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Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Lori Isenberg Poison-Murder Case

      In 2018 Laurcene "Lori" Barnes Isenberg, the Executive Director of North Idaho Housing Cooperative, a non-profit organization created to help low-income families, resided with her 68-year old husband, Larry Isenberg in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Mr. Isenberg had a 39-year-old son from a former marriage. His 66-year-old wife had four daughters from her first husband. 

     On the morning of February 13, 2018 Lori Isenberg called 911. To the emergency dispatcher she reported that while boating with her husband on Lake Coeur d'Alene he had fallen overboard.

     As a water recovery team searched for Mr. Isenberg, Lori Isenberg told deputies with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office that her husband had been ill with the flu but had insisted on taking her on a boat ride that morning. While attempting to restart the boat's stalled electric motor he toppled into the water. When she couldn't find him she called 911 from his cellphone, 

     In a written police statement Lori Isenberg described her husband's fall this way: "He stood up, looked at me with a confused look on his face and started to fall over. I jumped up and tried to get him, but I tripped on the heater and banged my head and couldn't reach him in time." 

    Searchers were unable to recover Mr. Isenberg's body. At this point the authorities presumed he had drowned as a result of a boating accident. Perhaps he'd suffered a stroke and lost his balance and toppled out of the boat. At this point no one believed that his death had been the result of foul play. 

     The day following Mr. Isenberg's presumed death Lori Isenberg put the family home up for sale. She also gave her daughters personal items that were once owned by Mr. Isenberg. 

     On February 24, 2018, with Larry Isenberg still missing and presumed dead, FBI agents arrested Lori Isenberg on 40 counts of federal wire fraud and one count of theft. Over a period of years the Executive Director of North Idaho Housing Coalition had created thousands of forged invoices that enabled her to embezzled $570,000 from the non-profit organization. Her four daughters, having knowingly received some of the stolen money, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft. 

     After pleading not guilty to the charges, a federal magistrate set Lori Isenberg's bail at $2 million. She was held in the Kootenai County Jail on the federal charges. 

     On March 1, 2018 Larry Isenberg's body was seen floating near the shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, based on the results of a toxicological analysis that showed a lethal dose of the drug diphenhydramine in Mr. Isenberg's system, ruled his manner of death homicide by poisoning. Diphenhydramine is an ingredient commonly found in over the counter sleeping aid and pain pills. The forensic pathologist did not publicly reveal how Mr. Isenberg had been given the poison.

     Investigators with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, with Lori Isenberg as the prime suspect, launched a murder investigation. In the course of that inquiry detectives learned that in late 2017, when Mr. Isenberg and his wife were vacationing in Florida, she made an Internet inquiry about rental boats, lake currents, weather conditions and water depths pertaining to another Coeur d'Alene area lake called Lake Pend Oreville. While on that Florida trip, detectives had reason to believe that Lori Isenberg tried to kill her husband with diphenhydramine. As for motive, homicide investigators believed that Lori Isenberg was afraid that if her husband learned she had embezzled from her employer he would divorce her.

     Detectives also learned that just weeks before Larry Isenberg's death his wife had made handwritten changes to his will. As a result of these crude alterations the will devised 80 percent of his estate to her four daughters. 

     In the spring of 2019 Lori Isenberg pleaded guilty to defrauding North Idaho Housing Coalition of $570,000. The judge sentenced her to five years in federal prison. Her daughters were sentenced to three years probation, community service and were ordered to pay back the stolen money they had received.

     A Kootenai County grand jury, in January 2020, indicted Lori Isenberg on the charge of first-degree murder for poisoning her husband to death then throwing him off the boat into the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene. At the time of the indictment Lori Isenberg was serving time for wire fraud and theft at a federal prison. 

     In March 2020, due to COVID-19, the Idaho Supreme Court delayed all criminal jury trials in the state. Lori Isenberg's murder trial was postponed to August 3, 2020. The trial was postponed again to September 14, 2020, then again to early 2021.

     In February 2021 Lori Isenberg pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Three months later the judge sentenced her to life in prison.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Execution of Manuel Pardo

     In 1979 after having served four years in the Navy, 22-year-old Manuel Pardo graduated from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) academy at the top of his class. Following his involvement in a Miami-Dade County ticket-fixing scandal in 1980, Mr. Pardo was kicked out of the FHP. Shortly after his discharge he secured a job with the police department in the small Miami-Dade County town of Sweetwater. In 1981 Manuel Pardo and four other officers faced numerous complains of police brutality. Those charges were quickly dismissed by a local prosecutor.

