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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. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Modern History of The Death Penalty

     While the death penalty is still lawful in 27 states, only Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas actually execute their death row inmates. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the death penalty itself amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

     Since the mid-1980s the states that carry out the death penalty have used lethal injection as the principal method of execution. Considered a more humane way to kill condemned prisoners than its predecessors the electric chair and the gas chamber, the use of drugs instead of electricity and lethal gas is more a matter of appearance--aesthetics if you will--than concern for the condemned.

     From 1976 through 2023, 1,392 state and federal inmates were executed by lethal injection. Four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia--still allow death row prisoners to choose between deadly drugs and the electric chair.

The Electric Chair

     On August 6, 1890 William Kemmler, a convicted murderer serving time at New York's Auburn Prison, earned the distinction of becoming the first person in America to die in the electric chair. The state of Ohio followed New York by replacing hanging with electrocution in 1897. Massachusetts adopted the chair in 1900, New Jersey in 1906 and Virginia in 1908. By the 1930s most of the death penalty states used the electric chair as the primary method of execution. The other states killed their death row inmates by gas, by firing squad or by rope. The state of Kansas continued to hang its prisoners into the early 1960s.

     The state of Nebraska was one of the last jurisdictions to employ the electric chair as its sole method of killing murderers. In February 2008 the practice ended when the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that electrocution was in itself cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the state's constitution.

The Electric Chair's Golden Era

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician from Long Island, the official executioner for six eastern states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For his work he charged $150 an execution. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more inmates at one prison visit he discounted his fee. Some of Elliott's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936) the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray (1928) the killers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927) the Italian anarchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Mr. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Agent of Death. The book came out in 1940. Long out of print it is today in the libraries of true crime book collectors.

Electrocuting Fat People

     In 1981 Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old's death house attorney argued that the 355-pound inmate was too heavy for the state's 76-year-old electric chair. Since its construction in 1923 the Florida state electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners. In recent years the chair had been involved in some unsightly executions. For example, death house witnesses in 1997 saw flames shoot from a condemned man's head. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair. The new device could easily handle a 355-pound guest. On July 8, 1999 the executioner sent 2,300 volts through the metal cap on the fat man's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a little groaning, but the new chair did its job.

The Gas Chamber

     Death in a gas chamber usually took six to eighteen minutes. The execution ritual began with the condemned inmate being led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by his arms, waist, ankles and chest. A mask was placed over the prisoner's face and the chamber sealed. The executioner poured sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor, a canister that contained cyanide pellets. The mixture of the chemicals produced a cloud of lethal gas.

     An open curtain allowed witnesses to observe the inmate inside the chamber. At the designated moment, the executioner hit an electric switch that combined the chemicals that produced the killing agent.

     The gas chamber was an expensive form of execution. Moreover, one could argue that because the condemned man contributed to his own death by breathing in the gas, it was the most cruel. Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of death row inmates to the state of Nevada in 1921. That year state legislators abolished the electric chair in favor of the gas chamber. On February 8, 1924 a Chinese immigrant named Gee Jon became the first person in America to be executed by gas. He died in the chamber inside the Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City.

     Eventually adopted by eleven states as the official method of execution, lethal gas killed 594 prisoners in the U.S. from 1924 to 1999.

The Caryl Chessman Case

     Caryl Chessman was an armed robber and serial rapist who spent most of his adult life behind bars. In 1948 a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping and rape. Among his crimes he had kidnapped a 17-year-old girl named Mary Alice Meza out of her car and forced her to give him oral sex. He committed a similar offense against another victim, Regina Johnson. Under California law at the time a kidnapping that involved bodily injury was a capital offense. Under this law the judge sentenced Chessman to die in the gas chamber.

     Following his highly publicized trial Mr. Chessman continued to argue his innocence through essays and books. His two memoirs, written behind bars, became bestsellers. During his twelve years on San Quentin's death row he filed dozens of appeals and managed to avoid eight execution dates. Following his failed last-minute attempt to avoid death with a writ of habeas corpus filed with the California Supreme Court, Caryl Chessman died of asphyxiation on May 2, 1960 in San Quentin's gas chamber. He is the only person to die in the gas chamber for a crime other than murder.

