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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stefan Sortland: A College Kid Takes a Walk on the Wild Side

     On Sunday morning, November 2, 2014, paramedics in a Poudre Valley Hospital ambulance responded to an emergency involving an intoxicated student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. When the paramedics rolled the student out of the building, they found that someone had stolen their ambulance. (The patient had to be transported to another hospital in a backup ambulance.)

     Through GPS technology, the police located the missing ambulance 12 miles away in Loveland, Colorado. Officers found the vehicle, its doors wide open and its front-end badly damages and leaking fluid, sitting in the middle of Highway 34. The officers also encountered the ambulance thief, 18-year-old Stefan Sortland standing thirty yards from the wrecked vehicle. The Colorado State University sophomore, decked out in an EMT safety vest, was holding a blanket, a cellphone, and a box of Wheat Thins.

     According to witnesses, the ambulance hit the raised median, jumped the curb, struck a highway sign, careened the wrong way and crossed back over the median before coming to a stop.

     When the college boy refused to obey the police-issued commands, they stunned him with a Taser. Referring to the police vehicles surrounding him, Sortland asked, "Why are those lights flashing on those cars?" On his way to the Loveland Police Department, Sortland informed the officers that he and the stolen ambulance had been en route to Vail, Colorado. For the most part, however, the college student rambled on incoherently.

     At the police station, Sortland said he had taken the drug molly along with some cocaine at a Halloween concert where security officers had kicked him out of the event. He also said that his friends and roommates, having all committed suicide, were dead and in heaven.

     While awaiting his transportation to the local jail, Sortland kicked a police department bench and a wall then started masturbating. (Apparently he wasn't handcuffed behind his back.)

     At the Larimer County Jail, while in the booking area, Sortland attacked two jail employees who had brought him lunch. He punched one of the deputies in the face. A short time later officers booked Sortland on charges of aggravated vehicle theft, obstructing emergency medical personnel, reckless driving, hit-and-run, criminal mischief, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and assault.

     Stefan Sortland's father told detectives that his son had no history of mental illness and was not on medication. His father did say that on Halloween his son had sent him some odd text messages.

     On May 17, 2016, Stefan Sortland pleaded guilty to the felony counts of motor vehicle theft and second-degree assault of a police officer. Chief Judge Stephen Schapanski punished Sortland with a four-year deferred sentence. That meant that if Sortland remained law abiding during this period, he would not be sent to prison. According to his defense attorney, the 20-year-old started taking anti-psychotic medication. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Suge Knight Hit-And-Run Murder Case

     Marion "Suge" Knight was born and raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton. In 1984, he enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on a football scholarship. Following college, he played briefly for the Los Angeles Rams as a defensive lineman. His stint as a bodyguard for singer Bobby Brown provided him an inside look at the music industry that led to his co-founding, in 1991, Death Row Records. His roster of performers included Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur.

     In 1995, one of Knight's employees, Jake Robles, was shot to death at a party in Atlanta, Georgia. Knight, who attended the event, blamed the murder on rapper P. Diddy's bodyguard. The shooting marked the beginning of the so-called east coast/west coast rap war.

     In 1996, Knight was behind the wheel of a vehicle in Las Vegas with rapper Tupac Shakur riding in the passenger's seat. An assailant fired a bullet into the car killing Shakur. On the night of Shakur's murder, police arrested Knight for assaulting a man in a Las Vegas hotel room. That lead to a five-year stretch in prison.

     Knight returned to prison in 2002 after violating the terms of his parole by associating with a known gang member. The following year police arrested him for punching a parking lot attendant outside a Hollywood, California nightclub.

     In 2005, Knight became the victim of a crime himself when, while attending a party in Miami in honor of Kanye West's appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, a gunman shot him in the right leg. The following year, his legal problems and the departure of his top rapper forced him to file for bankruptcy.

     At one-thirty on the morning of August 25, 2014, while attending a MTV Video Music Awards party in West Hollywood hosted by singer Chris Brown, a gunman shot Knight six times. Two other partygoers were wounded in the shooting spree. No arrests were made in that case.

     In October 2014, Beverly Hills police arrested Knight and comedian Micah "Katt" Williams for allegedly stealing a camera that belonged to a female celebrity photographer. They pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 29, 2015, Suge Knight's association with crime and violence came to a head in his hometown of Compton, California when he showed up unwelcome on a movie set where rappers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were working. The intruder ignored security personnel who asked him to leave. After fighting with two members of the film crew, Knight drove off in his red F-150 Ford Raptor, a very large pickup truck.

