More than 4,460,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Curtis Reeves Murder Case

     From 1961 to 1963, Curtis Reeves, Jr. served as a Navy machinists' mate on a submarine. Following his honorable discharge he drove a truck and worked in a warehouse. In the mid-1970s Reeves became an officer with the Tampa Police Department. He retired, at the rank of captain, in 1993 at the age of 51. In the 1980s officer Reeves helped launch the police department's first SWAT team, a unit he eventually headed.

     After retiring from police work, Reeves took a job with the security department at the Florida theme park, Busch Gardens. When he left that position in 2005 he was director of security.

     In 2003 Reeves and his wife moved into a sprawling ranch-style home in the community of Spring Lake near Brooksville, Florida. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle and was a member of the Mountainview Estates crime stoppers organization. Reeves and his wife had two grown sons, one of whom was an officer with the Tampa Police Department.

     On Monday, January 13, 2014, Curtis Reeves and his wife attended the 1:20 PM showing of "Lone Survivor" at the Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel, a suburban community a few miles south of downtown Tampa. Sitting nearby was 43-year-old Chad Oulson and his wife Nicole.

     During the showing of the previews before the start of the feature presentation, Reeves became annoyed when he saw Mr. Oulson texting. When the ex-cop asked Oulson to stop that activity, Oulson ignored the request. After Reeves complained further, Oulson explained that he was texting his young daughter.

     Reeves, furious over the texting, left his seat to notify theater staff regarding this breach of moviegoing etiquette. When he couldn't find anyone in authority to complain to, Reeves returned to his seat. At that point Mr. Oulson made a derogatory comment regarding Reeves' attempt to report him to theater employees. The two men argued which prompted Mr. Oulson to throw a bag of popcorn at Reeves.

    When hit by the popcorn, Reeves pulled out a .380-caliber pistol and shot Chad Oulson in the chest. The victim slumped over in his seat. The bullet that entered Oulson's body first hit his wife in the hand as she tried to hold her husband back. Mr. Oulson tried to speak but couldn't as blood seeped from his mouth. Another theatergoer applied CPR while others called 911.

     An off-duty Tampa police officer who happened to be in the theater approached Reeves who sat quietly in his seat with the pistol on his lap. When the officer asked Reeves to hand over the weapon, Reeves refused. Following a brief scuffle, Reeves calmed down and gave up his gun.

     Reeves' son, the Tampa police officer (who was off-duty) entered the theater about the time his father shot Mr. Oulson. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance crew rushed Mr. Oulson to a Tampa area hospital where doctors pronounced him dead. His wife Nicole was treated for the bullet wound to her hand.

     When deputies with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office arrived at the theater to take the 71-year-old shooter into custody, they advised the suspect of his Miranda rights.  Reeves told the officers that the man he had shot had struck him with an unknown object. In fear of being assaulted, he pulled and fired his gun.

     Charged with second-degree murder, Reeves made his first court appearance on Tuesday, the day after the shooting. His attorney, Richard Escobar, asked the judge not to set bond due to the fact his client, with all of his ties to the community, was not a flight risk. "The alleged victim attacked him," the defense attorney said.

     The judge, noting that being struck by an unknown object did not call for the use of a handgun, denied bail. During the arraignment, a Pasco County prosecutor said that a woman named Jamira Dixon had come forward with information regarding her recent encounter with Mr. Reeves. According to Dixon, Reeves had become enraged three weeks earlier when he saw her texting in the same theater. Dixon said he glared at her throughout the movie, and followed her out of the room when she got up to use the restroom.

     If convicted as charged, Curtis Reeves could be sentenced to life in prison. In his case, a ten-year sentence would probably have the same result.

     In August 2015, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa, in a hearing on the case, made the comment that the right to a trial is not a right to a perfect trial. The Reeves defense took exception to this remark and following a backlash, the judge recused himself from the case.

     Following one delay after another due to changes in Florida's stand your ground law, a doctrine applicable to the Reeves case, the new judge, Susan Barthle, postponed the trial again until the Florida Supreme Court sorted out conflicts in the application of the stand your ground doctrine. A new trial date was set for February 2019 then postponed again.

     As of July 2019, the five-year-old case has still not come to trial.
   
     

Manner of Death Mistakes

    Death cases aren't always what they appear to be. A recent American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology article analyzed a decade's worth of death investigations in Fulton County [Atlanta], Georgia. The researchers found that death investigators and forensic pathologists disagreed on the manner of death in 12 percent of those cases. Twenty times, death investigators overlooked evidence such as strangulation marks, bullet wounds, and knife wounds and recorded those cases as natural or accidental deaths, only to have the pathologists conduct autopsies and discover that they were homicides. In one case, a driver inadvertently struck a pedestrian. The collision was tying up traffic and it was raining, so the investigator did a perfunctory examination before removing the body and classifying it as an accident. Pathologists later identified multiple gunshot wounds to the victim's head. By then, valuable time and evidence were lost.

