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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Janet and William Strickland Murder-For-Hire Case

     Seventy-two-year-old William Strickland had lived with his 64-year-old wife Janet thirty years in the same house in south Chicago. Their neighbors considered them a happy couple. Mr. Strickland, a dialysis patient, may have been a contented husband, but his wife Janet wanted him dead.

     In February 2013, Janet Strickland informed her 19-year-old grandson--also named William Strickland--that she was "sick" of his grandfather and wanted him "gone." By "gone" she meant murdered. The old guy had money in the bank that couldn't be spent until he was "gone." Janet wanted that money, and she wanted it now.

     In one of their discussions about Mr. Strickland's fate, Janet told her grandson that she had decided against hiring an outside hit-man because she wanted the job done now. Young William, anticipating a share of his grandfather's wealth, said he would assassinate his namesake. Grandma sealed the deal by giving the young man his grandfather's handgun, a weapon he kept around the house for protection.

     At three-thirty on the afternoon of March 2, 2013, Janet said good-bye to her husband as he stepped out of the house to await a ride to his dialysis treatment. The murder target had been standing on the sidewalk a few minutes when he was approached from behind by his grandson and an accomplice. The younger William Strickland, using his grandfather's handgun, shot the elderly man six times in the back. Mr. Strickland fell to the ground and died.

     A few days after what the Chicago Police first considered a random robbery-murder--a common crime in the Windy City--Janet Strickland purchased her grandson a new car. A red one. She also went furniture shopping for herself.

     William rewarded himself with an expensive sound system for his new ride, a pair of high-end sneakers, and a fancy cellphone. He also spend some of his grandfather's money at his favorite tattoo parlor. With old guy dead, life was good.

     Detectives arrested William Strickland on the charge of first degree murder on March 30, 2013. He confessed to the execution-style homicide, and identified his grandmother as the mastermind behind the deadly get-rich-quick plot.

     On April 6, 2013, officers took Janet Strickland into custody. She confessed as well. The murder-for-hire grandmother and her assassin grandson were held on $50,000 bond in the Cook County Jail.

     On February 19, 2016, a jury in Chicago, after deliberating less than three hours, found William Strickland guilty of his grandfather's murder. Judge James Linn, on March 23, 2016, sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

     Janet Strickland's trial is scheduled for May 2016. She has opted to be tried without a jury. That means that Judge Linn will apply the law and perform the role of a jury. Her decision to have a so called "bench trial" reveals this defendant's fear that jurors will show no mercy in such a cold-blodded murder. I'm sure the judge won't either. This murder-for-hire mastermind will spend the rest of her life behind bars.

    

Friday, April 29, 2016

Judges Who Kept Rapists Out of Prison

Judge G. Todd Baugh and Rapist Stacey Rambold

     In August 2013, after a jury in Billings, Montana found a 49-year-old high school teacher named Stacey Rambold guilty of having consensual sex with a 14-year-old student, Yellowstone County Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced the defendant to thirty days in jail plus three years probation. The court ordered Rambold to register as a sex offender.

     Rambold's distraught victim, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide during his rape trial.

     According to Judge Baugh, even though the victim was 35 years younger than her rapist, Moralez was "older than her chronological age." The judge considered this a major mitigating factor in the case.

     On the day after his extremely unpopular sentencing of the former teacher, Judge Baugh, in speaking to reporters baffled by his sentence, stood by his ruling. "Obviously," he said, "a 14-year-old can't consent [to sex with an adult]. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape."

     Stacey Rambold served his thirty days behind bars and walked free. Having avoided years in prison for ruining a young girl's life, he was one lucky rapist. The judge later apologized for his "chronological age" comments, and due to the public uproar over his sentencing of the teacher, declined to run for his fifth term in office.

Judge Marie Silveira and Rapist Timothy L. Lyman

     On December 27, 2012, 44-year-old soccer coach Timothy Lyman hosted a party for his players at his Oakdale, California house. The coach provided his young party-goers with vodka and rum. One of his guests, a 16-year-old girl, after having consensual sex with a boy her age in one of Lyman's bedrooms, passed out from the effects of alcohol. She awoke to find her coach performing oral sex on her.

