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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Neil Prescott: The First Aurora Shooting Spree Copycat

     Less than a week following the July 20, 2012 mass murder in Aurora, Colorado, 28-year-old Neil E. Prescott, a disgruntled employee of a company doing contract work for the Pitney Bowles Corporation near Washington, D.C., phoned his supervisor, and calling himself a Joker, said, "I'm going to load my guns and blow everyone up."

     On Thursday night, July 26, officers with the Prince George's County Police Department arrested Prescott at his apartment in Crofton, Maryland, a town located between Washington, D.C. and Annapolis. A search of Prescott's apartment resulted in the seizure of 25 guns, several of which were assault rifles. The officers also found 400 rounds of ammunition.

     Prescott, a big man at six foot, seven inches tall and weighing 270 pounds, knew he was about to be fired from his job. The avid gun collector interested in electronics and computers, is currently being held at the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis where he's undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

     In my opinion, one of the consequences of televised over-coverage of cases like the Aurora shootings includes encouraging copycats like Neil Prescott. (See: "Media Over-Coverage of the Aurora Movie Theater Shootings," July 24, 2012.) One doesn't need a crystal ball to predict there will be more terroristic threats and attempts inspired by the media attention lavished on James Holmes. The question is, how many more Jokers are still in the deck?

UPDATE

     On Sunday, July 29, 2012, Kent State University Police arrested 19-year-old William Koberna at his parents' home in Brunswick, Ohio. On July 25, Koberna had posted a message on Twitter saying that he planned to "shoot up" the campus. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aurora Theater Shootings: Who Can We Blame?

     When something really bad happens, we look for someone or some thing to blame. This is particularly true in the wake of high-profile tragedies like the massacre in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. If we can assign blame, pinpoint the problem that caused the tragedy, we can prevent it from happening again.

     Every time some deviant sociopath armed with an assault rifle shoots enough people to grab national headlines, gun control advocates come out of the woodwork. The problem isn't that psychopathic killers like James Holmes exist, it's that people are allowed to own assault rifles. If we simply made it illegal to own these instruments of death, there would be fewer mass murders. Because making certain objects illegal to possess does not keep contraband out of the hands of criminals. Preventing crime through legislation doesn't work. If it did, we wouldn't have any crime in this country. To blame the instruments of crime for criminality is sophomoric, wrongheaded, and an example of wishful thinking.

     In the aftermath of tragedies such as the one in Aurora, ambulance chasing lawyers emerge from the proverbial woodwork. There is already talk about blaming--and holding civilly liable--owners of the movie theater for not providing adequate security against a diabolical mass murderer. This begs the question: who in their right mind would have predicted this first-of-its-kind criminal assault? And exactly how much security would have prevented it? Nothing short of airport level security will prevent a ticket-holder from entering a theater with a concealed weapon. And what will stop a theater employee from stashing weapons for later use by himself or someone else. If insurances companies require theater owners to make going to a flick as unpleasant as commercial flying, it will devastate the film industry. And it won't prevent another mass murder. Lax security should not be blamed for the Aurora atrocity.

     Following acts of senseless violence, we hear cries of anguish from people who blame this kind of behavior on violent movies and video games. (In reality, as films and video games become more violent, violent crime in the U.S. is declining.) Some are calling the Aurora mass murder the "Dark Knight Shooting." At one time, media scolds blamed comic books for all sorts of juvenile delinquency. While the violence embedded in our culture might in fact contribute to many social problems, it's beyond puerile to think that if we banned violent books, films, video games, and television, mass murderers like James Holmes would cease to exist. Life itself can be traumatic, and make some people violent. Others are just born that way.

     If we're looking for something to blame for what happened in Aurora, Colorado, we should blame the realities of life. And leave it at that. 

Punishing the Innocent at Penn State for Jerry Sandusky's Crimes

      While the NCAA sanctions against Penn State for covering up Jerry Sandusky's sex crimes are pretty severe, and erasing a football team's win-loss record seems pointless, what happened to the university is no different than what happens to companies when employees commit crimes, or do things than get their employers sued. Compared to the consequences of employee wrongdoing in the business world, the collateral damage at Penn State is light. So maybe it's time for students, alumni, and other Penn State supporters to stop complaining, and move on.

     When the criminal justice system finally caught up with Bernie Madoff for running a pyramid scheme, his company collapsed. Employees who had nothing to do with the swindle lost their jobs. Madoff's investors lost a lot of money. Bernie Madoff brought them all down, including his own son who committed suicide. It may not be fair, but that's how things work in the real world beyond the university campus.

     Good companies go bankrupt when employees commit torts that cost their employers millions of dollars. Innocent employee lose their jobs all the time because of the wrongdoing of others. Some retailers go broke because employees steal them blind. That's tough luck for the honest ones.

     Because of Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State officials who covered-up his sexual abuse of boys, the university, notwithstanding the future settlement of lawsuits, won't go bankrupt. Innocent university employees won't lose their jobs. Students will continue to attend class, and they still have football. Okay, Joe Paterno's Beaver Stadium shrine has been hauled off (I can see it standing 7-feet tall in some rich alumni's front yard), there are no bowl games in Penn State's near future, and the school's reputation has taken a hit. But compared to a similar catastrophe in the private sector, the collateral damage is minor.