     Alternately, in twenty-one cases, death investigators reported homicides that proved to be accidents, suicides, or natural deaths.

John Temple, Deathhouse, 2005

Tough Cases

When a detective looks back on a life of crime fighting, it is natural that the hard cases, the big mysteries, the complex investigations, are those that are remembered best….Crime is seldom simple and the harder the case, the more impact it makes on your life.

Les Brown and Robert Jeffrey, Real Hard Cases, 2006

Execution by Sword

Because primitive execution by the sword depended so much on the ability or willingness of the victim to remain motionless and unflinching, and also on the dexterity and accuracy of the executioner, the method was eventually phased out [in the mid-1600s]. The public spectacle of the decapitation, the headless corpse and gushing blood, became so abhorrent to society that Germany, like many other European countries, adopted the system of hanging its criminals behind prison walls, and the fearsome, blunt-tipped execution swords were honorably retired to museums.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 2001

Thornton P. Knowles On The Human Condition

If you're interested in the human condition, don't ask a philosopher, sociologist, psychiatrist or psychologist. These people don't know anything. Talk to a plumber.

Thornton P. Knowles

Writer Envy

    It used to be like a fever with me, a compulsion, a madness: to go into a bookstore, head straight for the brand-new books, flip right to the back of the jacket and see if the author was young or old, my age or even--rats!--younger. Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. It festers in one's mind, distracting one from one's own work, at its most virulent even capable of rousing the sufferer from sleep to brood over another's triumph.

     Envy is the green-eyed beast. It is a sickness; it is a hunger.... It takes what was most beloved--reading books, writing them--and sours it, a quick drop of vinegar into the glass of sweet milk. Even friendships aren't exempt.

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994
  

A Pair of Eyeball Cases

The Eye-Popping Witness

     A fight broke out outside the New Princeton Tavern in northwest Philadelphia during the early morning hours of August 18, 2011. John Huttick, a former bouncer at the drinking establishment, told the police that Matthew Brunelli, the bar's 23-year-old cook, punched him in the left eye with a metal key protruding from his fist. The 48-year-old man lost the eye.

     Matthew Brunelli, who denied hitting Huttick with the key, went on trial for aggravated assault in February 2013. While on the stand testifying for the prosecution, Huttick's $3,000 prosthetic eyeball popped out of his head. The witness was able to snatch the flying eyeball out of the air with his hand. Two jurors seated a few feet away from Huttick gasped at the sight and rose to their feet in horror. The common pleas judge halted the proceeding and declared a mistrial. Mr. Huttick assured the judge that he had not intentionally ejected his glass eye for sympathy.

     On March 13, 2013, as the second jury listened to the prosecution's star witness, his prosthetic eyeball remained in its socket. That jury acquitted the defendant of aggravated assault. (Mr. Hattick has filed a civil suit against Mr. Brunelli.)

The Mystery of the Abandoned Eyeballs

     Just before noon on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, a worker at a Conoco service station in Kansas City, Missouri found something odd in a medical cooler sitting on top of the station's trash bin. In the cooler the employee saw a cardboard box labeled, "keep refrigerated." When he opened the box, the service station worker found a pair of eyeballs staring up at him. (Okay, I made up the staring at him part.)

     A surveillance camera video revealed two men in a blue Toyota with Nebraska license plates leaving the medical cooler on the trash container. There's an eye bank a few miles from the service station, but no eye banks or hospitals in the area reported that they were awaiting an eyeball delivery. The eyes remained in the possession of the Jefferson County Medical Examiner's Office.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Dead Pedophile and One Less Pimp

     When frustrated citizens come to believe the criminal justice system is failing them--police focusing on the wrong crimes, prosecutors making too many plea deals, and judges issuing light sentences--there is a chance people will start enforcing the law themselves. Some will do it for self-protection, others for revenge, and still others to make their communities safer for everyone. Because the nation's rates of violent crime are low compared to earlier times, this is not about to happen on a large scale. But parents of elementary school children are concerned about the pedophiles that are living in our neighborhoods. And parents of teen-age girls have a lot to worry about, particularly in the era of social media, and widespread drug use.

One Less Pimp

     Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado lived with their four children in the Bayview District of San Francisco not far from Candlestick Park. Gilton, 38, had been a San Francisco Municipal Railway operator since 2008. A year ago, the couple's 17-year-old daughter (who has not been identified by name) ran off to southern California. The worried parents went to the police but (according to them) received little help. They added their daughter's name to several exploited children's registries which failed to produce results.

