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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Disaster at Waco

     The April 19, 1993 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 assault, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax, and Firearms (ATF), at the conclusion of a 7 month investigation, had raided 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 had not been uder 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 launced the invasion anyway. Although several AFT agents had been trained at Fort Hood by Green Beret personnel (the unsupported suspicion that the compound housed a methamphetamine lab served to justify the military's role in the operation), 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 found that although an FBI agent had fired tear gas rounds at a concrete pit 75 feet from the Davidian living quarters, a fact the FBI had tried to suppress, agents had not started the fire. The former senator also concluded that FBI agents had not fired bullets into the compound, and that the military's role in the raids had been lawful. (Today, that issue wouldn't even come up.)

     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 continues. 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. That is my opinion as well.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wrong House Raid in Georgia

     In Gwinnett County, Georgia, a suburban community of 700,000 within the Atlanta metropolitan area, narcotics officers had been watching a house in Lawrenceville for three months. Members of the county police department's Special Investigations Section suspected that the man living at 2934 Valley Spring Drive was selling methamphetamine. At 9:15 A.M. on December 9, 2008, 20 officers with the department's 60-member SWAT unit began making final preparations for a no-knock raid. Thirty minutes later, after a detective with the Special Investigations Section pointed out the meth suspect's house, the SWAT team moved in on the target. The officers didn't know it, but the detectives had sent them to the wrong house. The suspected drug dealer lived a few places down the street.

     The day after the raid, John Louis, the 38-year-old whose house the police wrongfully entered, described the intrusion to a television reporter: "They came in here and put guns on us. The house was full of police. I never had a gun in my face before...All I see is a bunch of police, guns drawn, yelling, 'Hands in the air! Hands in the air!' "

     When the SWAT officers broke down the front door, Heather Jones, John Louis's girlfriend who had been asleep with their three-month baby, stepped out of the bedroom in her nightgown. Police ordered her to the floor at gunpoint. The couple asked the police what they wanted and were told to shut up and remain still. The raid came to an abrupt halt when one of the officers, seeing the baby, realized they had broken into the wrong place. As the SWAT unit decamped to raid the suspect's house, one of the officers apologized for the intrusion and promised to have the front door repaired.

     In an interview with a TV correspondent the next day, a Gwinnet Police Department spokesperson pointed out that the narcotics officers had been watching the meth suspect's house for three months. In response to this, John Louis said, "If you had this house under surveillance for three months, why did you come here? You broke in and put all our lives in danger, and all you can say is you're sorry?" (Mr. Lewis was lucky to get an apology. That was unusual.)

     The police spokesperson, in explaining what went wrong, said, "Somehow there was an investigator that had been working closely with the case that...mistakenly pointed out the wrong house, the wrong location." When asked if the police department had any kind of policy regarding no-knock raids, the police representative replied, "We double check the address, there's a description of the location as well as an address of the house that we're looking at on the search warrant, and we always have someone double check that every time." (Always?)

   Three days after the raid, the commander of the Special Investigations Section, in a news release, announced that the detective who had directed the SWAT team to the wrong house had been transferred to the uniform division. Without identifying this officer, the commander characterized the incident as a "case of human error and not deliberate malfeasance on the part of the investigator."

     Had Mr. Louis, thinking that his home was being invaded by criminals, picked up a gun for self-protection, he would be dead. As long as the war on drugs rages on, and officer safety trumps all other considerations, SWAT teams will be deployed in low-risk situations. Non-violent criminal suspects and innocent people will continue to be traumatized, injured, and in some cases, killed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots 3


January 1, 2012
Sandringham, England

     Lidija Nesterova, a Latvian immigrant living in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, on September 6, 2011, reported her 17-year-old granddaugher missing. Alisa Dmitrijeva was last seen in the town of King's Lynn shortly after midnight on August 31. Witnesses saw her get into a green Lexus with two men.

     According to the missing girl's grandmother, Alisa, stuggling to learn English, had been recently arrested for theft. She had also been staying out all night, and using drugs.

     On New Year's Day, a man walking his dog in a wooded area on Queen Elizabeth's 31-square mile Sandringham estate 115 miles northeast of London, came across a decomposing human body. The remains belonged to Alisa Dmitrijeva, and according to a forensic pathologist, she had been murdered. Although Alisa had not been shot or stabbed, the exact cause of death remains undetermined.

      The Queen's estate, made up of several villages, orchards, tenant farms, and a 590-acre forest, is home to 500 families. Dmitrijeva's body was found outside the village of Anmer, about three miles from the queen's country mansion which sits on 59 acres. The dog walker found the body in an area open to the public. The hamlet of Anmer is inhabited by roughly by 200 people. The police have no suspects, and are looking for the victim's moble phone.

     The case has attracted international media attention because of the location of the murdered girl's body. Otherwise, the murder would have been a locally reported crime story.

UPDATE

     On May 1, 2012, the British police arrested two men suspected of the murder. Aged 28 and 31, they are from the nearby village of Wisbech.

January 7, 2012
Sidney, Montana

     Sherry Arnold, a 43-year-old Sidney, Montana school teacher, went out for an early morning run on January 7, and never returned. As of this writing, canine units, private planes, a helicopter, searchers on ATVs, and hundreds of volunteers on foot have not found her body. A searcher did find one of the missing woman's sneakers along a road.

     A week after Arnold went missing, the police arrested two men in Williston, North Dakota, an oil boom town on hour north of Sidney. Since the oil rush in Williston and neighboring towns, crime in that area has shot through the roof. (See: "Full Employment and Crime," November 10, 2011) The influx of workers has overwhelmed the real estate market. The Walmart parking lot in Williston has become a makeshift trailer camp.

     The arrested men have been charged with aggravated kidnapping in connection with Arnold's disappearance and presumed death. According to reports, one of the men has confessed to killing the teacher.

January 16, 2012
El Cajon, California

     In this community east of San Diego, a 10-year-old stabbed to death his neighbor friend, a 12-year-old boy. According to kids in the neighborhood, the young homicide suspect has a belicose and aggressive tantrum-prone personality. Although on medication, the boy, according to reports, is easily provoked. Under California law, children must be at least 14 to be charged as adults. As a result, this boy will be dealt with in the juvenile system. If found guilty of killing the 12-year-old, he can be incarcerated until he's 25.

     From 1976 to 2010, 242 kids 10 and under have committed criminal homicide. (During the 1940s, 50s and 60s, I would be surprised if 5 kids ten or younger commited murder.) In 2010, 12 children under twelve intentionally took another person's life.

January 2012
New Castle, Pennsylvania

     In February 2009, in a township near New Castle, Pennsylvania in the western part of the state, 11-year-old Jordan Brown allegedly killed his father's pregnant fiancee with a shotgun blast to the head. The district attorney wanted to try the boy as an adult, but a judge moved the case to juvenile court. The adjudication of the case has been delayed over this issue, and the fact prosecutors want the juvenile proceeding to be closed to the public. Various media outlets have filed suit to make this case resolution open to the public. In the meantime, the boy's attorneys have asked a judge to set him free. If found guilty as a juvenile, Jordan Brown could be incarcerated until he turns 21.      
    
January 17, 2012
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

     London Eley, 19-years-old and a participant in a murder for hire plot, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit murder. She received an immediate parole on her prison sentence.