     On November 12, 2013, after Timothy Lyman pleaded no contest to rape, Stanislaus County Judge Marie Silveira sentenced the coach to three years probation. Lyman was also ordered to sign up as a sex offender. The prosecutor and members of the victim's family were shocked and outraged by the judge's light sentence.

     In speaking to reporters after Lyman's sentencing, the victim's father said, "Whoever would do this to a 16-year-old girl is just sick. This has devastated my family. There have been lots of sleepless nights for my daughter and sleepless nights for myself. I'm just sick."

Judge James Woodroof and Rapist Austin Smith Clem

     In 2007, 19-year-old Austin Smith Clem had, on two occasions, forcible sex with 14-year-old Courtney Andrews. The rapes took place in Athens, Alabama. Clem swore the girl to secrecy. Moreover, if she told anyone, he threatened to harm her and her parents.

     Four years later, at age 23, Clem forcibly raped Andrews who was then eighteen. This time she asked a friend to report the assault to her parents.

     In September 2013, the Limestone County jury, after deliberating just two hours, found Austin Smith Clem guilty of two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape. On November 13, 2013, Judge James Woodroof sentenced the convicted rapist to a non-custody correctional program designed to make offenders "likely to maintain a productive and law abiding life as a result of accountability, guidance, and direction to services needed."

     Clem, after completing the two year program for "nonviolent, low-level offenders," was placed on probation for three years. He also paid a $2,381 fine, and register as a sex offender.

     In response to Judge Woodroof's sentence, Courtney Andrews told reporters that she was "livid" and afraid for her family. The rape victim's father said this: "We thought justice was finally being served, and although the system was very slow, it was not totally broken. We were forced to hear a judge hand down a light sentence." 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Forensic Document Examination

     Forensic document examination, also referred to as questioned document analysis, is a branch of forensic science that concerns itself with the identification of handwriting, ink, typewriting, computer printing, and various writing instruments. Ninety percent of a document examiner's work has to do with the comparison of known handwriting samples with questioned writing such as bank robbery notes, ransom documents, mail bomb package addresses, threatening letters, handwritten suicide notes, and disputed signatures in wills, insurance policies and contracts.

     It's the forensic document examiner's job to determine if the questioned handwriting is genuine or forged. This aspect of the science is based on the principle that a person's handwriting is unique and consistent.

     Forensic document examiners do not draw conclusions about a writer's personality from his handwriting. That is the function of graphology, a branch of psychology that is not hard science. Graphologists who also function as forensic document examiners are not members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and should not be qualified to testify in court as expert witnesses.

     Graphologists who do testify as expert witnesses belong to their own professional organization called the World Association of Document Examiners. Most judges have not learned the difference between these two sets of handwriting identification practitioners. Because of the graphologists, the dueling expert problem flourishes in this field of forensic science. Many critics of this branch of forensic science consider handwriting identification to be too subjective to be true science. The entire profession has been under attack for decades.

     Legitimate document examiners utilize chemistry, specialized photography, computer science, and microscopy in their work. A few specialize in the restoration of charred and burned documents. There are no schools for this kind of work. A document examiner's education and training is in the form of on-the-job experience in federal, state, county, and city crime laboratories. A few learn the trade in private crime labs and from examiners in private practice.

     Because documents and handwriting are common pieces of physical evidence in virtually every type of crime, criminal investigators rely heavily on this branch of forensic science. It is therefore important that the field maintains its scientific integrity.

   

     

     

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Brittany Norwood: Cold-Blooded Killer

     In some cases, when it comes to predicting who is capable of committing bloody, premeditated murder, you can't tell the book by its cover. This is particularly true in a murder committed in 2011 by a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Norwood.

     Norwood played high school soccer in Kent, her hometown outside of Seattle, Washington. She continued her career as an athelete at Stony Brook University on Long Island. At Stony Brook, her soccer teammates accused the 5 foot, 120 pound player of stealing cash from them. A member of the team reported the thefts to the coach who chose to ignore the allegations.