      The real victims in the Penn State scandal are the boys Jerry Sandusky, with the help of Joe Paterno and others, sexually abused. These people have the right to complain. This is what the current Penn State story should be about.

     

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg's Proposed Police Strike over Gun Ban: Who Gave This Idiot a Third Term?

     On July 24, 2012, the mayor of New York City suggested that the 1 million plus police officers in the country walk off their jobs in protest until Congress passes a federal ban on assault rifles. This proposal, coming from America's nanny-in-chief, has got to be one of the stupidest things ever to come out of a politician's mouth. In reaction to the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting spree, Bloomberg wants to expose all Americans to people like James Holmes--criminals who possess the kind of weapon the mayor doesn't want the rest of us to have.

     How about this proposal: All Americans walk off their jobs until our over-militarized police forces get rid of their unneeded police tanks, and out-of-control SWAT units. Maybe all fat people should go hunger strikes until big soda drinks are banned nationwide. In fact, why limit this to sugary beverages, let's include pies, cakes, candy, ice cream, and other foods that make people overweight.

     Here's another idea: America's good public school teachers should go on strike until education administrators fire the bad teachers and the dead wood sitting around rubber-rooms.

     Mayor Bloomberg is a living example of why we desperately need term limits. Politicians enter office as sociopaths, become egomaniacs, then leave office as slobbering idiots. This guy has been in office too long. New Yorkers should go on strike until he resigns. 

Joe Paterno's Statue: Taking Down the Shrine

     At 5:00 in the morning on Sunday, July 22, 2012, construction workers barricaded the street in front of Beaver Stadium where Joe Paterno weighs 900 pounds and stands 7-feet tall. The men who had come to remove the Happy Valley shrine put up a temporary chain-link fence upon which they draped a blue tarp to spare the grieving onlookers from seeing what they were about to do one of the iconic symbols of Penn State University. (I suspect these Joe Paterno defilers were statue removers brought in from Columbus, Ohio. At Ohio State they're erecting a statue of Louis Freeh. Just kidding.)

     The pre-dawn abductors, using a jackhammer, freed the statue from its foundation, then with a forklift, picked it up and lowered it onto a flatbed truck. The 150 spectators looked on in horror and disbelief as the kidnap truck rolled off with the revered statue. To these fans, some of whom chanted "We are Penn State," it was like seeing the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell being hauled off to a landfill.

     The likeness of Joe Paterno had been erected in 2001 in honor of the coach's 324th Division I football victory. On the day before the abduction, the coach's wife and two of his children paid homage at the foot of this Penn State monument to football greatness. They were joined by fans who hugged the figure, and had photographs of themselves taken in the presence of the great man. One worshiping fan said this to a reporter with the Associated Press, "This statute was a symbol of all the good things he's done for the university." (Yes, like all the good things Jerry Sandusky did through his youth organization, The Second Mile.)

     What kind of emotional basket-case would sob at the foot of a dead coach's statute? And why would a major university devoted to higher learning erect such a thing in the first place? How many professors are so immortalized outside of lecture halls? (I'm guessing none, and that's fine with me. As far as I'm concerned, very few people are statue-worthy.)

     At Penn State and other big universities, football is a religion with the head coach the god, and the football stadium the cathedral. With Joe Paterno's shrine no longer on display outside Beaver Stadium, where can worshipers go to pray for Penn State victory?

     Athletes come and go, but a winning coach can stick around long enough to be immortalized, and worshipped by sports fanatics who, if they didn't have football, might join a cult, or become emotionally attached to some celebrity. Perhaps they could join the idiots who walk on hot coals for one of those motivational hustlers.

     Since I'm not a big sports fan, the psychology of extreme jock-sniffing escapes me. Maybe there is something profoundly wrong with me, and they are the normal ones. Who knows?  

     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Media Over-Coverage of the Aurora Movie Theater Shootings

     Most people would probably take issue with the notion that the television media has over-covered the James Holmes's mass murder case in Aurora, Colorado. If television viewers didn't watch the minute-by-minute, day-after-day reporting of stories like this, we wouldn't have this kind of wall-to-wall, nonstop coverage. My opinion that this and other news events like it are over-covered is obviously the minority view. But regardless of whether or not the media has lost its perspective in reporting shooting spree cases, the coverage is intense, at times overwrought, and occasionally puerile. The consequences of  heavy media coverage of mass murder cases like this are not good.

     Because sadistic, sociopathic, narcissists like James Holmes are motivated, at least in part, by the pathological desire to call attention to themselves, the TV media plays into this need by making them famous. There is no better way of achieving instant, international fame than to commit a spectacular mass murder. Suddenly, James Holmes, an obscure college kid, while universally reviled, is an historic figure whose crime will affect the way the rest of us live. In a few years, people will be selling his art, letters, and other associative murderabilia online. His murder spree has already got us arguing about gun control, and before long we will be debating the death sentence. Who knows how many books, TV documentaries, and films his killing spree will inspire?

     By the conclusion of James Holmes' trial, there is very little we won't know about this homicidal sociopath. Every aspect of his life will be analyzed and discussed as though we are studying the life of Abraham Lincoln. More people have heard of Bonnie and Clyde than Marie and Louis Pasteur. While it may not be politically correct to say this, real-life crime is a form of entertainment.