     Not long after leaving the movie set, at three that afternoon, Knight got into another fight with two men in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant called Tam's Burgers. The fight ended with Knight running over the men with his truck. He killed 55-year-old Terry Carter, a man he knew, and injured "Training Day" actor Cle "Bone" Sloane, 51.

     Police later found Knight's truck in a West Los Angeles parking lot.

     According to Lieutenant John Corina with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, "It looked like Mr. Knight drove backwards into the victims then lurched forward and hit them again. The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act."

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Knight with criminal homicide and hit and run. On Friday night January 30, 2015, Knight, accompanied by his lawyer, turned himself to the sheriff's office. He smoked a cigar and smiled at photographers as though this was not a big deal. Later that night, after questioning him, Officers booked Knight into the Los Angeles County jail. The judge set his bond at $2 million.

     James Blatt, Knight's attorney, told reporters that his client had accidentally killed a friend and injured another man as he fled from being attacked. The lawyer did not explain the hit-and-run aspect of his client's behavior. "We are confident," he said, "that once the police investigation is completed, Mr. Knight will be totally exonerated."

     On March 20, 2015, after the prosecutor upped the charge against Knight to first-degree murder, the judge raised the defendant's bond to $25 million. Upon hearing this, Knight fainted, hit his head on the defense table, and knocked himself out. Paramedics rushed him to a nearby hospital where he recovered quickly and was sent back to jail. (The bail was later reduced to $10 million.)

     Because Knight fired his first four lawyers, his murder trail remained on hold and he remained in jail. At one point, Knight claimed that he was being tortured in jail by inmates. In January 2016, Knight's fifth lawyer, former prosecutor Stephen L. Schwartz, announced that the boxing champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather had agreed to post his client's $10 million bond. If this were true, Mayweather did not come through on the promise, and Knight remained behind bars.

     As of this writing, Knight has not posted his bail, and no date has been set for his hit-and-run murder trial.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lee Kaplan And The Stoltzfus Girls

     On Thursday, June 16, 2016, officers with the Lower Southampton Township Police Department, operating on a children-in-danger tip, visited the home of 51-year-old Lee Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan resided in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Feasterville located in Bucks County twenty miles northeast of Philadelphia. When the police officers entered the Kaplan dwelling they encountered twelve girls, ages six months to eighteen. Several of the children responded by running about the house in panic searching for places to hide.

     When questioned by the police, Lee Kapan explained why the girls were living in his house. In 2012, a former Amish couple from the Lancaster County town of Quarryville named David and Salvilla Stoltzfus, in return for money from Kaplan to help the couple keep their farm, gave him their 14-year-old daughter. Mr. Kaplan and the Stoltzfuses were partners in a metalwork business in Quarryville.

     According to Mr. Kaplan, since 2012, he and the Stoltzfus teenager had produced two children. Their daughters were six-months and three years old. The other nine girls in the house were also Stoltzfuses.

     Mr. Kaplan was the only adult living in the Feasterville house. None of the girls had birth certificates or social security numbers.

     Police officers booked Lee Kaplan into the Bucks County Jail on numerous offenses that included statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minors. The twelve girls were placed into protective custody.

     David and Savilla Stoltzfus were also taken into custody on charges of conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. Kaplan and the ex-Amish couple were all held on $1 million bond. Mr. Stolzfus told the police that when he gave up his children, he had no idea he was breaking the law. In fact, after researching the issue online, he was convinced the transfer was legal.

     On Saturday, June 18, 2016, one of Kaplan's neighbors told a local reporter that she had complained about Lee Kaplan to the authorities three years ago. Kaplan's windows were boarded up and his yard was overgrown with uncut grass and weeds. According to this neighbor, the children were occasionally let out of the house, and when she did see them, "They were so sad and fearful. That's what made me call. I've been telling my husband for years that 'something isn't right.' " (This neighbor saw something, said something, and nothing happened.)

     Another one of Lee Kaplan's neighbors in Feasterville told a reporter that Kaplan seemed "weird" and that the neighbor now wished he had called the police.

     On June 18, 2016, police officers executed a search warrant at the Kaplan house. Officers also searched a greenhouse on the property where the long-haired, bearded resident grew Avocado trees. As officers searched the property, several chickens wandered about the place. Inside the house, officers discovered several air mattresses, a large catfish tank, and an elaborate and expensive model train layout. Following the search, the authorities impounded Lee Kaplan's two vehicles, a blue conversion van and a white sedan.

