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Monday, May 30, 2016

The Dan Markel Murder-For-Hire Case

     Raised in Toronto, Canada by well-to-do parents, Dan Markel, in 1995, graduated from Harvard University with a degree in philosophy. Upon earning his undergraduate degree, he studied political philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and continued his studies at the University of Cambridge in England. In 2001, he graduated from Harvard University Law School.

     After practicing law in Washington, D.C., Markel, in 2005, joined the teaching staff at Florida Statue University Law School in Tallahassee. A year later, he married Wendi Adelson, a graduate of Brandeis University and the University of Miami Law School. After acquiring her law degree in 2005, Florida State University hired her to run their public outreach program. They were married in 2006.

     In 2010, Markel, now a tenured associate professor making $193,000 a year, resided with his wife and their two young sons in the upscale Betton Hills community in Tallahassee. He had become a renowned author, teacher and scholar in the field of retributive justice, the study of punishment in proportion to the crime. He also published a popular academic law blog called, "PrawlsBlawg" that helped recent law graduates find careers in the field.

     In January 2012, Professor Markel's life took a turn for the worse when his wife Wendi blindsided him with the news she wanted a divorce. Moreover, she wanted to take their sons, 3 and 5, with her to south Florida. This led to a bitter child custody battle. The divorce became final in September 2012.

      In 2012, Professor Markel became the target of derision on a blog called "Insidethelawschoolscam," a site devoted to the proposition that law schools, by promising applicants jobs in the field, were knowingly lying about the dwindling career opportunities in law. The followers of the blog were mostly recent law school graduates saddled with huge education debts and no prospects of finding positions in the field.

     Visitors and contributors to "Insidethelawschoolscam" idolized a like-minded University of Colorado law professor named Paul Campos. Campos and his admirers believed that law schools, through false advertising and misrepresentation, were swindling students.

     "Insidethelawschoolscams" enthusiasts considered Professor Markel and his blog part of the problem. In defending his good name, Markel began to engage his detractors by posting messages on the blog. In return, he received responses like this: "Do you have the empathy to compare the terror that goes through a 26-year-old's life when a student loan bill comes due and you can't pay it? When he can't even get a job at Walmart because the education you sold him under false pretenses is so worthless that it won't even advance his candidacy at retail? Now compare that terror, the terror of having your life and financial future pass before your eyes, to the minor annoyance you felt at having your "name" sullied. Get over yourself."

     Over time, name-calling on "Insidethelawschoolscam" turned to the posting of messages that caused Professor Markel to feel under threat of physical harm. He had become the face of the problem and the target of his detractors' wrath.

     Many of Professor Markel's FSU law students considered him abrasive, arrogant, and unhelpful. They complained online that they couldn't find him in his office. When they did find him he was difficult to talk to.

     The year 2012 had been a tough one for Dan Markel. He had been through a bitter divorce, had developed enemies in the blog world, and incurred the anger and frustration of some of his students. What had been a sweet life had turned sour.

     At eleven in the morning of July 18, 2014, Professor Markel pulled onto his driveway and into his garage while talking on his cellphone. The moment he stopped his vehicle, a person who had followed him into the garage shot the 41-year-old in the head through the driver's side window. The killer then drove off in a white or silver Toyota Prius-type vehicle.

     A Betton Hills neighbor heard the gun go off and called 911. When police and paramedics arrived at the scene, Markel was still alive. A few hours later, however, he died at a nearby hospital.

     Homicide detectives believed that the killing was not a random murder. The killer had marked the professor for death and had carried out the murder plot.

     On May 25, 2016, detectives with the Hallandale Beach Police Department arrested 34-year-old Sigredo Garcia for Markel's murder. Officers booked Garcia into the Broward County Jail on charges of first-degree murder and possession of cocaine. Garcia had a criminal history that included strong arm robbery and burglary.

     According to a police spokesperson, the murder of the law professor is being handled as a murder-for-hire case. Up to six more arrests in the case are anticipated. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ethel Anderson: The Unrepentant Child Molester

     In 2011, Ethel Anderson, a 29-year-old teacher at the Mango Elementary School in suburban Seffner, Florida outside of Tampa, resided in Riverside with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. Anderson had recently been named the Diversity School Teacher of the Year.

     In December 2011, Teacher of the Year Anderson began tutoring a 12-year-old math student in her home. Over the next three months, she and the boy exchanged 230 pages of test messages in which she described, in vivid language, her lust for the child. Anderson also expressed her anxiety over feeling unattractive because of her weight. In these exchanges, the boy used the name Dirty Dan. No one reading this material would have guessed that Dirty Dan was a 12-year-old kid communicating with one of his public school teachers. The online exchange between teacher and student, while a bit puerile, was pretty raunchy.

     In February 2012, the teacher-student affair ended following a lover's spat. The angry kid got his revenge by telling his mom everything. It's hard to imagine what was going through the mother's mind when her son described receiving oral sex from a woman paid to teach him math. The couple, according to the boy, also simulated various sexual acts while fully clothed. The boy's tutor also fondled him.