     The intense media coverage of the mass murder of vulnerable victims may also encourage so-called copycat killers, other deadly psychopaths who crave recognition and fame. It might also tempt terrorists who have been obsessed with commercial aviation, to target places where people regularly gather such as theaters, schools, sporting events, and shopping malls. These venues present much softer targets.

     Intense media coverage of horrible crimes, particularly ones committed outside the inner city, spreads public fear that is out of proportion to the risk of becoming a victim. During the terrorist-like reign of the two Washington, D. C. area snipers, tens of thousands of citizens were afraid to drive to work, get gas, or go shopping, when in reality, a person's chance of being shot by one of these men was about the same as winning the lottery, or being struck by lightening on your birthday. This irrational fear of crime can be exploited by the police to further militarize law enforcement, and by politicians who are driven to pass costly, feel-good legislation that is useless. Moreover, as we have seen at the nation's airports, measures that have created a sense of false security have made flying a nightmare.

     Notwithstanding the fact that high schools and university campuses have beefed up security, since the Columbine killing spree in 1999, there have been more than 80 school and campus shootings. Armed theater guards will jack-up the price of  movie tickets without adding much protection.

     Regarding journalism itself, for news junkies interested in stories unrelated to crime, the intense television coverage of these mass murders diverts reporters from covering other news events. When O. J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend in 1995, dozens of reporters in Cuba covering the Pope's visit with Castro, climbed on planes to Los Angeles. Suddenly Castro and the Pope were alone. The biased and overblown media coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey case actually contributed to innocent parents being persecuted by malicious and incompetent investigators. For months the Ramsey case dominated the news on cable TV. After awhile, this one-note crime reporting becomes repetitive, tedious, and superficial. When the cable networks get geared-up for a big story, they don't know when to stop. Well, it's time to stop.
      

Monday, July 23, 2012

Is James Holmes Insane?

     Last week's shooting rampage in the suburban city of Aurora, Colorado marks the 21st mass murder involving six or more fatalities since Colorado's Columbine shootings in 1999. In the wake of these killing sprees, the worst being the 32 shot to death in 2007 at Virginia Tech, TV talking heads--psychiatrists, psychologists, and defense attorneys--try to explain why someone would do such a thing. Surely a college kid like James Holmes who murdered 12 and injured 70 people in a movie theater must be insane. No person in his right mind could commit such a cruel, cold-blooded crime.

     People who call James Holmes insane are equating deviant behavior with crazy behavior. Horrible crimes that cannot be rationally explained, or understood by a normal person, are not necessarily committed by individuals who are psychotic, and out of touch with reality. The old law school example of psychotic, homicidal behavior is the man, who while strangling his wife, thinks he's squeezing an orange. Indeed, to be legally insane, the killer must be so mentally impaired that he's incapable of appreciating the criminal nature and quality of his actions. The popular term for this legal standard of insanity is called the right-wrong test.

     To avoid criminal culpability for a criminal homicide on the grounds of insanity, the defendant has the burden of proving (people are presumed sane), by a preponderance of the evidence, that he was so mentally ill he didn't know right from wrong. For defendants raising the insanity defense there is a problem: in reality, even in cases where the defendant at the time of his crime was suffering from some form of schizophrenia, the killer was still aware of the consequences of his act, and that it was wrong. In other words, there is no such thing as a mental sickness that produces a state of mind that meets the legal definition of mental illness. The paranoid schizophrenic who strangles his wife not only knows he not squeezing an orange, he is aware is he killing his wife. And although the devil may have told him to do it, he knows it's wrong because the devil doesn't tell you to do good things.

     In mass murder shooting spree cases involving six or more victims, all of the killers, including James Holmes, carefully planned the attacks. Holmes had prepared for weeks before carrying out his military-style assault. This is not how seriously mentally ill people behave. James Holmes and the other killers, when they committed their mass murders, were sharply in touch with reality. They reveled in their crimes because they knew they were doing something so wrong it would shock the world. In essence, that is the motive for these atrocities, to shock and terrorize.

     James Holmes and his murderous counterparts are known as sociopaths. They are angry, sadistic, narcissists who have no empathy or feelings of guilt. While usually loners, they can be superficially charming, and are often, like James Holmes, extremely intelligent. They possess personality disorders that cannot be fixed through counseling or medication. They are probably born that way, but who knows? Because sociopaths don't walk around in baby-steps looking at the ceiling, talk to themselves or people who don't exist, they are hard to spot. The world is full of jerks. How do you know if one is a sociopath? This is what makes these people so dangerous. Moreover, we seem to be developing into a nation of sociopaths.

     Because criminologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other helpists hate to admit there are people they can't rehabilitate, they don't buy into the notion that some people are just bad. But that's what they are, evil. And that's how the criminal justice system should deal with them. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thomas Fritz: Death of a Killer in a West Virginia Cabin

     Thomas Fritz grew up in Sylvania, a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. In 1997, he joined the Ohio National Guard, and six years later, served a year in Iraq with a Guard military police unit. The 30-year-old graduated from suburban Toledo's Owens Community College in 2004 with an associates degree in criminal justice. His aspirations for a career in law enforcement came to an end in 2006 when, after having sexual intercourse with a woman who had passed out drunk, he pleaded guilty to sexual battery. The judge, who declared Fritz a "sexually oriented offender," sentenced him to one year in an Ohio prison.