     In 2011, Norwood was working as a sales clerk at a downtown Bethesda, Maryland store called Lululemon Athletica where upper-middle class customers bought $98 yoga pants and $58 running shirts. Jayna Murray, a 30-year-old graduate student at John Hopkins University, worked in the store with Norwood. Although the two young women were not close friends, they worked well as a sales clerk team.

     At 9 P.M., March 11, 2011, the two Lululemon clerks closed the doors to the public, and began shutting down the shop for the night. Forty-five minutes later, pursuant to one of the chain's anti-employee theft measures, Jayna and Brittany checked each other's handbags for unpurchased store merchandise. This led to Jayna's discovery of a pair of yoga pants in Brittany's purse. As they walked out the door, Jayna told her fellow employee that she would have to report the attempted theft to the store manager.

     On her walk to the Metro station, Brittany, as a ruse to get Jayna back into the store where she could talk her out of reporting the incident, phoned Jayna to tell her that she had left her wallet in the shop. Since Jayna possessed the key to the store, the two clerks headed back to Lululemon.

     As soon as Brittany and Jayna re-entered the store at 10:05, Norwood made her pitch. But it was to no avail, Jayna had already called the store manager. There was nothing she could do. This infuriated Norwood, and led to a shouting match overheard by employees of a nearby Apple store. The screaming and shouting turned violent when Norwood picked up a heavy metal rod used to support a mannequin and bludgeoned Jayna in the back of the head, crushing her skull. As Jayna staggered toward the store's rear exit, Norwood beat her with a hammer, then picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed her.

     Norwood's assault lasted six minutes, and produced, on the dying victim, 332 wounds which included a severed spinal cord and 83 defensive injuries.

     In an effort to make the murder look like a violent store invasion, Brittany Norwood tossed mops, brooms, and chairs around the shop, used a pair size 12 Reebok sneakers to track bloody shoe prints about the crime scene, and inflicted minor injuries on herself. She then bound her own hands and feet with pieces of rope, and waited overnight on the restroom floor. The next morning, the store manager found Jayna Murray dead in the back hallway, and Brittany Norwood in the bathroom tied up and moaning.

     On the morning after the murder, from her hospital bed, Norwood told detectives that two intruders in ski-masks had attacked her, and killed Jayna. According to Norwood, one of the attackers, a white man making racial slurs (Norwood is black), threatened to cut her throat if she resisted. "It was my fault because I left my wallet," she said.

     From the beginning, detectives had problems fitting the crime scene evidence to Norwood's story. Six days after the crime, the prosecutor charged Norwood with first-degree murder. Under Maryland law, first-degree, premeditated murder carried a sentence of life without parole. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, involved a sentence of 30 years maximum with a chance of parole after 15 years. Although the defendent didn't make a full confession, she did not maintain her innocence. Her attorney's defense consisted of the argument that the killing was a spontaneous homicide, or second-degree murder.

     Norwood's trial, held in the Montgomery County court, got underway in November 2011, and lasted 6 days. The defense attorney didn't put on a single witness, relying instead on his closing statement to the jury. His client was not, he told jurors, "in a right state of mind" when she attacted the victim. The murder, he said, "was the product of an explosion."

     The jury didn't buy the defense theory of the case, and after deliberating less than an hour, returned with their verdict: they found Norwood guilty of  first-degree murder. This meant the sobbing defendant would spend the rest of her life behind bars, with no hope of parole.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Michael Philpott Arson-Murder Case

     Michael Philpott of Derby, England, a city of 250,000 in the central part of the country, was an eccentric, violent man who domineered and abused his women. He was also lazy, and had a taste for group sex. In December 1978, the 21-year-old, angry that his 17-year-old girlfriend planned to leave him, stabbed her 27 times. When Kim Hill's mother tried to intervene, Philpott thrust the knife into her 11 times. Prior to these attacks, Philpott had punched and slapped Kim Hill, and on one occasion had broken several of her fingers.

     After the jury found Philpott guilty of two counts of attempted murder, the judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. The man who had tried to kill two women, served only three years and two months of his sentence. In 1991, another judge sentenced Philpott to probation after he pleaded guilty to head-butting another man. Several years after that, Philpott pleaded guilty to a road-rage related assault.