     The mother, perhaps worried that school officials and police officers would take the teacher's word over her son's, confronted Anderson before alerting the authorities. During that meeting, the teacher admitted having an inappropriate relationship with the boy. The student's mom, having clandestinely audio-taped the conversation, went to the police with the evidence. (The mother may also have seen the texted messages between her son and Anderson.)

     Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters, in March 2012, charged Ethel Anderson with nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Following the teacher's arrest, the school suspended her without pay. Eight months later, Anderson resigned.

     The child molestation trial got underway in Tampa on September 18, 2013. The boy, now 14, took the stand for the prosecution. "I felt she was like my real girlfriend," he said. "She said I was her boyfriend and she loved me. I was thinking, 'I'm living a guy's dream...dating my teacher.' "

     According to the young prosecution witness, Anderson told him she planned to leave her husband because he wasn't a good father, and didn't communicate with her. As time went on, however, the student began having doubts about the relationship. "I'm dating a girl I'm in love with and she thinks of me as a kid. It didn't feel right."

     On the third and final day of the trial, defense attorney William Knight, in a bold move, put his client on the stand. Rather than plead some kind of emotional breakdown, drinking problem or addiction to drugs, the former school teacher denied having physical contact with the boy, essentially calling him a liar. Claiming that the 12-year-old had tried to instigate a sexual relationship, Anderson said, "He attempted, at one point, to grab me in an inappropriate manner. He attempted to kiss me and I pushed him off."

     Regarding her sexually vivid text messages, the defendant said they were nothing more than "sexual therapy" tools to get the boy to focus on his studies. "I recognize it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was all fantasy," she said. "He was going through puberty. He couldn't connect with his family. He was always thinking sexually. My purpose was to get his attention."

     Prosecutor Peters, in a blistering cross-examination of the defendant, asked, "You want the jury to believe that you were in fantasyland to help the boy? Was that part of your training as a teacher? So by giving in to these sexual fantasies he did better in school?"

     "Sometimes, yes," Anderson replied.

     Defense attorney Knight, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the prosecution had not presented one piece of physical evidence proving any kind of sexual contact between his client and the student.

     When it came her turn to address the jury, the prosecutor called the former teacher's attempt to explain herself "remarkable," and "amazing in its audacity." The state attorney told the jurors that "everything the defendant told you defies logic and common sense."

     On December 19, 2013, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, calling Ethel Anderson a parent's worst nightmare, sentenced the former teacher to 38 years in prison.

     Judge Tharpe was Anderson's worst nightmare.

 
 
     

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Beth Carpenter Murder-For-Hire Case

     When Kim Carpenter met Anson "Buzz" Clinton III in the summer of 1992, she was a 22-year-old divorcee living with her two-year-old daughter Rebecca in her parents' house in Ledyard, Connecticut. Buzz, a 26-year-old exotic dancer with a son who was three, had been divorced as well. Buzz and Kim got married that winter in Lyme, Connecticut at the Clinton family home. Buzz, having given up exotic dancing, had a job as a nurse's assistant in the a southeastern Connecticut convalescent home. Kim was three months pregnant with his baby.

     Before Kim and Buzz were married, Kim's parents, Richard and Cynthia Carpenter, had taken care of Kim's daughter Rebecca. They had become quite attached to their granddaughter and were concerned that Kim and her new husband, a man they did not consider worthy of their daughter, would not be suitable parents. Richard and Cynthia wanted Rebecca back under their roof.

     In November 1993, the Carpenters, alleging that Buzz was abusing their granddaughter, went to court to to gain legal custody of the little girl. Kim and Buzz denied the allegation and fought  to retain custody of Rebecca. The family court judge ruled against the Carpenters, denying them custody of their granddaughter. Kim had since given birth to Buzz's child, and was pregnant again. There was so much bad blood between Buzz and Kim's parents, he began making plans to move his family to Arizona. The Carpenters were sickened by the possibility that their beloved granddaughter might be taken out of their reach by a mother who couldn't  care for her and a man they believed was abusive. The grandparents felt helpless, and were on the verge of panic.

     On the morning of March 10, 1994, a motorist exiting the East Lyme off-ramp on I-95 saw the body of a man lying along the highway not far from an idling 1986 Pontiac Firebird. It was Buzz Clinton. He had been shot five times, then driven over by a vehicle as he lay dead on the road.

     Detectives with the Connecticut State Police learned that earlier that morning, someone had called Buzz about a tow truck he was selling.  Because investigators were unable to identify this caller, the case stalled. Whoever had murdered Buzz Clinton had not done it for his wallet, or anything else of value. Without a motive or a suspect, detectives quickly ran out of leads. In the meantime, Kim and Rebecca, and the two children fathered by Buzz Clinton, moved in with the Carpenters in Ledyard.

     On May 25, 1995, ten months after the murder, the Connecticut State Police received a call that shot life back into the investigation. The caller, who didn't identify herself, said that her ex-boyfriend and one of his associates had been involved in Buzz Clinton's murder. The anonymous caller named the principals, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, 40-year-old Joseph Fremut and and a biker dude from Deep River Connecticut named Mark Dupres. The caller didn't say why Buzz Clinton had been killed. Both suspects had criminal histories involving petty crimes and drug dealing. But neither man, as far as detectives could determine, had any direct link to Buzz Clinton.