     In December 2011, Thomas Fritz moved into a white, two-story house in Blissfield, Michigan, a small town in the southeastern part of the state 20 miles northwest of Toledo. The 38-year-old shared the dwelling with his girlfriend, 33-year-old Amy Merrill and her two son from a previous relationship. Fritz and Merrill also had a toddler of their own. In late June 2012, Merrill ended her relationship with Fritz who continued to reside in the Blissfield house with her and the children.

     Late Friday night, July 13, 2012, following some kind of altercation in the Blissfield house which at the time was occupied by Amy Merrill, her 24-year-old sister Lisa Gritzmaker, and their 52-year-old mother, Robin Lynn McCowan, Fritz opened fire on the family with a rifle. He killed the sisters and wounded their mother. Lisa Gritzmaker was 8-months pregnant.

     After Fritz fled the murder scene in his maroon 2002 Honda, the wounded Robin Lynn McCowan called 911. The Lenawee County prosecutor charged Fritz with two counts of open murder, and one count of assault with intent to commit murder.

     A man Thomas Fritz had worked for owned a remote cabin in Tyler County West Virginia 80 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fritz had stayed at this cabin before.  After murdering his wife and her sister, and wounding their mother, Fritz headed for West Virginia.

     The Tyler County cabin sat deep in the woods off Cow House Road three miles south of a wide spot in the highway called Sistersville, a village comprised of a store and one gas station. Someone who spotted Fritz driving through town called the sheriff's office. On Tuesday, July 17, a U.S. Marshal on the case saw Fritz, armed with a rifle, enter the cabin. By nightfall the place was surrounded by U.S. Marshals and Tyler County sheriff's deputies.

     On Tuesday night, officers heard a gunshot from inside the cabin. After firing teargas canisters into the hide-out, officers entered the structure where they found Thomas Fritz dead in a back bedroom with a bullet in his head. Inside the cabin, officers found two assault rifles, a shotgun, and a gas mask.    

Adaisha Miller's Mysterious Death

     On Detroit's west side, on July 8, 2012, 24-year-old Adaisha Miller attended a Saturday night fish fry hosted by Isaac Parrish and his wife. Miller, a certified massage therapist, came to the backyard party with a friend acquainted with the 38-year-old Detroit police officer throwing event. Isaac Parish, a beat patrolman for 16 years, did not know Miller before the get together.

     That night, Officer Parrish carried his department-issued Smith & Wesson M & P 40 semiautomatic pistol on his right side in a soft holster tucked inside his waistband covered by his shirt. In Detroit, officers have the option of carrying their firearms when off-duty. There are not, however, supposed to be armed if their blood-alcholol level is 0.02 percent or above. (In Michigan, the blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI conviction is 0.08 percent.) In essence, Detroit officers are prohibited from carrying their handguns if they consume alcohol, period.

     Thirty minutes after midnight on the night of the party, Adaisha Miller, while either hugging the officer, dancing with him side-by-side, or dancing on her knees behind him (I have a hard time picturing this), touched or tugged at his waist in a way that caused his firearm to discharge. The gun not only went off, the bullet entered Miller's chest, pierced a lung, hit her heart, and exited her lower back. She died later that day at a local hospital.

     According to Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County Medical Examiner, the path of the bullet through Miller's body did not reveal the victim's position relative to the gun's muzzle (end of the barrel) which was pointed toward the ground. Because the Smith & Wesson M & P 40 is designed for police and military use, it does not have a safety switch. However, the trigger must be pulled back all the way before the gun will fire.

     Because it's hard to construct a scenario, based on the facts at hand, that explains exactly how this accident occurred, Adaisha's death remains a mystery. Less than 24 hours after Miller's death, a lawyer surfaced in the case talking about a potential lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department. Attorney Gerald Thurswell, in speaking to a local reporter, said, "We believe 100 percent that this death was caused as a result of a negligent act of somebody. If somebody was negligent then someone's responsible for the injuries and death caused as a result of their negligent act." This lawyer has hired a private investigator to look into the shooting. In the practice of law, other people's tragedies can turn into paydays.

        

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nathan Van Wilkins and the Tuscaloosa Shooting Spree

     At 11:30 Monday night, July 16, 2012, 44-year-old Nathan Van Wilkins, a resident of Northport, Alabama, a town 30 miles north of Tuscaloosa, went to a house in Northport and knocked on the door. When the 30-year-old man who lived there saw that Van Wilkins was armed with an assault rifle, he ran back into the dwelling. Van Wilkins fired off six shots, hitting the man once in the back. (The victim is expected to survive his bullet wound.)

     From Northport, Van Wilkins drove to the Copper Top bar in downtown Tuscaloosa. Armed with an AK style assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, he stood outside the bar, located about a mile from the University of Alabama, and watched the 80 plus patrons, mostly 20 and 30-year-olds, drinking and shooting pool. Thirty minutes after midnight, Van Wilkins opened fire, his bullets ripping through a large, glass window. As the panicked drinkers rushed outside, he shot at them from the parking lot.

     Van Wilkins, who never entered the bar, left the scene when he ran out of ammunition. Seventeen people had been injured by glass and brick shrapnel, bullets, bullet fragments, and from being stomped in the stampede out of the place. (By noon the following day, 12 of the hospitalized victims had been treated and released.)