     The aging control-freak/hippie became a minor TV celebrity in England after appearing on the "Jeremy Kyle Show." A year later the volatile eccentric was featured in a documentary on English television.

     In 2011, the 55-year-old Philpott was living with his wife, his girlfriend, and eleven children in a 3-bedroom,  two-story house in Derby. The unemployed oddball who rarely bathed had fathered 17 children with five women. Four of the children living in the house had been produced by Philpott with his live-in mistress, Lisa Willis. (Another man was responsible for Willis' fifth child.) The remaining six children belonged to Philpott and his 45-year-old wife, Mairead.

     On February 11, 2012, Lisa Willis, who had been under Philpott's thumb since she was 17, made her escape. She told Philpott that she and her kids were going swimming. The six of them left the house and didn't return. Three days later, when the 29-year-old ex-mistress came back to the house to collect clothing and other items, Philpott got physical. The police came and kept the peace while she gathered her belongings and left.

     Philpott's relationship with Willis deteriorated further after she sued for custody of their four children. On May 1, 2012, he filed a false police report claiming that she had threatened his life. The revenge-seeking former lover began telling his friends that he, his wife, and one of Mairead's regular sexual partners, Paul Mosley, had concocted a plan that would get his children back. The scheme was this: they would start a small fire in the house, save the six children, then blame the arson and attempted mass murder on Lisa Willis. The plan was not only harebrained, it was dangerous.

     At 12:45 in the morning of May 11, 2012, as the children--five boys and a girl between the ages 5 and 13--slept in a bedroom on the second floor, Philpott ignited a puddle of gasoline in the hallway outside the bedroom. Outside, he climbed a ladder to the bedroom window, but couldn't smash a hole large enough to enter the house and save the children. In a state of panic, he dialed 999 (England's 911) and screamed, "I can't get in!"

     By the time the children were removed from the burning house, five of them were dead. The sixth child died a few days later in the hospital.

     The police, after Philpott accused Lisa Willis of setting the fire, took her into custody. They released her shortly thereafter when it became obvious she had nothing to do with the arson. Investigators quickly figured out who had started the fire and why.

      Philpott and his wife moved out of their fire-damaged house and into a motel. Police bugged their motel room, and in one of the electronically intercepted conversations, Philpott told his wife to "Make sure you stick to the story."

     The Michael Philpott, Mairead Philpott, and Paul Mosley manslaughter trial got underway in February 2013. Following the eight-week trial, the jury, on April 2, found all three defendants guilty as charged. The next day, at the sentence mitigation hearing, Michael Philpott's attorney, Anthony Orchard, asked the judge for the minimum sentence. The barrister said, "Despite Mr. Philpott's faults he was a very good father and loved those children. All the witnesses, even Lisa Willis, agree on this. There is no evidence at any stage that he deliberately harmed any of them." (He did, however, in an extremely reckless manner, use his children as pawns in a plot to frame his ex-mistress of a serious crime. I don't believe that qualifies him as a "very good father." That makes him, in my view, a mass murderer. In the United States these defendants would have been tried under the felony-murder doctrine, a more serious offense than manslaughter.)

     On April 4, 2013, Mrs. Justice Thirlwall of the Nottingham Crown Court, sentenced Michael Philpott to life with a minimum term of 15 years in prison. The judge said, "I have not the slightest doubt that you, Michael Philpott, were the driving force behind this shockingly dangerous enterprise."  Judge Thirlwall went on to describe this defendant as a "deliberately dangerous man," with "no moral compass."

     The judge sentenced Mairead Philpott and her lover Paul Mosley to 17 years in prison. I think these people, under the circumstances, got off light.

   

   

      

Monday, April 25, 2016

Melissa Townsend's 911 Call

      In March 2013, 27-year-old Melissa Townsend, a resident of Indian Harour Beach, a small community on southern Florida's Atlantic coast, called 911 with a less than urgent problem. Her young children were misbehaving. To the dispatcher, Townsend said, "I need a police officer to scare the shit out of my kids. They need to learn respect, and they need to learn that people in law enforcement have authority. They need to learn that lesson."

     The 911 dispatcher replied, "Okay. But we're not coming out to raise your kids for you."