     In May 2011, Eley posted the following messsage on Facebook: "I will pay somebody a stack [$1,000] to kill my baby father." Timothy Bynum, an 18-year-old from Darby, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia, responded to Eley's message: "Say no more...what he look like...where he be at...need that stack 1st [first]."

     The aunt of the murder for hire target, Corey White, Eley's ex-boyfriend and father of their child, saw the Facebook posting and called the police. Eley and Bynum were quickly taken into custody. Bynum, claiming that the whole thing was a joke, is going on trial in March. As for Corey White, the intended target, he was killed last August in a drug-related shooting.

     I don't understand the light sentence for London Eley. But I do know this: only an idiot would solicit murder on Facebook, and only a really stupid person would make a social media response. But if you are killed by a couple of idiots, you are just as dead as if you have been murdered by a genius.

January 17, 2012
Hollywood, California

     Two people walking their dogs in Bronson Canyon Park not far from the famous Hollywood sign, noticed that their pets were playing with a pastic bag. On closer inspection, the stunned dog walkers realized the bag contained a human head.

     The next day, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department, assisted by officers on horseback, fanned out across the 7-acre park. The search led to the discovery of a set of hands and two feet. A few days later, forensic experts were able to identify the owner of the body parts. His or her name has not been released to the public. For me, the thought of murder and dismemberment in LA brings to mind the infamous Black Dalia case of 1947. It also calls to mind a James Ellroy novel.

January 18, 2012
Sharon, Pennsylvania

     Fred L. Parker walked into Lucky's Internet Cafe (where customers buy phone cards and play computerized games such as poker and craps) and demanded money from the cashier. The 41-year-old robber did not display a gun or a knife. Instead, he threatened to touch and infect the cashier with a highly contagious disease. Notwithstanding Parker's claim to have a deadly MRSA staph infection, the intended robbery victim called the police. Shortly thereafter, the police arrested the germ bandit. He is currently infecting the Mercer County Jail. Had I been the clerk at Lucky's Internet Cafe, the contagious Mr. Parker would have walked out of the joint with the money. I'm feeling a little ill just writing about this.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drew Peterson and His Dead and Missing Women

     Last year the wife of a Utah man went missing one night in the middle of a blizzard. Her husband has come under suspicion, but until the woman's body is found, that's probably all he'll be--a suspect. It seems the country is littered with the bodies of wives whose murdering husbands have successfully disposed of their remains.

     A few days ago my wife and I watched, on the Lifetime Network, a TV docudrama about the Drew Peterson murder case. Peterson is the former Bolingbrook, Illinois police sergeant currently awaiting trial for the 2004 killing of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. The film, starring Rob Lowe and called "Drew Peterson: Untouchable," is principally about Peterson's volatile relationship with his fourth wife Stacy who disappeared in October 2007. As told from Stacy's point of view, the TV drama portrays Peterson as an insecure, clownish, homicidal psychopath masquarading as a cheesey lady's man. He is also played, I believe accurately, as a star-struck media whore.

     After watching the movie, I can't imagine any of the 5.8 million people who saw it believing that Peterson didn't kill his last two wives. Probably most people who didn't see the film feel the same way. While the case has been out of the news for a couple of years, the film brought it back into the limelight.

     Having paid good money to see a lot of really bad movies in our local theaters, I found this one fairly interesting and entertaining. However, the critics, as well as Stacy Peterson's relatives, hated it. Stacy's sister called it "far-fetched and off-the-mark."  Peterson himself watched it from the Will County Jail in Joliet. According to reports, Peterson thought the flick was "hysterical." (I find it hard to believe that Peterson found a movie portraying him as a cold-blooded, double-murderer, funny. If he really did, this is one strange guy.) His attorney, Joel Brodsky, didn't find it so amusing. In his view, the film will make it even more difficult to find an impartial jury. Brodsky has asked a judge to move his client's trial to another venue. But since Peterson, much to his own media antics, is a nationally known and reviled person, where can he go to get a fair trial?

     Drew Peterson and Kathleen Savio, after eleven years of marriage, were divorced in October 2003. Before that, in response to domestic disturbance calls, the police had been to their house eighteen times. On March 1, 2004, Savio's nude body was found in her bath tub. A forensic pathologist determined the manner of death to be accidental, and the cause, death by drowning.

     Shortly after divorcing Savio, Peterson, then 50, married 19-year-old Stacy Ann Coles. In October 2007, after four years of marriage to his fourth wife, Stacy went missing. Investigators believe that after Peterson killed Stacy in the house, he stuffed her body into a blue, 55-gallon drum which he and his stepbrother disposed of. Her body has not been recovered. Shortly after the disappearance, Peterson retired from the police department with a $6,000 a month pension. (His record as a police officer features allegations of bribery and brutality.)

     Following Stacy Peterson's disappearance, the authorities exhumed Kathleen Savio's body. The famed forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, performed the second autopsy. Based on Dr. Baden's findings (which have not been made public), the medical examiner changed the manner of Savio's death to homicide. In May 2009, police arrested Peterson for the murder of his third wife. Although Stacy Peterson is presumed dead, Peterson has not been charged with her murder.

     Unless Dr. Baden discovered something that physically links Drew Peterson to Savio's corpse, this will be one of those cases with a good suspect but with no forensic evidence. Motive, means, and opportunity, without more, is not enough to sustain a murder conviction. (I hope the most incriminating evidence against Peterson isn't the TV movie.) The Savio trial is on hold pending the decision of an appellate court regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence pertaining to threats Peterson made on his wife's life.

     Drew Peterson may end up joining the ranks of Lizzie Borden, O.J. Simpson, and Casey Anthony, people presumed innocent by the law, but not by the public.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tattoos: Human License Plates Identifying Criminals and Victims

     A mother in Georgia recently got into trouble for taking her 10-year-old son to a tattoo shop where he got tattooed in honor of his dead brother. The local prosecutor's office charged the woman with child cruelty. Under Georgia law, only physicians and osteopaths can tattoo people under 18. (Why would a doctor ink a kid in the first place?) This story got me thinking about tattoos, and the role they play, and have played, in the identification of criminals and their victims.

     Not too long ago, people most likely to get a tattoo were enlisted military personnel, prison inmates, and members of street gangs. Truman Capote, the author of "In Cold Blood," once told a journalist that of the dozens of mass murderers and serial killers he had interviewed, all of them had tattoos. Today, that would surprise no one. In 2006, according to a Pew Research Center survey, more than 36 percent of people between the ages 18 and 40 have at least one tattoo. This percentage is probably much higher now. (It seems that 90 percent of college and professional football and basketball players are tattooed. And as a boxing fan, I have noticed that more and more prize fighters are heavily tattooed.)

     Tattoos, along with clothing, personal belongings, fingerprints, scars, moles, and teeth, are helpful in the identification of corpses that have been dumped in the water, in fields and in the woods. In 1935, two fishermen caught a shark off the coast of Sydney, Australia. They took the live fish to a local aquarium where it disgorged a human arm that had been severed by a knife. The arm also bore a distinctive tattoo that led to the identification of a murder victim named James Smith. Smith had been an ex-boxer with a history of crime. The case became known as the Shark Arm Murder.