     From Tuscaloosa, Van Wilkins drove to the nearby town of Brookwood, Alabama where he allegedly set fire to three trucks and an oil rig owned by his former employer, Capstone Oilfield Services and Supply Company. (On March 30, 2012, Van Wilkins and a co-worker got into a fistfight. Both men were fired. The termination angered Van Wilkins who tried to file assault charges against the other man.)

     On Tuesday, July 17 at 10:30 in the morning, Van Wilkins walked into a FedEx store in Jasper, a town an hour's drive north of Tuscaloosa, and said, "I'm the one they are looking for that shot the 17 people in Tuscaloosa." Van Wilkins told the fearful employee that at the time of the shooting spree, he had been high on drugs. Shortly thereafter, officers from the Jasper Police Department took Van Wilkins into custody. To the arresting officers, Van Wilkins said he had wanted the police in Tuscaloosa to kill him.

     Charged with 18 counts of attempted murder (Van Wilkins has been linked to the Northport shooting through a shell casing match with the ballistics evidence at the Tuscaloosa site), the suspect is incarcerated in the Tuscaloosa County Jail under $2 million bond.

     The obvious question in shooting sprees like this is why, and what kind of person would kill or try to kill strangers. While Van Wilkins' motive is still unknown, based on his criminal background, marital history, and financial woes, it appears his shooting rampage was the product of drug-crazed anger rather than a mental illness such as schizophrenia.

     In 1988, Van Wilkins pleaded guilty to breaking into a body shop and stealing a Mercedes Benz. The Tuscaloosa judge sentenced him to 4 months probation. In 2002, he spent 10 days in jail for criminal trespass. His wife of 16 years, claiming that he beat her and threatened her life, divorced him in March 2005. The judge ordered Van Wilkins to pay $1,300 a month in child support. They have two children.

     In 2011, Van Wilkins, for the third time, filed for bankruptcy. He was $25,000 in debt. His bankruptcy hearing had been set for August 12. As of this writing, the man Van Wilkins shot in Northport has not been identified. If Van Wilkins had tried to kill a specific person in the Copper Top bar, that information has not been released.

       

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Clifford D. Miller and the Meth-Crazed Murders of Sisters Britny Haarup and Ashley Key

     Sisters Britny Haarup, 19, and Ashley Key 22, lived together in a house in Edgerton, Missouri, 35 miles north of Kansas City. Ashley Key, the mother of a 4-year-old girl, had been running with a bad crowd, and had sought her sister's help in  turning her life around. On Friday afternoon, July 13, 2012, Britny Haarup's fiancee, Matt Meyers, stopped by the house and found the sisters missing, and Haarup's 6 month and and 18-month-old daughters alone in the same crib. Because Haarup would never leave the infants alone in the house, Meyers suspected foul play. She had left her cellphone and purse behind, and in the living room Meyers found Ashley's handbag and a pair of her shoes. And most troubling of all, a comforter on the couch contained blood stains. (Police later learned that several guns had been taken from the house.)

     On the afternoon of the disappearances, deputies with the Platte County Sheriff's Office spoke to witnesses who had seen a white, 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck parked near the sister's house at 9:30 that morning. The next day, a deputy found a truck meeting that description several miles from the sister's house parked near the Platte-Clay County line. The vehicle, registered to a Clifford D. Miller, bore no evidence of a crime, inside or out.

     On Sunday morning, July 15, Platte County detectives questioned Clifford D. Miller, "a person of interest," at his girlfriend's house in Parksville, a suburb of Kansas City. Miller, from Trimble, Missouri in southwest Clinton County, confessed to murdering Haarup and Key, and agreed to lead the police to the field where he had dumped their bodies. Following the confession, the officers took Miller into custody.

     The sisters' bodies were recovered that Sunday, and transported to the Medical Examiner's Office in Jackson County for identification and autopsy.

     When interrogated at his girlfriend's house, Miller said he had been smoking methamphetamine on Friday, July 13. With the intent of having sex with Britny Haarup, (they knew each other but had not engaged in sex) he drove his 2002 Dodge pickup to her house in Edgerton. When he walked into the dwelling through the unlocked front door, Ashley Key, asleep on the sofa, woke up and confronted him. Miller punched her several times, struck her in the head with a hard object from the coffee table, then smothered her with the comforter on the couch.

     Still thinking about having sex with Haarup, Miller walked into her bedroom. When Britny screamed, he hit her with a blunt object, then smothered her with a pillow.

     After murdering the sisters in their own home, Clifford Miller hung around and smoked more meth. High on the drug, he wrapped his victims' bodies in bedsheets and carried them to his pickup truck. After depositing the murdered women in a field several miles from their house, he abandoned his vehicle and called his girlfriend in Parksville.

     The Platte County prosecutor charged Clifford Miller with two counts of first degree murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life without parole, or to death. He is currently incarcerated in the Platte County Jail under $500,000 cash-only bond.