     The following year Officer Pardo, after saving a two-month-old boy's life by reviving him with CPR, was awarded a public service medal. In the fall of 1983 Pardo graduated from a local community college with a two-year associates degree in criminal justice. Just when his future looked the most promising Pardo's career in law enforcement came to an end when he was caught committing perjury at the 1985 trial of a drug dealer.

     From January to April 1986 the ex-cop embarked on a deadly crime spree in the Miami area. Within a period of three months, in the course of robbing dozens of drug dealers, he murdered six men and three women. He documented his execution-style killings by taking crime scene photographs of his victims and writing up detailed accounts of the murders in his diary. He also put together a scrapbook comprised of newspaper clippings of his crimes. It was during this period that Pardo collected Nazi memorabilia and professed a deep respect for Adolph Hitler.

     Because Manuel Pardo used his murder victims' credit cards, homicide detectives in Miami-Dade County quickly identified him as the man behind the drug dealer robbery/murders. His killing spree ended with his arrest in 1987. Eager to take credit for, and even brag about his murders, Pardo confessed to nine homicides.

     At Pardo's 1988 trial his defense attorneys raised the insanity defense which fell apart when the defendant took the strand on his own behalf. Jurors were surprised when he told them that, "I'm ridding the community of this vermin and technically it is not murder because they are not human beings. I am a soldier, I accomplished my mission and I humbly ask you to give me the glory of ending my life and not let me spend the rest of my days in the state prison."

     The jury found Manuel Pardo guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder. The judge then granted the defendant's wish by sentencing him to death. Pardo became a death row inmate at the Florida state prison in the town of Starke.

     Instead of his life ending gloriously with a quick execution, Pardo, thanks to his anti-death penalty attorneys, languished on death row for 24 years. In filing their appeals in state and federal courts, Pardo's lawyers argued that because this killer had not been mentally competent he should never have been tried in the first place. Over the years various appellate court judges rejected this argument and upheld Pardo's conviction and death sentence.

     In 2012, as Pardo's execution date approached his attorneys, in a last ditch effort to save him, tried a new appellate approach. The state of Florida had recently altered the combination of drugs used by the executioner to dispatch condemned prisoners. The lawyers argued that if prison officials improperly mixed the lethal concoction the anesthetic effect of the lethal dose might be compromised. If this happened the execution might be painful and therefore inhumane in violation of Mr. Pardo's civil rights. A federal judge rejected the appeal. That meant that Pardo's execution would go forward as scheduled.

     At 7:45 in the evening of Tuesday, December 11, 2012, the executioner at the state prison in Starke injected the 56-year-old Pardo with the lethal cocktail of drugs. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Cop Versus Cop

     Florida State Trooper Donna Jane Watts in the early morning hours of October 11, 2011 spotted a Miami police cruiser speed past her in the southbound lanes of the Florida Turnpike. In following the cruiser with her lights flashing and siren blazing, Trooper Watts reached speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. The pursuing trooper's supervisors at headquarters repeatedly radioed Watts to "back off" but she didn't

     When the Miami officer Fausto Lopez finally pulled over Trooper Watts approached the police car with her gun drawn. She then handcuffed him and escorted him to her vehicle, all the while berating Lopez for reckless driving. For his part officer Lopez remained docile, even polite. Trooper Watts released the Miami officer after writing him a ticket for reckless driving.

     By stopping and ticketing officer Lopez, Trooper Watts violated a sacred unwritten rule of police conduct: never pull over a fellow officer for a traffic violation. According to this silent code of procedure Trooper Watts should have kicked the problem upstairs so police administrators could cover it up. Speaking about the incident to the press, North Miami Police Major Bob Lynch, a law enforcement training instructor, said both officers were wrong: Lopez for driving recklessly and Watts for handcuffing a fellow cop. Most civilians, however, seemed to side with Trooper Watts. It was not surprising that Miami Police Department's police union spokesperson harshly criticized the Florida trooper.

     Bad feelings between the two agencies flared up when an unidentified Miami Police officer (or supporter), in retaliation for Lopez's traffic stop, dumped five gallons of human excrement on a state patrol car parked in front of a trooper's house. And tensions heightened a few days later when a Miami patrol officer pulled over a Florida State Trooper for a traffic violation. In this instance, as it turned out, the trooper's brother happened to work in the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.

     In an editorial published in The Miami Herald on November 12, 2011, the author wrote: "Police solidarity has plunged ignobly into senseless acts that stink as much as the poop thrown on a state trooper's car last week. A few Miami officers--or their supporters--appear to be out of control...."