     The police routinely ask crime victims and eyewitnesses if the suspect had any tattoos. Former prison inmates and members of street gangs assist law enforcement by identifying themselves as such through their inked, individualized body markings. In England in the late 1800s, before criminal identification bureaus adopted fingerprints, ID clerks took note of arrestees' tattoos and their locations, data classified and filed for future retrieval. Today, in California, the CALGANG database consists of a collection of gang tattoos. In Florida, a database has been recently created that features approxiamately 372,000 tattoos of people who have been arrested in that state.

     In 2010, Michigan State University licensed tattoo matching technology to Morpho Trak, the world's leading provider of biometric (eye, hand, signature, and voice ID) identification systems. Corrections and law enforcement officers use the tattoo database to identify criminal suspects and homicide victims.

     Dr. Nina Jablonski, head of the anthropology department at Penn State, says that "Tattoos are part of an ancient and universal tradition of human self-declaration and expression." In some cases, these tattoos express anti-social attitudes, and declare that their owners have histories of crime.

    

Monday, January 23, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots 2

January 15, 2012
Dorset Township, Ohio

     Police arrested 34-year-old Angel Brown after she had given a man $4,000 to kill her husband's former wife. The potential hitman informed the police who arrested Brown on the charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. The mastermind's husband had been killed in a bizarre car accident caused by an Amish man's runaway horse. The dead man's first wife put herself in Angel Brown's cross-hairs when she filed a claim for a share her ex-husband's estate. This case, in terms of the people involved, is not unusal. It serves to remind us that you don't have to be in the Mafia to become the target in a murder for hire plot.

January 9, 2012
Logan, Ohio

     Darlene Gilkey was dying of cancer. Confined to a hospital bed set up in her living room, the 59-year-old was being cared for by hospice, her husband Paul, and her two sisters. Earlier in the day, she had been served a light meal of toast and tea by her sisters. This angered her husband Paul who had peeled her an orange. During a heated argument next to the sick woman's bed, Paul shot both sisters to death, then turned his gun on his 38-year-old son, killing him as well. (Another son escaped, unhurt.) Sparing his stunned wife, the 62-year-old stepped out onto the front porch, sat down, then used his gun to kill himself. Nine shots were fired in this tripple murder-suicide.

     Leroy Gilkey, the 38-year-old murdered by his father, had taught Spanish at a Columbus area high school. As for his father, a relative described him as unpredictable and unstable. Before the shootings, Paul Gilkey had been drinking, and had taken some kind of medicatation. This case reveals the disturbing truth that most violence occurs within the family, and often involves alchohol, drugs and mental illness.

January 15, 2012
Fresno, California

     When residents of the Silver Lakes apartment complex heard 23-year-old Aide Mendez arguing loundly with Eduardo Lopez, the 33-year-old father of her two children, they called the police. Officers arrived at the scene and found Lopez outside the apartment. He was alive but had been shot and stabbed. As officers attended to Lopez, they heard gunshots coming from within the Mendez's apartment. Upon entering, the police found Lopez's 27-year-old cousin, Paul Medina, shot dead. In the bathroom, officers discovered the bodies of Mendez and her two children. The 3-year-old had died at the scene. His 17-month-old sister passed away at a nearby hospital.

     Prior to the shooting her boyfriend, his cousin, her two children, and then herself, Aide Mendez had recorded, on her iPad, herself and Medina smoking methamphetamine. Police recovered 10 grams of meth, worth $8,000, from the apartment. They also seized three firearms.

     While even tripple murder-suicide cases are no long uncommon, this one is unusual because murder-suicides are almost always committed by men. And when a female does commit such violence, they usually spare their children. But in America's exploding culture of drugs, there will be no such thing as an unusual crime.

January 17, 2012
Anaheim, California

     The district attorney of Orange County filed four counts of murder against Itzcoatl Ocampo, a 23-year-old former Marine from Yorba Linda who had served six months in Iraq. Ocampo stands accussed of stabbing to death, over a period of a month, four homeless men in Anaheim.

     After graduating from Yorba Linda's Esperanza High School in 2006, Ocampo went straight into the Marine Corps. When he returned from Iraq in the summer of 2010, he showed signs of mental illness. He also started drinking. During his killing spree, Ocampo had been living with two younger siblings. His fatehr, Refugio, educated at a lawyer in Mexico, immigrated to the U.S. with his wife and Itzcoatl in 1988. Refugio became an American citizen, got a job as the manager of a warehouse, and purchased a home in Yorba Linda. But after he and his wife divorced, Refugio himself became homeless. Mr. Ocamp told a reporter that after his son left the Marine Corps, he became isolated, and trusted no one. The suspect is being held, without bond, in the Orange County Jail.

January 16, 2012
Los Angeles, California

      Young Lee, a kick-boxer turned successful architect who co-founded the Pinkberry Company, a low-calorie yogurt chain with more than 100 locations in the U.S., Mexico, and the Middle East, was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport. The 47-year-old South Korean entrepreneur is accused of chasing down a homeless man in June 2011 after the transient approached his car and asked for a hand-out. Lee and a passenger in his car allegedly beat the homeless man with a tire iron. Lee is currently out of jail on bail awaiting his trial. The condition of the homeless man is unknown.

January 14, 2012
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

     Philadelphia is a violent city. Last year the police shot 16 people, and so far this year, there have been 20 homicides. Last week, a 30-year-old man gunned-down seven teenagers in a car. Three of the boys died.

     Keven Kless, a May 2010 graduate of Temple University, and an employee of a Philadelphia insurance company, yelled at a cab driver in the tourist district near the Liberty Bell didn't when the taxi didn't stop for him, his girlfriend, and her companion. Four men in a vehicle behind the cab though Kless had shouted at them. Three of the men got out of the car, punched Kless to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him. The 23-year-old died a few hours later at a local hospital. The city and the Fraternal Order of Police posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of these killers.

     On January 20, the police arrested three hispanic men in their twenties who had been bragging about beating up a white guy on the old city part of town. A tipster hoping to get the reward money had turned them in. One of the suspects has already confessed. None of the arrestees posses a criminal record.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw or Just Outlaw?

     Is a child still a child after he intentionally kills someone? Is a priest still a priest after sexually molesting a boy? A teenager kills his parents, should we consider him an orphan? A wife knocks-off her husband, is she still a widow and beneficiary of his life insurance? And what about an Amish man who threatens to kill people, and orchastrates terroristic home invasions? Should we consider this man Amish? I'm refering to Sam Mullet, the 66-year-old bishop of the Bergholz Amish group in eastern Ohio. Bishop Mullet is currently residing in another place where everybody wears the same clothing, the Jefferson County Jail.

     During a three week period in late September and early October 2011, men from the Bergholz clan, allegedly on Sam Mullet's orders, invaded Amish dwellings in Holmes and other Ohio counties where the intruders forceably cut the hair and beards off the men, and shaved the heads of the Amish women. These terroristic raids were intended to degrade, intimidate, and humiliate the targets of Sam Mullet's wrath. The bishop had allegedly asked his raiders to bring back photographs and clippings of his victim's hair as proof his orders had been carried out. (According to author and Amish scholar Donald B. Kraybill, men's beards and the uncut hair that Amish women roll into buns are treasured symbols of religious identity.)

     On October 8, 1011, Jefferson County Sheriff Frank Abdulia's (The sheriff claims that Sam Mullet has threatened to kill him.) deputies arrested Sam Mullet's sons, 38-year-old Johnny and 53-year-old Lester. The deputies also arrested Levi and Lester Miller. Johnny and Lester Mullet were charged with burglary and kidnapping in connection with the hair and beard cutting invasions in Holmes, Carroll, and Trumbell Counties. Shortly after their arrests, the Amish men were released after making bail.