     Detectives looking into Mark Dupres' background eventually found an indirect and rather thin connection between the biker and the murder victim. Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, worked in the New London law firm that employed Kim's sister, Beth Carpenter. When questioned by detectives, Joseph Fremut, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, said that Mark Dupres had been the one who had murdered Buzz Clinton. Fremut said he had been involved in the planning phase of the homicide, but had not been with Dupres when the shooting took place. According to Fremut, Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, had paid Dupres to do the job for another attorney who worked at the New London law firm.

     A few days after his initial interview, Mark Dupres confessed to detectives with the Connecticut State Police. He admitted being the person who had called Buzz Clinton to inquire about the tow truck he was selling. Accompanied by his 15-year-old son Chris, Dupres, on the morning of the murder, had driven to Buzz Clinton's house. From there, Dupres and his son, in their Oldsmobile Cutlass, followed Clinton to the place where he kept the vehicle for sale. As they were coming off exit 72 in East Lyme, Dupres blinked his lights signaling Clinton to pull over. As Clinton approached the driver's side of the Oldsmobile, Dupres got out of the vehicle to meet him. When he was between the two cars, Dupres pulled his revolver and shot Clinton five times.

     As Dupres pulled away from the murder scene, with his son Chris still in the vehicle, he drove over Clinton's body. Detectives asked the suspect why he would kill a man in front of his son. Dupres, who apparently didn't get the point of the question, shrugged his shoulders and said that the boy hadn't done anything wrong.

    Mark Dupres told the detectives he had killed Buzz Clinton on behalf of his attorney, Haiman Clein. In payment for the murder, the lawyer had given him $1,000 in upfront money. According to their agreement, Dupres would receive $4,000 after the hit. As it turned out, Clein only paid the hit man an additional $500.

     Detectives learned that Haiman Clein, who didn't know Buzz Clinton, was just the middleman. The 53-year-old attorney had allegedly arranged the murder for Beth Carpenter, a beautiful young attorney in the New London law firm. Carpenter was the murder victim's sister-in-law. Clein and the 30-year-old blonde were having an affair.

     Mark Dupres told detectives that he had met with Beth Carpenter in Clein's law office. On that occasion, the three of them discussed the murder plan in some detail. From Carpenter, Dupres acquired a photograph of the murder target, his work address, and the license number of his Pontiac Firebird. Beth Carpenter said that she wanted Buzz Clinton dead because he had been abusing her niece Rebecca. The young lawyer said her parents had tried but failed to gain legal custody of the little girl. That's when Beth, without her parents' knowledge, began planning Clinton's murder. It was all about Rebecca. Shortly before Dupres murdered Buzz Clinton, Beth Carpenter moved to London, England.

     Charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Joseph Fremut and Mark Dupres, pursuant to plea agreements, promised to testify against Attorney Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter. In Dupres' case, the prosecutor, under the agreement, would recommend a prison sentence that didn't exceed 45 years. The triggerman's son Chris, having been granted immunity from prosecution, also agreed to testify against the two lawyers.

     Haiman Clein avoided arrest by fleeing the state. Beth Carpenter told FBI agents stationed in London that Mr. Clein had been the mastermind behind the contract murder. Claiming total innocence, Beth denied prior knowledge of the murder. She agreed to help the FBI find the missing Clein who every so often called her from a public telephone. In February 1996, FBI agents arrested Clein as he stood by a telephone booth in Long Beach, California. He had been awaiting a call from Beth Carpenter.

     Following his arrest, Clein insisted that he was innocent. But sixteen months later, he accepted a plea bargain arrangement similar to the one given his former client and friend, triggerman Mark Dupres. Betrayed by Beth Carpenter, he identified her as the mastermind and himself nothing more than a middle-man in the deadly scheme. This gave the prosecutor enough evidence to charge Beth Carpenter, on August 26, 1997, with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder. No longer living in England, she had moved to Dublin where she was living under her own name. In November 1997, the Irish police took her into custody.

     Claiming that she had been framed by Haiman Clein who sought revenge because she had ratted him out to the FBI, Carpenter fought extradition to the United States. Because the prosecutor in Connecticut sought the death penalty, the authorities in Ireland, pursuant to a policy that forbade extraditing foreign fugitives who could be executed in their home countries, refused to send her back. The following year, as Carpenter sat in an Irish jail, Dupres and Clein pleaded guilty. They were each sentenced to 45 years in prison.

     In June 1999, after the Connecticut prosecutor promised not to seek the death penalty in the case, the Irish authorities sent Beth Carpenter back to the U. S. to face charges that she had orchestrated the murder of Buzz Clinton. Because she had already spent 19 months behind bars, the judge in Connecticut released her on $150,000 bail. The defendant was allowed her to await her trial under house arrest in her parents' home.

