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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sean Petrozzino: A Murder Suspect's Tragic Life and Sudden Death

     In August 2012, the bank foreclosed on 28-year-old Sean Petrozinno's house in eastern Orange County, Florida. He and his wife owed $200,000 on the home they had purchased in 2006. Several months after they stopped paying the $1,300 a month mortgage installments, the couple moved to Georgia.

     Sean Petrozzino grew up in Orlando, Florida. When he was 15 he contracted bacterial meningitis, a disease that destroyed his hands and feet. After a dozen operations, the quadruple amputee was fitted with prosthetic legs, arms, and hands.

     In 2000, a reporter with the South Florida Sun Sentinel wrote a feature article about the stricken 16-year-old in which Petrozzino was described as "perky, silly, polite and philosophical beyond his age." Regarding his disability, the teen said, "I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. As much as I feel bad about what happened, I feel good that my family and all my friends stood by me."

     In October 2014, Sean Petrozzino and his wife returned to Orlando. The couple and their Great Dane moved in with his parents who resided in the Andover Cay subdivision. His 63-year-old father, Michael Petrozzino, worked for Disney World. Nancy Petrozzino, his 64-year-old mother, had been an elementary school teacher for forty years. In 2007, she began teaching second grade at Andover Lakes Elementary School less than a mile from her home.

     At eleven in the morning of Tuesday November 4, 2014, deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office were dispatched to the Petrozzino house to check on Nancy who hadn't shown up for work that morning and couldn't be reached by phone.

     Inside the dwelling the officers found the dead bodies of Michael and Nancy Petrozzino. The couple had been shot to death. Nothing had been stolen and the house had not been forcibly entered.

     Sean Petrozzino, seen that morning driving his father's 2012 red Toyota Camry, became an instant suspect in the double murder. (According to a prosthetics expert, a person without hands can fire a handgun.)

     On the Monday following the double killing, the sheriff's office published a surveillance image of the suspect at a Wells Fargo ATM in Orlando. Detectives believed that the son of the murdered couple may have traveled to Jupiter or Coral Springs, Florida.

     Late Monday night November 10, 2014, six days following the murders, police officers in Memphis, Tennessee stopped a driver of a 2012 red Toyota Camry who made an illegal u-turn. As the patrol officers approached the car they heard a faint pop-like sound from inside the Toyota. The driver, Sean Petrozzino, had killed himself with a bullet to the head.

     This murder suspect's suicide was a sudden end to a violent, tragic crime. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Defendants' Courtroom Attire: How Stupid Can You Get?

Many defendants dress casually, even for felony trials. The collared shirt is a rarity. Most wear what they might don to watch Saturday morning cartoons, like a shirt that says Lucky Charms or flip-flops and shorts. Or an oversized football jersey and their good jeans, the ones with the embroidered dragon on the rear pockets. Defendants will show up for trial on a marijuana sales case wearing a shirt with a marijuana leaf design--not on a dare, or as some kind of political statement, but because they're so oblivious that they put the shirt on and don't think anything of it.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Writing Quote: Does Perfectionism Cause Writer's Block?

     Much of the self-help literature on writer's block falls into the category of creativity enhancement. One popular approach tries to decrease the writer's perfectionism, or to silence his or her inner critics. This theme implicitly draws on the psychoanalytic concept of the superego, that internalized, harshly judgmental representation of parental and societal values. Yet lofty values alone are not sufficient to cause writer's block. Writer's block requires not just the inability to write as well as you want, but the inability to write anything less than you want. What drives that inability is the belief--usually unconscious--that it is better to write nothing than to write poorly…

     Perfectionism certainly causes some block. But it is invoked as a cause a little too often; it is such a comfortable explanation of your block. It is easier to tell people that you haven't published much because you have such high standards, than that you are disorganized or inhibited or love to play tennis.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004  

Writing Quote: The Lure of Nonfiction

Most of the fiction writers I know get absorbed by the idea of what might have happened; I feel more absorbed and gripped by the idea of what did happen.