     FBI agents and Jefferson County deputies, on November 22, arrested Sam Mullet, three of his sons, and three other men from the Bergholz group on federal civil rights charges as well as a number of state violations related to the hate crime home invasions. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio said, "While people are free to disagree about religion in this country, we don't settle those disagreements with late night visits, dangerous weapons, and violent attacks."

     Since his incarceration, Sam Mullet, through his federal public defender's office attorney, Ed Bryan, has been trying to get out of jail. Four of the home invasion defendants have been released on bond. The United States Attorney has successfully kept the bishop behind bars by arguing that he has a "penchant for violence," and is a danger to society.

     Last week, attorney Bryan suggested that his client be placed on electronic monitoring like many other defendants awaiting trial in federal court. The problem is, being old-order Amish, the bishop's house isn't connected to the power grid. Suddenly the bishop is a fan of electricity. In his recent release request, Mr. Mullet asserts that he is needed at home to tend to his household and farm related chores. Really? The man has 16 children, and who knows how many grandkids.

     While Sam Mullet dresses like an Amish man, has the beard, and rides around in a horse and buggy, I don't consider him Amish. But under the law, and our criminal justice system, it really doesn't matter if the bishop is Amish or not. If the judge considers him a danger to society, and I believe that he is, the bishop will not be at home doing his chores while attached to an electronic device. If he were truly Amish, he would be pleased by this.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prosecutorial Misconduct: Winning at All Costs

     The criminal trial, as designed, is not the most efficient method of getting to the factual truth of a matter. Too much relevant evidence is excluded from the jury to make this the main purpose. The principal goal of a trial, at least in theory, is not to produce information, but to produce due process, and justice. Prosecutors, as officers of the court, have a legal and ethical duty not to pursue defendants in cases involving weak or exonerating evidence. But some do, because regardless of the evidence, their priority is to convict, and to win.

The Michael Morton Case

     In 1987, a jury found Michael Morton guilty of beating his wife to death a year earlier in their Austin, Texas home. The prosecution, based on flimsy circumstantial evidence, convinced the jury the defendant had killed his wife because the night before, she had sexually rebuffed him. Mr. Morton, a supermarket manager, claimed that an intruder had murdered his wife that morning after he had left for work.

     The judge sentenced Michael Morton to life in prison. In 2005, attorneys for the prisoner began petitioning the court to have a bandanna found near the murder site tested for DNA. The Williamson County district attorney (who had not prosecuted Morton) fought this request for six years. He did this on advice from Ken Anderson, the man who prosecuted Morton, and has since become a judge.

     In 2010, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing of the blue bandanna as well as other physical evidence associated with the murder case. DNA analysts found that the bandanna contained the murder victim's blood mixed with the DNA of a man named Mark A. Norwood, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history. At the time, Norwood lived 12 miles from the murder scene. Norwood had also been a suspect in a similar 1988 murder case. The police have arrested Norwood and charged him with the Morton homicide.

     In December 2011, after living 25 years behind bars, Michael Morton walked out of prison exonerated and free. His lawyer, and attorneys with the New York based Innocence Project, have asked for a "Court of Inquiry," a special hearing to determine if prosecutor Ken Anderson broke laws, or rules of ethics by withholding evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Morton in 1987.

     Morton's attorneys have discovered that prosecutor Anderson had withheld the transcript of a telephone conversation between a police officer and the defendant's mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a "monster"--not his father--attack and kill his mother. Also withheld were statements from neighbors who had seen a man park a green van and walk into the woods behind the murder house.

     In the Morton case, there are other claims of prosecutorial misconduct. If the Court of Inquiry agrees with Morton's legal team, former prosecutor, now judge, Ken Anderson could face bar association disciplinary action, or even criminal prosecution.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Random Acts of Crime: Snapshots

December 22, 2011
Taylorsville, Utah

   Three male roommates were drinking at their residence when one of them shot at a mouse. The bullet missed the rodent and sailed into the bathroom where it hit one of the drinkers in the chest. He survived, but when police and emergency personnel arrived at the house, they found a 13-year-old girl hiding in a basement closet. The 34-year-old roommate not involved in the shooting has been charged with sexual offenses related to the underage girl.

December 23, 2011
Port Richey, Florida

     When a 52-year-old man drinking in a bar ran out of money, he ducked out of the gin mill and robbed a nearby Wells Fargo bank. The robber returned thirty minutes later and picked up where he had left off until the police entered the bar. The cops recovered the bank's money and hauled the suspect off to jail. A surprising number of banks are robbed by people who are drunk.

December 2011
Los Angeles County

     Burglars have been breaking into high school band rooms and stealing tubas. A high quality tuba costs $5,000 and up. Used tubas can go as high as $2,000. The black market for hot tubas has been created by the popularity of Mexican dance band music that features brass and woodwind instruments anchored by the tuba.

December 8, 2011
Breckenridge, Colorado

     After Royal "Scoop" Daniel III went missing in April 2007, authorities discovered that the well-liked and respected Breckenridge attorney had run off with $1 million of his clients' money. On December 8, Border Patrol agents arrested Daniel as he tried to cross into Mexico by foot near San Diego. The missing attorney had been living in Acapulco where he had been working as a translator.

December 2011
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

     Reverend Bartley Sorensen, a 62-year-old Catholic priest in possession of thousands of pornographic images of 5 to 10-year-old boys, has been charged with state and federal crimes related to child porography. A parish employee at the St. John Fisher Church in Churchill had called a child abuse hotline after seeing the priest looking at child pornography on his computer. A search of Father Sorensen's church office produced 5,000 images on three CDs. Ordained in 1976, this priest, before coming to St. John Fisher in November 2011, had served in three parishes and a hospital, all in western Pennsylvania. One can only speculate how many times this priest, having come under suspicion during his long career, had been moved on to new assignments. This information will probably not be revealed, especially if Sorensen pleads guilty.

January 10, 2012
Jefferson City, Missouri

     Alyssa Bustamante pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the October 2009 death of 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten in the small town of St. Martins, Missouri. Bustamante told the judge she had stangled, stabbed and cut the neighbor girl to know what it felt like to kill someone. At the time of the murder she was 15, had never been in trouble with the law, and was a good student. Two years before the murder Bustamante had tried to kill herself.

January 9, 2012
Fayetteville, Arkansas

     At ten-thirty in the morning, 73-year-old Betty Davis walked into a bank and told the employees that a man wearing a ski mask had taped a bomb to her ankle. This man had entered this woman's home and taken her and her husband hostage. He had tied up the husband and sent her to the bank to withdraw $10,000 from her account. The building emptied out quickly. The police arrived, and members of the Bentonville bomb squad removed the device that was not a bomb.

     The police rushed to the Davis home where they found the husband tied up but unharmed. The suspect had fled in the couple's pickup truck. The police found the stolen vehicle abandoned in a park a few miles from the house. A few days later, the cops arrested 60-year-old Paul Lewis Bradley. The suspect faces charges of burglary, robbery and kidnapping. Bradley had planned to meet Mrs. Davis at the bank where he'd collect the money, but when he approached the scene, the place was crawling with police.