Lethal Injection

     By the 21st century state executioners were injecting death row inmates with a three-drug cocktail that included pentobarbital. When the European manufacturers of this deadly drug stopped exporting it and other killing agents to the United States, executioners found themselves in a fix. Some began using a single drug--usually pentobarbital if they had it--while others concocted new experimental cocktails made of drugs available in the United States.

     Anti-capital punishment activists used the lethal drug supply problem to further their push to have the death penalty abolished altogether. But for these crusaders, if it wasn't the inhumanity of using untested drugs, it was something else. Death house attorneys and political activists objected to executing prisoners who, when they committed their murders were under eighteen; were fat with hard-to-find veins; who had low I.Q.s; and in the case of a Missouri murderer named Russell Bucklew, wasn't healthy enough to be humanely executed.

The Clayton Lockett Case

     In 1999 an Oklahoma criminal named Clayton Lockett tortured then buried alive an 18-year-old girl who had been unfortunate enough to cross this predator's path. On April 29, 2014 the executioner at the state penitentiary in McAlester administered a three-drug cocktail of Midazalam (to render him unconscious), Vecuronium (to stop his breathing) and potassium chloride (to stop his heart).

     Seven minutes after the drugs went into Lockett's body he was still conscious. He moved his head and tried to get off the gurney seventeen minutes into the execution. Finally, 43 minutes after being injected, the 38-year-old died of a heart attack. It wasn't a perfect well-oiled killing, but in the end the drugs worked.

     By describing Lockett's death as torture, a horrible ordeal and a nightmare, death house lawyers, anti-capital punishment crusaders and people in the media who supported their cause, exploited Lockett's "botched" execution for all its worth. Suddenly executing a sadistic rapist and cold-blooded murderer by lethal injection became cruel and unusual punishment. For those who were not losing sleep over Clayton Lockett's bumpy ride into eternity, listening to this hand-wringing amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Back to Bullets

     In 2014 politicians in Utah, Wyoming and Missouri proposed bringing back the firing squad. In Utah legislators abolished death by firing squad in 2004, citing the excessive media attention surrounding this form of execution. Still, murderers sentenced before 2004 had the option to die by shooting. In 2010 Ronnie Lee Gardner, a man who fatally shot a Salt Lake City attorney in 1985 in Gardner's attempt to flee the court house, selected the firing squad over lethal injection. Five police officers used .30-caliber Winchester rifles to carry out Gardner's execution. Unlike Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Mr. Gardner died instantly. Nevertheless, those who opposed capital punishment fretted that the executioners might miss their target causing a slow and painful death. There was, however, a simple solution to this problem: give each executioner two bullets.

The Return of the Electric Chair

     On May 22, 2014 Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam signed a bill allowing the state to electrocute death row inmates in the event the state was unable to acquire the proper drugs for the execution. Lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed the bill the previous month with most people in the state supporting the new law. According to a 2014 Vanderbilt University poll 56 percent of registered voters in the state welcomed the return of the chair.

     Corrections officials in Tennessee were also dealing with the lethal drug shortage. Electricity, on the other hand, didn't come from Europe and was in good supply.

     In Tennessee, Daryl Holton, in 2009, was the last man in the state to die in the electric chair. In 1997 the Gulf War veteran murdered his three sons and a stepdaughter with a high-powered rifle in their Shelbyville, Tennessee garage. Death by electrocution was his choice of execution.  

Monday, June 10, 2024

Sirgiorgio Clardy: The Sociopath From Hell

     Sirgiorgio Clardy bounced from one foster home to another in Portland Oregon because even as a kid no adult could handle him. In 2000 when he was thirteen he attacked his foster dad with a baseball bat. Clardy also threatened and attacked teachers, school administrators and classmates. He took brass knuckles to school and once tried to sexually assault a female student.

     By 2013 the 26-year-old Clardy had been convicted of twenty felonies that included crimes such as forcing young women to work as prostitutes, assault and robbery. When police officers arrested him he'd threaten to rape their wives and children. When he wasn't incarcerated Mr. Clardy made everyone who come into contact with him miserable, including the teenaged girls he forced into prostitution. This brutal pimp had no business living outside of prison walls.