Alec Wilkinson in Writer's Market, 1994, edited by Mark Garvey 

Writing Quote: Memoirists Are Liars

Perhaps all memoirists lie. We alter the truth on paper so as to alter it in fact; we lie about our past and invent surrogate memories the better to make sense of our lives and live the life we know was truly ours. We write about our life, not to see it as it was, but to see it as we wish others might see it, so we may borrow their gaze and begin to see our life through their eyes, not ours.

Andre Acimen in Writers on Writing, edited by John Darnton, 2001 

Writing Quote: Memoirist Hatched Jobs

Books like Christina Crawford's Mommy, Dearest and Gary Crosby's Going My Own Way, offered sensational, firsthand accounts into the family lives of Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby, proving that even in the film industry's Golden Age, Hollywood idols did not make top-notch parents. Nor most likely do their own children, comfortable performing literary blindsides on their star parents in the pursuit of their own 15 minutes of fame. It's a vicious cycle.

Andrew Breibart and Mark Ebner, Hollywood, Interrupted, 2004 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Marissa Alexander: The Other Florida Stand Your Ground Case

     Marissa Alexander, when she married Rico Gray in June 2010, was six months pregnant with their child. She had two children from a previous marriage and Gray had five with five other women. One of his sons, and two of Marissa's children, lived with them in their rented Jacksonville, Florida home. She was 30 and he was 35.

     Rico Gray had physically abused his former partners and was beating up Marissa. In July 2010, he had thrown his pregnant wife across the room, then given her a black eye with a head butt. Marissa and her children moved out of the house and into her mother's place. She also filed for an order of protection against her husband.

     At the domestic violence injunction hearing, Rico Gray reportedly said this to the judge: "I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking...or what I might do...hit them, push them." The judge granted the order of protection.

     Marissa had the baby on July 23, 2010, and on August 1, returned to the rented house to gather up more of her clothes. While there, she showed Gray a cellphone photograph of their baby. After she entered the bathroom, Gray looked through her cellphone and came across text messages she had sent to her former husband that suggested she planned to leave him permanently and get back with her ex-spouse. Enraged, Gray stormed into the bathroom and allegedly said, "If I can't have you, no one can." He put his hands on her throat, threw her against the door, and threatened to kill her.

     Breaking free, Marissa ran into the attached garage and from her car grabbed her handgun. (It was licensed.) She returned to the house (She claims she couldn't exit the dwelling through the garage because the automatic door opener didn't work.) and encountered Gray standing in the kitchen next to his two sons. Fearing for her life, she (according to her account) fired a warning shot into the air. (Ballistics analysis, however, suggested that the bullet hit a wall and ricocheted up into the ceiling.)

     Rico Gray called 911. In reporting the shooting to the dispatcher he sounded more angry than frightened. A short time later, the house was surrounded by a SWAT team. Marissa was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. (Three counts because she had allegedly endangered three people.) Under Florida's so-called 10-20-life law, any person convicted of aggravated assault involving the discharge of a firearm is subject to a mandatory 20 year sentence.

     A few days after her arrest, Marissa was released on bail under orders from the judge to stay clear of her husband. But four months later, Marissa, in violation of the judge's order, went back to the house and punched Gray in the face. (She would later plead no contest to domestic battery.)

     With the approach of Marissa's aggravated assault by handgun trial, prosecutor Angela Corey, explained to the defendant that if convicted she would be sentenced to 20 years. The prosecutor offered her a deal: if she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the judge would sentence her to three years in prison. Marissa rejected the plea bargain offer.

     In defending Marissa Alexander, her attorney planned to rely on Florida's "stand your ground" law that was in the news as a result of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin  murder case. (Angela Corey, the state's attorney in Marissa's case was the leading special prosecutor in the February 2012 Sanford, Florida shooting.) Under the "stand your ground" self-defense doctrine, a person who is threatened with death or serious bodily injury in a place where he has a right to be, has no duty under the law to retreat and can meet force with force.