     The law enforcement feud came at a time when the Miami-Dade Police Department was under attack for a rash of questionable police involved shootings. So far that year Miami-Dade officers shot 21 people, killing 17 of them. New York City Police, by comparison, had this year shot 14, killing 7.

Monday, July 15, 2024

The Sherri Lynn Wilkins Murder Case

     Nobody likes a hypocrite. We are particularly offended (and intrigued) when people we generally admire such as physicians, professors, clergymen, law enforcement officers, generals, teachers, certain celebrities and counselors commit crimes or behave badly. However, because of low expectations, we are less shocked when politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and Wall Street types break the law or act like jerks. In terms of what we expect from people there are different standards of behavior. For example, in murder-for-hire cases the upper-middle class mastermind is almost always considered more immoral and criminally culpable, than the lower-class hitman. This is true even when the contract killer has murdered a complete stranger simply for the money.

     Years ago when the head mistress of an elite New England girl's school shot and killed her lover in a fit of jealousy, this otherwise ordinary criminal homicide became a celebrated case. Ministers have gone to prison for having their wives killed and FBI agents have been convicted of first-degree murder. On a smaller criminological scale, the public is shocked when female public school teachers are caught having affairs with their male students. There was also a case involving a high-profile gun control advocate who shot an intruder with an unregistered firearm. These cases attract media attention because they feature hypocrisy.

     In October 2012 Colin McGrattan, an anger management counselor in Stockton, California murdered his ex-wife, her sister and the victim's aunt before killing himself. McGrattan had recently lost a legal dispute with his former spouse. Unable to control his anger he killed three people and himself. On matters of anger management this man obviously wasn't able to take his own advice.

     Even though we have low expectations for politicians and bureaucrats, cases occasionally pop up that are egregious enough to, if not shock us, grab our attention. In 2007 Sheila Burgess, a Massachusetts political fund-raiser for democrat candidates collected her reward when Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the position of State Highway Safety Director. Since this was a political appointment it was not surprising that Burgess didn't have experience in the fields of public safety, transportation or public administration. 

     On August 24, 2012, Burgess, while driving her state-issued vehicle on a sunny Sunday afternoon near Milton, Massachusetts drove off the road, wrecked the car and injured herself. Although she told the police she had swerved off the highway to avoid an oncoming vehicle she may have been texting.

     The Highway Safety Director's traffic accident prompted a newspaper inquiry into Burgess' driving history. On November 18, 2012, the day after the paper revealed that Sheila Burgess had a record of 34  traffic violations, the governor removed her from office. (Because she was a government employee full dismissal was out of the question.) Instead of firing this woman the governor assigned Burgess to a "different role" within the same department.

Sherri Lynn Wilkins

     In the fall of 2010, 50-year-old Sherri Lynn Wilkins began counseling substance abusers at the Twin Town Treatment Center in Torrance, California. In charge of the evening group sessions, she counseled as many as 50 drug and alcohol abusers at a time. It was her job to help these people either get sober or stay off drugs. While Wilkins had earned a degree in drug counseling from Loyola Marymount University, it was her background as an alcoholic and heroin addict that in the bizarre world of substance abuse counseling that qualified her for the position. While giving her street credibility, the fact she "had been there" also meant she might relapse, an event that would not be in the best interests of the people she was being paid to help.

     Sherri Lynn Wilkins' background before she began her counseling career involved a 16-month jail sentence in 1992 for theft. Two years later another judge sent her away for nine years for burglary. All of her crimes were related to her substance addiction. In May 2010 the Los Angeles police arrested Wilkins for hit and run in Torrance. Because she had not been driving under the influence the case against her was dropped. But in July 2010 the authorities in Los Angeles charged Wilkins with leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. For some reason this case was also dismissed.

     At eleven-thirty on the night of November 24, 2012, Sherri Wilkins, while speeding west on Torrance Boulevard, slammed into 31-year-old Phillip Moreno who was crossing the street near his home. The impact knocked Moreno out of his shoes and threw him up on the hood of Wilkins' car. Wilkins continued driving with the dying man lying on her hood, his body lodged into her windshield.

     At a traffic light two miles from where Moreno had been struck and thrown up onto the car, several motorists swarmed Wilkins' vehicle and grabbed her ignition key. An ambulance rushed Mr. Moreno to a local hospital where a few hours later he died. Los Angeles police officers took the substance abuse counselor into custody. Watkins' blood-alcohol content registered twice the legal limit for driving.