     In August 2003, in Erie, Pennsylvania, a group of criminal idiots committed an equally boneheaded bank robbery when they wrapped a real bomb around the neck of a pizza delivery man named Brian Wells. The bomb went off shortly after Wells left the bank, killing him in front of police and a TV crew. If Paul Lewis Bradley had been inspired by the Erie pizza bomb case, he is one stupid criminal.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Thank You For Not Reading"

     Dubravka Ugresic, the author of "Thank You For Not Reading," a 2003 collection of essays about the writing life, the literary marketplace, popular culture, and the media, lives in Amsterdam. A native of the former Yugoslavia, and in self-imposed exhile since 1993, Ugresic has taught at several American universities. She is unusual because as an intellectual she is interesting and writes well. Ugresic is therefore quotable:

Realizing that they have been deprived forever of their position as protected losers, writers have radically changed their image. Tubercular neurotics, humble burglars, drunks, wastrels, bohemians, thin men and women in black wool sweaters leaning against a well-stocked home bookshelf, bearded intellectuals in tweed jackets with academic patches on the elbows and books in their hands, short-sighted smokers of pipes and cigars--they are all a thing of the distant past....Resigned to the cruel laws of the marketplace, women writers submit to face-lifts, justifying themselves by saying that their profession demands it of them. In their photographs, male writers increasingly display intelligently formed muscles and bare their shaggy chests. They are all regularly photographed with a self-confident "I know what I want" expression. In the short biographies on book jackets, no one mentions the year of their birth....If they are physically attractive, their photograph appears on the book's cover.

My surroundings are dominated by the culture of public confession, where the television has taken over the role of the church, and the role of church confessors is played by popular TV presenters. Memoirs are no longer reserved for those who have climbed the Himalayas or swum the Atlantic. On the contrary, what is valued are the ordinary accounts of ordinary people about ordinary things....In the culture of public confession, everyone has acquired the right to his personal fifteen minutes, just as Andy Warhol predicted.

When East European writers finally began crawling out of their underground...[they discovered that their fellow writers] are prostitutes who write their memoirs, sportmen who discribe their sporting lives, girlfriends of renowned murderers who describe the murderer from a more intimate perspective, housewives bored with daily life who have decided to try the creative life. There are lawyer-writers, fisherman-writers, literary critic-writers, innumerable searchers after their own identify, a whole army of those whom someone has offended, raped, or beaten up, or whose toes have been stepped on, and who rush to inform the world in writing of the drama of their long-repressed injury.

The media, television in particular, transform events into entertainment, simply because entertainment, and not information, has become the main engine of the mass media. Media presentation has reduced American trials (O. J. Simpson) and American political life...to mass amusement.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Amish News: Smicksburg to Hollywood/Kentucky to Jail

The Big Makeover

     The "Los Angeles Times," on January 9, 2012, ran a puff-piece about how a former Amish girl has transformed herself into a quasi-celebrity who does hair and owns a salon in Echo Park, a trendy LA neighborhood not far from Hollywood. The article, in reflecting the author's utter revulsion of the Amish lifestyle when compared to the glitzy Hollywoodesque American dream, treats the story's protagonist as though she were a cold war East German who made it over the wall.

     Until she was 15, Miriam Jones (Is this her real name?) lived on an Amish dairy farm with her parents and five siblings near the western Pennsylvania village of Smicksburg, an old order enclave of 250-300 families 90 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh. Readers are not told why, in 1997, Miriam's parents left the Amish--for me the most interesting aspect of the story--beyond this: "But after losing his inheritance in what Jones described as a shady deal countenanced by old order Amish elders, her father lost faith." According to this Amish coming of age tale, Miriam's faher sold their homemade furniture, bought a car (he had a driver's license?) and hid it in the barn under hay until the family could make its escape. They settled in an unnamed town in Missouri where Jones and her parents "went through an intense spiritual and emotional crises. Overwhelmed by English life, Jones became depressed, and pregnant.

     Amish life, as described by Jones, is extremely primitive. Her younger siblings didn't speak a word of English, her parents were so uneducated they didn't "even know about wars that had happened," and "when we...saw white jet streams, we didn't kow they were planes. We thought they were clouds." (Give me a break.)

      A beauty makeover in a Missouri shopping mall changed Mirian's life, and put her on the road to success. The experience inspired her to acquire a high school equivalency certificate, and to become a hairdresser. In 2003, the beauty school graduate set out for Los Angeles with her daughter. She is now the proud owner of the high-end salon in Echo Park. She has been featured in a segment of the reality TV show, "Tabatha's Salon Takeover," has a license to fly a helicopter (huh?) as well as a hot-air balloon. Speaking of hot air, I feel an upcoming Miriam Jones TV reality adventure followed by a ghost-written memoir. I'll let you put a title to the show and the book.

     As to the whereabouts and fates of Miriam's parents and siblings, the "Los Angeles Times" reporter doesn't give us a clue. And why would she? That kind of information, although interesting, would spoil what is essentially a pitch for the TV and book deals. After reading this article, I'm tempted to get into my hot-air baloon and drift over to Smicksburg to get the real story.

Scofflaws or Shunned

     Recently, and over the past several years, members of the Swartzentruber Amish, a subgroup of old order Amish who refuse to mark their buggies with orange reflector signs, have gone to jail for not paying their traffic violation fines. These Swartzentruber Amish consider the orange relectors as fancy and worldly, therefore to display them is in violation of their religious doctrine of plain and simple. Several states such as Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania have allowed religious exemptions from the orange triangles, and the courts in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan have sided with the religious argument. Most Amish, however, even in these states, use the signs as well as battery operated lights as a matter of safety.

     In Kentucky, the orange triangle sign requirement is still the law, and last September, seven Swartzentruber Amish men from the western part of the state went to jail for refusing to pay their fines. On January 12, 2012, ten men from the same group in Graves County, Kentucky were put behind bars. According to one of the jailed men, Jacob Gingerich, if he and the others obeyed the Kentucky law, or paid the fine, they would be shunned by the out-of-state Swartzentruber clans. Gingerich and the other Amish men also use lanterns instead of the battery operated buggy lights, and reflective tape instead of the fancy orange signs.

     Legislators in Kentucky are considering exempting the Amish from these highway safety requirements.

    

Friday, January 13, 2012

Haley "Hacksaw" Barbour and the Great Escape

     If you think that all conservatives are hard on crime, think again. In his last days in office, Haley Barbour, the two-term Republican Governor of Mississippi, granted pardons to 208 prisoners. Among those who will walk free are people convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, and aggravated assault. Forty-one of those pardoned were behind bars because they had killed someone. Governor Barbour pardoned five men who had been working as prison trustees at the Governor's mansion. Two of these prisoners had murdered their wives, and another had killed a man during a robbery. One of the questions that jumps to mind is this: whose idea was it to employ convicted murderers at the Governor's house? In Mississippi, are convicted pedophile trustees working in daycare centers?

     While most of Governor Barbour's acts of clemency are controversial and puzzling, two cases are especially outrageous and beyond understanding.

Karen Irby

     While driving under the influence in 2009, Karen Irby, the socialite wife of a Jackson, Mississippi business executive, killed two physicians in a violent car accident. In 2010, after pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter, the judge sentenced Irby to 18 years in prison. Pursuant to Barbour's conditional pardon, Karen Irby, now 40, will serve just two years of house arrest and another two years of community corrections supervision.