     In April 2013, Clifford Miller pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Joe Paterno: The Godfather

     In 1999, Joe Paterno's longtime friend and defensive coach, Jerry Sandusky, retired from Penn State following credible allegations that a year before he had inappropriately touched a 10-year-old boy in the school's locker room showers. While university investigators wanted Sandusky prosecuted, the Centre County District Attorney, Ray Gricar, declined to pursue the matter. Joe Paterno surely knew of the molestation accusation against his colleague. It would be interesting to know just how much pressure the Godfather of Penn State had put on Gricar to drop the case.

     Notwithstanding the 1998 allegations, Sandusky, a made-man in the Penn State football family who benefited from a code of silence a Mafia don would have admired, kept his office in the football building as well as his access to all of the university's sports facilities. Using his youth organization, The Second Mile, to attract and groom his young victims, Sandusky continued to sexually molest boys under the noses of Paterno and others in the football family. Instead of reporting a serial pedophile operating in their midst, Paterno asked Sandusky to stop bringing his young "guests" on campus. In other words, do your molesting somewhere else, where, if caught, it won't be so hard to cover up.

     In 2000, when a Penn State janitor was told by a fellow employee that he (the fellow worker) had seen Jerry Sandusky in the showers raping a boy, the janitor didn't report it. (This came to light in 2012 when investigators working with former FBI Director Louis Freeh questioned the janitor. According to the Freeh Report, the janitor, in explaining why he hadn't reported Sandusky to someone in authority, said, "It would have been like going against the President of the United States. I knew Paterno had so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone.")

     On February 26, 2001, a graduate assistant in the Penn State football organization named Mike McQueary presented the Godfather with a problem that if not handled carefully, threatened the family. McQueary had witnessed, firsthand, Jerry Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers. The threat to Paterno's football organization intensified when the athletic director and a vice president contemplated, to Paterno's horror, reporting Sandusky to the authorities. The Godfather ordered his "superiors" to clam-up, and the matter remained a family secret. The football program had to be protected--at all costs.

     In 2004, the president of Penn State, and the head of the board of trustees, two ostensibly powerful university figures, went to Paterno's office to inform the 80-year-old don it was time to step down. What were these men thinking? Godfathers don't retire voluntarily. They have to be taken out, and these lightweights didn't have the muscle. Paterno threw the pathetic emissaries out of his office. They were lucky Paterno didn't fire them on the spot.

     On April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the longtime Centre County District Attorney who in 1998 had given Jerry Sandusky a prosecutorial pass, took a drive in his mini-Cooper and didn't return. The 59-year-old's car turned up in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in an antique mall parking lot. Three months later, someone found the prosecutor's county-issued laptop on the edge of the Susquehanna River not far from where he, or someone else, had left his car. In October 2005, Gricar's hard-drive turned up in the same river not far where the laptop had been found. Gricar himself has not turned up. (What's really strange  about Gricar's disappearance is how poorly it was investigated. The FBI had declined to get involved.) If Ray Gricar didn't kill himself, someone else did, but without his body, this unexplained and uninvestigated death will remain a mystery. It is not unreasonable to wonder if Gricar's disappearance is related to Jerry Sandusky, and the Paterno lead cover-up of his pedophilia.        

     In January 2011, 13 years after Ray Gricar decided not to charge Jerry Sandusky with sexually touching the 10-year-old boy in the Penn State locker room showers, Joe Paterno's worst fears were coming true. Jerry Sandusky, his longtime friend, and lifetime member of the football family, after years of sexually molesting boys within the inner sanctum of Penn State football, was once again under investigation. And this time, investigators were seriously out to get Mr. Sandusky, and anyone who had helped facilitate his crimes. The Godfather must have been shocked when he was summoned to appear before the Centre County Grand Jury looking into the case.  

     Having been sworn to tell the truth, Paterno made his appearance before the grand jury that January. It was then he was asked the dreaded question regarding what he knew, and when he knew it. Did he know of any sexual abuse allegations made against Jerry Sandusky before the February 2001 episode? To that question, Paterno said, "I do not know of anything else that Jerry would have been involved in of that nature, no." That was a lie. But what choice did he have? The future of Penn State football was at stake, not to mention the coach's legacy as a hero.

     With sex scandal storm clouds on the horizon, the Godfather made his move. He entered into secret contract negotiations with the president of the university to sweeten his compensation/retirement package. In return for the enhanced contract, Paterno promised to quit at the end of the 2011 football season. In August 2011, without the knowledge of the board of trustees, the president of Penn State agreed to pay Paterno $3 million for his last year. Pursuant to the overall deal, $350,000 in interest-free loans given to the coach would be forgiven by the university (and Pennsylvania taxpayers). In addition to various incentive bonuses, the university would give Paterno and his family access to the Penn State corporate jet, and reserve a luxury box at Beaver Stadium for the coach and his family--for the next 25 years.

     While the president of the university had finally managed to loosen the Godfather's grip around Penn State's neck, it had come at a high cost, and without the knowledge of the board of trustees.

     The wheels came off Joe Paterno's sex abuse cover-up on November 5, 2011 when officers with the Pennsylvania State Police arrested Jerry Sandusky on several counts of sexual molestation. To football fans across the country, Jerry Sandusky was a household name. In Sandusky's hometown, Washington, Pennsylvania, people were shocked and distraught. Along with the former football coach, the police arrested the school's athletic director and a university vice president on charges they had failed to report Sandusky's alleged crimes. Penn State fans considered Joe Paterno, the man most responsible for allowing Sandusky to molest dozens of boys, an innocent victim in the growing scandal. Poor Joe, he didn't deserve to have his football legacy tarnished by that bastard Sandusky.

