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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Donna Scrivo Murder Case

     In 1999, Ramsay Scrivo graduated from De La Salle Collegiate High School in St. Clair Shores, a suburban community just east of Detroit, Michigan. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University four years later. After working briefly as an accountant, Ramsay quit after a supervisor criticized his work.

     After working in the building trade, Scrivo, in the spring of 2013, started a lawn maintenance service. About that time his parents Daniel and Donna Scrivo helped him purchase a condo in St. Clair Shores.

     Notwithstanding the support he received from his parents, Ramsay Scrivo had serious problems. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered depression and bouts of uncontrolled anger when he was off his medication. When he wasn't on his anti-psychotic meds he believed people were trying to poison him. Moreover, he thought someone had implanted a tiny microphone in one of his teeth. Following a simple assault conviction the judge placed Scrivo on probation.

     Ramsay Scrivo's troubled life took a turn for the worse when his father died of an illness in May 2013. After he threatened to hang himself a judge granted his mother Donna Scrivo guardianship of her son. He agreed to mental health treatment at St. John Hospital in Detroit. After 90 days of treatment Ramsay Scrivo was released from the medical center. As long as he took his medication he wasn't dangerous. But almost all schizophrenics, at one time or another, quit their medication because of the side effects. Donna Scrivo moved into Ramsay's condo in St. Clair Shores. She was a registered nurse.

     On Sunday, January 26, 2014 Donna Scrivo reported her son missing. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, January 30 a motorist in China Township 50 miles northeast of Detroit saw a human head that had rolled out of a garbage bag that someone had dumped along the side of the rural road. Inside three more garbage bags found nearby police officers discovered body parts, items of clothing and charred documents.

     Just before five in the morning of Friday, January 31, 2014, a motorist saw another garbage bag alongside an Interstate 94 ramp in nearby St. Clair Township. Inside the bag officers found more body parts.The FBI, through fingerprints, identified the remains as coming from one person, Ramsay Scrivo.

     A neighbor reported seeing Donna Scrivo carrying several garbage bags out of the condo shortly before she reported Ramsay missing. Crime lab technicians found traces of blood in the dwelling as well as in Donna's SUV. There was also evidence in the house that someone had used bleach in an effort to scrub away bloodstains.

     A gas station surveillance camera recorded Donna in her 1995 Chevy Blazer near one of the dump sites.

     Later on the day of the gruesome discoveries deputies with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office arrested Ramsay's 59-year-old mother on charges of mutilation of a corpse and the removal of a dead body without permission from a medical examiner. If convicted of the corpse mutilation she faced up to ten years in prison. The misdemeanor body removal offense came with a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

     On February 3, 2014 at her arraignment the judge appointed Donna Scrivo an attorney and set her bail at $100,000. If bailed out of the Macomb County Jail she would undergo random drug and alcohol testing and would not be allowed to leave the state. The judge also ordered a mental health evaluation.

     At a press conference following the arraignment, a Macomb County prosecutor said that further charges could be filed in the case depending upon the medical examiner's cause and manner of death findings. Not long after that statement the prosecutor charged Donna Scrivo with first-degree murder.

    Donna Scrivo went on trial in May 2015 for the murder and dismemberment of her son. The defendant, as a witness on her own behalf, told the jury that a masked man had entered the condo, pointed a gun at her head, murdered her son then cut up the victim's body with a saw. The prosecutor, on cross-examination, ripped her story to shreds.

     The jurors, following a short deliberation found Donna Scrivo guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. On June 23, 2015, the Macomb County judge sentenced the 61-year-old to life in prison without parole.

The Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick Serial Arson Case

     The incendiary fires started on November 12, 2012 in Hopeton, a town 100 miles east of Richmond on Virginia's Eastern Shore, a peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. Over the next four months volunteer firefighters in the county responded to 77 intentionally set fires involving abandoned houses, barns, camper trailers and various out-buildings that included a chicken coop.

     Arson investigators with the Virginia State Police and the Accomack County Sheriff's Office suspected that the serial fire-setter was either a disgruntled firefighter, a teenage boy sexually aroused by flames, or a young man committing arson simply for the thrill and excitement of causing havoc. Given the nature of the places burned, financial gain was not a motive. These were pathologically motivated arsons.

     Since the vast majority of arsonists are men the fire investigators were not looking for a woman. Female arsonists usually have histories of mental illness and set fire to their own property. A vast majority of the fires set by women are motivated by the need for sympathy and attention.

     On April 2, 2013, forty-five minutes after midnight, a Virginia State Trooper near the Eastern Shore community of Melfa pulled over a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker. (This was probably not the real reason for the stop.) The traffic stop occurred shortly after a nearby abandoned house had been torched. Later that morning a local prosecutor charged the occupants of the car, 38-year-old Charles Smith III and Tonya Bundick, his 40-year-old girlfriend, with setting the Melfa house fire.