     Gilton and Lupe Mercado began seeing their daughter's name and photograph in internet escort service ads. They also learned she was being pimped out by 22-year-old Calvin Sneed, a member of the Nutty Block Gang in Compton, California.

     Detectives in southern California believe that the parents, on May 27, 2012, tracked Sneed to Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. That night, according to the police, Gilton approached Sneed on foot as the suspected pimp sat in his Toyota Camry, and, using a 9-millimeter pistol, fired nine shots into his car. Although he wasn't hit by any of the bullets, Sneed received injuries from shards of glass from his windshield.  His girlfriend drove him to the hospital where he refused to cooperate with the police.

     On June 2, while the 17-year-old girl and the pimp were in the Bay area to visit one of her sick relatives, she and her parents, who were still trying to get her away from Sneed, argued. Two days later, at two in the morning, someone using a .40-caliber Glock handgun shot Sneed four times as he drove his Camry in the Bayview District near Gilton and Mercado's home. Later that morning, he died in a nearby hospital. The police believe Gilton shot the alleged pimp from his Mercedes-Benz SUV.

     Shortly after Calvin Sneed was shot to death, police arrested the girl's parents. Gilton and Mercado have been each charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They are each in custody under $2 million bail. Their daughter is living with relatives.

     Prosecutors usually come down hard on murder defendants who have taken the law into their own hands. The message they want to send is this: leave law enforcement to the authorities. If everyone acted this way, no one would be safe. The authorities, aware that some in the community applaud people who take the law into their own hands, want to deter this kind of behavior.

     Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado, due to delays and procedural appeals, have not been tried as of July 2019.

A Dead Pedophile

     It happened on a Saturday in June 2012 on a ranch off County Road 302 near Shiner, Texas, a small town 130 miles west of Houston. Ted Smith (not his real name) and his family were hosting an afternoon barbecue. Mr. Smith had hired a 47-year-old Mexican man he knew to take care of the horses and do other chores on the day of the get-together.

     When the 23-year-old rancher heard cries of help coming from his barn, he found the hired-man sexually molesting is 4-year-old daughter. Ted Smith, with his bare hands, killed the pedophile on the spot. After saving his daughter, the rancher called 911.

     The Lavaca County sheriff, Micah Harmon, told reporters that it was unlikely Mr. Smith would be charged with criminal homicide. "He told me," the sheriff said, "that it wasn't his intent for this individual to lose his life. He was just protecting his daughter."

     The case was being investigated by the Texas Rangers. A local resident expressed the prevailing opinion in the community when he said, "I think he [the molester] got what he deserved." If the father is charged with criminal homicide, I can't image any jury finding him guilty.

     The killing in Texas is different from the one in California. The killing of the pedophile wasn't premeditated like the murder of Calvin Sneed. Stalking and killing a pimp is not the same as finding a man molesting your daughter. If the parents in California are found guilty, they could face long prison sentences. It would be an outrage if the authorities in Texas even charged Mr. Smith.

     The authorities in Lavaca County, Texas released the tapes of the 911 call from the father who beat his daughter's molester to death. (The dead man was identified as Jesus Mora Flores, a Mexican national working in the U.S. on a permanent resident card.) The father, obviously distraught, and on the verge of panic, said, "I need an ambulance. This guy was raping my daughter and I beat him up and I don't know what to do. This guy is fixing to die on me man, and I don't know what to do."

     A Lavaca County grand jury decided not to indict the father. District Attorney Heather McMinn told reporters that "under the law, deadly force is justified to stop a sexual assault....All the evidence indicated that is what was occurring."

Thornton P. Knowles On The Creativity Curse

There are those who create and many more who live off what they create. While there are few who create wealth, there are many who simply count the money, invest it, or simply keep it safe. There are those who create art in all its forms. These works in turn create editors, critics, agents, dealers, producers and publishers. Many creative people consider these noncreative functionaries as parasites who exploit their talent. Some of these support practitioners believe that what they do is more important than the art itself. Like many creative writers, I resent the fact I can't get my manuscripts on the desk of an editor without a literary agent. Moreover, I don't like working with editors, and loath literary critics. And what's more vacuous than a publicity agent? They say that being creative is a gift. I think that being creative is a curse. It's not the editors, agents, and publishers who kill themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles  

Charles Bukowski On Artists

Artists were intolerably dull, and near-sighted. If they made it they believed in their own greatness no matter how bad they were. If they didn't make it they still believed in their greatness no matter how bad they were. If they didn't make it, it was somebody else's fault. It wasn't because they didn't have talent; no matter how they stank they always believed in their genius. They could always trot out Van Gogh or Mozart or two dozen more who went to their graves before having their little asses lacquered with Fame. But for each Mozart there were 50,000 intolerable idiots who would keep on puking out rotten work. Only the good quit the game.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town