     Althought the judge in the Irby case considered 18 years an appropriate punishment for the defendant's crime, one could argue it was a bit harsh for unintentional killings. But you can't say this for the following Barbour pardon.

David Glenn Gatlin

     In 1994, a jury found David Glenn Gatlin, then 23, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, and burglary. He had walked into the home of his estranged wife and shot her fatally in the head as she held their 6-weeks old child. Gatlin then turned his gun on RandyWalker and shot him in the head. Walker survived the assault. This was a case of cold-blooded murder. (Gatlin promised, if he ever got out of prison, to finish the job on Walker.) The judge, who obviously didn't want Gatlin to get out of prison, sentenced him to life, plus 20 years for the aggravated assault, and 10 years for the burglary. Had Randy Walker died from his head wound, Gatlin would have been eligible for the death penalty.

     Gatlin was one of the killer/trustees who worked at the Governor's house. Two week before being pardoned by Barbour, a parole board had denied Gatlin's petition for release.

Karla Faye Tucker

     The Gatlin pardon got me thinking about Karla Faye Tucker. In 1983 Tucker was in her early 20s and running around with a gang of bikers. That year, while living in Texas, she murdered a woman with a pickaxe during the commision of a home invasion robbery. It was a brutal, gratuitious, cold-blooded killing. The following year a jury found Tucker guilty, and she was sentenced to death.

     At some point between the brutal crime and her conviction, Karla Faye Tucker found Jesus and became a spokesperson for the power of redemption. As her execution date approached, Tucker appeared on numerous national TV shows such as "Larry King Live." Various religious groups and conservative politicians put pressure of Texas Governor George W. Bush to commute Tucker's sentence to life. The Governor held his ground, and on February 3, 1998, Karla Faye Tucker died in Huntsville, Texas by lethal injection. It had been fourteen years since a woman had been executed in the United States.

     While Karla Faye Tucker may have been forgiven by a higher power, she had not been forgiven by the state of Texas.

Pardons

     Whenever a prisoner guilty of a crime is pardoned, it means this person has been officially forgiven by the state. It's an act of executive mercy, or clemency. I would argue that certain prisoners, by virtue of the heinous nature of their crimes, and respect for their victims, should never be pardoned. I believe that David Glenn Gatlin is one of those people. It seems that in the state of Mississippi, Governor Haley Barbour is the only one who has forgiven Gatlin. But under the law, that's all it takes. If Gatlin, or any of the others released by the governor commit violent crimes, Haley Barbour should be sent to prison to serve out their sentences.   

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Inside Jobs: What's Your's is Mine

     In criminal law, when a person steals without force or unlawful intrusion, it's the crime of larceny, or theft. The vast majority of thefts are committed by employees against their employers. Security practitioners call this internal theft, and it involves, every year, the loss of billions of dollars to business and industry. Employees rip-off cash, merchandise, equipment, supplies, and time. In the retail business, employees steal 75 percent of all pilfered cash and merchandise. Customer and vendor thieves account for the rest.

     You rarely hear economists or politicians speak of this problem, but internal theft is one of the reasons employers try to get the job done with as few employees as possible.

     American employees steal a lot because they either live beyond their means; are hooked on drugs, booze, gambling, or shopping; are ethically corrupt; or are narcissists who simply feel entitled. When caught, employee thieves come up with various sob stories and all manner of excuses, but they all steal for the same basic reason: to get something for nothing.

Bad Employee, Good Thief

     Until she was caught in July 2011, 57-year-old Patricia K. Smith, a controller at a suburban new car dealership near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stole $10.2 million from her employer. On 800 occasions, over a period of six years, Smith shifted money from the dealership's operating funds to its peronnel account, then to an out-of-state financial clearinghouse, then into her personal bank accounts. She kept her embezzlement scheme going by inflating vehicle inventory, and doctoring various financial records and bank statements.

     This employee thief on steroids explained her affluence and lavish spending by claiming gains in the stock market, and success as an online travel agent. Smith's massive internal theft operation supported an extravagent life style that would have impressed Robin Leach, the host of the old TV show, "Lives of the Rich and Famous." 

     Smith bought four houses, ten vehicles, a mink coat, and a vault full of expensive jewelry. She traveled the world first-class, running up charges of $5.5 million on her American Express card. She spent $44,500 on 6 club-level tickets to the Super Bown in Arlington, Texas last February. She also paid $32,500 to have lunch with a Food Network star; $5,000 on a Vatican trip featuring VIP seating at a Mass with the pope; and $2,500 for a "Phantom of the Opera" package that included dinner with Kevin Spacey.

     On January 12, 2012, at her federal plea hearing--Smith had pleaded guilty to several counts of wire fraud that could put her in prison for five years--the employee thief wept. I can see why. Her life of excess at her employer's expense had come to a sudden end. No more fancy meals with celebrities. In fact, no more fancy meals, or fancy anything.

     I can't believe this woman paid $32,500 of the car dealership's money to have lunch with a TV cook.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Travelatrocity: Horrors of Commercial Aviation 2

Altitude Sickness

     Studies show that air travelers suffer hight rates of disease infections than people who move about on the ground. (Although I don't imagine that buses are that germ free either.) One study showed a 20 percent increase among flyers to catch colds. Cabin air-filters catch 99 percent of bacterial and virus carrying particles, but when the plane is on the ground before take-off and after landing, the air circulation system is turned off. That's when infections spread like wildfire.

     Scott McCarney, in a December 20 article in the "Wall Street Journal," wrote: "A number of factors increase the odds of bringing home a souvenir cough and runny nose. For one, the environment at 30,000 feet enables easier spread of disease. [Much of the danger comes from sick passengers sitting nearby.] Air in planes is extremely dry, and viruses tend to thrive in low-humidity conditions. When mucous membranes dry out, they are far less effective at blocking infection. High altitudes can tire the body, and fatigue plays a role in making people more susceptible to catching colds, too. Also, viruses and bacteria can live for hours on some surfaces--some viral particles have been found to be active up to a day in certain places. Tray tables can be contaminated, and seat back pockets, which get stuffed with used tissues, soiled napkins and trash, can be particularly skuzzy. It's also not difficult to know why germs are lurking in an airline's pillows and blankets." (I guess it's kind of ironic that the great germophobe, Howard Hughes, was a commercial aviation pioneer.)

     As germ factories, airplanes sound almost as bad as hospitals. Almost as bad because when most people go to the hospital they are already sick and vulnerable to infection. But this could also apply, I guess, to people who fly every day.

Celebrities, Communists, A-Holes and Pigs

     Actors Maria Conchita Alonso (I have no idea who this is) and Sean Penn got into a heated argument recently in the lost luggage area of the Los Angeles International Airport. The Cuban-born actress asked Penn why he was so enamored with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. When Penn called Alonso "a pig," she came back with: "And you are a communist a-hole!" (Is there any other kind?) I guess lost luggage brings out the worst in everyone, especially celebrity pigs and celebrity communist a-holes.

     Speaking of lost luggage, in 2010, nearly four of every 1,000 passengers filed a complaint about mishandled bags. In October 2011, 130,000 pieces of luggage were "mishandled" by domestic airlines alone. Even if your luggage arrives at your destination with you, thanks to thieving baggage handlers, it may be a little lighter that what you had checked-in.