     On November 27, 2012 a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Sherri Wilkins with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. She was booked into the Los Angeles County Jail under $2.25 million bond.

     In April 2014 a jury in Terrance found Sherri Wilkins guilty of second-degree murder as well as several lesser offenses including hit-and-run. Two months later Superior Court Judge Henry Hall sentenced the 54-year-old to 55 years to life in prison. The judge said, "Ms. Wilkins demonstrated an extraordinary callousness in fleeing the scene and trying to shake Mr. Moreno's body off her car. Ms. Wilkins is not what we normally see. She's not a classic violent criminal. But you have to evaluate her history."(According to her own testimony, Wilkins' drug addiction started after she was involved in a traffic accident at the age of fifteen. Her back had been broken and she suffered shattered bones in her ankles and legs. She began medicating herself with heroin because it was "cheaper than going to the doctor.") In justifying the stiff sentence, Judge Hall added, "She had an insatiable desire to become intoxicated."

     Wilkins' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Nan Whitfield said she would appeal the sentence. To reporters outside the courthouse, Whitfield said, "Nobody likes a drunk driver. Because she was a drug and alcohol counselor she's held to a higher standard."

     In February 2016 a California appeals court overturned Wilkins' second-degree murder conviction on grounds the introduction of her entire criminal record prejudiced the jury. The court did not set aside her conviction for leaving the scene of the fatal accident.

     A year after the appeals court ruling Wilkins pleaded no contest to second-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to 25 years in prison.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Memo To Armed Robbers

     At five-thirty Tuesday evening November 12, 2014, 18-year-old Adric White and Tavoris Moss, 19, walked into a Family Dollar store in Baldwin County, Alabama outside of Mobile. White entered the premises carrying a handgun he intended to use to rob the place.

     This was not the first business establishment Adric White had held-up. A month earlier, after he robbed the nearby Original Oyster House, a judge allowed him to post bail despite the fact the Original Oyster House was not White's first robbery.

     In the back of the store White put his gun to a Family Dollar employee's head and ordered the hostage to the cash-out area where a customer saw what was happening. This customer, who was also armed, pulled his firearm as White forced the terrified clerk to get on his or her knees.

     The armed shopper yelled at Mr. White not to move. The robber, rather than lower his gun turned the weapon on the customer. Fearing that he would be shot, the armed citizen fired at the robber who collapsed to the floor.

     Police officers took the robber's companion into custody as paramedics rushed Adric White to the USA Medical Center. Although hit five times he survived the shooting and received treatment at the hospital while under police guard. The judge revoked his bail on the Original Oyster House hold-up.

     The day following the Family Dollar robbery and shooting a local television reporter spoke to a relative of White's who said the family was furious with the vigilante who had shot and almost killed their loved one. "If the customer's [shooter's] life was not in danger," said the robber's relative, "if no one had a gun up to him, what gives him the right to think that it's okay to shoot someone? The [armed customer] should have left the store and went wherever he had to go."

     The same TV correspondent spoke to the man who had used his gun to stop the robbery and perhaps save the store clerk's life. The shooter, referred to in the local media as the Good Samaritan, said he had no choice but to take the action in the case. When the robber raised his gun the customer fired in self defense. "I didn't want to shoot him," the shooter said.

     According to the Good Samaritan, "Criminals tend to think they are the only ones with guns. I've been legally carrying my firearm for a little over four years now, and thank God I've never had to use it until last night. It just shows it's good to have a concealed carry permit. You never know when you're going to need it."

       As could be expected, gun rights advocates and their opponents argued over the merits of this case. But one thing that was not up for debate: If you rob someone at gunpoint there is a good chance you will be shot by a police officer or a fellow citizen. And if you are, the person who shot you will be hailed by most people as a Good Samaritan.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Robert H. Richards IV: The Case of the Rich Pedophile

     In 2005 38-year-old Robert H. Richards IV resided with his wife Tracy and their three-year-old daughter and 19-month-old son. Mr. Richards, the heir to a pair of family fortunes, lived in a 5,800-square-foot mansion in Greenville, Delaware. He was a member of the du Pont family, the people who built a worldwide chemical empire, and was the son of a prominent Delaware attorney. Richards also owned a luxury home in the exclusive North Shores neighborhood near Rehoboth Beach.

     In October 2007 Mr. Richards' six-year-old daughter told her grandmother, Donna Burg, that her father had sexually assaulted her several times in 2005. According to the girl her father had penetrated her with his finger at night in her bedroom. He told his daughter to keep what he had done to her a secret. The grandmother passed this information on to the victim's mother, Tracy Richards. The mother took her daughter to a pediatrician who confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted.