     Ignoring the dispatcher's response, Townsend said, "They need to learn that. You know what I mean?"

     The dispatcher, who probably wasn't sure what was going on in this caller's mind, sent police officers to her house on the chance there was some kind of emergency. The officers rolled up to the dwelling to find the young mother intoxicated. Because Townsend was on probation, and not allowed to consume alcohol, the officers took her into custody for the probation violation. That's when all hell broke out.

     Ignoring her own advice to her kids about respecting law enforcement authority, Townsend resisted arrest, and in the process, kicked one of the officers in the groin.

     At the police lockup, Townsend, still out of control, repeatedly banged her head against the jail wall, and had to be taken to the hospital. She was charged with child neglect (being drunk) and battery of a police officer.

     What started out as a silly 911 call turned into something more serious. Townsend, for reasons that went beyond her intoxicated emergency call, eventually lost custody of her children. (I have not been able to determine the disposition of Townsend's probation violation and police assault cases. It would not be unreasonable to assume, however, that she ended up in prison.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had recieved about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know abut the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Helen Pearson's Stalker From Hell

     On October 21, 2013, 33-year-old Helen Pearson, a resident of Exeter, England, while walking in the rain from her flat to a physical fitness class at a nearby gym, was stabbed in the back by an attacker armed with a large pair of scissors. The man dragged Pearson through the entrance gate of St. Bartholomew Cemetery where he pinned her to the ground, punched her, and stabbed her in the face and lower jaw.

     When Sandra Robertson, a passing motorist, heard Pearson's screams, she jumped out of her vehicle and ran into the cemetery, a place known by the locals as the Catacombs, and pushed the assailant off the victim. That gave Pearson the chance to run out of the cemetery, and take refuge at the Fitness First Gym. The attacker fled the scene as well.

     Questioned at the gym by a police officer, the hysterical Pearson cried, "It was my stalker!" An ambulance crew rushed the victim to a nearby hospital. Her wounds, while serious, were not life-threatening.

     Helen Pearson's nightmare began in 2008 when her neighbor, an unemployed mechanic named Joseph Willis, asked if she would accompany him to a local pub to hear a band. She declined his invitation. Her rejection incurred Willis' wrath and turned him into an unrelenting stalker. During the next five years, Willis devoted himself to making Pearson's life a living hell.

     Early on, Willis made his intentions clear. He wrote Pearson a letter that read: "I want to see how you would cope if you were attacked….Would you fight back? Scream? Let the game begin." Willis' "game" included regularly pawing through her trash, visiting her Facebook page, disrupting her eating disorder support group (she suffered from obsessive compulsion disorder), harassing hang-up phone calls, depositing a dead cat on her doorstep, slashing her tires, and vandalizing her flat and her parents' home in Crediton. Willis also continued to send her poison letters in which he called her a "lying evil girl," and warned her to "watch her back."

     On April 7, 2014, Willis' attempted murder trial got underway at the Crown Court in Exeter. Crown prosecutor Richard Crabb, in his opening statement to the jury, said, " The defendant was obsessed with Helen Pearson and consumed with hostility for reasons that may never become apparent. [Motive in cases like this is irrelevant.] Willis was consumed by hatred. He had done his best to make her life a misery and made clear threats against her in two letters."

     Helen Pearson took the stand and described to the jury how the 49-year-old defendant had forced her and her family to live in fear. Her father installed security grilles on her windows and set up a security camera at his house in Crediton. She changed cellphones every month and lived in constant fear of being physically attacked. Pearson also kept a diary in which she documented more than 100 incidents of harassment and vandalism.

     In describing the October 21, 2013 attempted murder, Pearson said, "He came from behind. I did not hear him because it was raining heavily and I had my umbrella up. The first thing I knew was when I was stabbed in the back. I turned and saw it was Joe. I saw his eyes and he looked absolutely furious. The first blow pushed me to the ground, and he kicked me and was dragging me along. It was obvious he was planning to get me into the Catacombs. That was where I was going to end. I tried to get free. I felt another kick and stab from behind. I thought this is going on until I am completely dead."