     According to another neighbor, the girls were occasionally seen working in Kaplan's vegetable garden. He also took them to a nearby Dollar Store and a local hotdog restaurant. Kaplan and the oldest Stoltzfus girl, according to this witness, had been seen in public holding hands.

     According to the Lower Southampton Township Public Safety Director, "We don't know if maybe there were babies born that were destroyed or whatever, but that's not the case as far as we can tell."

     An investigation of the Stoltzfuses revealed that in 2001 Mr. Stoltzfus borrowed $300,000 from an Amish run institution called the Old Order Amish Helping Program. At the time, Mr. Stoltzfus operated a scrap metal business in the small Lancaster County town of Kirkwood. Eight years after taking out the loan to keep his business going, Stoltzfus lost the property to foreclosure. At this point he left the Amish faith, became a born again Christian, and sued the Old Order Amish Helping program for initiating the foreclosure and forcing him out of business. In his lawsuit, Mr. Stoltzfus claimed that the Amish wanted to close him down because they didn't approve of him doing business "with an individual of the Jewish faith named Lee Kaplan." A judge dismissed the Stoltzfus lawsuit a few months later.

     The scrap metal business was sold at a sheriff's auction for $342,000. The Stoltzfuses, in 2011, filed for bankruptcy.

     In digging into Lee Kaplan's past, investigators learned that he had graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1983. In 1994, he and his wife Virginia bought a house in the Melrose Park section of Cheltenham for $110,000, a place they worked hard to refurbish. Kaplan and his wife rented rooms in the house to students at a local university.

     According to a Cheltenham man who had lived next door to the Kaplan and his wife from 1994 to 2003, Kaplan was "born again, but not as a Christian. He was a born again Jew--a Jew for Jesus."

     In 2003, Lee Kaplan sold the house in Cheltenham for $250,000. Around this time he and his wife got divorced. After that, Kaplan drastically changed his looks by letting his hair and his beard grow out.

     

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Christina Schumacher's Marital Hell And Involuntary Commitment To a Mental Hospital

     In 2011, Ludwig "Sonny" Schumacher lived in Essex, Vermont with his wife Christina and their son and daughter. They had been married 17 years and their marriage was falling apart. The couple also had problems with their professional lives.

     After retiring from the Vermont National Guard as a Colonel and a F-16 pilot, Schumacher accepted an executive position with the Timberiane Dental Company in South Burlington, Vermont. Christina worked as a financial officer with the GE Healthcare Corporation, a company she had been with for more than twenty years.

     In July 2011, Christina petitioned a family court judge for an order of protection against abuse from her husband. In support of her request, Christina claimed that their 15-year-old daughter was afraid of her father. "My daughter," she wrote, "is fearful and has said if I do not file this petition she will file her own. She is now staying with friends." According to the protection order petition, Mr. Schumacher had struck Christina in the face in front of the girl. He had also abused his wife by grabbing her arm and pulling her hair. The family court judge denied the protection request.

     In 2012, after Christina's job at GE Healthcare was eliminated, she landed a position with an Internet firm called, MyWebGrocer. A few months later, she quit that job. Ludwig Schumacher ran into employment problems himself that year. Officials at Timberiane Dental fired him.

     In July 2013, a judge granted Christina a temporary order of protection against her husband after he tipped his 14-year-old son Gunnar's bed upside down with the boy in it. According to the court petition, Mr. Schumacher kept the boy pinned to the floor by pressing his knee against his back. When Gunnar broke free, the father allegedly threw him to the floor. Christina cited this and other incidents of her husband's out-of-contral rage to illustrate a "pattern of abuse which causes fear" for her and her son.

     Ludwig Schumacher appealed his wife's protection of abuse order and won. The family court judge ruled that the description of events in Christina's petition did not constitute domestic abuse by a parent as defined by Vermont law.

     Christina, on September 3, 2013, filed for divorce on grounds that her 49-year-old husband had been unfaithful, abusive, and mentally ill. Shortly after the divorce filing, he moved out of the house and rented an apartment in Essex. In cross-filing for divorce, Mr. Schumacher described Christina as mentally ill, noting that during the summer of 2013, she had received intensive mental health treatment at the Senneca Center at the Fletcher Allen Health facility in Burlington.

     Ludwig Schumacher, on Tuesday, December 17, 3013, called Essex High School stating that his son Gunnar would be absent two days due to "a family situation." A day later, at two in the afternoon, a friend of Gunnar's went to the Schumacher apartment where he found Gunnar and his father dead.

     The 14-year-old boy had been strangled and his father had hanged himself. Mr. Schumacher left behind a long suicide letter explaining why he had murdered his son and killed himself.

