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Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Jesse Dimmick Murder Case

     Jesse Dimmick and another man were suspects in the September 7, 2009 beating death of 25-year-old Michael Curtis, a murder that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The authorities arrested the other man, but Dimmick remained at large. On September 12, 2009, police in Kansas encountered Dimmick driving through the state in a stolen van. Dimmick refused to pull over, and a high-speed chase ensued.

     In Dover, a suburb of Tokeka, Dimmick crashed the stolen vehicle near a house occupied by Jared and Lindsay Rowley. To hide from the police, Dimmick forced his way into the newlywed's home and held them hostage at knife-point.

     To calm the armed intruder, the Rowleys fed him Cheetos and Dr. Pepper as he watched the movie "Patch Adams." The terrified hostages  promised that when Dimmick left the house, they would not call the police. Later that night, when he fell asleep, the Rowleys slipped out of the dwelling.

     A short time after the hostages escaped, the home invader awoke to the sounds of a Topeka SWAT team storming into the dwelling. Officers cornered Dimmick in the bathroom and wrestled him to the floor. In the course of the scuffle, a police sergeant's AR-15 accidentally discharged. The bullet entered Dimmick's back as he lay face-down on the floor. The officer, a 21-year veteran of the force, was placed on a three-day leave of absence for not having the rifle's safety on.

     In May 2010, a jury in a Shawnee County, Kansas court found Dimmick guilty of two counts of kidnapping. The judge sentenced the defendant to eleven years in prison.

     The Rowleys, in October 2011, sued Jesse Dimmick for causing them emotional stress. At the time, Dimmick was incarcerated in the Adams County Jail in Brighton, Colorado awaiting his trial in the Michael Curtis murder case. The victims of the home invasion were seeking $75,000 in damages. A month later, Dimmick filed a counter-suit against his former hostages in which he sought $235,000 in damages. Dimmick accused the Rowleys of breaching their oral contract not to notify the authorities. Because he couldn't find a lawyer to take his case, Dimmick represented himself in the action. His damages were based on medical bills related to the police caused gunshot wound and his pain and suffering as a result.

     In January 2012, a Shawnee County judge dismissed Dimmick's counter-suit against the Rowleys. Eight months later, Dimmick was back in court, this time as a plaintiff in a civil action against the Topeka Police Department. Based on his assertion that he had been seriously injured as a result of Sergeant Guy Gardner's negligent handling of the AR-15, Dimmick was asking the city to reimburse him $185,000 for his medical bills, $150,000 for future economic loss, and $100,000 for his pain and suffering. In this civil action, Dimmick had professional legal representation.

     On September 13, 2012, the civil case jury, after deliberating two hours, found that the Topeka SWAT officer had not been negligent or at fault in Dimmick's accidental shooting. The jurors obviously did not want this plaintiff to benefit in any way from his invasion of the Rowley home.

     A Kansas appeals court, in September 2012, upheld Dimmick's kidnapping conviction.

     In May 2013, Dimmick pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Michael Curtis murder case. The Adams County, Colorado judge sentenced him to 37 years in prison.

     The following month, Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis dismissed the Rowley lawsuit against Jesse Dimmick on procedural grounds. The Rowleys were free to refile the action. 

Some People Should Not Have Children

     For encouraging their one-year-old daughter to play with a .40-caliber handgun, which was recorded on a mobile phone, an Evansville, Indiana couple are in trouble with the law. Police arrested the young couple on charges of child neglect and recklessness…

     Michael Barnes, the 19-year-old father of the baby, was initially arrested for trying to sell an illegal weapon to an undercover cop. Police eventually discovered the incriminating video in Barnes' cellphone. The baby was playing with the gun, including placing the muzzle into her mouth. The father was recorded encouraging his daughter by saying, "Bang. Bang. Bang. Shoot that thing fat baby."... Tori Wilson, the 22-year-old mother of the child, also instructed the infant to say "Pow. Pow."…

"Indiana Couple Jailed for Filming Toddler With Gun in Mouth,", January 11, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Taking Creative Chances In Fiction

If you don't have the guts to gamble, to take chances with your creativity, you have no business writing a novel. If you're not a creative risk-taker, go write a feel-good piece for your local newspaper. You know, how Mable down at the library, for her three cats, knitted Christmas sweaters featuring tiny bells and images of Santa stuffing his face with a fruit cake. The piece could be called, "Is Santa Diabetic?" Sorry.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Literary Novel: The Fartsy/Artsy Genre

     In true crime, biography, and other types of nonfiction, I prefer the narrative form. In other words, I like nonfiction that reads like a well-plotted novel. In my opinion, writers who have succeeded in this form include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, and Joseph Wambaugh. In fiction, I like crime writers who know how to plot and tell a good story. In this group I include Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake, Evan Hunter, Lawrence Block and Thomas H. Cook.