     Continuing with her account of the vicious attack, Pearson said, "I got my phone and was able to dial two nines but not the third. He got the phone away from me. He was deranged and so evil. He knew full well what he was doing and he was determined I was going to be dead. He was trying to drag me farther and farther from the cemetery entrance gates. I thought this is where he is going to get rid of the body. I thought I would be found and my mum and dad would not know what happened. [I would imagine that Mr. Pearson would have known exactly what had happened to his daughter, and who was responsible.]

     "I had six stab wounds in total in my back. I remember seeing the scissors and turning my head and seeing them come down….I was struggling and screaming and pleading. I remember saying, 'Please, Joe. No!' He never spoke to me throughout the whole thing."

     The victim-witness told the jury about her father's home security camera and her window bars. Because the police were useless and apparently uninterested in protecting this woman, the family hired a private detective in an effort to catch the stalker in the act. (They should have hired a hit man--just kidding--I think.) During Pearson's prolonged ordeal, she filed 125 complaints with the Devon and Cornwall Police Departments.

     On April 15, 2014, the jury found Joseph Willis guilty of attempted murder. Outside the Exeter court house following the verdict, Helen Pearson, in speaking to a reporter with the BBC, said, "Every night you go to bed and you don't know what is going to happen and you constantly live in fear. You see that there's no way the stalking is ever gong to end." Pearson, feeling hopeless and vulnerable, said she had thought many times about ending her misery by killing herself.

     Helen Pearson's father, Bernard Pearson, said this to the BBC: "Nobody with the police could see that the level of violence was rising, rising and rising." Mr. Pearson spoke of the family's intention of filing a formal complaint against the law enforcement agencies that failed to protect his daughter against the obsessed degenerate who had obviously intended at some point to murder her.

     The Exeter Crown Court judge, in appreciation of Sandra Robertson's heroic life saving intervention on Helen Pearson's behalf, granted her a 500 pound reward. Regarding the future of the convicted stalker and attempted murderer, the judge said Mr. Willis could anticipate a "lengthy term of imprisonment."

     In May 2014, Bernard Pearson filed a 48-page complaint against the Devon and Cornwall Police Departments. To a BBC reporter he said, "They failed us terribly. The attacks were getting worse and worse and the police failed to realize this and act."

     On July 17, 2014, the judge sentenced Willis to life in prison, stipulating that the deadly stalker had to serve at least 13 years of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

     Helen Pearson, in speaking to reporters after the sentencing hearing, once again accused the local police of failing to protect her in the face of obvious threats against her life.

     On September 2, 2014, the convicted stalker's attorney filed an appeal to have his client's life sentence reduced. In response to this, Willis' victim said: "I'm not going to let [the appeal] worry me. Willis spent five years making my life a misery. Now he's trying to do it again from behind bars, but he won't succeed."

     An agency in England called The Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation to determine why this woman's plight had been ignored by the Devon and Cornwall Police Departments.

     On March 3, 2015, appellate judges at the Royal Courts of Justice rejected Joseph Willis' sentencing appeal.

Friday, April 22, 2016

J. Edgar Hoover's Legacy: A Street Agent's Perspective

     When Clint Eastwood's film, "J. Edgar," came out in 2011 my wife and I went to see it. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film interested me because of its emphasis on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and the fact I was a street agent during Hoover's last six years in office (1966-1972). The film's version of the Lindbergh case overplayed the FBI's role in the crime scene investigation near Hopewell, New Jersey and the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann two and a half years later in Flemington, New Jersey. Although dotted with other factual errors that are minor, the treatment of the 1932 abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby, was, on the whole, complete. As for J. Edgar Hoover himself, except for scenes with his dominating mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man who loved him (Arnie Hammer), the film also caught the flavor and essence of Hoover's 48-year career as director of the FBI and America's most famous and powerful lawman.  

     Looking back on my six years as an FBI agent, I will say this without equivocation: Hoover's agents did not imagine him as presented in the film by Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. We did not see the director as a repressed homosexual who was scared to death of his mother. Agents saw him as a powerful figure who terrorized presidents and was so devoted to the bureau and his own image as an incorruptible crime fighter and warrior against the internal communist threat, he would destroy anyone who tarnished him or the FBI. As a result, in the minds of Hoover's street agents, crime fighting became secondary to avoiding the director's wrath.