     Smith (also known as Charlie Applegate) and Bundick were held without bail at the Accomack County Jail. They were both from Accomac, Virginia. Smith, the owner of a body shop was once captain of the Tasley Volunteer Fire Company. Smith and Bundick had planned to get married within a month.

     A Virginia State Police spokesperson at a press conference on April 2, 2013 said, "We are confident that Bundick and Smith are guilty of the majority of fires."According to reports, arson investigators had watched Smith set the Melfa house fire. He started the blaze with a towel soaked in gasoline.

     Tonya Bundick resided in a dwelling that sat next door to a shed that had been set on fire in December 2012.

     The authorities did not identify the motive behind the arson spree. Since the couple received no monetary gain from the fires their motives were probably pathological. Perhaps they were bored, or simply angry at the world.

     In October 2013 Charles Smith III pleaded guilty to 67 counts of arson. He faced life in prison and $5.6 million in fines. As part of the plea deal Smith agreed to testify against Tonya Bundick.

     Bundick's arson trial got underway in Virginia Beach in January 2014. Smith took the stand against the defendant as the prosecution's star witness. Following his testimony, Tonya Bundick entered an Alford plea to one count of arson. (She faced dozens of other arson charges.) By this plea Bundick did not admit guilt but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.

     On September 15, 2014, the judge sentenced Tonya Bundick to ten years in prison. The judge, on April 23, 2015, sentenced Charles Smith III to fifteen years behind bars. Exactly why the arsonists set these fires remained a mystery.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Pastor John Douglas White: The Devil in Disguise

     In 2012, John Douglas White, the 55-year-old pastor of the Christ Community Fellowship Church located just west of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, lived by himself in a mobile home park in Broomfield Township near the town of Remus. This self-appointed man of the cloth possessed a background more in line with a person serving a life sentence in prison than a preacher of a tiny church in rural central Michigan. Pastor White, a perverted lust killer, had no business living outside prison walls where he could take advantage of women while masquerading as a man of God. He was a predatory sex killer in preacher's clothing.

     In 1981, John White, then 24, choked and stabbed a 17-year-old girl in Battle Creek, Michigan. The victim survived and White was allowed to plead no contest to assault with intent to do great bodily harm.  The judge sentenced White to five years in prison. Corrections authorities let White out on parole after he had served two years behind bars.

     John White and his wife, in 1994, were living in Comstock Township near Kalamazoo, Michigan. On July 11 of that year, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall was seen getting into White's pickup just before she disappeared. Shortly after Wall's relatives reported her missing, the 37-year-old violent sex offender checked himself into the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital. In September 1994 police found Vicky Sue Wall's decomposed body in the woods not far from her home. Arrested at the psychiatric facility, White admitted strangling the victim to death. According to White, he and the victim were having an affair and she had threatened to tell his wife. So he killed her.

     In the Vicky Sue Wall murder case the authorities allowed White to strike a deal with the prosecutor. In return for his guilty plea to the ridiculous charge of involuntary manslaughter the judge sentenced White to eight to fifteen years. At his May 1995 sentencing hearing White told the judge that Vicky Sue Wall's death had been a "tragic accident." John White walked out of prison in 2007 after serving twelve years of his sentence. White's wife had divorced him.

     In 2012, Pastor John White was engaged to a woman in his congregation whose 24-year-old daughter--Rebekah Gay--lived a few doors from him in the mobile home park. Because White was a preacher engaged to her mother Rebekah allowed him to watch her 3-year-old son. She had no idea her babysitter watched necrophilia pornography and fantasized about having gruesome, perverted sex with her.

     On October 31, 2012, at six in the morning, John White entered Rebekah Gay's trailer, struck her in the head with a hard rubber mallet, then strangled her to death with a zip tie. After performing perverted sexual acts on the victim's body, White hauled her 5-foot-3, 118 pound corpse in his pickup to a ditch behind a stand of pine trees about a mile from the trailer park. It was there he dumped her body.

     After hiding his victim's corpse White returned to his trailer where he cleaned himself and his truck with paper towels. He walked to Gay's dwelling, stole into her car, and drove it to a nearby bar and parked it there. He had also tossed Rebekah Gay's cellphone into a dumpster and threw away the murder weapon. From the bar White walked back to Gay's mobile home, dressed her son in his Halloween costume, then drove the boy to Mount Pleasant where, as prearranged, the boy's father picked him up for the day.

     Crime scene investigators processed the victim's trailer for physical clues and searched White's mobile home where they found the bloody towels and other incriminating evidence. When questioned by detectives with the Michigan State Police, John White confessed and led the officers to Rebekah Gay's body.

     On November 1, 2012 John White was arraigned in an Isabella County District Court on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied him bail.

     The church member who had hired John White as pastor said this to a reporter with The Detroit News: "He [White] was absolutely contrite. All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He [White] was doing a lot of good in the community...He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."