     On the day after the discovery of her dead husband and son, a doctor informed Christina that if she didn't check herself into a psychiatric ward at the Fletcher Allen Health Care facility in Burlington, she would be taken into custody by the authorities and put into the hospital without her consent. Because Christina had once told her sister that if anything happened to her children she would kill herself, the doctor felt he was acting in her best interest. Christina insisted that she did not need mental health treatment. All she wanted to do was grieve with her 17-year-old daughter. The doctor followed through on his threat by having Christina involuntarily committed to the mental ward.

     On December 30, 2013, Christina called the Burlington Free Press and asked the newspaper to investigate her situation, saying that the state had no basis to hold her against her will in the mental facility. While Vermont law did not require a prompt judicial review of involuntary mental health commitments, the publicity Christina received from newspaper stories prompted a judicial hearing.

     On January 22, 2014, after three hours of testimony before a Superior Court judge in Burlington, the judge said he disagreed with Christina's mental illness diagnosis and the assessment that she was a danger to herself and others. The judge ordered her release after five and a half weeks in the psychiatric ward.

     Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office had argued for Christina's continued hospitalization, had no comment for the press.

     I have no trouble believing that Ludwig Schumacher had abused his wife and children. Moreover, if Christina Schumacher did have mental health problems, they were probably caused by the domestic turmoil in her life.

     

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Unraveling of Dr. Timothy Jorden

     Dr. Timothy Jorden, a 49-year-old trauma surgeon at the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York, lived in a suburban luxury home overlooking Lake Erie. After high school, a stint in the U.S. Army, and college, the clean-cut ex-military weapons specialist graduated from the University of Buffalo Medical School. In 2004, he was certified by the American Board of Surgery. His colleagues at the Erie County Medical Center considered Dr. Jorden a gifted surgeon who had saved several lives. Dr. Jorden epitomized achievement and success.

     Dr. Jorden's grip on reality and the good life began slipping away after his live-in girlfriend, 33-year-old Jacqueline Wisnieski, an administrated assistant at the hospital, moved out of his house in Lake View, New York. Believing that Dr. Jorden was having affairs with other women, Wisnieski broke off the relationship. The doctor refused to accept this new reality.

     Dr. Jorden, following the break-up, began stalking Wisnieski, and at one point, held her hostage at knife point in her home for a day and a half. (She apparently didn't report this assault and kidnapping to the police.) The obsessed and disturbed physician attached a GPS tracking device to Wisnieski's car to keep tabs on her. At this point, Wisnieski confided to another doctor that she feared for her life. This was probably the reason she didn't notify the authorities. Who would believe this woman over the word of a successful surgeon?

     By June 2012, Dr. Jorden, uncharacteristically unkempt, sporting a shaggy beard, and 75 pounds lighter, was showing physical signs that he was slipping into some kind of dementia. To his friends and fellow employees, he seemed depressed, preoccupied, and distracted. On Wednesday, June 13, 2012, the doctor arrived at work carrying a shotgun and a .357-Magnum revolver. He somehow lured Wisnieski into the hospital basement where, in the stairwell, he shot her five times at close range.

     After killing his ex-girlfriend, the deranged physician drove home, arriving at the Lake View house 30 minutes after the murder. Four minutes later, he came out of his house and entered a path that led into the woods behind the dwelling. (This was caught on his home video surveillance system.) It was here, in a patch of thick brush, that the surgeon put his .357-Magnum to his head and pulled the trigger.

     Back at the hospital, police combed the complex for the doctor, unaware that he lay dead in the woods overlooking Lake Erie. The next day, a SWAT team and a canine unit searched the doctor's property without finding his body. On Friday morning, June 15, 2012, police officers, acting on a tip from one of Dr. Jorden's neighbors who said he had heard a gun go off Wednesday morning behind the doctor's house, found his body. Dr. Jorden did not leave a suicide note.

     Dr. Jorden's acquaintances recalled how in the days preceding the murder, he had given away personal belongings to friends and family. On the day before he killed Jacqueline Wisnieski, Dr. Jorden had withdrawn $30,000 from his bank account.

     In cases where prominent, respected people shock the community by committing murder, the media focuses almost entirely on the killer. The reportage is usually laden with quotes from friends and colleagues who can't believe this person was capable of such an act. While the victim's friends and family are also wondering how this has happened, most of the media angst is about the lose of this special person to the community. The victim's story is often left untold. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Delvin Barnes' War on Women

     Delvin Barnes, despite the fact his father was a minister, and he was raised by loving parents, turned into a predatory sex offender and an abusive husband. In 2005, the 26-year-old's wife kicked him out of their house in Philadelphia and acquired a protective order against him. As is often the case, the protective order did not protect.

