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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Joseph L. Miller: A Murderer Brought to Justice Too Late

     In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 12, 1959, 23-year-old Joseph Lewis Miller blasted John and Donna Lumpkins with a 12-gauge shotgun. Mr. Lumpkins died of his injuries on July 4 of that year. Donna Lumpkins, his wife, survived her wounds.

     On January 22, 1960, Joseph Miller pleaded guilty to the John Lumpkins murder and the attempted murder of the victim's wife. The judge sentenced Miller to life in prison. Throughout the late 1960s, Miller made several requests to have his life sentence commuted. On February 9, 1971, Miller got his wish when Governor Raymond P. Shaffer granted his motion. After serving 11 years and 6 months behind bars, Miller began his life as an ex-con on lifetime parole. Governor Shaffer's decision in this case would end up costing another man his life. (Whenever a politician commutes a sentence in a case that did not involve injustice, the politician is saying that he knows better than the judge who issued the original sentence. Politicians are not that smart, or wise--hell, they're politicians!)

     On January 15, 1981, Miller, at age 45, shot Thomas Walker to death in the parking lot outside a Harrisburg bar. After being charged with murder and several firearms violations a month later, Miller was nowhere to be found. He became a fugitive from justice.

     In 2010, in the northeastern Texas town of Mineola, Miller, a deacon in the New Life Family Baptist Church, married a 58-year-old member of the congregation named Gennell. He was 74-years-old and living under the name Eugene Eubanks. Miller, a wanted killer, had established himself as a pillar of the community. But he was a man with a secret.

     In the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, a team of U.S. Marshals showed up in Mineola with a warrant for the longtime fugitive's arrest. The marshals took Joseph Miller, aka Eugene Eubanks, into custody and booked him into the Wood County Jail where he would await his extradition back to Pennsylvania. According to Miller's wife Gennell Eubanks, Eugene suffered from early stage Alzheimer's Disease and arthritis. He also had been having problems with his heart.

     After the marshals hauled her 78-year-old husband off to jail, Gennell Eubanks told a reporter from Pennsylvania that she had not known her husband's real name. Regarding the shooting death of Thomas Walker in 1981, she said, "Eugene said it was an accident. He was trying to protect his brother, because a man was trying to kill him. I believe my husband. He wasn't trying to kill that man; it just happened. He isn't going to lie to me," she said, "because he is a deacon. He was trying to do what's right." As Miller was being taken out of his house in handcuffs, he said this to his 62-year-old wife: "Take care of yourself, and trust in the Lord. He will see you through."

     Miller had not told Gennell Eubanks about his 1959 murder of John Lumpkins and the shooting of the victim's wife. Gennell had no idea her husband of four years had spent more than eleven years in a Pennsylvania prison. This deacon knew how to keep a secret. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Entertainment Value of High-Profile Criminal Trials

     A court room isn't quite a theatre, but there's something inherently dramatic about it all the same….Ever since the dark ages of the Salem Witch Trials, court proceedings have been public affairs. Trials represent the goal of governmental transparency. It makes sense that a crime against society should be tried before the eyes of that same society. But somewhere along the line, that public interest became public entertainment. Trials began to be televised, in a slightly edited fashion. Commentary on trials came to resemble the commentary on a major sporting event. For high profile cases, crowds gather outside court rooms in hopes of getting a seat in the gallery. [American's first high-profile trial, the Webster-Parkman case, took place in Boston in 1850. Since then there have been hundreds of such judicial spectacles and dozens of "Crimes of the Century."]

     Last year the floodgates opened completely and the line between reality TV and the criminal trial became blurred in…the trial of Jodi Arias, then accused of the murder of  her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was streamed in its entirety on Youtube. The only censored information was the sidebars. Prosecutor Juan Martinez actually signed autographs outside the court house, and posed for pictures with "fans" who traveled from across the globe to attend the lengthy trial….

"10 of the Most Entertaining Criminal Trials,", March 13, 2014      

Criminal Justice Quote: Another Mother Drives Into the Water To Drown Her Children

     Police say Joann Smith, 49, of Florence Township, New Jersey, sped off a boat ramp into the Delaware River on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. She's charged with three counts of attempted murder and three counts of endangering the welfare of children.

     A man driving on West Front Street in Florence saw the sinking vehicle and ran out to help Smith and her three children, ages 15, 14, and 13, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said. One of the children came away from the capsized van with a cut leg.

     Smith was checked into a medical facility for evaluation. Her bail was set at $600,000….The incident comes after another mother was accused of driving a minivan into the Atlantic Ocean with her three children in Daytona Beach, Florida on March 4, 2014….