     The televised murder trial (Court TV) began in February 2001, eight years after Mark Dupres pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton as he walked toward the killer's car parked alongside the I-95 off-ramp. Appearing for the prosecution, the victim's mother, Dee Clinton, described how the defendant's parents had fought to wrest custody of Rebecca from her son and his wife Kim. The custody battle had created bad blood between her son and the Carpenter family. This provided the motive for the murder-for-hire killing.

     The hit man's son, Chris Dupres, testified that until the shooting took place, he had no idea what his father had planned to do. As they left the murder scene that morning, the car rolled over the victim's body. Ten minutes after the killing, his father smashed the murder weapon with a hammer and tossed the pieces into the woods.

     Haiman Clein, now 61-years-old and disbarred, took the stand on March 8, 2002. In December 1993, shortly after the Carpenters lost their custody battle for Rebecca, the defendant told Clein that as long as Buzz Clinton was alive, Rebecca was in danger and beyond the reach of her protection. Eventually Beth came right out and asked if Clein would arrange to have someone kill the source of the problem. At first Clein wasn't sure she was serious, but when Beth kept bringing up the subject, he realized that she really wanted Buzz Clinton dead.

     According to Clein's testimony, in late January 1994, he brought Beth, his colleague and lover, and Mark Dupres, his client and friend, together in his office to discuss the murder. A month before Dupres was to perform the hit, he got cold feet and called off the murder. A couple of weeks after that, the contract killing was back on his schedule after Beth came to him in tears claiming that Buzz Clinton had just locked Rebecca in the basement and burned her with a cigarette.

     At four in the morning on March 11, 1993, less than twenty-four hours after the murder, Beth Carpenter called Haiman Clein and said she was worried sick and had to see him. In bed with his wife, Clein got dressed and drove to Norwich to calm his anxious mistress. When he got to her apartment, she refused to discuss the murder because she was afraid the FBI had bugged the place.

     Haiman Clein testified that when Mark Dupres told him he had taken his son along on the hit, the attorney was furious. How stupid could you get? If the kid talked, they'd all end up in prison. Now Clein had something to worry about.

     Mark Dupres, the prosecution's most important witness, took the stand and implicated himself, Clein, and the defendant. Following the hit man's testimony, the state rested its case. As murder-for-trials go, the prosecution had presented a solid case, one that would require a strong defense. To provide that defense, Beth Carpenter's attorneys put their best witness on the stand, the defendant herself.

     Beth Carpenter testified that when Haiman Clein found out about Buzz Clinton and what he was doing to Rebecca, he arranged the hit on his own volition to solve the problem for Beth and her niece. After she found out what he had done on her behalf, she didn't turn him in because, "I needed to be with him. I wasn't a whole person." Shocked by what he had done, she said to him, "Only someone who is crazy would do something like this." To that Clein had allegedly replied, "Don't you see? You don't have anything to worry about anymore."

     On April 12, 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty as charged. The defendant and her attorneys, thinking that Clein and Dupres had not been believable witnesses, were stunned by the verdict. Four months later, the judge complied with the terms of the Irish extradition agreement by sentencing Beth Carpenter to life in prison without parole.

     

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Alan Goodman Murder Case

     Alan and Lois Goodman, in 2012, had been married 50 years. In the early 1960s, Alan started an auto parts business in Los Angeles. Lois, who in 1979 became a tennis referee (or line umpire--I don't know the first thing about this sport), had risen to the top of her profession, and at age 70, was still officiating matches. She and her 80-year-old husband lived in a condominium in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles out in the San Fernando Valley.

     On April 17, 2012, Lois called 911 to report the discovery of Alan Goodman lying on his bed either unconscious or dead. LAPD officers from the Topanga station responded to the scene. According Lois, she had been away from the condo six hours during which time she had been refereeing tennis matches at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills.

     Upon entering the dwelling, Lois said she noticed a broken coffee mug on the floor with blood on it. From the mug, she followed a trail of blood into Alan's bedroom where she found him unresponsive with a bloody wound to the right side of his head.

     Lois Goodman informed the police officers that her husband, a diabetic with high blood pressure, must have had an heart attack, fallen down a flight of stairs, then somehow made it to his room and climbed onto his bed. Because of Mr. Goodman's age, the LAPD officers had no reason to suspect criminal homicide.

     Two fire department paramedics pronounced Mr. Goodman dead at the scene. While neither of the medics were trained homicide investigators, they possessed enough common sense and death site experience to interpret an oddly shaped wound to the right side of the dead man's head as possible evidence of foul play. As evidence of their suspicion, the medics took care not to disturb the body on grounds it might be part of a murder scene. Although the police officers should have been cautioning the paramedics not to handle the corpse, the cops, relying on Lois Goodman's death narration, allowed the body to be transported to its place of future cremation. In a situation that cried out for, at the very least, an autopsy, Mr. Goodman's corpse, and perhaps evidence of murder, were headed for the furnace.

     Whether or not a homicide had occurred in the Woodland Hills condominium, the initial phase of the Goodman case was not how situations like this should be handled in the second largest police department in the country, or for that matter, anywhere else.