     So, according to one of Pastor White's congregants, White's cold-blooded lust murder of Rebekah Gay was the devil's wrongdoing.

     In April 2013, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Rebekah Gay. The judge sentenced him to prison for 56 years and three months.

     On August 28, 2013 a prison guard at the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Institution in Ionia, found John White dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.

The Historic Disaster at Waco

     The April 19, 1993 FBI raid of the Mount Carmel Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of 80 cult members, is a worst-case example of how the militaristic approach to law enforcement can lead to disaster.

     Fifty-one days before the FBI raid, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax, and Firearms (ATF), at the conclusion of a seven month investigation, had stormed the compound to arrest cult leader David Koresh and search for a cache of guns that ATF agents suspected had been illegally converted to fully automatic weapons. That raid ended after a brief shootout in which 4 ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded. The officers retreated, leaving an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead and wounded.

     The AFT agents, prior to the raid, had several opportunities to arrest David Koresh outside the Mount Carmel compound. These chances were missed because Koresh was not under a 24-hour surveillance. Had the ATF taken Koresh into custody when the opportunity presented itself, the raid might not have been necessary. The ATF had also lost the element of surprise, and they knew it when two National Guard helicopters, circling above the compound with agency supervisors aboard, took gunfire from below. The supervisors launched the invasion anyway. Although several AFT agents had been trained at Fort Hood by Green Beret personnel, most of the agents participating in the 9:30 A.M. attack had not been appropriately trained or armed. Many of the 76 agents who charged the compound carried semi-automatic handguns.

     Following the AFT fiasco, the FBI took charge of the stand-off. Following the 51-day siege and a series of failed negotiations, several FBI SWAT teams, in full battle gear armed with shortened variants of the standard M-16 assault rifle and supported by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-60 tanks, stormed the compound. Forty minutes after 400 canisters of CS gas had been shot inside the building through holes punched in the walls by the armored vehicles, the structure burst into flames and burned to the ground. David Koresh and 17 children were among the 80 dead. Attorney General Janet Reno, operating on unreliable evidence that the Davidian children were being sexually mistreated had authorized the assault. The Waco fiasco turned out to be the deadliest police action in American history.

     Attorney General Reno, in the wake of the Waco disaster, asked former Missouri senator John C. Danforth to investigate the government's role in the raids. In 2000, following a 14-month inquiry, Danforth determined that FBI agents had not started the fire by firing bullets into the compound. The former senator also found the military's role in the raids as lawful.

     Several months after the Danforth inquiry, Thomas Lynch, the director of the CATO Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, published a report characterizing the Branch Davidian raids as "criminally reckless," and Danforth's investigation as "soft and incomplete." According to the CATO investigation, FBI agents in National Guard helicopters had fired rifle shots into the compound, a finding that contradicted the FBI's claim that the helicopters had been deployed merely to distract the Davidians.

     At a news conference, Senator Danforth defended the integrity of his inquiry and attacked the CATO report. The debate over who started the fire at the Davidian compound remained unresolved. Regardless of what FBI agents did or didn't do on April 19, 1993, many believe the military supported ATF and FBI raids should not have been launched in the first place. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Nuzzio Begaren Murder-For-Hire Case

      In 1997, in the southern California city of Santa Ana, Nuzzio Begaren married a 36-year-old state corrections officer named Elizabeth. The 40-year-old groom had a daughter from a previous marriage who was ten. Three days after the wedding Nuzzio bought a $1 million insurance policy on his new wife's life. This meant that Elizabeth Begaren stood between her husband and a million dollars. Purchasing life insurance on his wife was the first step on Nuzzio Begaren's path to wealth. Getting someone to murder his wife comprised step two.

     Finding someone to kill his wife was the easy part of Nuzzio's murder-for-hire scheme. He simply offered $4,800 in cash to friends who belonged to a Los Angeles criminal gang. On the night of January 17, 1998, the murder-for-hire mastermind took Elizabeth and his daughter shopping at a mall in Burbank. While shopping in Macy's he gave Elizabeth the cash to hold for him. She placed the money into her purse, unaware she was carrying the pay-off for her own demise.

     As Nuzzio, Elizabeth, and his daughter drove home in his blue Kia Sportage, they were followed by a Buick Regal driven by 24-year-old Guillermo Espinoza. Three other gang members were in the vehicle. At eleven o'clock, as Nuzzio pulled onto the off-ramp of the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, the Buick pulled up alongside Nuzzio's vehicle and forced him off the road. Three of the LA gangsters alighted from the Buick, and as Nuzzio climbed into the back seat of the Kia to be with his daughter, his wife Elizabeth made a run for it as the hit men approached.

     The hit men quickly caught up with Nuzzio's terrified wife. In begging for her life she pulled out her correction officer's badge. That's when Guillermo Espinoza shot her in the head and chest. The shooter grabbed the dead woman's handbag, returned to the Buick with the other three gangsters, and drove off.