     Pursuant to Hoover's impossible standards of performance and agent comportment, every field agent, every day, couldn't help violate one or two of the director's thousands of rules and regulations. Agents who got caught breaking these rules, rules continuously promulgated by Hoover and his palace guards. paid the price in the form of disciplinary transfers to undesirable field offices. For example, no one wanted to work at the field division headquarters in Billings, Montana. More than a few bureau rules violators were fired "with prejudice." Nobody knew exactly what "with prejudice" meant except that it was not good. When agents of the Hoover era tell war stories, their tales are usually not about their cases. Most likely they feature administrative horror stories.

     J. Edgar Hoover's career can be viewed from the perspective of twentieth century history or from the field agent's point of view. What follows is my take on J. Edgar Hoover as an employer and law enforcement administrator during his last six years in office.

     I had been a new agent just a few days when I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. In those days, before the magnificant FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, new agents attended seven weeks of classwork in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. and seven weeks of firearms training on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.  Every day in D.C., our FBI instructors came into the classroom armed with horror stories designed to instill fear of the director. To a man, these instructors had that "I'm-dead-but-still-walking persona". One of them, a SOG (Seat of Government) agent from the D.C. administrative headquarters, a man who conjured up the image of a demented butcher, kept reminding the class that to survive in Mr. Hoover's FBI one had to have balls made of brass. I took this to mean we were in for a lot of low blows.

     New agents were reminded over and over again that the worse thing they could do was embarrass the bureau. Blowing an investigation was one thing, but embarrassing the bureau was serious. By bureau, the instructors meant J. Edgar Hoover. The director did not forget, did not forgive, and took everything personally. Every infraction--a missed bureaucratic deadline, putting a scratch on a bureau car, not calling the office every two hours when not at work or at home--constituted a personal assault on Hoover's good name. It was simply un-American to embarrass the director of the FBI.

     Hoover's ideal FBI agent consisted of a thin white male with high morals, a clean-cut appearance, and a law degree. Over the years the director had managed, through careful media manipulation, to make the G-man the cultural hero, and the outlaw, the villian. Physically, if a job candidate didn't fit Hoover's model of the all-American agent, it didn't matter how smart, brave, or moral he was. Hoover didn't tolerate mustaches, beards, pot bellies, long hair, or missing teeth. If you had a tattoo, forget it. The director didn't accept anyone who was color-blind or had less that 20-20 vision. Short, slightly overweight, and bulldog-faced, Hoover, based on looks alone, would not have hired himself. There were a handful of black men in the bureau, but no Hispanics, Asians, or women.

     Once in the FBI, agents had to maintain a height/weight ratio that conformed to ideal life insurance policy standards. Most agents, as they approached middle age, had trouble keeping their weight under control, and dreaded the monthly weigh-ins held either in the chief clerk's desk or in the SAC's (special agent in charge) office under the supervision of the boss's secretary. Notwithstanding the weight restrictions, there were a lot of older agents obviously over the pound limit.

     Within the weight control program, as in all of Hoover's bureaucratic obsessions, cheating and false reporting with the knowledge and approval of the office brass were rampant. But according to the regulations, an agent who was more than ten pounds over the weight limit two months in a row could be transferred to another field office. The bureau's weight program gave the SAC a lot of power. If he wanted to unload an agent he didn't like, the boss could enforce the rule. So could a SOG inspector on a field office witch hunt. The office transfer, as a means of punishment, gave Hoover a powerful and arbitrary tool that disrupted families and broke up marriages. This from a never married man who disapproved of divorce.

     Director Hoover also enforced a severe and detailed dress code. Agents had to wear blue, brown, gray or black suits. He forbade pin stripe suits and colorful buttoned-down or patterned dress shirts. Approved bureau footwear did not include suede shoes, loafers, or cowboy boots. (When I worked in west Texas, most agents wore fancy cowboy boots to fit in with the Texas Rangers.) Agents playing it safe shoe-wise went the wing-tip route. As for head wear, all agents were supposed to wear those felt, narrow-brimmed business hats even though a bareheaded President Kennedy had rendered the fedora out of style.