     Barnes' estranged wife, at ten-fifteen on the night of November 28, 2005, was getting ready for bed when he shocked her by jumping out of her bedroom closet. She threatened to call the police if he didn't leave. He said he had no intention of leaving. When she tried to dial 911, Barnes grabbed the phone, punched her in the face, kicked her, and threatened to choke her to death.

     The husband-intruder ordered his wife to undress. He then spent the night sexually abusing her. The next morning, she talked him into letting her call her mother, someone she spoke to every day. In speaking to her mother in earshot of her captor, the battered wife managed to hint that not all was well at her house.

     Barnes' wife hoped that her mother would get the hint and call the police. Instead, her mother, accompanied by her father who was armed with a baseball bat, showed up at the house to check on her. Barnes expressed his rage over what he considered a betrayal by again assaulting his wife. When her father came to her aid, Barnes wrestled the bat from him and headed for the kitchen to grab a knife. The victim and her parents used this opportunity to run to a neighbor's house where they called 911. By the time the Philadelphia police arrived at the scene, Barnes was long gone.

     The next day, police officers found Barnes in Philadelphia and took him into custody.

     A year after the home invasion, assault and rape, a jury found Barnes guilty of aggravated assault, criminal trespass, false imprisonment, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. The jurors, however, acquitted him of two felonies: rape and burglary.

     The judge sentenced Barnes to three years behind bars. That meant he was back on the street before serving what was to begin with a sentence that did not fit the seriousness of his crimes.

     In Virginia, a young woman, in July 2014, accused the 37-year-old Barnes of threatening to blow her up with a bomb. A prosecutor charged him with the lesser crime of trespassing, a misdemeanor. Eventually the prosecutor dropped that charge.

     On October 1, 2014, in Chalres City County, Virginia, Barnes abducted, off the street, a 16-year-old girl who didn't know him. Two days later the victim showed up at a Charles City County business with third-degree burns. She told detectives that her abductor had doused her with bleach and gasoline and set her on fire. The victim had walked two miles from the home where she had been held against her will and raped.

     Investigators in Virginia identified Delvin Barnes as the Virginia girl's rapist by finding a DNA match in a national databank. The victim also identified Barnes from a past mug shot. A local prosecutor charged the suspect with attempted capital murder, abduction, forcible rape, malicious wounding, and malicious wounding with a chemical. At the time these charges were leveled, Barnes' whereabouts were unknown.

     After graduating from high school in California, Maryland, Carlesha Freeland-Gaither worked at a Factory Barn. In 2012, she moved to Philadelphia where she took up residence with her grandfather. Two years later, the 22-year-old, a certified nursing assistant at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, moved in with her boyfriend.

     At 9:30 at night on Saturday November 2, 2014, while Freeland-Gaither walked home from a family party in the Germantown section of the city, Barnes came up behind her and pulled the screaming and kicking woman into his four-door Ford Taurus. A witness to the abduction called 911.

     At the scene of the kidnapping, detectives found the victim's eyeglasses and cellphone on the street next to shards of auto glass. Surveillance camera footage showed a man in a knit cap and dark coat abduct the victim off the street.

     Shortly after the kidnapping, the FBI, city of Philadelphia, Fraternal Order of Police, and the Citizen's Crime Commission jointly raised a $42,000 reward for information leading to the identify of the abductor.

     On Tuesday November 4, 2014, the authorities published a photograph of a man using Freeland-Gaither's ATM card at six o'clock in the morning in Aberdeen, Maryland. The next day, around noon, U.S. Marshals, ATF and FBI agents pulled Delvin Barnes out of his car that was parked on the side of the road in Jessup, Maryland. Inside the vehicle they found the kidnapped woman--alive.

     Following treatment at a local hospital for minor injuries, the agents transported Freeland-Gaither home to Philadelphia where she was greeted by family and friends.

     The suspect's uncle, Lamar Barnes, in speaking to reporters about his nephew said: "Some men grow up having problems with women. So they take it out on women. Apparently Delvin is one of them."

     In September 2015, Barnes pleaded guilty in a Philadelphia courtroom to abducting Carlesha Freeland-Gaither the previous fall. Barnes informed the judge that he had kidnapped the victim to raise money to travel back to Virginia. "It was an act of robbery in the beginning, and it turned into other things," he said. In January 2016, the judge sentenced the 37-year-old to 35 years in prison. (I do not know the disposition of the rape and assault of the 16-year-old girl in Virginia.)
     