     Nuzzio Begaren told officers with the Anaheim Police Department that the men behind his wife's cold-blooded murder had targeted his family at the shopping mall and followed them home. "There was no reason for someone to follow us," he said. "We have no enemies." Nuzzio described the gangsters' car as a dark blue, late 1970s Oldsmobile and gave detectives a license number that didn't check out. Nuzzio described the four men in the Oldsmobile as a pair of blacks and two men who were either white or Latino. "When they saw the badge," he said, "they shot her. She was lying face down in the blood with her badge in her hand." Nuzzio Begaren described his wife as someone who had been "full of joy."

      Although detectives didn't believe Begeren's account of the murder the investigation stalled and the case eventually died on the vine. It looked as though Nuzzio Begaren had gotten away with his crime.

     In February 2012, four years after Elizabeth Begaren's murder, police officers arrested 55-year-old Nuzzio Begaren in Rancho Cucamonga, California. An Orange County grand jury had indicted him for soliciting the murder of his wife. Guillermo Espinoza had been indicted as well, but his whereabouts were unknown. (In 2011, when the gangster learned that cold case detectives had reopened the case, he went underground.)

      Nuzzio Begaren went on trial on August 21, 2013 in a Santa Ana court for conspiracy to murder his wife for financial gain. (Guillermo Espinoza was still at large.) Orange County prosecutor Larry Yellin, in his opening statement to the jury, told of a piece of torn-up paper found near the murder scene that bore the victim's handwriting. Elizabeth had scribbled "light blue" and had written down the license number of the car that had been following them. The plate number belonged to a light blue Buick Regal, the vehicle driven that night by Guillermo Espinosa.

     Prosecutor Yellin informed the jurors that gang members Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval, both of whom had been in the Buick that night, were going to testify for the prosecution. According to these men, the defendant had arranged his wife's murder for the insurance money. The murder-for-hire mastermind had wanted the killing to look like a highway robbery turned fatal.

     Defense attorney Sal Ciula told the jury that state witness Rudy Duran had been pressured into cooperating with the authorities. According to the defense attorney, if Duran worked with the prosecution "he would become a witness instead of a defendant. He [Duran] made the obvious choice."

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the $1 million life insurance police and the testimony of the alleged hit men Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval. The essence of the Begaren's defense involved attacking the credibility of these two key prosecution witnesses.

     On September 6, 2013, the jury, after deliberating three days found the defendant guilty of hiring Espinoza and Sandoval to murder his wife. On October 4, 2013 the judge sentenced him to 25 years to life.

     In October 2013, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Both men were sentenced to time served and were released from jail. On March 4, 2016, after being apprehended in Mexico, the authorities extradited Guillermo Espinoza back to California.

     On August 2, 2017, Jose Luis Sandoval was shot to death in the Los Angeles County town of Downey. He was 41.

     Guillermo Espinoza, in September 2018, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for a sentence of 21 years in prison.

The Carla Hague Poisoning Case

     In 2013, Judge Charles Hague lived with his wife of 45 years outside of Jefferson, Ohio in the northeastern part of the state. Since 1993 he had been an Ashtabula County common pleas juvenile/probate judge. Carla, his 70-year-old wife, had retired years earlier as a nurse. The judge and Carla, parents of grown children, enjoyed a reputation in the community as outstanding citizens.

     As is so often the case, outward signs of domestic tranquility are misleading. This unfortunate reality applied to Mr. and Mrs. Hague. The problem within that marriage exploded to the surface on September 15, 2013 when Carla telephoned one of her sons. She said the judge had become ill after consuming a glass of wine. Upon arrival at the house the son took one look at his father and dialed 911.

     Paramedics rushed the stricken judge to a local hospital from where medical personnel flew him to the Cleveland Clinic for emergency care. Following several days of treatment in Cleveland the judge returned home to recuperate.

     Judge Hague's relatives, on September 19, 2013 notified the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office of foul play suspected in the judge's sudden illness four days earlier. More specifically, the relatives accused Mrs. Hague of spiking her husband's wine with antifreeze. (A toxicological analysis of the judge's blood confirmed the presence of ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze.)

     Sheriff's deputies arrested Carla Hague on December 2, 2013 on suspicion of attempted murder. Officers booked her into the Ashtabula County Jail. Eighteen days later an Ashtabula County grand jury indicted the suspect of contaminating a substance for human consumption. She also stood accused of attempted murder.

     Carla Hague did not deny putting the antifreeze into her husband's wine. Her intent, she said, was not to kill the judge but to make him slightly ill. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a serious respiratory condition. In Carla's opinion, her husband had been adding to his health problem by drinking too much. She hoped that if the wine made him ill he would cut back on his use of alcohol.

     At her arraignment Carla Hague pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder. She posted her $100,000 surety bond on December 24, 2013.