     Although the Godfather had already negotiated a secret deal carrying him through the 2011 football year, he offered, ingenuously, to step down at the end of the football year. The board of trustees, eager to use the opportunity to take out the Godfather, fired him 5 days later. On November 20, Paterno's family announced, for the first time, that Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

     The firing of Coach Joe Paterno, as one might expect, didn't go down well with football fans in Happy Valley and across the country. This man was more than a coach, he had come to symbolize everything that was good and great about Penn State University. (How pathetic is that?) Students went to the streets, and according to opinion polls taken after the icon's dismissal, more than half the citizens of Pennsylvania still had a favorable opinion of the coach.

     Following Joe Paterno's death on January 22, 2012 at the age of 85, his family demanded that the university live up to the secret $5.5 million deal the coach had extracted from the president. Rather than go against the Paterno family, and incur the wrath of their supporters, the school gave in. (The family did not get the luxury box and use of the corporate jet, but Mrs. Paterno did maintain access to the athletic department's hydrotherapy facilities.)

     The public hadn't been told of Joe Paterno's lung cancer diagnosis until 15 days after Jerry Sandusky's arrest. How long had that information been kept secret?

     A statue of Joe Paterno stands outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. In light of the Godfather's role in protecting Jerry Sandusky at the expense of the boys this pedophile had molested over the years, that statue should be torn down. But, according to the powers that be, it will remain standing for now. People who look at that statue will see different things. It will remind many that Joe Paterno was a wonderful man and coaching hero who did more for Penn State than anyone in history. To others, the statue will represent what can happen when an institution allows one man to have too much power. That what it means to me.

     

Friday, July 13, 2012

Anthony Giancola: From Teacher to Cocaine-Crazed Spree Killer

     Anthony (Tony) Giancola, as a student at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Florida just south of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, showed a lot of promise. He played football, was class president, and had the lead role in the school play, South Pacific. Although accepted for admission at West Point, he attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

     Giancola began his teaching career in 1991 at the Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center, a K-12 school for at-risk children with special needs. By 2005 he was head of the school. In the summer of 2006, Pinellas School District administrators made Giancola principal at the Van Buren Middle School in Tampa. Although he made $90,000 a year, Giancola had a $100-a-day cocaine habit. In February 2007, the principal purchased cocaine, while in his school office, from an undercover narcotics officer. After the drug transaction, the officer arrested Giancola and searched his car where he found marijuana and two glass pipes containing traces of cocaine. The narcotics arrest ended Giancola's career, and led to a year in jail followed by three years of probation.

     In 2009, Giancola's wife divorced him, and a year later, in St. Petersburg, police arrested him as he sat in his car at three in the morning. He was charged with violating his probation, prowling, and loitering. At this point in his life, Tony Giancola was a mere shadow of his former self, and living on the fringes of society.

     On Friday, June 22, 2012, at 10:45 AM in Lealman, Florida, a Pinellas County town 20 miles west of Tampa, Giancola walked into a group home for the hearing impaired and stabbed 27-year-old Justin Vand who died at the scene. Next, he stabbed Mary Allis, 59, who would die later that day at a local hospital. Giancola, using the same knife, attacked 25-year-old Whitney Gilbert, and Janice Rhoden, 44. These women survived their stab wounds.

     After stabbing four people at the group home, Giancola drove to nearby Pinellas Park, and at the Kenvin's Motel, attacked the man and woman who ran the place with a hammer. The married 57-year-olds were taken to the hospital and treated for their injuries. Mr. Kenvin remains in critical condition.

     At 11:30 on the morning of the Kenvin's Motel rampage, Giancola pulled his Ford sedan up to a house in Penellas Park and asked a group of people sitting on the front porch where he could meet a prostitute. When they told him to get lost, he plowed his car into the porch, injuring three women and a man. A witness at the scene took down the license number to his car.

     As Giancola drove from the hit and run scene, he struck a 13-year-old boy riding a bicycle. Kole Price, who received minor injuries from the collision, was struck again by Giancola who was intentionally trying to run him down. The boy found protection behind a telephone pole.

     Giancola drove to a nearby Egg Plotter restaurant where he called his mother. Shortly after the call, she and his sister put the blood-covered Giancola into their car and drove him to the mother's house. When Giancola climbed into the car he said, "You'll be proud of me, I just killed 10 drug dealers."

     When Giancola and the two women arrived at his mother's house, she called the sheriff's office. But before deputies arrived at the dwelling, he was gone. A short time later the police found Giancola hiding in a clump of brush next to a canal in St. Petersburg.

     In the course of Giancola's crime spree, the former school principal had stabbed four people, killing two of them. He attacked the two motel operators with a hammer, injured four people on the porch, and ran over a boy on a bicycle. The Pinellas County prosecutor charged Tony Giancola with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and several counts of aggravated assault. If convicted, Giancola could be sent to prison for life.