     On April 20, 2012, three days after Alan Goodman's death, an investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who had been dispatched to sign Mr. Goodman's death certificate, noticed several deep cuts on the dead man's head and ear that seemed too severe to have been caused by an accidental spill down a flight of steps. This death investigator's rather basic observation led to an autopsy of Mr. Goodman's body. The coroner's office had literally pulled this case out of the fire.

     The next day, a forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Mr. Goodman's cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head from a sharp object. The pathologist found shards of the broken coffee mug imbedded in the victim's wounds. Moreover, Mr. Goodman had not suffered a heart attack. Instead of a flight of stairs, Mr. Goodman had been killed by being struck in the head with a coffee mug. As a result of the autopsy findings, the coroner's office ruled the manner of this death a homicide.

     Had Mr. Goodman's body been cremated, the cause and manner of this man's death would have remained a mystery. On the other hand, because the autopsy had been delayed three days, the forensic pathologist could not pinpoint the time of death.

     Los Angeles detectives, on April 21, 2012, searched the Goodman condominium in Woodland Hills. The searchers discovered heavy blood staining on the carpets, on the refrigerator door, inside the linen closet, and on a wall near the inside door to the garage.

     In general, an analysis of the blood spatter patterns in the condo did not support the theory that Mr. Goodman had fallen down a flight of stairs. (I don't know if the police had collected the broken coffee mug and its pieces from the crime scene. If they didn't preserve what turned out to be the murder weapon, that would be a problem. And even if they did retrieve it later, there would be a chain of custody problem.)

     Shortly after the search of the Goodman condo, detectives questioned Lois Goodman, this time as a suspect in her husband's murder. According to published police documents, she gave conflicting accounts of what she had observed upon entering the dwelling that day. At one point, she described the scene as "violent," and suggested that someone may have "positioned" Mr. Goodman's body in his bed.

     Over the next four months, Los Angeles detectives, with Lois Goodman as their prime suspect, thoroughly investigated the murder. This led to the discovery of emails she had exchanged with a man who may have been a lover. In one email, Lois Goodman referred to "terminating" a relationship. Investigators suspected that Goodman had murdered her husband for another man. The fact there were no signs of forced entry into the condo, and that nothing had been stolen from the dwelling, comprised more circumstantial evidence that Lois Goodman had been responsible for her husband's violent death. Moreover, when speaking to the responding officers that day, the dead man's wife had gone out of her way to establish her whereabouts at the time of his death, behavior inconsistent with that of a grieving widow.

     In mid-August 2012, after a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Lois Goodman with the murder of her husband, detectives followed her to New York City where she was scheduled to officiate at the U.S. Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows. On August 21, on the eve of the Open, New York City officers went to her Manhattan hotel room and arrested her on the California murder warrant. That evening, Los Goodman found herself in the Rikers Island lock-up under $1 million bond and awaiting her extradition hearing.

     Back in Los Angeles on August 29, 2012, at her arraignment hearing, the judge, assured by Goodman's attorney Alison Triessl that the tennis line umpire was not dangerous, or a candidate for flight, reduced her bail to $500,000. In speaking to reporters, attorney Triessl, in making the case that her 70-year-old client was physically incapable of killing her husband, pointed out that she had received two full knee replacements, and a shoulder replacement. According to the attorney, Lois Goodman was "wearing two hearing aids, and had rheumatoid arthritis."

     On September 3, 2012, Lois Goodman, after spending two weeks in jail, was released on bail.

     The FBI announced, on October 10, 2012, that Lois Goodman, when asked by a bureau polygraph examiner if she killed her husband, answered no--and passed the test. The polygraph expert, Jack Trimarco, said there was "no significant reaction" when Goodman answered "no" to the payload question. He asked that question several times. If you believe in the polygraph technique, and trust the FBI, this was an important development in the case.

     On November 30, 2012, the Los Angeles prosecutor, due to insufficient evidence, dropped the murder charges against Lois Goodman.

     In April 2015, a federal judge dismissed Lois Goodman's false arrest lawsuit against the LAPD. The plaintiff had claimed the murder accusation caused her "public humiliation." In setting out his rationale for the dismissal, Judge John A. Kronstadt wrote that the LAPD homicide investigation had produced "substantial details sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to arrest Lois Goodman."

     As of May 2016, there have been no other arrests in the case.

       

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Connie Villa: A Sick and Dangerous Woman

     Adam and Connie Villa were married in 2005. She had a 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He was a member of the Arizona National Guard. The couple and the child, Aniarael Macias, resided in Casa Grande, a suburban community 50 miles south of Phoenix. In 2006, Adam Villa served a year in Iraq with his National Guard unit. By 2010, the couple had three children of their own.

     Adam and Connie Villa were divorced in 2012. Following the break-up, the battle over legal custody of the children began.

     On Christmas day, 2013, Adam Villa called 911 to report that his wife had stabbed him in the chest and that he was driving himself to the hospital. Police officers rushed to the Villa residence where they encountered Connie Villa holding a knife to her chest. Officers subdued the distraught 35-year-old woman and called for an ambulance.

     The three younger Villa children, ages 3, 5, and 8, were in the house when the police arrived. The youngsters informed the officers that their mother had forced them to consume what turned out to be a narcotics-based prescription drug.