Gabe LaMonica, "Van With Children Hits River; Mother Charged," CNN, April 17, 2014 

Writing Quote: Handling Criticism of Your Work

A negative response from your readers--especially when they've taken the time to be conscientious about it--is always a shock. It's like getting kicked in the behind while bending over to pick up a penny. It's not the kick that hurts, it's the humiliation of having bent over for the penny. True, your voice may not quiver when you're thanking them for their honesty. Your hands may be steady when you're opening that letter of advice from the editor you've always admired. [Who admires an editor?] You may even be able to agree with your favorite author when he tells you that he thinks your new book isn't half as interesting as the last one you wrote. But your whole face is on fire, there's a roaring in your ears, and behind your pleasant "uh-huh" stands an infuriated, tic-faced person demanding to know...(1) how you could allow these half-wits near your best work; (2) why you ever thought you could get away with calling yourself a writer; or (3) how you're ever going to write again. In fact, the difference between the writer who's going to add up to something in a few years and the writer who's not may have less to do with the quality of the work than with the way each one handles criticism. [Still, it's the quality of the work that counts. If you're no good, quit.]

Laura Hendrie, "What to Do About Criticism," in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, editors, 2002 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Con Artist

     Ever since the Snake first talked Eve into tasting the apple, the con artist has been practicing his art; the art of confidence. Confidence is the key, because once you gain people's confidence you can manipulated them. In con artists' parlance, that person becomes a mark--also known as a sucker, dupe, john, green, and rube…ready to be played in a confidence game, big or small. In Genesis, the Snake was practicing what is known as a short con--a confidence game where the con artist only comes into contact with the mark once. A con game that requires the con artist and mark to come into contact more than once is known as the long con.

     In the modern era, traditional distinctions like these are increasingly out of date, because most scams and cons take place without any contact with the mark whatsoever. Email, telemarketing, and even text-messaging are the media though which con artists mainly practice today, but many of the con games they employ are simply variations of themes established long ago.

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Pamela Phillips Car Bomb Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1986, Gary Lee Triano, a well-known real estate developer in Tucson, Arizona, made the mistake of his life when he married 28-year-old Pamela Phillips. Triano had made millions investing in bingo halls and slot-machine parlors in Arizona and California. He made his fortune before Congress authorized Native Americans to open full-blown gambling casinos.

     In 1992, when Triano was broke, his wife of six years divorced him. The couple had two children together. Shortly after the breakup Phillips took out a $2 million insurance policy on her ex-husband's life. She moved to Aspen, Colorado where she began working as a real estate agent. It was there she met and began dating a 44-year-old man named Ronald Young.

     In 1994, Gary Triano filed for bankruptcy. He was $25 million in debt. He told his girlfriend in July 1996 that someone had been following him.

     At 5:30 PM on Friday, November 1, 1996, after playing a round of golf at the Westin La Paloma Country Club with his friend Luis Ruben, Triano climbed behind the wheel of his 1989 Lincoln Town Car . Eight minutes after pulling out of the country club parking lot, the vehicle exploded and burst into flames. The blast killed Triano instantly.

     Investigators determined that someone had wired a large black powder pipe bomb to Triano's car. Detectives had no idea who had murdered Triano. They questioned his ex-wife but didn't consider Phillips a suspect in the bombing. Without promising leads, the case quickly went cold.

     In November 2005, nine years after the car bombing murder of the ex-millionaire, Tucson detectives caught a break in the form of an anonymous tip. According to the tipster, Pamela Phillips had paid Ronald Young $400,000 to murder her ex-husband. He had  been compensated out of the $2 million life insurance payout.

     FBI agents in Florida uncovered information connecting Young and Phillips in the Triano murder plot. The evidence included incriminating emails between the hit man and the mastermind, detailed records of their business transactions, meetings, and even recorded telephone calls in which the two discussed the murder plot.

     Ronald Young, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, went into hiding and became a fugitive.

     In September 2006, FBI agents raided Phillips' house in Aspen, Colorado. On her computer agents found evidence of her involvement in her ex-husband's murder. However, before she was taken into custody, the murder-for-hire suspect fled the country and took up residence in Austria.

     Gary Triano's two children, in November 2007, sued Pamela Phillips and Ronald Young for the wrongful death of their father. (The plaintiffs were awarded $10 million in damages two years later.)

     On October 2008, FBI agents, after Ronald Young was featured on the TV show "America's Most Wanted," arrested him in California. The suspected hit man was now 66-years-old. Upon his extradition to Arizona  he was booked into the Pima County Jail. The judge set his bond at $5 million. Young pleaded not guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder.

     A jury, in March 2010, found Ronald Young guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without chance of parole.

     In December 2010, the authorities in Austria agreed to extradite Phillips to the U.S. on condition she would not, if found guilty, be sentenced to death. Prosecutors in Arizona agreed to this condition and the fugitive was sent home to face trial.

     The Pamela Phillips murder-for-hire trial got underway in February 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. Prosecutor Nicol Green portrayed the defendant as a cold-blooded gold digger who hired a former boyfriend to kill Mr. Triano for the life insurance money.

     Defense attorney Paul Eckerstrom painted his client as a victim of overzealous law enforcement. As a successful real estate agent in her own right, the lawyer claimed she didn't need Triano's insurance money. Regarding the $400,000 she had paid Ronald Young, Eckerstrom characterized the transaction as payment for Young's help in various business ventures.