     In the summer of 2012 several 18-year-old prostitutes, against their will, were doing business for Clardy out of the Inn at the Convention Center, a motel on the edge of downtown Portland. During the course of that operation a john tried to leave the motel without paying one of Clardy's prostitutes. Clardy caught the john before he left the motel. The pimp knocked the free-loader off his feet then stomped his face. With the john on the ground bleeding, Clardy took all of his money. It took plastic surgery to repair the damage to the assault victim's face.

     Police officers arrested Clardy shortly after the attack. A Multnomah County prosecutor charged the violent pimp with compelling prostitution, first-degree robbery and second-degree assault. The suspect pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     In the months leading up to Clardy's trial he threatened and spit on several lawyers appointed to represent him. Eventually Judge Kelly Skye, realizing that no lawyer wanted to be near this man, declared that he would have to defend himself with the help of a legal advisor who would not be required to sit next to him in court. After awhile even the legal advisor asked the judge to be relieved from the unsavory assignment.

     In July 2013, not long after Clardy's trial got underway in Portland's Multnomah County Circuit Court, the defendant spit on sheriff's deputies and threatened the judge. The next day deputies rolled the defendant into court handcuffed to a wheelchair. To keep him from spitting on people the defendant's head was covered in a mesh bag. Because Clardy refused to get dressed for trial officers had wrapped him in a suicide smock.

     A few days into the trial, notwithstanding the presence of nine deputy sheriffs, Judge Skye ordered the defendant into another courtroom where he'd watch the proceedings on a video monitor. The judge considered the defendant too disruptive to be physically present at his own trial.

     The jurors concluded Clardy's two-week trial by finding him guilty of all charges. At the sentencing hearing a few days later the prosecutor put Dr. Frank Colistro on the stand. The psychologist, in practice for thirty years, said, "I've evaluated serial murderers, serial rapists and I'm going to tell you very few of those people reached the evaluation scores we're going to talk about here."

     According to the forensic psychologist Mr. Clardy was in the 100th percentile of the narcissistic psychopath scale. "People like Mr. Clardy," the doctor said, "are born bad. It's not something we can fix. That's why we have prisons."

      At the trial prosecutor had put Dr. Colistro on the stand to counter the defendant's claim that he heard voices and wanted to kill himself. Dr. Colistro testified that Clardy exemplified the textbook case of an anti-social psychopath, a man who thought he was smarter, more attractive and better than anyone else. According to Dr. Colistro, Sirgiorgio Clardy was not mentally ill. He was evil.

     Judge Judy Skye, based upon Sirgiorgio Claudy's violent past, criminal record, courtroom behavior and psychological evaluation declared him a "dangerous offender". People so designated, if given the chance, would offend again. As someone beyond the reach of rehabilitation, Judge Skye sentenced Clardy to 100 years in prison with no chance of parole until he served 36 years. Clardy, upon hearing his sentence, swore at the judge and threatened the deputy sheriffs.

     In January 2014, from his cell at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Clardy, through a handwritten, three-page complaint, filed a $100 million civil suit against, among others, Phil Knight, the chairman of the Nike Company. Clardy based his tort claim on the theory that Nike, on each shoe, does not provide a label that warns users that stomping a person's face while wearing this Nike product could cause serious injury to the stomped person. As a result of the defendant's omission the plaintiff experienced "great mental suffering".

     Clardy's lawsuit, the product of sociopathy in the extreme, was dismissed by a judge on October 2, 2014. 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Ray Gricar: The Missing District Attorney

The Ray Gricar Missing Person Investigation

     In Bellefonte, Pennsylvania at 11:30 in the morning of Friday, April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the 59-year-old district attorney of Centre County, the home of Penn State University, called his live-in girlfriend to inform her he was on a pleasure drive through an area in the region called Penns Valley. Twelve hours later his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, called 911 and reported him missing.

     The next day Mr. Gricar's red Mini Cooper was found parked near an antique mall in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 55 miles east of Bellefonte. The interior of the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Gricar, who didn't smoke, didn't like that smell. The car had been locked and Gricar's cellphone was inside. According to a Lewisburg shop owner whose antique store Gricar had patronized in the past, the district attorney, on the day he left Bellefonte was walking around the mall with a tall, dark-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s. Investigators made no effort to identify and question this woman. Because this information wasn't published until 13 months after the district attorney's disappearance the police received no help from the public in identifying this possible witness. By the time the story came out the case had grown cold.

