It was just true true horror because I was choking and I couldn't get his mouth away, I couldn't get my body away."

     Following her testimony Alonna Norberg walked out of the courtroom and did not return to the trial. On November 14, 2012 Robert Knorr, Alonna's father, took the stand and testified regarding an October 28, 2012 meeting he had with Dr. Norberg at the defendant's request. At this meeting in a Fargo restaurant, Dr. Norberg suggested, for the benefit of all parties, that his estranged wife recant her accusations. According to this witness the defendant had said, "She could either say that it was a dream or that she was lying or that she didn't remember." Mr. Knorr believed the defendant thought it would be in the best interest of the entire family if this matter did not go to trial. The witness said, "I told him there was no way that was going to happen." Following Robert Knorr's testimony the state rested its case.

     Under defense attorney Robert Hoy's direct questioning Dr. Harjinder Virdee, a Fargo psychiatrist with 35 years experience, painted a psychiatric portrait of the defendant's accuser that undermined her credibility. Dr. Virdee had spent more than 100 hours reviewing Alonna Norberg's extensive medical history comprised of hundreds of documents. The psychiatrist had also conducted a five-hour interview with the former pediatrician. According to the witness, Alonna was a compulsive nonstop talker who dominated the session.

     Regarding Alonna Norberg's accusations against her husband, it was Dr. Virdee's expert opinion that they were false. The accuser's description of what happened to her was simply too detailed and graphic to ring true. A person under the influence of the drug propofol could not recall what had happened to them is such detail.

     According to Alonna Norberg's medical file, she had been diagnosed with more than fifteen mental illnesses and disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder; anxiety; histronic and narcissistic personality traits; depression; violent mood swings; and chemical dependency. At no time in the past decade had Alonna Norberg been taking fewer than twenty medications. Occasionally during this period she was ingesting more than fifty different drugs at one time. Many of these prescriptions involved opioid medication such as the addictive oxycodone. "She's got everything," Dr. Virdee said. "If you go through her medical notes there are umpteen diagnoses in the records. It jumps from one thing to another, one [doctor's] visit to the next. She is ill, she is psychiatrically ill."

     Based upon her review of Alonna Norberg's vast psychiatric history, Dr. Virdee added a new diagnosis. In Dr. Virdee's medical opinion, Alonna Norberg suffered from what the psychiatrist called fictitious disorder, a condition or personality trait in which people either fabricate symptoms or intentionally produce symptoms to gain attention and sympathy. (This sounds a lot like the Munchausen Syndrome Disorder.)

     On cross-examination prosecutor Reid Brady pointed out that Dr. Virdee was the first doctor to diagnose Alonna Norberg with the syndrome called fictitious disorder. "I'm the only doctor," she replied, "that has reviewed all the records as well. It's hard to wonder how she became a physician if she can't tell the difference between all these drugs. Her credibility is very low."

     Kori Norborg, the defendant's sister-in-law, took the stand and testified that Alonna's accusations were motivated by her fear that because of her drug addiction she would lose custody of the couple's two children.

     In his closing argument to the jury, defense attorney Hoy said, "There is not one shred of physical evidence to support their [the state's] case. Everything else...originates with Alonna Norberg. Desperate people do desperate things."

     On November 21, 2012, the day before Thanksgiving, the jury after a quick deliberation found Dr. Jon Norberg not guilty of both charges. Given the circumstances surrounding these accusations the charges should never have been filed in the first place. 

     In March 2013, a Fargo judge granted Dr. Norberg primary custody of his children. Five months later an official with the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners reinstated his medical license.