     On June 16, 2014 the local prosecutor, with Judge Hague's consent, allowed the defendant to plead guilty to felonious assault. In speaking to a reporter judge Hague said, "I have no anger or animosity. I am beyond that. I'm glad to have this huge black spot behind us. I have moved on with my life. Carla can get on with hers."

     Following the guilty plea the judge sentenced Carla Hague to two years in prison with eligibility for release in six months.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Eric Koula Double Murder Case

     Eric Koula, a 41-year-old day trader who lived in West Salem, Wisconsin with his wife and teenage son, called 911 on May 24, 2010 from his parent's house in nearby Barre to report that someone had shot and killed Dennis and Merna Koula. Homicide detectives who worked on the case soon determined that Koula's parents had been murdered three days earlier with a .22-caliber rifle. (The murder weapon was never identified.)

     After the LaCrosse County prosecutor, Tim Gruenke charged Eric Koula on July 29, 2010 with two counts of first-degree murder, police officers took him into custody. According to the prosecutor, Koula, in financial trouble, murdered his parents in order to inherit their estate. While the prosecutor had motive, means, and opportunity supporting this theory, it was what the state didn't have that made acquiring a conviction unlikely. What the prosecutor didn't have included a confession, an eyewitness, physical evidence pointing to Koula's guilt, or the murder weapon.
     Eric Koula, represented by Jim Kolby and Keith Belzer, went on trial on June 6, 2012. In his opening remarks to the jury of five men and seven women, prosecutor Gruenke stated the defendant executed his mother as she sat at her office computer, then shot his father when he walked into the room. Eric Koula's attorneys, on the other hand, assured the jury their client had an airtight alibi and pointed out the obvious weakness of the prosecution's case. According to the defense theory of the murders the victims had been killed by professional hitmen who entered the wrong house. (That doesn't sound too "professional.") The defense didn't elaborate on who had masterminded the contract killing, or why.   
     According to a forensic accountant who testified on behalf of the state, the defendant had only $3,000 in the bank and owed the IRS and several credit card companies $150,000. Shortly after his parent's violent deaths Koula had deposited into his bank a $50,000 check drawn on his father's account. 
     Investigators took the stand and testified that the defendant had planted evidence to make himself look innocent. He had written "fixed you" on a piece of paper and put it into his mailbox. The defendant hoped the note would make it look as though the killer was trying to frame him for the murders. Koula eventually confessed to fabricating that evidence.
     After the state rested its case on June 14, 2012, the defense put their own forensic accountant on the stand who testified that Koula's assets exceeded his liabilities. 
     On June 16, Eric Koula took the stand on his own behalf. Questioned on direct examination by attorney Keith Belzer, the defendant said that in 1994 he, his cousin, and his father purchased a Ford dealership. Eric became president of the company, but in 2006 his father sold the business. Although his father owed him $1million from the sale of the car dealership, the defendant only received $500,000. After the sale of the company Eric began his day trading enterprise. In 2007 he made $300,000 in profits but the following year he lost $661,000.
     In 2009, Eric's father gave him $100,000 and in May 2010 his parents promised him another $50,000. On May 20, 2010, the defendant went to his parent's home to pick up the $50,000 check. His father handed him a blank check and told him to fill it in himself. That's why he signed his father's name on the check and tried to make the signature look like his father's handwriting. According to the defendant, this was the last time he saw his parent's alive. 
     On Friday, May 21, 2010, the day Dennis and Merna Koula were gunned down, the defendant detailed his activities in a way that established an airtight alibi. The next day he deposited the $50,000 check bearing his father's fake signature. 
     On Monday, May 24, 2010, someone at the school where Mrs. Koula taught called Eric to inform him his mother had not shown up for work and that no one at her house was picking up the phone. Eric drove to Barre to check on his parents. He became alarmed when he saw their cars parked in the garage. Inside the house he found his father lying dead on the home office floor and his mother at her desk slumped over the computer. After calling 911 he phoned his wife and his pastor, both of whom rushed to the scene to give him support. 
     LaCrosse County deputies took the defendant to the sheriff's office for questioning. In his statement he forgot to mention the $50,000 check he had deposited containing his father's phony signature. A week later, investigators came to his house to speak to him about the whereabouts of his son Dexter on the day of the murders. The detectives also wanted to know if the boy had access to a .22-caliber rifle. Worried that the police were going to arrest his son for the murder of his grandparents, the defendant wrote the "fixed you" note and placed it in his mailbox. He testified that he had fabricated this evidence to protect his son. 
     The defendant admitted that on July 29, 2010, when he met with detectives for the third and last time, he denied signing the $50.000 check and didn't reveal that he had written the "fixed you" note. 
     On cross-examination, prosecutor Gary Freyburg pressed the defendant regarding his financial troubles. The prosecutor reminded him about the forged $50,000 check and the planted evidence. The cross-examiner pointed out that in Koula's 911 call the defendant started out by explaining why he was at his parent's house. Once he justified his presence at the murder scene he reported his emergency. 
     The testimony phase of the trial came to a close on June 26, 2012. The outcome of the case depended entirely on whether the jurors believed the defendant's testimony. After deliberating less than a day the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Pursuant to Wisconsin law the judge had to impose a sentence of life. The judge could, however, decide to make Koula eligible for parole after serving 40 years behind bars. So the best Koula could hope for was to walk free at age 83.