The Unruly Passenger

     Screening for terrorists doesn't filter out the drunks, jerks, and clowns. In May 2011, on a Delta flight from Dallas to Atlanta, a drunken passenger told a seat mate he had a gas cannister that could put all onboard to sleep. Before the diverted plane landed in Memphis, the idiot passed out. When the cops hauled him off the plane, the clown thought he was in Atlanta.

     During the first six months of 2011, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, 36 unruly passengers were arrested for assault, issuing threats, intimidation, and flight-crew interference. In 2010, there were 121 such incidents.

This is Not Your Captain Speaking....

     On December 20, 2011, 100 passengers onboard a British Airways flight from London to Glasgow were informed over the PA system, twenty minutes after take-off, that the plane was returning to Heathrow. The "panicked" message came from the senior flight attendant to the flight deck, not the pilot or the co-pilot. According to a website account by one of the passengers, all of the flight attendants had "worried faces." The plane made it safely back to London.

     A spokesperson for British Airways told a news agency that both pilots on board the Airbus A321 had become "unwell," and had reported feeling "light-headed." As a precaution they put on oxygen masks. (This is not a good image.) The passengers didn't have a clue what was going on except that flight attendants had worried faces, something you don't want to see on a plane after take-off.    

Friday, January 6, 2012

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 6

The Walmart Duck-and-Run

     To avoid catching a stray bullet, or getting caught in a crossfire between cops and robbers or robbers and robbers, people know to stay out of certain neighboroods of the inner city, especially at night. Since criminals follow the money, and the police follow the criminals, shoppers can now catch a bullet in broad daylight in the parking lots of shopping malls and Walmart stores all across the country. Except for consumers who buy everything online, suburban shopping has become a form of risk taking. (Online shoppers, with identify theft and the like, have their own problems.) While most retail shoppers are probably aware they are entering spaces where bullets fly, they take the risk because we live in a consumer society. The saying, "shop until you drop," has a new, more ominious meaning.

     Late in the afternoon of Monday, January 2, shots rang out in the parking lot of a Walmart store in Modesto, California. Three Latino men, after an argument (apparently of a racial nature) with two black men and two black women, fired on their adversaries. While several bullets went into a parked car, no one was shot. By the time the police arrived, the shooters had fled the immediate area. A SWAT team rolled up to the scene, and with a police helicopter hovering overhead, officers evacuated 200 customers to make certain the shooters weren't hiding in the store. They were not in the building.

     Consumers at the Modesto scene brushed off the event and continued shopping. To a reporter, a shopper said, "I don't feel any less safe. Walking out my front door is a danger." Another consumer minimized the shooting incident as something that has become commonplace in the city.

    In recent years, Modesto, a city of 200,000, has had a high rate of violent crime. The police in Modesto shot eight people in 2010. In 2011, they shot four. For a town this size, that's a lot of police involved shootings. In 2011, Modesto ranked number 4 on the Forbes Magazine list of America's 20 most miserable cities. I guess the residents of this town aren't about to let a parking lot shootout mar an otherwise good Walmart outing.

Other Parking Lot Shootouts

     In Danbury, Connecticut, a few days before Christmas, an argument in the Walmart parking lot between two men over a woman led to one of the combatants being shot in the back. Unoccupied vehicles in the lot were hit by stray bullets. The shooter and the woman left the scene before the police arrived. That night, while the shooting victim underwent treatment at a local hospital, the police arrested the shooter and his girlfriend.

     In San Leandro, California, between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, the Walmart Parking lot was the scene of two shootouts. In the first, a customer was shot during a robbery, and in the second, a man was shot as he smoked a cigarette in a parked car.

     At a Walmart store in Jacksonville, Florida, an employee was shot in the face when he tried to help a co-worker who was arguing in the parking lot with her boyfriend. When the boyfriend pulled a gun, the co-worker produced his gun and shot the boyfriend in the leg. No one died in the duel. Because the incident took place at five in the morning, there weren't many shoppers around.

     At 5:30 AM, two days after Christmas, two men shot at each other in the parking lot of a Walmart store in Hampton, Virginia. The man who was hit managed to drive his car 15 miles before he stopped in the middle of the street and passed out. Although seriously injured, he survived the shooting. Back at the store, because the parking lot had become the scene of a crime, customers were detained in the building for several hours. 

Those Crazy Walmartians

     On Christmas eve in Monticello, Indiana, a 64-year-old woman with a cast on her right foot, lost control of her SUV. The monster vehicle lurched wildly about the Walmart parking lot, crashing into eleven parked cars before a fellow Walmartian jumped into the runaway vehicle and grabbed the ignition key. While there was plenty of property damage, no one was hurt.

     Just before noon on the day before Christmas, Jacquetta Simmons, as she left the Walmart store in Batavia, New York, punched and knocked down the 70-year-old greeter who asked the 26-year-old Walmartian to show her receipts for items in her shopping bags. After assaulting the Walmart greeter, Simmons ran out of the store. A posse of Walmart employees gave chase, surrounding her in the parking lot until the police showed up. Charged with second-degree assault for fracturing the left side of the greeter's face, Simmons was placed in the Genesse County Jail on $20,000 bond. As it turned out, Simmons had receipts for everything in her bags. Apparently she just didn't like being challenged by this greeter. Merry Christmas. (I once thought the Walmart greeter's job was so easy that even someone like me could do it as a retirement gig. I am no longer interested, and will not be auditioning for the job.)

     On November 17, Michael Anthony Fuller, in an effort to pay for a vacuum cleaner, a microwave oven, and a few other items at the Walmart store in Lexington, North Carolina, tendered a fake (obviously) $ l million bill. The cashier took the gesture as a prank, but Fuller insisted that the bill was real. Someone called the cops who arrested Fuller for attempting to obtain property by false pretense and uttering a forged document. (I don't get the last charge--how can one forge a fake document?)

     Since there is no such thing as a $1 million bill, Mr. Fuller will not be charged with the federal crime of counterfeiting. In 1969, the government discontinued printing $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills. Currently, the $100 bill is the largest denomination in circulation. Although it is hard to believe, Mr. Fuller is not the first person who has tried to pass a $1 million bill.

  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Armed and Mentally Ill

     According to the data I collected in 2011, about 25 percent of the people shot by the police (about 300 of them) were mentally ill and/or suicidal. As a group, they were much older than ordinary arrestees, with many over 50 years old. Last year the police shot about 80 women, most of whom had histories of mental illness.

The Michael Ferryman Shootout

     On New Year's Day, 2011, the Clark County Sheriff's Office received a report that someone was firing a gun from a trailer at a campground near Enon, Ohio, fifty miles west of Columbus. Deputy Sheriff Suzanne Hopper responded to the call and was photographing a set of shoe impressions at the campground when someone inside a trailer with a shotgun killed her with a blast to the head. (Hopper would be the first of 173 police officers in 2011 to be killed in the line of duty.)

     Dozens of police officers responded to the shooting and identified the shooter as 57-year-old Michael Ferryman. Using a bullhorn, a police officer tried to coax Ferryman out of the trailer. When the subject didn't respond, his girlfriend gave it a try but failed as well. The standoff ended following a brief gun battle in which Ferryman was shot to death by the police. In the exchange, an officer was shot in the shoulder. Rushed to a hospital in Dayton, the officer survived his wound.

     Michael Ferryman had a history of mental illness and violence. In 2001, he had shot at a police officer. At his trial, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. After a few years in a mental institution, Ferryman received a conditional release. Without the close supervision provided by the institution, he eventually stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication.