     People read out of curiosity and the desire to be told a compelling story. This is probably why critically acclaimed literary novelists, authors who disdain drama and a good story, are not widely read. I don't think they deserve to be.

     A tip to readers: avoid novels that have won literary awards--they almost always stink. And stay away from literary novels bearing glowing cover blurbs from other literary writers.

Sore Loser Sues Casino

     A businessman who lost $500,000 on table games at a Las Vegas casino on Super Bowl weekend is arguing that he shouldn't have to pay because he was blackout drunk. Southern California gambler Mark Johnston, 52, is suing the Downtown Grand for loaning him the money and serving him drinks when he was visibly intoxicated. Nevada law bars casinos from allowing obviously drunk patrons to gamble and from serving them comped drinks….

     Johnson says he was thoroughly drunk during the hours he spent playing pai gow and blackjack at the Grand. His legal team plans to rely on eyewitness testimony and surveillance video to prove that he was visibly intoxicated. Johnston lives in Ventura and made his fortune in car dealership and real estate ventures.

"Gambler Sues Casino, Says He Lost $500,000 Playing Drunk," CBS, Associated Press, March 6, 2014 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Franciscan Friar Daniel Montgomery Murder Case

     Daniel Montgomery grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a town outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from Catholic high school, he studied religion in the midwest, and became a peace activist. In 1994, the 28-year-old joined the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order. An odd, socially awkward man with a volatile temper and a foul mouth, Montgomery didn't get along with his church colleagues and superiors.

     In July 2002, after being bounced from one church to another, the misfit friar ended up in Cleveland at St. Stanislaus located in the city's Slavic Village neighborhood. Montgomery didn't fit in well at St. Stanislaus either. He offended fellow friars, parishioners, and the 68-year-old pastor of the church, William Gulas, affectionately known as "Father Willie." After three students accused Daniel Montgomery of touching them inappropriately, Father Gulas, in late November 2002, informed the troubled friar that he was being transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Friary in Cedar Lake, Indiana. (Sounds like a case of passing the trash.)

    At nine in the morning of December 2, 2002, when extinguishing a fire in Father Gulas' rectory office, firefighters stumbled upon his corpse. When questioned that morning by the police, Montgomery said that when the fire broke out, he had been asleep in his second-floor bedroom. A ringing telephone awoke him at which time he smelled smoke, then called 911. After trying to put out the fire, Montgomery fled the church without realizing that Father Gulas was in the burning first-floor office.

     On the day after the St. Stanislaus fire, the Cuyahoga County Coroner announced that the blaze had not killed Pastor Gulas. Someone had shot the priest in the chest, then torched his office.

     On December 8, 2002, detectives brought Friar Montgomery in for further questioning. Following what evolved into a seven-hour interrogation, Montgomery confessed to murdering the St. Stanislaus pastor. The friar had been angry about being transferred to the church in Indiana. He had gone into the pastor's office that morning to ask Father Gulas to vacate the order. According to Montgomery, upon entering the pastor's office, he had said, "I can't [expletive] take it anymore." The angry friar then shot Father Gulas in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver he had purchased the day before from an employee of a neighborhood convenience store. (This person has never been identified.)

     After killing the pastor, Montgomery dropped the revolver (which was never found) and walked down the hall where he acquired the red butane lighter he used to ignite papers on Father Gulas' desk. After setting the fire, Montgomery returned to his room and fell asleep. A call from a parishioner woke him up.

     A Cuyahoga County grand jury, in January 2003, indicted Daniel Montgomery on the charge of aggravated murder. Nine months later the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser homicide charge in order to avoid the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to 24 years to life. He began serving his time at the state prison in Marion, Ohio.

     In the spring of 2011, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named John P. Martin decided to look into Montgomery's case. (Montgomery was now maintaining his innocence.) The journalist's investigation led to a four-part Inquirer series published in July 2011. Pursuant to his claims of innocence, Montgomery, through his new attorney, Barry Wilford, had filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in order that the case could go to trial. Attorney Wilford based his argument for reopening the murder case on three principal points: The prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence; interrogators ignored signs that Montgomery was confessing falsely; and his defense attorney, Henry Hilow, did not provide him with the best defense.