     In the bathroom, officers discovered the body of 13-year-old Aniarael Macias. Because there were no marks on her body, officers assumed that Connie Villa had poisoned the girl with prescription drugs.

     While 33-year-old Adam Villa remained in stable condition at the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, physicians at the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix treated Connie Villa for superficial, self-inflicted knife wounds. The three children, although there were traces of opiates in their bodies, were fine. The siblings were placed into the custody of relatives.

     On Sunday, December 29, 2013, upon her release from the hospital, detectives took Connie into custody. When questioned at the police station, she admitted stabbing her husband and poisoning their three children. In the bathroom, after being unable to force Aniarael to ingest the prescription drug, Connie suffocated her to death with her bare hands.

     Detectives asked Connie why she had killed her oldest child, stabbed her husband, and tried to poison the little ones to death. She said she was afraid the judge would grant custody of the children to her ex-husband. (This explains why she tried to kill her husband. But why did she want to murder her four children?)

     On January 8, 2014, Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles charged Villa with premeditated first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, kidnapping, and four counts of child abuse. The suspected, through her public defender attorney, pleaded not guilty to all charges. She was held in the Pinal  County Jail without bond.

     In June, 2014, a Pinal County Superior Court judge approved the prosecution's request to seek the death penalty in the case.

     The Villa murder trial date was postponed several times due to procedural issues. As of May 2016, the case remains unresolved.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Grace Anne Hall's Strange And Suspicious Death

     Twenty-three-year-old Grace Anne Hall was last seen at eight o'clock on the evening of March 20, 2013. She was driving her 1997 silver-gray Toyota Camry in the Serra Mesa section of San Diego, California. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound blonde with tattoos on her upper back was reportedly on her way to an unknown location in the Los Angeles area city of Sherman Oaks for a job interview.

     According to detectives with the San Diego Police Department, Hall used her credit card in the Mira Mesa part of San Diego one week after her disappearance.

     On April 18, 2013, at nine-thirty in the morning, a San Diego patrol officer spotted Hall's Toyota parked in front of the Grab-n-Go Sub Shop in the Kearny Mesa community. According to witnesses, the vehicle had been sitting there for a week.

     When homicide investigators opened the Toyota's trunk, they discovered Hall's body. An autopsy conducted by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office revealed no sighs of external trauma on Hall's body. In other words, she had not been bludgeoned, stabbed, or shot.    

     Pending the results of toxicology tests, detectives began to consider the possibility of suicide. According to Hall's father, the victim had been unemployed and was despondent. At the time of her disappearance, she had been living with him. According to Lieutenant Jorge Duran of the San Diego Police Homicide Unit, "The more we discuss the case the more it seems this was not a homicide."

     On June 30, 2013, the San Diego County Medical Examiner announced the cause of Grace Anne Hall's death as acute ethylene glycol poisoning. Because she had ingested a quantity of automobile antifreeze, the medical examiner ruled the manner of death in this highly suspicious case as suicide.

     According to suicide experts, it is extremely rare for a person to commit suicide in the trunk of a car. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

People Murdered Over Nothing

     Just because murder is a serious criminal offense does not mean that murderers always have equally serious motives to kill. In the world of criminal homicide, the motive does not always match the crime. Authors of detective novels give their fictitious murderers good reasons to kill such as sweet revenge, big money, passionate sex, jealous love, and burning hatred. In the victimology of crime fiction, the killer and the killed usually know each other well. In novels, murderers are, if not nice people, fascinating folks with interesting reasons to commit the ultimate crime.

     In real life, people who commit criminal homicide are often wildly insane, drug-addled, or just plain stupid. Nonfiction killers are frequently uninteresting people who kill for trivial, idiotic reasons. Quite often, in real life, the murder victim is as insane, drug-addled or stupid as the person who killed him. In the more tragic cases, these mindless murderers take the lives of decent people who simply had the misfortune of crossing their lethal paths. If there is anything interesting in these under-motivated murder cases, it is the fact they are real. The advantage of writing about nonfiction crime is that these cases do not have to make a whole lot of sense. They just have to be true. Fiction, on the other hand, has to be believable. Fiction has to make sense.

The Trigger-Happy Mr. Dunn

     At 7:40 in the evening of November 20, 2012, Michael D. Dunn and his girlfriend pulled into a service station in Jacksonville, Florida. That day, the couple had attended the wedding of Mr. Dunn's son. The 45-year-old software developer and his girlfriend were en route to Dunn's home 160 miles away in Satellite Beach, Florida. Dunn parked his vehicle and waited behind the wheel as his girlfriend entered the gas station's convenience store.

     Mr. Dunn had pulled into the service station alongside a SUV occupied by three teenagers who were listening to music Dunn considered much too loud. He asked the boys to lower the sound level. The kids didn't take kindly to his request which led to an exchange of angry words. Suddenly, Michael Dunn picked up a handgun and fired eight shots into the car. Two of the bullets struck 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was sitting in the back seat. The high school junior, who was about to start his first job at McDonald's, died in the SUV.