     In December 2007 a grand jury sitting in New Castle County indicted Robert Richards on two counts of second-degree rape. If convicted of the felonies he faced a mandatory prison sentence. Following his arrest he retained the services of a high-powered Delaware defense attorney named Eugene J. Maurer Jr.

     Having denied his daughter's accusations, Robert Richards agreed to take a polygraph test. When advised by the lie detection examiner that he had failed the test he confessed to sexually assaulting his daughter. He said he was mentally ill and in need of psychiatric treatment.

     In June 2008 attorney Maurer and New Castle County prosecutor Renee Hrivnak agreed on a plea arrangement. According to the deal Mr. Richards would plead guilty to one count of fourth-degree rape. This was not an offense that called for an automatic stretch in prison.

     Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, in January 2009, sentenced Robert Richards to Level 2 probation. Under the terms of his sentence he would visit a case officer once a month. He also paid a $4,395 fine to the Delaware Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

     Judge Jurden, in justifying the probated sentence wrote that prison life would be especially difficult for Mr. Richards and that he would not fare well behind bars. In her mind prison was for drug dealers, robbers and murderers, not for child molesters in need of psychiatric treatment.

     In March 2014 Robert Richards' ex-wife Tracy filed a lawsuit against him on behalf of their children. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages for assault, negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional stress on his daughter and her younger brother.

     According to the affidavit in support of the lawsuit, Richards, in anticipation of a second polygraph test in April 2010, expressed concern about something he had done to his son in December 2005. He was worried that he sexually assaulted the then 19-month-old boy. Richards promised that whatever he had done to that child it would not happen again.

     Richards' incriminating remarks, sparked by the lie detector test he took in 2010 following his probated sentence for sexually assaulting his daughter were not make public until Tracy Richards filed her lawsuit. The new information inflamed a public already angry over what seemed to be Richards' preferential treatment by the prosecutor and Judge Jurden.

    On June 28, 2014 Robert Richards' attorney negotiated a settlement agreement with his client's former wife. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. No charges were filed against Richards in connection with the possible molestation of his son.

Friday, July 12, 2024

The Boy Scout Leader From Hell

     In mid-October 2013 Boy Scout leaders Glenn Taylor and David Hall took members of their troop on a tour of Goblin Valley State Park in southern Utah. Advertised as "a showcase of geologic history" the park, surrounded by eroded sandstone cliffs features boulders (called goblins) perched atop slender stone pedestals. These unique formations were created over a period of 170 million years by wind and water.

     Glenn Taylor, a beefy man in his mid-thirties with his son and other Boy Scouts looking on, and David Hall videotaping him, pushed a boulder roughly the size of a small car off its ancient pedestal. It took just fourteen seconds to destroy something nature took millions of years to create.

     The geological destroyer, flexing his muscles and beaming with pride over his achievement, laughed and high-fived the kids. Behind the video camera David Hall cheered Taylor on. "Boom!" he shouted when the boulder toppled off its point. "Yeah! We have now modified Goblin Valley!" Hall yelled triumphantly. Then, in a burst of absurd justification for this act of sheer idiocy, Hall said, "Some kid was about to walk down here and die and Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way. It's all about saving lives here at Goblin Valley." (This is like draining Lake Erie to keep swimmers from drowning. This is what clinical psychologists call "a load of crap.")

     Sometime after the state park desecration, a friend of Hall's published the video on YouTube. From that site it was linked up to Facebook. Eventually the video came to the attention of state park officials and the local prosecutor's office.

     In January 2014 the prosecutor charged Glenn Taylor with criminal mischief. The prosecutor charged David Hall with aiding criminal mischief. If found guilty of this third-degree felony the men faced up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

     Following his arraignment Glenn Taylor, absent his hero persona (remember he saved lives) but still full of crap, said, "It was wrong of us to be vigilantes. We thought we were doing a good deed. We should have alerted a park ranger."

     Utah state parks officer Eugene Swalberg, in speaking to a reporter about the case was not in a BS-accepting mood. "The destruction gives you a pit in your stomach," he said. "There seems to be a lot of happiness and joy with the individuals doing this, and it's not right. This is not what you do at a natural scenic area."

     Officials with Boy Scouts of America didn't think much of Mr. Taylor's vigilantism either. They kicked him and David Hall out of the organization.