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Pamela Phillips Murder-For-Hire Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     On April 8, 2014, the jury found Pamela Phillips guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On May 22, 2014, the judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Upon hearing her fate, Phillips turned to the gallery and said, three times, "I'm innocent!" 

Did Terri Horman Murder Her Stepson Kyron?

     In 2000, 26-year-old Kaine Andrew Horman, an engineer in Portland, Oregon, married Desiree Young. The marriage did not work out. Within a year the couple discussed separating. But in January 2002, when Desiree learned that she was pregnant, she and Kaine decided to give their marriage a second chance. But it still didn't work. In August 2002, Desiree filed for divorce and moved in with her parents in Medford, Oregon.

     A month after the separation, Desiree gave birth to Kyron. The divorce became final in 2003, and a year after that, Desiree moved to Canada where she received treatment for a kidney ailment. When she returned to the U.S. two months later she relinquished custody of 2-year-old Kyron to Kaine.

     The toddler, in 2004, began living with his father in a house on Sheltered Nook Road in a rural section of northwest Portland. Because of Kaine's demanding job at the Intel Corporation's Jones Farm Campus in Hillsboro, the father arranged day care for Kyron. For that job, he hired a friend of his ex-wife's named Terri Moulton.

     Terri Moulton grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, a town three hours from Portland. After graduating from high school in 1988, she attended Umpqua Community College where she met Ron Tarver. Terri and Ron were married in 1991 and three years later had a son named James. A year after the birth of their son, Terri and Ron divorced.

     In 1996, Terri married Richard Ecker in Springfield, Oregon. Four years later she graduated from Northwest Christian University with a bachelor's degree in education. From March 2001 to June 2002, Terri worked as a substitute teacher in the Hillsboro School District. In 2002 she divorced Richard Ecker.

     In 2004, Terri moved into the home on Sheltered Nook Road with Kaine and his 2-year-old son. She had been taking care of the boy for more than a year. Kaine's divorce from Desiree Young had been finalized a year earlier.

     In April 2007, Kaine and Terri were married. Their daughter Kiara Horman was born in 2009.

     Kyron, in 2010, was a second grade student at Portland's Skyline Elementary School two miles from his home. On most days Kyron rode the bus to school, but on June 4, 2010, Terri drove her stepson to class. That day Kyron wanted to set up his Red-Eyed Tree Frog exhibit at the school's science fair.

     Terri and the boy arrived at the elementary school at eight in the morning. They were last seen together fifteen minutes later near Kyron's science exhibit. That day Kyron's teacher marked him absent. At 3:45 in the afternoon of June 4, 2010, Terri Horman reported Kyron missing after he didn't come home from school.

     Students and teachers at the school told detectives that no one had seen Kyron after the 8:45 AM bell. According to Terri, she left the school just before the morning bell. She told detectives that Kyron told her he was leaving the exhibit site en route to his classroom. That's the last time she saw him.

     Teachers and staff described the three-foot, eight-inch 50 pound boy as too timid to have left the school on his own. That morning he was dressed in a black T-shirt with "CSI" in green lettering and an image of a handprint. The boy with the metal rimmed eyeglasses wore cargo pants and sneakers trimmed in orange.

     In the week following Kyron's disappearance, police officers and others searched the school building, its grounds, and the surrounding neighborhood. It seemed the 7-year-old had vanished into thin air.

     From the start, detectives, operating on the theory that Kyron had not been abducted by a stranger, focused on Terri Horman's activities on the morning of his disappearance. The police became particularly suspicious when a search of her cellular phone records revealed that she wasn't where she said she was that morning. In fact, her cellphone showed she had been on Sauvie Island five miles from the school. This led to a massive search of the island for the missing boy. Again, no trace of Kyron.

     Interrogated by detectives as a suspect in the case, Terri maintained her innocence. She reportedly took and failed two polygraph tests. Detectives, looking for physical evidence of foul play, seized and searched her car. They found nothing incriminating.

     On June 26, 2010, 22 days after Kyron's disappearance, detectives approached the boy's father with startling information about his wife Terri. According to these investigators, Terri, five months before Kyron went missing, asked a landscaper named Rodolfo Sanchez to kill her husband.

     Sanchez, in reporting the murder solicitation, claimed that Terri told him that Kaine Horman physically and mentally abused her. The would-be hit man's compensation was supposed to be the $10,000 in cash Kaine always carried on his person. To help facilitate the murder-for-hire scheme, Terri allegedly provided Sanchez details regarding her husband's daily routine. She suggested that Sanchez make the hit look like a mugging.