     On August 12, 2012, Judge Scott Home, at the sentence hearing, said this to the convicted killer: "You took the life of the two people who gave you life and you'll spend the rest of your life incarcerated." The judge sentenced Koula to two consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole.

     On August 9, 2019, Eric Koula, acting at his own attorney in his second appeal for a new trial argued that his trial attorneys should have presented fingerprint and other evidence that supported his hit men theory of his parents' murder. A panel of judges with the Wisconsin District IV Court of Appeals denied the 59-year-old's request.

The Anthony Todt Family Murder Case

     In 2018, Anthony Todt, a physical therapist and owner of the Family Physical Therapy Clinic in Colchester, Connecticut was in deep financial trouble. In addition to that he was being investigated by the FBI for violating the federal False Claims Act. Todt was suspected of submitting fraudulent claims for physical therapy to Medicaid and private insurers for services not given to patients.

     Anthony Todt was also behind in his rental payments to the owner of the building that housed his clinic and had outstanding civil court judgements against him in the amount of $63,000 in one case and $36,000 in another. He was also struggling to keep up his mortgage payments on a Condo he owned in Celebration, Florida, an upscale community four miles west of Walt Disney World.

     In May 2019, Anthony Todt, his wife Megan, and their three children, Alex, 13, Tyler, 11, and Zoe, 4, moved to Celebration, Florida where they took up residence in an expensive house he had rented for $5,000 a month. From Florida he commuted to Connecticut to operate his physical therapy clinic.

     By November 2019 Anthony Todt owed his Celebration, Florida landlord several months rent and had closed his clinic in Connecticut.

     On December 29, 2019 one of the Todt family neighbors called the Osceola County Sheriff's Office for a welfare check of the Todt residence. None of the neighbors had seen the Todt children since Thanksgiving. Sheriff's deputies went to the house, and when no one answered the door, the officers left.

     On January 13, 2020, FBI agents armed with a federal warrant for Anthony Todt's arrest for violating the False Claims Act entered the dwelling and made a gruesome discovery. Mr. Todt was living in the house with the decomposing bodies of his wife and three children. FBI agents took Todt into custody and notified the local authorities about the scene they had walked into.

     While being detained on the federal false claims charges, Mr. Todt ingested a handful of pills and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Upon his discharge from the medical facility on January 15, 2020 deputies with the Osceola Sheriff's Office arrested him for killing his wife and three children. While in local custody Anthony Todt told detectives that he and has wife had decided to kill themselves and their children to avoid an upcoming apocalypse, He suffocated is 4-year-old daughter with a pillow and stabbed his sons to death. His wife stabbed herself in the stomach but when she didn't die he suffocated her with a pillow. Todt didn't explain why he hadn't killed himself. 
     Not long after his arrest Todt recanted his confession, claiming that he was not home when his family was murdered. 

     On January 16, 2020, an Osceola County prosecutor charged Anthony Todt with four counts of first-degree murder. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     Anthony Todt had a family history of violence and murder. In 1981, when he was a young child, Anthony Todt's father Robert Todt, a special education teacher and wrestling coach at a Bensalem, Pennsylvania high school outside of Philadelphia, was convicted of hiring one of his students, a burglar and drug addict named John Charmonte, to murder his wife, Loretta Todt. In 1980, Charmonte broke into the Todt house and shot Loretta Todt in the face while she slept. Although blinded by the wound, Mrs. Todt survived the shooting. John Charmonte pleaded guilty to burglary and attempted murder and in return for his plea received a ten-year sentence. Robert Todt, the murder-for-hire mastermind, only served ten years in prison. When he hired the student to murder his wife Robert Todt was having an affair with a 17-year-old girl.
     In April 2022, an Osceola County jury found Anthony Todt guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life without parole.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The John Mayes Murder Case

     Police officers in the northwest New Mexico town of Farmington, on the morning of June 10, 2011, discovered the body of Dr. Jim Nordstrom. The victim was buried in a woodpile behind his upscale house. The previous night someone had bludgeoned the 55-year-old physician to death. One of the victim's fingers had been nearly severed in what the forensic pathologist identified as a defensive wound. The killer had stolen the doctor's pickup truck as well as his credit cards.

     Not long after finding the doctor's body behind his Foothills neighborhood home police officers arrested 17-year-old John Mayes. Rob Mayes, Farmington's city manager, had adopted John, a boy who had grown up in Ukraine where he had been abused.