     In a dress code more detailed and complicated than the U.S. Constitution, an agent caught wearing a sports coat or a loud tie could get written-up. Unlike modern agents who wear jackets and ballcaps emblazoned with the letters FBI, or walk around in combat gear, Hoover's men looked like 1950s IBM executives and insurance men.

     To distinguish his agents from uniformed cops and city detectives who supposedly killed a lot of time by hanging around donut shops and diners drinking coffee, Hoover forbade his agents to drink coffee on the job. Taking clandestine coffee breaks with other agents therefore required a lot of trust (agents had to be aware of office snitches) and made a common workplace ritual an act of subversion. Agents were constantly on the lookout for safe coffee drinking hideaways. Bureau coffee drinkers couldn't get attached to a single restaurant or diner because to avoid detection, they had to keep moving.

     One of Hoover's most unreasonable and counterproductive rules, a decree that reflected his lack of experience as a criminal investigator, concerned when agents could tackle the heavy paperwork burden the director had himself mandated. Between 9 AM and 5 PM, agents were only allowed to be in the field office ninety minutes. They were supposed to use this limited time to review their case files, make phone calls, and dictate reports and FD 302s (witness statements) to office stenographers. Agents were to spend the rest of the day out on the street investigating crime, tracking down fugitives, and uncovering subversion. As opposed to the image of the lazy detective hanging around the office all day drinking coffee and shooting the bull, Hoover wanted his investigators to be men of action.

     The director's office-time restriction ignored the fact that in detective work, every hour of investigation can create two hours of paperwork. To meet Hoover's strict reporting deadlines, agents had to do much of their pencil-pushing in parked cars, public libraries, restaurants, and for those brave enough to risk it, at home. Otherwise, if an agent saved all of his paperwork for the office after 5 PM, he'd end up preparing 302s and written reports well into the evening.

     In the morning, agents were expected to sign-in for work before seven. For those who worked in big city offices, that meant getting up at five. Agents were also required to log in plenty of overtime which meant the sign-in and sign-out registers never came close to reflecting reality. For example, when an agent arrived at the office at seven, the guy just ahead of him would be logging in at five-thirty. If the agent who signed in just after this person wrote down his actual time of arrival, he had committed an act  called "jumping the register," a serious violation of the agent's unwritten code of conduct. In Hoover's FBI, honesty was not  always the best policy.

     When I left the bureau it felt like I had escaped from prison. The only aspect of the job I really missed involved working with first-rate people. One of Hoover's greatest sins was the way he abused his personnel. He recruited the best then treated them like dirt. From a street agent's perspective, that is Mr. Hoover's legacy.        

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dareka Brooks: The House-Call Hooker Robbery Case

     On May 1, 2013, a home-alone 14-year-old in Prospect Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, decided to avail himself of the services of a prostitute. (The kid must have been watching that old Tom Cruise movie.) Since he wasn't old enough to drive, the hooker would have to come to him. Through a website designed for sexual liasons, the adventurous youngster arranged to have  23-year-old Dareka Brooks, a prostitute from Milwaukee, come to his house.

     The moment the hooker strolled into the suburban home, she took charge. She ordered the excited kid to go into his bedroom and take off his pants. As the hapless kid sat on his bed anticipating the real-life version of his wildest fantasies, the whore walked into the room and introduced him to the reality of her world. She sprayed his face with pepper juice, grabbed his iPad and piggy bank, and got the hell out of there. This was not what the boy had expected.

     The stunned, ripped-off underage John could have avoided the wrath of his parents by lying about his lost iPad and piggy bank. Instead, he called the police with a description of the prostitute and her car.

     A detective "pinged" the victim's iPad after Brooks turned it on. This allowed the investigator to track the hooker to a motel in Elk Grove Village ten miles from Prospect Heights. Officers arrested Brooks at the motel where they recovered the kid's iPad and his piggy bank.

     After being charged with armed robbery, a judge ordered Dareka Brooks held on $10,000 bond.

      On June 17, 2014, in exchange for her guilty plea, the judge sentenced Dareka Brooks to five years in prison. Robbery in Illinois carries a maximum sentence of thirty years.