     In July 2005, three months after Ray Gricar drove off in his Mini Cooper and didn't return, his county-issued laptop was found in the Susquehanna River not far from the abandoned car. Three months after that the hard drive turned up in the same area of the river. Water had damaged it to the point that no data could be retrieved.

     Following the recoveries from the river the investigation of Gricar's disappearance, conducted by the Bellefonte Police Department (the Pennsylvania State Police didn't want the case and the FBI wasn't involved) ground to a halt. In the summer of 2008, with Ray Gricar still missing and no clues as to what happened to him or where he was, two of his colleagues, Bob Buehne Jr., the district attorney of Montour County and prosecutor Ted McKnight of Clinton County, held a press conference in Lewisburg where Gricar's vehicle had been found. Both men were highly critical of the Gricar missing person's investigation. The neighboring prosecutors said they couldn't understand why the information about Gricar and the mystery woman at the mall hadn't been made public until May 2006.

     On April 14, 2009, four years after Ray Gricar's disappearance, investigators discovered that someone using the missing man's home computer had, shortly before he went missing, searched the Internet on "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer." Assuming Mr. Gricar had made these inquiries, one of the more innocent explanations behind the Internet search was that Gricar, in contemplation of his retirement in nine months, wanted to clear his computer before handing it back to the county. This didn't explain, however, why the computer and hard drive ended up in the river. A more ominous motive was that before killing himself Mr. Gricar wanted to destroy data he didn't want anyone to see.

     On July 25, 2011 at the request of Ray Gricar's daughter, a Centre County judge declared him legally deceased.

Theories of Ray Gricar's Disappearance

     There are three schools of thought regarding what happened to Ray Gricar. He could have been murdered, committed suicide or walked off to start a new life under a different identity. The two most popular murder theories featured a mistress who lured him to the Susquehanna River where he was murdered by the woman's husband. The second murder scenario involved a criminal murdering the district attorney out of revenge. Since prosecutors are rarely murdered by people they have prosecuted or planned to put behind bars, the latter theory was the most improbable.

     Suicide seemed more likely than murder in this case. Ray Gricar's brother, Roy J. Gricar, committed suicide in May 1996 by jumping off a bridge over the Great Miami River near West Chester, Ohio. If Ray Gricar had jumped from a bridge across the Susquehanna River, what were the chances his body would have been found? Some believed the odds were great that his body would have been recovered. Others disagreed. To have an opinion on this question, one would have to know the ins and outs of the Susquehanna River.

     The so-called "walkaway" theory, that Mr. Gricar walked-off to start a new life under a new identity, while quite intriguing, didn't make much sense. For one thing he didn't clean out his bank account and drove off without tying up a lot of loose-ends. Following his disappearance there were more than 300 false sightings of him. Those who subscribed to the walkaway theory pointed out that Mr. Gricar had been fascinated by the 1985 disappearance of an Ohio police chief. Inside the chief's car, parked near Lake Erie, searchers found his wallet and his badge. They never found the chief's body. Some of those who believed that Mr. Gricar was still alive believed he could be hiding out in the federal government's witness protection program. (This possibility is out of the question because prosecutors are not eligible for the program.)          

Ray Gricar, The Man

     Ray Frank Gricar was born on October 9, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Gilmour, a prestigious Catholic high school in Gates Mills, Ohio. In 1966 while attending the University of Dayton he met his future wife, Barbara Gray. They were married in 1969. After graduating from Case Western Law School in Cleveland Mr. Gricar started his career as a prosecutor in northwest Ohio's Cuyahoga, County.

     In 1980 the couple and their daughter Lara moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania when Barbara landed a job at Penn State University in nearby State College. Shortly after that David Grine, the district attorney of Centre County, hired Ray as an assistant prosecutor. Five years later Mr. Gricar ran for the office of district attorney and won.