     On the day he learned of the alleged plot against his life, Kaine kicked Terri out of the house. Two days later he filed for divorce and served his estranged wife with a restraining order. Terri moved back into her parents' house in Roseburg, Oregon.

     In 2011, with her son still missing and no charges filed in the case, Desiree Young posted missing person's fliers around a strip mall in Roseburg not far from Terri's residence. She also asked the reclusive suspect's neighbors to grill Terri about Kyron's disappearance. Desiree told the Roseburg neighbors that Terri had blamed her failing marriage on Kyron, that she had grown to hate her stepson.

     The Oregon legislature passed a law in 2011 inspired by the Kyron Horman case. The new legislation required school officials to notify parents by the end of the school day if their child had an unauthorized absence.

     On June 1, 2012, Desiree Young filed a lawsuit against Terri Horman claiming that the defendant was "responsible for the disappearance of Kyron." The plaintiff sought $10,000,000 in damages. On July 30, 2013, Young dropped the lawsuit. She said she didn't want the civil action to jeopardize the continuing police investigation into her son's case.

     Desiree and a small group of supporters, in November 2013, staged a demonstration outside of Terri Horman's house in Roseburg. Terri's mother called the police who came and disrupted the demonstration.

     On December 31, 2013, a Multnomah County judge finalized the divorce of Kaine and Terri Horman. The couple still had to resolve the issue of who would get legal custody of their daughter Kiara who was now 5-years-old.
   
     According to Terri Horman's attorneys, she was not the last person to see Kyron alive. Moreover, they believe the murder-for-hire allegation against their client was bogus. According to her neighbors, Terri seldom left the house in Roseburg. A lot of people reviled this woman and a few supported her. But for most people familiar with this case, it was hard not to suspect that Terri Horman was somehow responsible for her stepson's disappearance and presumed death.

     In June 2014, the missing boy's mother told reporters that Horman, when asked by a polygraph examiner if she had knowledge of the disappearance, failed the lie detector tests. That month, a family court judge granted Kaine Horman custody of 5-year-old Kiara Horman. Terri Horman, after her daughter received counseling to facilitate a relationship with her mother, would be able to visit the girl under court-ordered supervision.

     Terri, in August 2014, petitioned the court to change her name to Claire Stella Sullivan. She wanted to make the change to avoid what she called the stigma of the Horman name. In addressing the judge, she said, "Kyron Horman is missing. He needs to be found. I love my stepson, I want him home more than anything." She also reminded the judge that she had not been the last person to see Kyron alive. She said her attorneys could prove that. The judge denied her request.

     In December 2014, the head of a residential care facility for mentally ill adults hired Terri Horman as a Mental Health Support Specialist. The Eugene, Oregon company, the Shangra-Law Corporation, hired Horman with full knowledge of her status as a suspect in her stepson's disappearance. According to Shrangra-Law Chief Executive, "Terri was hired because she has the skills and training that enables her to provide excellent support in the critical area of need."

     On February 20, 2015, Terri Horman petitioned a Lane County judge to issue a temporary protective order against a person named Stacy Green. Horman objected to the 35-year-old's posting of missing child posters outside her place of employment. The petitioner claimed that Green and her associates had been obsessively stalking her for four years. "They are now escalating in this behavior to where I fear they will kill me," she claimed. The judge denied Horman's request for the protection order.

     Terri Horman, on February 21, 2015, quit her job at Shangra-Law. She said the denial of her anti-stalking order was the reason she left the job.

     In a January 2016 interview with a correspondent with the television show "Inside Edition," Terri Horman said, "I never harmed my son. I'm speaking now because nobody is looking for my son anymore. I want Kyron home. I love my son." She admitted to the reporter that she had failed the polygraph test, explaining that because she was deaf in one ear, she didn't hear the questions properly.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The MS-13 Gang Double Murder Case

     In 2010, 17-year-old Juan Elias Garcia, a resident of the Long Island community of Central Islip, New York, belonged to the street gang MS-13, also known as the Mara Salvatrucha Gang. This violent, criminal organization, with ties to several Mexican drug cartels, had a strong presence on Long Island with more than a dozen chapters. (The gang also flourished in other areas of the U.S. with substantial Salvadoran populations such as in southern California, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.)

     The five-foot-four inch Garcia, nicknamed "Cruzito," dated 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta. A problem developed in their relationship when Garcia learned she had ties to two rival gangs, the Latin Kings and the 18th Street Gang. Pursuant to gang culture, Argueta's association with the rival groups amounted to "disrespecting" MS-13.