     Problems in the prosecution's case against Montgomery included the fact the police never recovered the murder weapon. On the charred floor of Pastor Gulas' office, fire investigators found an open toolbox that once contained $1,600 in bingo proceeds. Father Gulas kept the padlocked box in his office safe. On the morning of the murder, a parishioner who supposedly had financial problems, was seen coming out of the pastor's office. Assuming this is true, could this man have committed the murder? Another mystery in the case involved the fact that Pastor Gulas' cellphone ended up in the hands of a convicted drug dealer.

     On the issue pertaining to the adequacy of Montgomery's defense, attorney Wilford argued that his client had not wanted to plead guilty. To back up this claim, Wilford cited parts of two letters Montgomery had sent to attorney Hilow months before his guilty plea. In a letter dated February 23, 2003 in which Montgomery asked to meet again with the psychiatrist who had examined him shortly after the murder, wrote: "I was in a state of schizophrenia that produced severe delusions in my thinking, causing me to make false statements on December 8, 2002 at the police interrogation. At that time I was suffering from delusions of grandeur that perhaps if I was no longer to be a Franciscan, then I was to be a martyr for a sinner, the killer and arsonist who committed the crime." On July 7, 2003, Montgomery had written: "I am firmly convinced that I must plead my innocence and follow God's law, which is above human law." (I have no idea what that means in the context of this case.)

     At the July 2011 hearing to determine if the Gulas murder case should be reopened, and a trial convened, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Salem Awadallah argued that there was nothing in Montgomery's motion to justify setting aside his guilty plea and going to trial. She pointed out that Montgomery had failed a polygraph test that had been arranged by attorney Wilford. The prosecutor noted that while the Cleveland police interrogation lasted seven hours, no evidence has been presented showing that Montgomery's confession had been coerced. (I presume he was given his Miranda rights. In 2002, detectives in Cleveland did not routinely record their interrogation sessions.)

     Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg, on December 31, 2012, denied Daniel Montgomery's motion for a murder trial. She did not accompany her ruling with a written decision. Whenever an educated, adult defendant confesses and pleads guilty, without strong evidence of a false confession, or equally powerful evidence that someone else has committed the crime, the conviction will stand. In this case, Daniel Montgomery had failed to overcome the presumption of his guilt.

     In April 2013, the judge sentenced Daniel Montgomery to 24 years to life.

The "Crusading" Journalist

I find much to admire in America's history of crusading journalists, from the pamphleteers to the muckrakers to the New Journalists of the 60s to the best of today's activist bloggers. At their best, their fortitude and passion have stimulated genuine reforms. [Most modern "crusading" journalists, in my view, are nothing more than political hacks posing as journalists. Beware of the so-called crusading journalist. I like the rare journalist who simply reports the facts.]

Bill K. Keller, The New York Times, October 27, 2013

The Creatively Awful Romance Novel

     Novels that are entertainingly bad are rare. To be creatively awful, a work of fiction must be riveting in its stupidity, include hilarious syntax, and be breathtakingly overwrought. One source of such books are romance novels written by profoundly untalented people gifted with the lack of insight into their literary incompetence. Such deliciously horrible writing can be occasionally found in self-published novels or works produced by vanity presses.

     What follows are excerpts from a romance novel written by a prolific author whose identity is not revealed. I've changed characters' names to conceal the identify of this uniquely bad but hilarious piece of writing. The novel is long out of print and I doubt even its author would recognize the following quotes:


 "Welcome to your humble abode," a hooded intruder said with a trace of Spanish accent. He was sitting in a chair, facing the door with a revolver in his hand. Dressed casually, he could have been mistaken for a tourist, except for the black hood with holes cut out for the eyes, nose and mouth.

 He barely heard her, his Latin blood boiling and his loins already igniting.

Everyone's face dropped to the ground.

Paul groaned and Jane echoed him. "Oh crap!" she vociferated, causing him to chuckle.

She felt so alone, so energized, and a tiny bit embarrassed as the mental flames of fire overtook her faculties.

If only just one of them could have foreseen the future, the unforeseen might have been averted.

Merely thinking about the possibilities kindled a spark that fanned into a blaze, sweeping through his lower extremities.

However, at the present, her head was in the clouds and her libido was vibrating on a high frequency.

Once inside, Todd made his way to the refrigerator and started pulling out foodstuffs.

"Good luck," came the acrimonious response as Jim waved himself out of the office.

When he returned, Janice was standing in the kitchen whipping up eggs, toast, fruit and coffee.