     Detectives, over a two day period conducted five interrogation sessions during which time John Mayes confessed to killing the doctor. The interrogations were recorded and preceded by Miranda warnings. Mayes also signed forms in which he waived his constitutional right to remain silent. The young murder suspect did not, however, have an attorney present during the police interrogations.

     John Mayes told his questioners that on June 9, 2011 he had run away from home. When he came upon the house in the Foothills neighborhood he snuck inside and hid in a bedroom. He entered the dwelling through an unlocked window. At the time of the intrusion Dr. Nordstrom was in his living room watching television. About an hour after Mayes entered the house the doctor walked into the bedroom. That's when Mayes struck him in the head eight times with the handle of a pool cue.

     With the doctor dead in his home, Mayes stole his credit cards and his pickup truck. After taking a four hour nap in the stolen vehicle Mayes ate a meal at a Burger King. When he finished his hamburger he used the victim's credit cards to go on a $3,000 shopping spree.

     Later that night Mayes returned to the murder scene to clean up the blood and to bury the body in the victim's backyard. After tiring of digging a grave Mayes dragged the corpse to the woodpile.

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw charged John Mayes with first-degree murder and the lesser offenses of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, vehicle theft and fraudulent use of credit cards. After being booked into the San Juan County Jail the magistrate denied the suspect bond.

     John Mayes, represented by attorney Stephen Taylor, pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing held in August 2011. Attorney Taylor advised the court he was challenging the constitutionality of his client's initial five statements to the police on the grounds he had not knowingly waived his Miranda rights. (The judge later ruled that the confessions had been constitutionally acquired and could therefore be introduced into evidence at Mayes' trial.)

     Speaking from the stand at his preliminary hearing, John Mayes offered a version of the events of June 9, 2011 that were far less incriminating than the substance of his statements to the police. Rather than sneaking into the doctor's home that night, he came upon Dr. Nordstrom outside of his Foothills neighborhood house when the doctor was washing his pickup truck. Mayes told the doctor he had run away from home and asked if he could spend the night at his place. Dr. Nordstrom said that he could.

     That night Mayes and the doctor watched a James Bond film on television. After the movie the doctor gave Mayes a tour of the house after which they played a couple games of pool. Dr. Nordstrom asked Mayes if he would like to "try something new." When the physician made a sexual advance Mayes beat him to death with a pool cue.

     Mayes admitted that after killing Dr. Nordstrom he stole his truck and used his credit cards before returning to the house to hide the body.

     Pursuant to a change of venue, the John Mayes murder trial got underway on November 13, 2013 in a McKinley County court in Gallup, New Mexico. Neither side disputed the fact Mayes had killed the doctor in his home. What the jury had to determine was whether or not the defendant had committed the act in self defense.

     After the prosecution rested its case, a presentation based heavily on the five statements John Mayes had made to the police following his arrest, the defense brought psychologist Gary White and forensic psychologist Maxann Schwartz to the stand. Both witnesses testified that Mayes' behavior that night had been influenced by a personality disorder that affects people who as children had been neglected or abused. The psychologists said the defendant suffered from "reactive attachment disorder," or RAD. People with his disorder often seek attention from strangers but become aggressive when these individuals try to be nice to them.

     On November 20, 2013 a psychologist from Boise State University named Dr. Charles Honts took the stand for the defense to testify that he had given Mayes a polygraph test early in 2013. Prosecutor Brent Capshaw objected to this witness on grounds he was not a qualified polygraph examiner. (In 2005, a U. S. magistrate judge in Atlanta had prohibited Dr. Honts from giving polygraph testimony in a murder trial. The judge had said, "The court attributes little weight to Dr. Honts' opinions.)

     After Judge William Birdsall overruled the prosecutor's objections to this polygraph witness, Dr. Honts took the stand and said he had asked Mayes four questions: Did Nordstrom invite you into his home? Did you play pool with Nordstrom? Did he slap you on the butt? Did you hide in the bedroom waiting to hit Nordstrom? The witness testified that the defendant answered yes to the first three questions and no to the fourth. According to Dr. Honts, his polygraph examination revealed that Mayes was truthful in his responses.

     On rebuttal, Peter Pierangeli, a polygraph examiner from Albuquerque took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Dr. Honts did not ask the defendant appropriate questions. His polygraph results were therefore unreliable. According to Peter Pierangeli, if Dr. Honts wanted to get to the truth, he would have asked Mayes if Dr. Nordstrom had sexually assaulted him.

     John Mayes did not take the witness stand on his own behalf.

     The defense attorney, in his closing remarks to the jury pointed out that the police, by not seizing Dr. Nordstrom's computer and a prescription bottle found in his bedroom, had botched the investigation. The defense attorney told the jurors that Dr. Honts' polygraph test, by itself, created reasonable doubt that his client was guilty of murder.