     In a pre-trial hearing on the stand your ground issue, Judge James Daniel  ruled that the law didn't apply to Marissa Alexander because she had no reason to fear for her life in that confrontation with her husband. The defendant could therefore not rely on self-defense and the stand your ground doctrine.

     On March 16, 2012, a jury found Alexander guilty of the three aggravated assault counts. The judge, bound by Florida's 10-20-life law, sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

     Critics of mandatory sentencing laws, along with anti-domestic violence advocates, expressed outrage over the outcome of the Marissa Alexander case. Other than winning an appeal, Marissa Alexander's only other legal remedy involved a grant of clemency by Florida Governor Rick Scott. For that to happen, a member of the state clemency board would have to initiate the action. Marissa could only make application herself after she has served half of her sentence.

     In the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, on July 13, 2013, the jury found defendant Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder. He was also acquitted of the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter. In this case, the jury of six women found that because Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life during a fight with Trayvon Martin, the neighborhood watch leader was legally justified in standing his ground and eventually using deadly force against the 17-year-old. The jury had accepted the defense theory that at the time of his death the 17-year-old was on top of the defendant, banging his head against the sidewalk. Following the February 2012 shooting, Zimmerman had told police officers that he had been afraid the attacker would get control of his handgun.

     In 2013, an appeals court overturned Marissa Alexander's conviction on procedural grounds. The prosecutor immediately announced a second trial that was later scheduled for December 1, 2014. Marissa Alexander remained in custody pending the outcome of the second trial.

     On November 24, 2014, after spending 1,030 days behind bars, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal that consisted of two years probation during which time she would wear an electronic ankle bracelet. 

Writing Quote: Telling Children's Book Tall Tales

Tall tales are a highly specialized form of children's book humor. You need to be awfully good, for the classic tales you compete with are superb. Take Jim Bridger who discovered that it took eight hours for an echo to return from a distant mountain. He turned it into an alarm clock by shouting "wake up!" before he went to bed.

Sid Fleischman in The ABC's of Writing For Children, edited by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff, 2003 

Criminal Justice Quote: New Orleans Detectives Ignore Rape and Child Abuse Cases

     A New Orleans' city inspector general's report claims that five police detectives failed to do substantial investigation of more than 1,000 cases of sex crimes and child abuse--with one detective being cited for stating a belief that rape should not be considered a crime. The report, released on November 12, 2014, examined the detectives' work between January 2011 and December 2013. It found the detectives filed follow-up reports [the first report after the complaint] for only 179 of 1,290 sex crime cases. In particular, the report found that some cases of potentially abused children and rape victims went completely without investigation.

     Police officials said the detectives were transferred to patrol duty and were under further investigation. The police also said two supervisors who oversaw the detectives have been transferred…

     The U.S. Department of Justice previously investigated the scandal-plagued police force and in 2012 the city agreed to a host of changes in policies. Among the federal probe's major findings were that the police force was rife with corruption and had numerous instances of excessive use of deadly force, discrimination and problems with its sex crimes unit. A federal monitor is overseeing compliance.

     The latest city report charged that a detective handling child abuse failed to investigate a case involving a 3-year-old brought to an emergency room due to an alleged sexual assault, closing the case without any charges even though the child had a sexually transmitted disease. The same detective closed with book with minimal or no investigation, and again with no charges, on two cases involving children brought to the emergency room with fractured skulls…

     Two detectives stood accused of writing six reports on the same day in 2013--to make it appear they had done follow-up reports years before to the old cases…In fact, these documents were written only after inspectors asked for the missing reports…

     The five detectives could face criminal charges and be fired…

"Report Claims Five New Orleans Cops Failed to Properly Investigate Over 1,000 Sex Crimes, Associated Press, November 13, 2014

     

Writing Quote: Short Story Writers Can Take Chances That Novelists Can't

Short stories are gratifying and fun and not the kind of heavy lifting involved with a novel. I used to frequently write them in one sitting. Now it's usually several days. Whatever it is, it's a cheap investment in time. Plus, you can take the amount of chances you can't with a novel because if you waste three days, what do you care?

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1985