     To save face, Juan Garcia acquired permission from a gang leader named Heriberto Martinez to have his girlfriend murdered.

     On February 4, 2010, Garcia, as part of the murder plot, invited Argueta to dinner in Central Islip. She accepted his invitation and arrived with her 2-year-old son. From their meeting place, Garcia forced Argueta and the boy to accompany him to a nearby wooded area where they were met by a pair of gang assassins, Rene Mendez Meja and Adalberto Ariel Guzman.

     Meja shot the mother to death in front of her son, then, as the boy cried in terror, shot him in the head as well. The bodies were discovered the next day. To avoid arrest, Garcia fled to El Salvador.

     In 2012, Heriberto Martinez, the gangster who sanctioned the murder, was convicted for his role in the assassinations. The judge sentenced him to life plus 60 years. A year later, Meja and Guzman were found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They each received the same sentence.

     Juan Garcia, the gang member behind the killings, remained at large in Central America.

     In February, 2014, one day after the fugitive turned twenty-one, a federal grand jury sitting in Central Islip indicted the fugitive Garcia for murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The FBI, on March 26, 2014, placed Garcia on its Top Ten Most Wanted List. Two days later, Garcia turned himself in to law enforcement authorities in Nicaragua. After being briefly detained at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, FBI agents took Garcia into custody. He was immediately extradited to America.

     A U.S. District Court judge, on March 31, 2014, ordered Garcia held without bail. Speaking through an interpreter, the suspect entered a not guilty plea.

     In October 2014, Garcia changed his plea to guilty. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (In researching this story, I could find no mention in the press regarding whether or not these cold-blooded killers were in this country illegally.)  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Talking Parrot Murder Case

     In 2015, Martin "Marty" Duram and his wife Glenna resided in Sand Lake, Michigan, a village of 500 people in the southwestern part of the state. In their mid-forties, the couple had been married 15 years. They each had children from previous marriages.

     According to their children, and people who knew them, the Durams, both quick tempered types, argued a lot over money. They had a so-called love-hate relationship.

     Glenna Duram liked to gamble at local casinos. In 2010, she lost $75,000 to the slot machines. In April 2015, Mr. Duram learned to his shock and dismay that their house was in foreclosure. Glenna Duram, instead of paying their bills, had gambled the money away.

     On the night of May 13, 2015, police and emergency personnel were summoned to the Duram house following a shooting. Officers found the couple in their bedroom lying next to each other. Mr. Duram had been shot five times, once in the head. He lay dead among six shell casings. Mrs. Duram had a superficial head wound and was conscious.

     When asked by the police who shot her and her husband, Glenna Duram said she didn't know. She also became combative when paramedics tried to take her out of the house for medical treatment. She kept yelling, "Why are you doing this to Marty."

     Police officers at the scene found no evidence of forced entry, and nothing had been taken from the house. Mr. Duram was found clutching a clump of hair. Officers also discovered, in the living room, three manila envelopes containing suicide notes signed by Mrs. Duram and addressed to her children. In these notes she apologized for being such a disappointment.

     The dead man's parents, Lilian and Chuck Duram, told the authorities they believed Glenna Duram had murdered their son during a violent argument. At this point the police suspected a failed murder-suicide. When questioned again by the police after she had fully recovered from her head wound, Glenna Duram claimed to have no memory of the shooting.

     Soon after the murder, Christina Keller, Mr. Duram's ex-wife, took custody of Bud, the former couple's 20-year-old African Gray parrot. In late May 2015, Bud began squawking in voices that sounded like a man and a woman arguing. In the man's voice, Bud said, "Don't f…ing shoot!" Christina Keller video taped the parrot's crime scene re-creation for the police.

     As of June 2016, no one has been charged with Martin Duram's murder. Christina Keller, in the wake of the killing, established a Facebook page titled: "Justice For Marty Duram."

     If Glenna Duram had shot and killed her husband, there should be plenty of physical evidence pointing to her guilt. The authorities in charge of the case have been tight-lipped about the status of their investigation. As a result, there are a lot of unanswered questions such as: were Glenna Duram's fingerprints on the murder gun? Did gunshot residue indicate she had recently fired a handgun? Was the hair clump in the dead man's hand from his wife's head? What did the crime scene blood spatter analysis reveal? Has Mrs. Duran been given a polygraph test?

     If Glenna Duram didn't kill her husband, who did, and why didn't the shooter finish her off? And finally, is the talking parrot video tape legally admissible evidence of Glenna Duram's guilt?