     In March 2014 the defendants were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses. The judge, pursuant to the plea bargains, sentenced them to one year probation. The former Boy Scout leaders were also ordered to pay fines and restitution. They got off light. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

The Dino Gugglielmelli Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2001 Dino Gugglielmelli, the owner of Creations Garden, a $48 million natural cream and nutritional supplement business, met Monica Olsen, a Romanian born model twenty years younger than him. The 39-year-old tycoon had been married twice. Both of those marriages had been brief.

     Not long after the two met Monica Olsen moved into Gugglielmelli's six-bedroom, 7,000-square foot mansion on three acres north of Los Angeles. The couple married in April 2003 and by 2008 had two daughters. They also possessed a Maserati, a Porsche and a BMW.

     The Food and Drug Administration in 2009 tightened the federal regulations regarding the manufacture and marketing of nutritional supplements. This, along with an economic recession, took its toll on Gugglielmelli's business. By 2011 his company, along with his marriage, had collapsed.

     Dino Gugglielmelli in filing for divorce in October 2012 described Monica as a bad mother who "never made dinner for the children." According to court documents Mr. Gugglielmelli complained that nannies raised the children and domestic employees cleaned the house.

     In January 2013, after Mr. Gugglielmelli accused Monica of attacking him with a kitchen knife, she lost custody of the children and moved out of the mansion. Shortly after her departure Mr. Gugglielmelli acquired a young girlfriend. Although he was facing bankruptcy he lavished this woman with $200,000 in gifts. He used other people's money to impress his young lover.

     In the spring of 2013 investigators exonerated Monica Gugglielmelli in the domestic knife assault case. A family court judge in August of that year was about to award her $300,000 in back alimony payments. The federal government, the economy, and his pending divorce put an end to Dino Gugglielmelli's lavish life style. He did not like what the future held.

     On October 1, 2013 Mr. Gugglielmelli and 47-year-old Richard Euhrmann met in a Los Angeles restaurant. Euhrmann, a short time before this meeting had gone to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office with information that Gugglielmelli had asked him to murder his estranged wife. For that reason Mr. Euhrmann showed up at the restaurant wired for sound.

     During that meeting Dino Gugglielmelli allegedly offered his friend $80,000 to pull off the hit. "I'll be happy when it's over," he reportedly said. As the two men walked out of the restaurant deputies took Mr. Gugglielmelli into custody.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged the former millionaire with attempted murder and solicitation of murder. After being booked into the county's Men's Central Jail the judge set Gugglielmelli's bond at $10 million.

     At a pre-trial hearing in late 2013 Mr. Gugglielmelli's attorney Anthony Brooklier described Richard Euhrmann, the man Guggliemelli had allegedly asked to kill his estranged wife, as an opportunist and liar who had set up his client. 

     With her estranged husband behind bars for plotting to kill her, Monica moved back into the Gugglielmelli mansion.

     In May 2014, county jail officials moved the high-profile inmate into solitary confinement at the notorious Twin Towers correctional facility. In 2011 the 9,500-prisoner complex was named one of the ten worst jails in the world.  

     After receiving word that several of Gugglielmell's fellow inmates had approached him with offers to kill Richard Euhrmann, the principal witness against Gugglielmelli, corrections officials isolated him from the jail population. Gugglielmelli was also denied the privilege of seeing visitors. Richard Euhrmann, fearing for his life went into hiding.

     Monica, the alleged target of the murder-for-hire plot said she also worried about being killed by a hit man. Traumatized by the case she put the mansion up for sale asking for $3.5 million. She also tried to breathe new life into her beauty cream and baby skin care business.

    On June 13, 2014 in San Fernando Superior Court, Dino Gugglielmelli pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to nine years in prison.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Shane Absalon Murder Case

     In 1984, 17-year-old Shane Absalon lived in a Fort Worth, Texas apartment building with his parents. Ginger Hayden, a year older than him lived in the same apartment complex with her mother. She and Absalon had attended the same high school in Fort Worth. On September 4, 1984, after starting class at the University of Texas at Arlington (situated halfway between Fort Worth and Dallas) Ginger, her boyfriend Jeff Green and Shane Absalon were gathered in her mother's apartment drinking beer and watching television.

     At 6:15 the next morning Ginger Hayden's mother, Sharon Hayden Harvey, was awaken by the ringing of Ginger's alarm clock. When she entered the bedroom to see why Ginger hadn't turned off her alarm Sharon Harvey discovered her daughter lying on the floor next to her bed in a pool of blood. The hysterical mother dialed the operator and screamed, "My baby's dead!"