Legislators to the Rescue

     On the one year anniversary of Officer Hopper's death, several state legislators in Ohio floated the idea of creating a database containing the names of people who have committed crimes but were found not guilty by reason of insanity. In addition to the constitutional and ethical issues a law like this would raise, such legislation would not make law enforcement any safer. It wouldn't have saved Deputy Hopper's life. She had been killed before anyone knew Michael Ferryman was the shooter in the trailer. Moreover, insanity defences are successful less than one percent of the time. In the state of Ohio, the database would contain only a handful of names.

     This idea is another example of politicians proposing absurd, feel-good legislation aimed at fooling voters into thinking they are solving serious and difficult problems.       

         

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

FBI: Tarnished Badges

     During J. Edgar Hoover's reign as the fourth director of the FBI (1924-1972), I don't believe a single agent committed a crime serious enough to send him to prison. During the bureau's entire history, I don't think a female agent has been put behind bars. Since 1972, however, dozens of male agents have gone from investigators to inmates. At least four have been convicted of murder, and several have been put away for espionage. Many others have been imprisioned for perjury, theft, and even child molestation.

Special Agent Darin McAllister and the Root Of All Evil

     After growing up in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, Darin McAllister earned a degree in divinity from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. At age 26, he moved to Los Angeles where he became a staff minister at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in south LA. His wife Judith, a gospel singer, became minister of music.

     In the early 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department actively recruited African American officers in an effort to improve its relationship with the city's minority population. In March 1991, the Rodney King beating led to race riots in the city. McAllister joined the department that year as a patrol officer. In 1996 he applied to the FBI, was hired as a Special Agent, and assigned to the Los Angeles Division where he gathered street gang intelligence as an undercover agent.

     Seven years later, in 2003, the bureau transfered McAllister to the Nashville Resident Agency out of the Memphis Division. McAllister moved to Tennessee with his wife, three children, and a profit of $236,000 from the sale of his house in California. With that money, and mortgage loans from several banks, McAllister purchased, fixed-up and rented out several duplexes.

     The FBI agent/real estate investor was doing quite well until the housing market crashed in 2008. McAllister lost tenants and fell behind in his mortgage payments. His loans were called in, he couldn't pay, and the banks foreclosed. In 2009, after he filed for bankruptcy, bank examiners discovered that McAllister, when he had applied for the mortage loans, had inflated his personal income by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

     In May 2010, a federal grand jury indicted McAllister of wire fraud, false bank declarations, and other banking fraud related offenses, 19 counts in all. In December of that year, in a U.S. District Court in Franklin, Tennessee, a jury found McAllister guilty of several counts of mortgage fraud. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison, and fined him $675,000. He is currently serving his time in a minimum security prison in eastern Kentucky.

     McAllister's attorney is appealing his client's conviction, claiming that McAllister was duped by shoddy real estate appraisers and loan officers.

     People have gone to prison for crimes a lot worse than McAllister's. He lied, and picked the wrong time to get into real estate. Had he been a member of congress, no problem. But he was a FBI agent, and he should have known better.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Three Biggest Crime Stories of 2011

Mass Murder and Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

     On January 8, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot eighteen people at a political gathering outside a supermarket near Tuscon, Arizona. Loughner, some kind of mental case, killed six of his victims. While spree killings of this nature are not uncommon--there were at least a dozen in 2011--this mass murder became big news because Loughner shot a congresswoman named Gabrielle Giffords. Shot in the head at close range, Giffords not only survived the wound, but made a remarkable recovery. Her husband, a recently retired astronaut, has already published a book about the incident.

     In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, TV talk show hosts,  news readers, and television correspondents launched a puerile campaign against "uncivil" political rhetoric laced with metaphores that call up images of violence. You know, murder inducing remarks like, "let's kill that piece of legislation," or this or that politician has a target on his back, or putting a rival politician in one's cross-hairs. Oh my, has it gotten that bad? No wonder America is such a violent country. It's the way we talk. We need to watch what we say, especially when we talk about politics and politicians.

     A month or so after being scolded by vacuous communications department graduates with TV hair, we are, I'm relieved to say, back to rhetorical uncivility. Bills can still be dead on arrival, and politicians can still shoot themselves in the feet and hang themselves with their own ropes. When the great H. L. Menchen was asked how he would reform higher education, he said something like, "Burn down all the buildings and kill all the professors." Compared to the old days, we are not that uncivil.

Casey Anthony Murder Case

     On July 15, 2008, Cindy Anthony, the mother of 22-year-old Casey Anthony, reported her 2-year-old granddaughter Caylee, missing. Cindy had not seen the little girl for 31 days. Caylee lived in her grandparents' Orlando, Florida home with her mother. In reporting the child missing, the grandmother said the trunk of her daughter's car smelled like it had contained a dead body. Casey Anthony, during the 31 days her daughter was missing, had been partying with friends. When confronted by the police, Casey said her daughter had been abducted by nanny who, as it turned out, didn't exist.

     On October 2008, the authorities charged Casey Anthony with first-degree murder, and promised to seek the death penalty. Two months later, the child's skeletal remains were found in the woods near the Casey home. The little girl's nose and mouth had been duct-taped. The medical examiner ruled the death homicide.

     Casey Anthony went on trial in May 2011. By now the case had become a media sensation with virtually all of the TV talking heads and their on-screen experts predicting a muder conviction. There hadn't been such TV true crime unanimity since the O. J. Simpson trial. The expert commentators ridiculed the defense attorney's theory that the baby had drowned in the family swimming pool on June 16, 2008. Clearly the jury would buy the prosecution's version of the death: the defendant had killed the child by administering chloroform, then duct-taping her nose and mouth.

     On July 5, with millions of TV viewers sitting on the edges of their seats, the judge announced the jury's murder verdict: not guilty. For the next two weeks, TV's talking heads could talk of nothing else. How could this murderous mother walk free? What went wrong? Who blew the case? What will become of this woman?

     The Casey Anthony case has slipped out of sight. But it won't take much to bring it back into the news, at least briefly. If Casey Anthony is arrested for DUI, makes an incriminating remark (think O. J. Simpson), or a witness comes out of the woodwork (Natalie Wood), the case will be newsworthy again.

UPDATE

     Just after the first of the year, a video diary recorded last October by Casey Anthony surfaced on YouTube. In speaking to her computer three months after her murder acquittal, she said, "...things are starting to look up and things are starting to change in a good way...." Anthony never mentions Caylee in the four minute video, but talks about a dog "I've adopted and I love." This was her "first video diary" entry that she promised would be followed by many others. Her attorney assured reporters that Casey did not upload or release the video, and has no idea how it got on YouTube. (That's good enough for me.) She currently lives somewhere in Flordia.

The Jerry Sandusky Sex Molestation Case

     The massive Penn State sex molestation scandal began on November 5 with the arrest of former coach Jerry Sandusky and two Penn State administrators. Sandusky, who left the university in 1998, stands accused of sexually molesting dozens of young boys between 1994 and 2009. The scandal has caused the firing of coach Joe Paterno, the face of Penn State football for decades. Since Sandusky's arrest, and revelations regarding his longtime relationships with boys associated with his youth program, authorities around the country have seen a spike in child abuse reporting. High profile coaches with other universities have been fired following similar allegations. The Jerry Sandusky story will be with us for awhile, and may also be one of the big crime stories for 2012.