     The shooter's girlfriend ran out of the convenience store, and as she climbed into Dunn's vehicle, asked, "What's going on?"

     "I just fired at those kids," Dunn replied as the couple drove away.

     The next day, police officers arrested Michael Dunn at his home in Satellite Beach. (A witness had written down his license number.)  Dunn told his police questioners that he had fired his pistol in self-defense after one of the kids in the SUV pointed a shotgun at him. Dunn's self-defense justification suffered a blow when investigators failed to find any weapons in the SUV. (There were no drugs in the car, and none of the boys had ever been in trouble with the law.)

     In May 2013, a grand jury sitting in Jacksonville, Florida, indicted Michael Dunn of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. On October 17, 2014, after a jury found Dunn guilty as charged, the judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole.

James Pak: The Angry Landlord

     In 2006, James Pak sold his Korean Yankee Landscape Company, a Biddeford, Maine business he had owned since 1964. In 2012, Mr. Pak was living with his wife in a cape cod-style home in the town of Bedford located 15 miles south of Portland. He rented out an apartment attached to his house to 44-year-old Susan Johnson who lived there with her son, 19-year-old Derrick Thompson. Derrick worked as an auto detailer at a nearby car dealership. His girlfriend, Alivia Welch, worked as a waitress at a local coffee shop. She was eighteen.

     Around six o'clock in the evening of Saturday, December 29, 2012, Bedford police officers responded to a call to defuse a dispute between Mr. Pak and his tenants. The 74-year-old landlord was upset because Derrick Thompson and his mother had parked their cars in his driveway. (The town had banned overnight parking on the street to clear the way for snow removal crews.) After speaking with Mr. Pak and his renters, the officers left the scene without taking anyone into custody.

     At seven that night, shortly after the police thought they had resolved the dispute, they were called back to the Pak house on reports of shots being fired in the rented apartment. Upon their arrival, the officers discovered that Mr. Pak had shot Derrick Thompson and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, killing them both. He had also shot and wounded Derrick's mother, Susan Johnson.

     Following a three-hour police stand-off at his home, James Pak surrendered to the authorities. Among other crimes, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. After pleading guilty on February 3, 2016, the judge sentenced Pak to two life sentences.

Street Gang Killings

     Drug dealers and members of street gangs regularly murder each other over minor slights, petty arguments, and even disrespectful looks. For these habitual criminals it's their chosen way of life. Unless some innocent bystander goes down in the cross-fire, the general public couldn't care less about these deaths. One violent crook is dead, and his killer is off to prison for life. From a societal standpoint, these cases are hardly tragedies.

     Michael Dunn and James Pak were murderers who weren't career criminals, or even drains on society. Because they are not stupid men, their homicidal behavior makes even less sense. These men ruined their lives over nothing. And their victims did nothing to deserve their sudden and violent deaths. That is what makes these spontaneous homicides so tragic, and hard to understand.

    

Monday, May 23, 2016

The No-Body Murder Case

     Many missing persons cases involving young woman turn into homicide investigations when the victims are found dead. However, there are thousands of cases in which the missing women are not found but presumed dead. Many women who disappear without a trace were murdered by killers who did a good job of disposing of the their bodies. It's no secret that if the police don't have a corpse they probably won't be able to arrest anyone for murder. Notwithstanding disappearances that are highly suspicious, it generally comes down to this unpleasant reality: if there's no body, there's no homicide case.

     There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Prosecutors have pressed charges in homicide cases that do not feature a body. In these so-called no-body cases, prosecutors work without an autopsy report, have no time of death based upon postmortem biological changes, or physical evidence establishing the victims' exact causes of death. Moreover, there are no death scene photographs in no-body cases.

     Based on his research of no-body cases, Thomas A. Di Biase believes that in the United States, from 1843 to 2013, 380 homicide cases have gone to trial without the victims' remains. According to Di Biase, a former federal prosecutor, the conviction rate pertaining to these prosecutions is 89 percent.

     In a homicide case, the corpus delecti of the crime--the body or main element of the offense-- consists of proof that an unlawful death has occurred. The best evidence of an unlawful death is the corpse itself.

     So, without a body, can a prosecutor, by law, acquire a homicide conviction? That legal question was settled in a 1960 California appellate case titled, U.S. v. Scott. The state appeals court justices decided that a homicide defendant in a case without a body can lawfully be found guilty if the prosecution presents circumstantial evidence of an unlawful death that excludes other reasonable hypotheses regarding the missing person's fate. The prosecutor must also present sufficient evidence that the defendant was the person who unlawfully killed the missing person.

     Because juries understandably are uncomfortable with no-body homicide cases, prosecutors need strong circumstantial evidence that the missing person is dead, and that the defendant is responsible for that death. In establishing the necessary proof, it helps if detectives have located a probable killing site. Such a place might be a bed soaked in a large quantity of blood. The crime scene might also feature other types of physical evidence that suggests the occurrence of lethal violence. This evidence of course must be linked to the missing person, ideally through DNA analysis.

     It's also better if the prosecutor can place the defendant at the scene of the violence through fingerprints, hair follicles, semen, blood, shoe impressions, handwriting, or fiber evidence.