     According to the Tarrant County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Ginger Hayden had been stabbed 57 times with a kitchen knife and had bled to death. Wounds on the victim's arms and hands suggested she had put up a fight.

     Detectives with the Fort Worth Police Department questioned Shane Absalon on September 12, 1984. Absalon said that Ginger and her boyfriend were in the apartment when he left the place at 11:30 that night. When asked if he was willing to take a polygraph test Absalon said that he would. But the next day, stating that he was acting on the advice of his attorney, the suspect declined to submit to the lie detector examination.

     For whatever reason the investigation of Ginger Hayden's brutal murder ground to a halt and died on the vine. In the meantime Shane Absalon, during the two years following the homicide, turned into a drunk and drug abuser with a history of arrests for crimes such as burglary, arson and assault. In July 1986 he pleaded guilty in Tarrant County to smashing a vehicle with a club while intoxicated. The judge sentenced him to a one-year period of probation. Pursuant to his sentence he was ordered to enter a drug and alcohol treatment program in Richardson, Texas called Straight Inc. (This outfit was later closed down following charges of patient abuse.)

     In 2001, 18 years after Ginger Hayden's murder, cold-case investigators in Fort Worth re-opened the investigation which focused on Shane Absalon as the prime suspect. Detectives believed that he had murdered Hayden after she refused to have sex with him. Among other evidence of his guilt a neighbor had seen the suspect, after he said he had left his apartment that night, climb over a fence and knock on the victim's sliding patio door. But the police needed more, and it wasn't until 2009 that they had enough evidence to support his arrest. After acquiring DNA samples from Mr. Absalon, forensic experts were able to link him to the murder scene.

     On August 20, 2010 Shane Absalon was taken into custody at his home in Sierra Vista, Arizona where he lived with his wife and young child. At the time he was working as a welder. A month later a grand jury sitting in Fort Worth indicted Absalon for capital murder. If convicted, he would be automatically sentenced to life in prison. Because he had been a juvenile at the time of the murder the defendant was not eligible for the death penalty. Moreover, under the applicable 1984 law, the 43-year-old would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years of his sentence.

     Word of Shane Absalon's arrest reached at least three former patients who were treated with him in 1986 for alcohol and drug abuse at Straight Inc. These people had attended group therapy sessions with Absalon. The news of his arrest for Ginger Hayden's murder prompted the former patients to tell the Fort Worth police that during a group therapy session two years after the murder he had confessed to killing a girl he knew. (Why didn't these former drug-alcohol patients inform the police immediately after Absalon's group therapy confession?)

     Shane Absalon's trial got underway on September 17, 2012. Following the testimony of a DNA analyst who linked the defendant to the murder scene, the prosecutor put three of the former Straight Inc. patients on the stand to state their recollections of the defendant's group therapy confession. (Absalon's attorney Gary Udashen objected to the introduction of this evidence but was overruled by the judge.)

     The first Straight Inc. witness, Sean Garrett informed the jurors that "He [the defendant] told me he was angry. He told me he wanted more of a relationship with her [the victim], that he wanted to be more than just friends. Her response was no, and he was real embarrassed. He stabbed her until he was tired and thought she was dead. His intentions were to kill her." According to this witness, after stabbing Hayden to death, Absalon cleaned up in the bathroom, threw his jacket and shoes in a nearby trash bin and went back to his apartment.

     Former patient Stefany Knight took the stand and said, "Shane stood up to admit to wrongdoing when he was high on heroin. He said he killed a girl...stabbed her with a knife." Michele Valencia, the third Straight, Inc. witness, testified that Absalon's confession had made her physically ill.

     Defense attorney Gary Udashen, in cross-examining Michele Valencia got her to admit that members of the rehabilitation center's poorly trained staff had pressured patients into confessing to crimes and former bad behavior. In this witness' opinion some patients made false confessions just to please staff members running the group therapy sessions. "There was some brainwashing going on...I learned to conform. I had to get out," she said.

      Defense attorney Udashen, in addressing the crime scene DNA evidence in his closing remarks to the jury, referred to unidentified semen on the victim's bed quilt and unidentified blood and tissue under Hayden's fingernails. The fact the defendant's DNA was in the apartment was not surprising because he had been there many times. Suggesting that Ginger Hayden had been murdered by a serial killer who had been loose in the Fort Worth area at the time of her death, the defense attorney said, "The person who killed Ginger Hayden is still out there, and the police need to find that person. That person is not Shane Abalson."