     On Monday, November 25, 2013, after deliberating ten hours over a period of two days, the jury found John Mayes guilty of second-degree murder. The jurors also found the defendant guilty of the lesser charges. The conviction carried a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison. The jurors had accepted enough of the defendant's story to believe Dr. Nordstrom had not been the victim of a cold-blooded murder. The jury had also rejected the notion of self-defense in the case.

     Had John Mayes been convicted of first-degree murder his sentence would have been life without parole.

     In November 2014, at Mayes' sentence hearing, delayed months to allow for the appeal on the procedural issues, the two defense psychologists testified that the now 21-year-old could be rehabilitated through "intensive therapy." Dr. Gary White, the psychologist who had treated Mayes for three years testified that he had seen an improvement in the young man's behavior. Dr. White said he would be willing to continue counseling Mayes if the authorities placed him in a correctional facility in the Albuquerque area.

     Defense attorney Stephen Taylor asked Judge William Birdsall to sentence his client to 15 years in prison.

     John Mayes, in speaking to the court, apologized for killing Dr. Nordstrom. He said, "My actions do not reflect what I would like to become. I now know how to better handle myself so that what happened will not occur."

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw told Judge Birdsall that in his fourteen years as a prosecutor the Nordstrom murder was the worst case he had ever worked on. Capshaw said, "Mayes continually bludgeoned Dr. Nordstrom in the back of the head as the victim tried to crawl away. I can't imagine a more violent death." After the murder, according to the prosecutor, Mayes "set up shop" at Nordstrom's home where he downloaded pornography and masturbated. "I can't find a case that calls more for the maximum sentence."

     Judge Birdsall, for the crimes of second-degree murder, aggravated burglary, car theft and several of the lesser offenses, sentenced John Mayes to 33 years in prison.

The Heath Kellogg Counterfeiting Ring

     In the old days counterfeiters made funny-money the hard way: they laboriously, and with great skill and craftsmanship engraved metal facsimile plates. The quality of their fake twenties and hundred-dollar bills depended upon the engraving detail, the color of the ink, and the softness, strength, and feel of the paper used to approximate the government's secret blend. In those days only a handful of forgers possessed the skill and equipment needed to counterfeit money. This made them easy to identify and to catch. But with ink in their blood, these men, the minute they got out of prison, returned to their illicit trades. The most skillful counterfeiters were driven by the challenge to produce fake money indistinguishable from the real thing.

     In the late Twentieth Century with advances in computer, photocopy, and graphic arts technology, counterfeiters could produce half-decent fake bills by simply copying real money. At that time American paper currency was the easiest money in the world to counterfeit. In an effort to render bills more difficult to replicate, the U. S. Treasury Department redesigned the larger denominations. (At one time the government printed $500 and $1,000-dollar bills. The largest denomination today is $100.)

     The U.S. government's anti-counterfeiting measures included adding holograms, embedded inks whose colors change depending on the angle of light; more color and larger presidential portraits. The first bills to be redesigned were the tens, twenties, and fifties. The government didn't issue the new 100s until February 2011.

     The redesigned currency drove the amateurs out of the counterfeiting business but it didn't discourage counterfeiters like Heath J. Kellogg. In 2011, the 36-year-old counterfeiter owned and operated a graphic and web design shop in Marietta, Georgia. In February of that year, Kellogg, who has a history of forged check convictions, began producing fake $50-dollar bills. (Fifties are rarely counterfeited.)

     Kellogg approximated the security threads in government bills by using pens with colored ink that showed up under ultraviolet lamps. He printed out the facsimile fronts and backs separately then glued the sheets together.

     In May 2011, a bank in Atlanta sent the Secret Service seven fake 50-dollar bills. Three months later, agents arrested a man in Conyers, Georgia who passed $50-dollar bills that matched the seven fakes that passed through the bank in Atlanta.

     The counterfeit bill passer had purchased his fake bills with a face value of $2,000 for $900 in genuine money. The arrestee identified Mr. Kellogg as the manufacturer of the fake fifties and agreed to cooperate with the Secret Service.

     Agents arrested a second member of the counterfeit distribution ring who also became an undercover Secret Service operative. On November 15, 2012, following the execution of two search warrants and two controlled undercover buys of counterfeit currency from the suspect, agents arrested Heath Kellogg.

     The Assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of Georgia charged Kellogg with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute counterfeit U.S. currency. Five other men were charged in connection with the passing of Mr. Kellogg's contraband product. The federal prosecutor believed that Kellogg and his accomplices injected $1.1 million worth of fake $50-dollar bills into the local economy.

     In November 2013, a jury found Mr. Kellogg guilty as charged. On March 24, 2014 the federal judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

     Two days after the counterfeiter's sentencing the judge sent accomplice Stacy P. Smith to prison for three years. Following his prison stretch Smith faced three years of supervised release. The judge sentenced four other members of the Kellogg counterfeiting ring in March 2014. Those sentences ranged from 18-months behind bars to five years probation.