     Barbara and Ray divorced in 1991, and five years later Ray married his second wife, Emma. Following a tumultuous marriage he and Emma divorced in 2001. Two years later Ray Gricar moved in with Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's Office who lived in a section of Bellefonte called Halfmoon Hill. By April 2005, having served several terms as district attorney, Ray Gricar was planning to retire in nine months.

     Although a private, somewhat distant person, District Attorney Gricar's colleagues considered him an outstanding career prosecutor with high ethical standards. Because he never had political ambitions beyond the district attorney's office he was not, according to his legal colleagues, subject to political pressure or influence. On a personal level he was known as a bit of a ladies' man.

Ray Gricar and the Jerry Sandusky Pedophilia Case

     In May 1998 when Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State University and active in his organization for troubled youth called The Second Mile, two 11-year-old boys told their parents that coach Sandusky had fondled them in the Penn State locker room showers. The mother of one of the accusers contacted Detective Ronald Schreffler with the University Police Department. Shortly after receiving the complaint, Mr. Schreffler, on a pretext, got Mr. Sandusky to meet the mother at her house where she confronted him about his being nude in the shower with her son. With the detective in the next room recording the conversation the boy's mother asked Jerry Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. Sandusky did not deny showering with her son. Regarding the arousal question, he said, "I don't think so--maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

     A child psychologist who interviewed the boy concluded that his account, and coach Sandusky's response to the mother's interrogation indicated to him that he was "likely a pedophile." A second psychologist, Dr. John Seasock, after analyzing the same information came to a different conclusion.

     On June 2, 1998 District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute the Penn State football coach. Four years later, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, took the stand at Sandusky's sexual abuse trial and described how the coach had lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." Ronald Schreffler, later with the Department of Homeland Security, testified in June 2012 that he had wanted Ray Gricar to prosecute Sandusky in 1998 but was overruled.

     Had Ray Gricar prosecuted Jerry Sandusky for indecent assault, corruption of a minor and child endangerment, more victims, ones Mr. Sandusky had raped, might have come forward. Even if they hadn't, the district attorney would have exposed a pedophile within the Penn State system.

     In 1999 Jerry Sandusky retired from Penn State. He was awarded the title professor emeritus and given an office in the football building. He had full access to all of the sports facilities and used this access and his youth organization to attract and molest young boys.

     If Ray Gricar was not murdered or was still alive, he must have killed himself. The question was, did his decision not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky weigh on his conscience and play a role in his suicide? Between the time the prosecutor closed the case on Sandusky and his disappearance, Mr. Gricar must have been aware that accusations against the coach were still being made. Did he have regrets? Was he second-guessing himself?

     On June 23, 2012 a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky guilty of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of fifteen years. The judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.

     People who have had access to Ray Gricar's papers say there was no reference in them to Jerry Sandusky. If this were true, whether or not Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia and Ray Gricar's disappearance were in any way connected will remain a mystery.

     On April 13, 2018, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania State Police Troop G announced that a new investigator, Trooper Dana Martini, had been assigned to track down leads in the 13-year-old Gricar disappearance. 
     As of August 2022, Ray Gricar remains missing and is presumed dead.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

A Raped Woman's Revenge

     Nevin Yildirim lived with her husband and two children, ages two and six, in a village in southwestern Turkey. In January 2012 her husband left home to work at a seasonal job in another town. Shortly after Mr. Yildirim began working at the other place, a 35-year-old member of the village named Nurettin came to Nevin's house and raped her. This married father of two threatened to shoot Nevin's children if she reported the crime.

     By August 2012, after months of being raped on a regular basis by Mr. Nurettin, Nevin Yildirim was five months pregnant with his child. When she visited a clinic regarding an abortion a health care worker informed her that her pregnancy was too far along for that option. In Turkey abortions were illegal after the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

     On August 28, 2012, when Mr. Nurettin came to Nevin's house to rape her again she pulled her father-in-law's rifle off a wall rack and shot him. As the wounded Nurettin reached for his handgun to return fire, Nevin shot him again. Hit with the second slug he tired to run but stumbled and fell. As he lay on the ground cursing her she fired a third bullet, this one into his genitals. The rapist went silent and a few seconds later died where he lay in a pool of his own blood.