     The no-body case prosecutor will be helped if the defendant possessed a strong motive to kill the victim such as jealousy, lust, money, or revenge. If the defendant offers an alibi, the prosecution must be able to break that alibi. The presence of physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene will sometimes have that effect.

     Other circumstantial evidence against a homicide defendant in a no-body case might include conflicting statements by the defendant to the police, or a history of violence between the defendant and the missing person. Secretly recorded death threats by the defendant against the victim would also be relevant.

     If the no-body prosecutor doesn't have physical evidence from a probable crime scene to work with, a conviction won't be possible unless the defendant confesses to the police, a friend, or to a jailhouse snitch. The confession of an accomplice that implicates the defendant is good.

     Attorneys representing defendants in no-body cases usually portray the murder evidence as circumstantial, and therefore weak. Defense lawyers often remind jurors that they cannot convict the defendant if they have any reasonable doubt regarding his or her guilt.

     While the conviction rate of no-body cases brought to trial is high, only a small percentage of no-body suspects are charged with criminal homicide. Without a body, there is simply too much reasonable doubt to overcome.


   

     

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Senseless Murder of a Toddler

     In 2016, 31-year-old Veronica Rene Castro lived in a travel trailer in Bellevue, Texas, a remote Clay County community near the Oklahoma border 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Castro resided with her three-year-old son, Dominic Tra'Juan Castro and the boy's 18-year-old stepfather, George Coty Wayman. Wayman, a violent dimwit with a facial tattoo, had a criminal record that included a recent stretch in prison.

     Shortly after three in the afternoon on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, someone from the Castro dwelling on Buffalo Springs Road called 911 to report a shooting. When deputies with the Clay County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene, they found the Castro toddler shot once in the back of the head.

     Emergency personnel airlifted the seriously wounded boy to the United Regional Health Care System in Wichita Falls, Texas. At ten-forty-five the next morning, Dominic Castro died.

     Wayman, when questioned at the scene of the shooting by the police, said the boy had been accidentally shot when he jumped on the bed where a 9mm handgun had been placed. The physical evidence at the scene failed to support this scenario. Moreover, several people in the bedroom who had witnessed the shooting had a different story.

     According to the eyewitnesses, Wayman, angry at the toddler who had refused to stop jumping on the bed, aimed the gun and shot him in the head.

     A Clay County prosecutor, on May 18, 2016, charged George Wayman with capital murder. (In Texas, the intentional killing of a child under six constitutes a death penalty offense.) The accused murderer was booked into the Clay County Jail under $550,000 bond.

     In my mind, this crime is a justification for capital punishment. Some people just don't deserve to live in civilized society.  

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Kenneth Markman: The Fall Of A Drug Dealing Defense Attorney

     Kenneth Markman, after graduating from UCLA and Loyola Law School, began practicing criminal defense law in 1991. Between 2000 and 2010, the State Bar Association of California suspended him twice for not paying his membership dues. It was during this period that the attorney went from representing drug addicts and dealers to becoming one.

     On October 21, 2011, Markman was in the attorney's room on the 11th floor of the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. He had scheduled a meeting with his client, Jorge Zaragoza. Zaragoza, a drug-dealing gang member with a history of violent crime, had been convicted of attempted carjacking. In a few days a judge would be handing down Zaragoza's sentence.

     Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office suspected that Markman had smuggled narcotics to his clients who were incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail. As the attorney waited for his opportunity to speak with Zaragoza, a sheriff's deputy accompanied by a drug-sniffing dog, entered the room. The dog immediately "alerted" to the presence of drugs on Markman's  person and in his briefcase.

     From the inside pocket of the attorney's suit jacket, the deputy removed a package wrapped tightly with electrical tape. The bundle contained twenty-six balloons of heroin and methamphetamine. Markman's briefcase contained a quantity of marijuana and three mini-hypodermic syringes. (This reminds me of a scene right out of the TV show "Locked-Up Abroad.")

     Charged with seven drug-related felony counts, the attorney was booked into the county Inmate Reception Center. The judge set his bail at $145,000. If convicted of trying to smuggle $30,000 worth of narcotics into the Los Angeles County Jail, Markman faced up to four years in prison.

     The accused attorney posted his bond and was released from custody. On November 8, 2011, a security officer screening visitors to the Antelope Valley Court House noticed something suspicious as Markman's briefcase passed through the X-ray machine. After the attorney grabbed his wallet out of the tray and tried to flee, a Los Angeles Sheriff's deputy caught up to him before he got out of the building. In his wallet the officer found two bundles of rock cocaine. The attorney's briefcase contained several pieces of drug paraphernalia.

     After being booked again for trying to smuggle drugs to an incarcerated client, Markman made his $25,000 bail.

     In February 2013, Kenneth Markman pleaded no contest to the October 2011 drug smuggling charges. Pursuant to a plea deal, the judge, a month later, sentenced the suspended attorney to a year in the Los Angeles County Jail. That sentence included three years of probation which involved one year of drug treatment.

     The State Bar Association of California, following a hearing in August 2013, disbarred Mr. Markman.