     On September 21, 2012, the jury, following a short deliberation, found the defendant guilty of capital murder. Shane Absalon looked stunned after the foreman of the jury read the verdict. The convicted man's wife ran out of the courtroom in tears. Absalon would not eligible for parole until after the 45-year-old turned 65.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Failed Policing Leads to Vigilantism

     In the summer of 2013 Mary (not her real name), a 15-year-old with Down Syndrome worked a few hours a week at a coffee shop in southwest Detroit called Cafe Con Leche. On July 17 Mary did not show up for her two-hour shift that began at 3:30 PM. The shop's owner, Jordi Carbonell, called Mary's legal guardian who lived a few blocks away. (Mary's mother had died of cancer in 2006.)  The legal guardian informed Mr. Carbonell that Mary had left the house on time for her four-block walk through the Hubbard Farms neighborhood. Shortly after Mr. Carbonell's call Mary walked into the shop. When asked why she was late Mary said she had been with a friend.

     That evening, Mary shocked her legal guardian by telling her that she had been raped that afternoon by a neighborhood man named Bill (not his real name) who invited her to his apartment. According to Mary, Bill had kissed her, told her to undress then raped her. She said he used his cellphone to take photographs of her in the nude.
     Bill, who referred to himself as Super Fly and an Aztec Warrior, was known in the neighborhood for his strange and often confrontational behavior. The 43-year-old was generally disliked by residents of the area who considered him an oddball. He had big puffy hair and walked around in shorts and high socks. In January 2012 a judge had committed Bill to a mental health facility. According to a psychiatrist who treated him there, Bill was severely depressed. The doctor had written: "He feels hopeless and helpless. He plans to kill himself by hanging."
     Mary's guardian reported Mary's claim of rape to the Detroit Police Department on the day the girl reported the crime to her. A member of the sex crimes unit asked a medical technician to gather physical evidence from Mary for possible DNA analysis. Because of the complainant's limited communication skills a detective,  five days after the complaint, brought in a specialist to question her. 
     Mary's guardian became concerned when twelve days passed without anything happening in the case. On July 29, twelve days following the alleged crime, police officers took Bill into custody. When detectives questioned him he refused to cooperate. Before booking him into the Wayne County Jail an officer swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. 
     The lead investigator on Mary's case asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to charge Bill with rape. An assistant prosecutor in the office, in denying the request, asked for more evidence. The prosecutor recommended that detectives search Bill's apartment. (Apparently the police didn't search the apartment when they took Bill into custody.) 
     On July 31, 48 hours after taking the rape suspect into custody, the police, without a criminal charge had no choice but to release Bill back into the community. Two days later, 16 days after the rape report, police officers searched Bill's apartment. They seized a bed sheet, a blanket and a cellphone. 
     On August 5, 2013 Mary's guardian and members of the community who followed the case with great interest were surprised to learn that the officer in charge of the investigation, 19 days after the rape report, just sent Mary's rape kit to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. At this point in the investigation detectives couldn't even prove that the complainant had engaged in sex. 
     In response to criticism and neighborhood outrage over the way the case was being handled, a Detroit police administrator blamed the rape kit submission delay on the fact that during this crucial period in the case the sex crime unit moved its offices to a new headquarters. When it became obvious that this excuse only created more anger and frustration in the community the police administrator promised an internal investigation. This did not silence the critics. As far as neighborhood residents were concerned a rapist lived among them under the nose of the police. Instead of handling a rape case properly, investigators were focused on moving their offices. In the Detroit Police Department the crime of rape was obviously low priority. 
     On August 11, 2013, 24 days after Mary's rape report, a man on a bicycle carrying a baseball bat rode up to Bill as he walked along the street not far from his apartment building. "You like raping little girls?" the man asked as he began whacking Bill in the legs with the bat. A witness to the assault called 911. After the beating, as he limped along the sidewalk back to his apartment, Bill was attacked by five men who as a group punched and kicked him. By the time Detroit Police officers arrived at the scene Bill was on the ground and his assailants were gone. An ambulance took Bill to a nearby hospital.
      When released from the hospital Bill did not return to his dwelling. On the night of his beatings someone broke into his apartment and spray-painted "rapist" on the outside wall near the windows to his residence. The next day the building owner hired an armed security guard to make nervous tenants feel safer. 
    No arrests were made in connection with the assaults on the neighborhood rape suspect.

     This Detroit rape case split the neighborhood into two camps. One group was in support of the vigilantism while others deplored the idea of citizens taking the law into their own hands. One thing they all agreed on was this: the Detroit Police Department, by bungling the investigation, had created the environment for vigilantism. 
     Bill was never charged with rape.