     The woman who had just killed the man who for months had been raping her laid down her rifle and picked up a kitchen knife that she used to decapitate him. She picked up the detached head by the hair and carried it to the village square. To a group of men sitting around a coffee house, Nevin, still gripping her rapist's head as it continued to drip blood from the base of the severed neck, said, "Here is the head of the man who played with my honor."

     As the coffee house drinkers looked on in horror, Nevin Yildirim tossed her blood trophy. The severed head rolled along the ground and came to rest in the public square. A short time later a local police officer took the blood-splattered woman into custody.

     A few days after the killing, in speaking to her court-appointed lawyer who came to the local jail, Nevin reportedly said, "I thought of reporting [Nurettin] to the military police and to the district attorney, but this was going to make me a scorned woman. Since I was going to get a bad reputation, I decided to clean my honor, and acted on killing him. I thought of suicide a lot, but couldn't do it. Now no one can call my children bastards....Everyone will call them the children of the woman who cleaned her honor."

     On August 30, 2012 at the preliminary hearing on the charge of murder, Nevin Yildirim told the magistrate she didn't want to keep her rapist's baby and that she wished to die. The public prosecutor advised the court that he had ordered psychiatric evaluations of the defendant.

    Nevin Yildirim gave birth to her rapist's child on November 17, 2012.

     On March 25, 2013 the district judge found Yildirim guilty of murder. Before he handed down the sentence the judge ordered police officers to remove feminist protesters from the courtroom.

     After clearing the courtroom of protesters the Turkish judge imposed the maximum punishment of life in prison. Among women in Turkey and others around the world the verdict and sentence created an uproar. Had Nevin Yildirim committed the exact crime in the United States she would have been charged with second or third-degree murder. Her attorney would have had the option of putting on either an insanity or battered woman defense. If found guilty her punishment would not have been anything close to life behind bars. In the U.S. a case like this would likely be resolved through the plea bargaining process that would lead to much lighter sentence.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Ronnie Lee Gardner: The Last Man To Die By Firing Squad

     On the night of October 9, 1984 in Salt Lake City, 24-year-old Ronnie Lee Gardner was under the influence of cocaine when he held up a bar and killed the bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom, by shooting him point blank in the face. The twice-convicted robber netted $100 from the deadly hold up.

     Three weeks after shooting the bartender to death police officers arrested Gardner at his cousin's house in Salt Lake City. Officers booked him into jail on the charge of capital murder. The judge set Gardner's bail at $1.5 million.

     On April 2, 1985, as Mr. Gardner was being escorted through the underground garage on his way to an upstairs courtroom, he managed to get his hands on a firearm someone had left hidden in the garage for him. The moment he displayed the gun in the courtroom a guard shot him in the chest. Although wounded, Ronnie Lee Gardner shot a bailiff in the stomach.

     As the armed and wounded Gardner tried to flee the building he encountered two attorneys and shot one of them in the eye. A dozen police officers surrounded the armed prisoner before he could leave the courthouse. When he dropped the gun officers took him into custody. The lawyer he shot died a little later in the hospital. The bailiff survived.

     Ronnie Lee Gardner was rushed to a local hospital where he recovered from his gunshot wound.

     In October 1985 Mr. Gardner pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to death.

     Two years later, inmate Gardner broke a glass partition in the prison's visiting area and had sex with a woman who was visiting him. The other prisoners barricaded the doors and cheered Gardner and his partner on.

     In 1994, while still housed at the state prison in Draper, Utah, Gardner got drunk on alcohol he fermented in his cell and stabbed a fellow prisoner named Richard "Fats" Thomas. Thomas survived the attack.

     Gardner's death house attorneys, citing their client's troubled upbringing, petitioned to have his death sentence reduced to life in prison. In 2010 the governor of Utah denied the commutation request. Gardner's lawyers appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost.

     Out of legal remedies, Ronnie Gardner requested that he be executed by firing squad. He said he sought this method of execution because of his Mormon background. It had been 14 years since anyone in the country had been executed this way.

     On June 18, 2010, the state of Utah, pursuant to Ronnie Gardner's request, executed the 49-year-old by firing squad. He was the last condemned prisoner in the United States to be executed by bullet.