     In speculating who may have bombed Triano's Lincoln Town Car, attorney Eckerstrom said, "Gary Triano lived on the edge, the financial edge….He borrowed a lot of money from all sorts of people, many people who might be connected to organized crime."

     On April 8, 2014, the jury found Pamela Phillips guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. The judge will sentence her on May 22, 2014. 

Criminal Justice Quote: NYC Police Officer Kills Old Man Armed With Shotgun

     Police shot and killed a man in Queens Saturday, April 12, 2014 after he shot and killed his daughter. Authorities say an 86-year-old man called 911 saying that he had shot his daughter and her dog with a 12-gauge shotgun, and that he wanted to kill himself.

     Police officers responding to the scene on 38th Street in Long Island city found the man with the shotgun and ordered him to put it down, but he turned the gun toward them, prompting officers to shoot and kill him.

     Sources say the man's daughter was found with a shotgun wound to the head and was pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital….The dog, a brown Yorkshire Terrier, is being treated by the ASPCA for a neck laceration. It is expected to survive.

"Police Shoot and Kill Elderly Queens Man After He Kills Daughter," NY1 News, April 12, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Easter Egg Party Goes Violent

     An Easter Egg decorating party that went very wrong led a Brookline [Pennsylvania] man to pelt his girlfriend with hard-boiled eggs before attempting to stab Pittsburgh police officers with a sword….[That would have gotten him killed in a lot of places.]

     Aaron Goempel, 27, was awaiting arraignment in the Allegheny County Jail for his arrest on aggravated assault charges stemming from the domestic violence disturbance shortly after midnight, Sunday, April 20, 2014. Police say they responded to reports of a fight inside a Wareman Avenue apartment and found a woman whose right eye was red and swollen. She told three officers that when accusing Goempel of cheating on her, he became agitated and began hurling eggs at her. He barricaded himself in the bedroom with an exercise machine against the door….

     Once officers got through the door, Goempel reached for a row of knives and swords atop the dresser. Police got him under control and took him to a cruiser, where they said he started yelling racist obscenities at one of the officers and then kicked another in the groin.

     According to court records, Goempel's criminal record includes guilty verdicts for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness dating to 2008. He awaits trial on charges of harassment, prowling, assault and traffic violations.

Carl Prine, "Egg Decorating Turns to Fight, Charges in Brookline, Police Say," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 20, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Arresting Police Rough Up an Old Man

     An Elderly Missouri man dialed 911 and asked for an ambulance to come and help his ailing wife. Instead, the police showed up, threw him to the ground, sat on his head and handcuffed him. He later received stitches for his injuries. "I never had anybody jump on me for doing nothing," said the man, Elbert Breshears of Humansville, Missouri….

     The trouble began after Breshears called to get help for his wife, who suffers from dementia. He asked for paramedics to come provide assistance to her after she knocked out one of their home's windows. The Humansville police arrived first, however. According to Breshears, an officer tackled him right away, then barked at him to stand up. "He told me to get up," recalled Breshears. "I told him I couldn't."

     Officers threw him into a pile of gravel and sat on his back and head as they attempted to handcuff him. Breshears pleaded with the officers to get off him. "I told them I can't get my hands up to where you can handcuff me. If you let me up you can handcuff me," he said. "I got no objection to being handcuffed."

     A doctor had to sew up his head and removed gravel from his wounds.

     Breshear said that he has had trouble with police in the past. A spokesperson for the police declined an interview with local reporters, but did say that the man is facing charges for abusing his wife, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Breshears claims the charges are ridiculous. "I didn't hit my wife," he said. "I've lived with the woman for 47 years. I love the woman. I can't help what she does," he added, referring to her dementia.

     The wife was taken away from her home and is now under professional care. Breshears plans to sue the police.

Robby Soave, "Elderly Man Calls for Ambulance, Violent Cops Beat Him Instead," The Daily Caller, April 21, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The NYC Toll Thief

     …..Rodolfo Sanchez, 69, is accused of stealing from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) by crossing the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and entering the Midtown Tunnel without making a toll payment on more than four thousand occasions by "piggybacking" on cars directly in front of his cab….

     In order to pass the toll plaza before the gates closed, Sanchez tailgated other paying drivers while they entered the bridge….From August 2012 to April 2014, Sanchez snuck onto the bridge and ducked a total of more than $28,000 in toll payments….Sanchez said he did this to save money for his family….

     Sanchez was caught with the help of an expired E-ZPass transmitter in his cab. Investigators matched the tracking data from the transmitter to video footage of taxi cabs ducking tolls and to cab company records of when Sanchez was on duty. He is charged with grand larceny, theft of services and criminal possession of stolen property. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison….

Rida Ahmed, "NYC Cab Driver Tailgated Through 3000 Toll Booths, Avoided Paying More Than $28,000," The New York Times, April 19, 2014