Nancy stood there wide-eyed, her hand clutching her heart and holding her breath.

The shadowy snake character was such a chameleon that no law agency in the world had a picture of this guy. He was a true master of disguise and slippery as a reptile. He could just slither away into a crowd and change his facade within seconds.

As his nimble fingers toyed with one opulent breast, and then the other, she floated into the land of utopia, never dreaming that making love could be so utterly resplendent.

She wore a Spanish bolero blouse over a pair of loose, pleated slacks, an obvious invitation for debauchery.

Transferring his seed to her was like the dramatization of a celestial awakening, bonding them together for eternal life.

They lay a long time copying each other's facades to memory....

As his lips moved down to her bloated nipples, she responded with intense ardor, courageously searching for his manhood. Would he have to leave the priesthood?    

Shoddy Legal Work

     In October 2008, at the request of the Allegheny County Solicitor (Pittsburgh, PA), the Institute for Law and Policy Planning conducted a study of the Allegheny County Public Defender's Office. In its report, the Institute, citing lost files, delays, lack of training, poor case preparation, and lousy management, concluded that the public defender's office was "dysfunctional" and wasting millions of taxpayers' dollars. This study came three years after the county signed a settlement agreement related to a class action sit filed by the ACLU in 1996 alleging that the public defender's office performed shoddy defense work, had excessive caseloads and lacked trained staff. As a result of this settlement, the office, among other measures, doubled its staff of attorneys and hired thirteen investigators. The settlement ended in 2005, but problems in the public defender's office--lost files, excessive continuances, lack of preparation, management problems, and lack of attorney incentives to perform well--have, according to its critics, continued.

     The quality of legal services for criminal defendants generally, across the country, has for years been classified by critics as inadequate and substandard. Moreover, many jurisprudence scholars think there are too many third-rate law schools and too many unqualified lawyers practicing in the criminal justice system.

     In a recent New York Times article, Clifford Winston, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that the licensing requirement that practicing lawyers must graduate from American Bar Association accredited law schools and pass state bar examinations has not protected clients from shoddy legal work and incompetence. (This article is based on the author's new book, First Thing We Do, Let's Deregulate All The Lawyers) Winston asserts that the licensing requirements/restrictions, rather than insuring professional quality, simply exist to protect lawyers from competition from non-lawyers and firms that are not lawyer-owned, competition that would reduce legal costs (without sacrificing quality) and give the public greater access to legal assistance. Winston writes: "...the existing legal licensing system doesn't even do a great job at protecting clients from exploitation. In 2009, the state disciplinary agencies that cover roughly one million lawyers practicing in the United States received more than 125,000 complaints....But only 800 of these complaints--a mere 0.6 percent--resulted in disbarment."

     In Clifford Winston's deregulated legal profession: "Legal costs would be reduced because non-lawyers, who have not had to make a costly investment in a three-year legal education, would compete with lawyers, who in many states are the only options for basic services like drafting wills. Because they will have incurred much lower costs to enter the field--like taking an online course or attending a vocational school--and can operate as solo practitioners with minimal overhead, these non-lawyers would force prices to fall...."

     As a libertarian, and unlicensed law school graduate, I like Winston's idea. And having witnessed, up close, many lawyers at work, I know how incompetent (and expensive) they can be. But having lived in the real world, I also know that while pigs may someday fly, Winston's vision of a deregulated legal profession will never become reality. And, I must also admit that while para-legal practitioners can write wills, interview potential clients, handle real estate transactions and the like, I would not like one of them defending me against a charge of first-degree murder.

Living With The Dead

     A 94-year-old woman's body may have been in her upstate New York apartment for more than a year before being discovered, despite her daughter living just above her. Police and prosecutors in Fulton County told local reporters that Hope Ruller may have died in her first-floor apartment in Gloversville, New York as long as 14 months before being discovered December 29, 2014 after police received a request from a relative to check on her welfare…

     Officials say the dead woman's daughter lived in the two-story home's upstairs apartment with an adult son…An autopsy was conducted but a cause of death couldn't be determined because of the body's severely decomposed condition. Police say Ruller's death is being treated as suspicious. No arrests have been made….[In May 2015, police arrested Hope Ruller's 60-year-old daughter Mary Kersting on the charge of grand larceny for collecting $13,000 from her dead mother's social security account. Five months later, after pleading guilty, the judge sentenced her to six months in jail.]

"Police: 94-Year-Old Woman Found Dead May Have Died in 2013," Associated Press, January 7, 2015