     Other than being high on cocaine, investigators don't know why Giancola attacked these eleven people. There is nothing connecting the groups of victims to each other, or to Giancola. Police believe the murders and assaults were spontaneous and random. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NFL Crime: The Anthony Wayne Smith Murder Case

     A high percentage of former National Football League players fall on hard times. They have heath concerns, domestic problems, battle drug and alcohol addition, and go broke. Over the years more than 500 ex-NFL players have been charged with crimes that include narcotics violations, domestic abuse, resisting arrest, rape, aggravated assault, solicitation of murder, and criminal homicide. Even so, criminologists report that crime rates among NFL players are lower than they are in the general public.

Anthony Wayne Smith

     On October 7, 2008, the body of a 31-year-old mechanic named Maurilio Ponce was found along a southern California desert highway near the town of Lancaster in Los Angeles County. Ponce had been shot six times. Three men, including Anthony Wayne Smith, a former defensive end with the Oakland Raiders (1991-1998), were charged with Ponce's murder. Besides the 41-year-old Smith, the Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Eric Honest, 38, and Dwann Wesley White, 33. While the motive for the killing has not been detailed, Ponce's murder involved some kind of business dispute.

     In April 2012, a Los Angeles County jury found Eric Honest guilty of second degree murder in the Ponce case. Honest faced up to 15 years in prison. In a separate murder trial involvingAnthony Wayne Smith, the jury, after deliberating 9 days, split on the issued of his guilt. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial.

     Prosecutors had placed Smith in the vicinity of the Ponce murder through cellphone tracking, but could not link him to the killing with DNA, fingerprints, or other physical evidence. Without a confession, an eyewitness, or a forensic connection to the crime scene, the district attorney failed to acquire an unanimous verdict. Smith, following the hung jury, remained incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail. The prosecution plans to retry him on the Ponce murder. Dewann Wesley White is awaiting his trial in the case.

     In June 2012, a Los Angeles County assistant district attorney charged Anthony Wayne Smith with the murders of three more men. One of these cases involves the kidnapping of brothers Kevin and Ricky Nettles on November 10, 1999 from their car wash business in Los Angeles. The men were abducted by two men impersonating police officers. The next day, the brothers, their hands cuffed in zip-ties, were found dead. They had been tortured, then shot with a 9-millimeter pistol.

     Three men, on June 25, 2001, kidnapped a man named Dennis Henderson and Terry Ware, Henderson's associate. The abductors put the victims in separate vehicles and drove off. The following day, Henderson's body turned up in the trunk of a rented car. He had been tortured, stabbed, and robbed. Anthony Smith and Dennis Henderson had been next-door neighbors in Marina del Ray. (The kidnappers released Terry Ware, the other abductee.)

     Only a handful of NFL players have been charged with criminal homicide. The most famous, of course, is O.J.Simpson who was acquitted in 1996 of double murder. Anthony Wayne Smith is the only ex-NFL player to be charged with four murders. Unlike Simpson who was a football star, and in retirement a TV personality and a film actor, Smith is unknown outside of the bay area where a few football fans still remember him. As a result, his mistrial in the Ponce murder case was not big news, even in California. To date, he is the only former NFL player to be accused of serial murder. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Frank Caira: The Ecstasy Cook Who Plotted to kill the Wrong People

     Murder for hire masterminds are almost as stupid as for ransom kidnappers. They almost always get caught, and end up getting sentenced to life. As a murder for hire mastermind, Frank Caira is interesting because he worked at Northwestern University as a medical researcher, and used workplace chemicals to manufacture Ecstasy pills in his suburban Chicago home.

     In 2009, a federal grand jury, relying on evidence uncovered by DEA agent Patrick Bagley, indicted the married, 41-year-old Downers Grove, Illinois drug manufacturer. In December 2009, when Caira realized the best plea deal he could get involved 14 year behind bars, he decided to hire someone to kill DEA agent Bagley and Shoshanan Gillers, the assistant United States Attorney in charge of his prosecution.

     Because Caira didn't know any hitmen, he reached out to his friend, Jack Mann. They met on a bench at the Oak Branch Shopping Center. Mann said he knew a gang member who might commit the double murder.

     After being approached by Mann, the gang member tipped off the authorities. After that, all of Caira's murder for hire meetings were secretly recorded. In the summer of 2011, with the would-be hitman and Jack Mann as key prosecution witnesses, the federal grand jury found Caira guilty of soliciting two murders. (Murder for hire is a federal crime as well as a state offense.)

     On July 6, 2012, the federal judge sentenced Frank Caira to 82 years in prison. To reporters, his attorney said this: "People like Mr. Caira don't deserve to die in jail." Really? If a man who tried to have two federal law enforcement officers murdered doesn't belong in prison for life, no one does. While defense attorneys are known to say ridiculous things on behalf of their clients, this comment is beyond the pale. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Diane McDermott Murder Case

     Americans have enjoyed detective fiction since the 1930s. The early police detectives of literature and film were far more impressive than their thick-skulled, real-life contemporaries. In the U.S., criminal investigation, as practiced by the police, didn't become anything resembling a profession well into the 20th Century. The first widely read criminal investigation textbook didn't come out until 1958. (Criminal Investigation by Charles O'Hara) Colleges and universities didn't start criminal justice programs until the early 1970s, and most of them were puerile.

     As late as the 1950s and 60s, police detectives, instead of employing interrogation techniques to acquire confessions, simply beat the hell out of suspects until someone broke down and confessed. In the 1940s, Fred Inbau of Northwestern University Law School, developed a set of interrogation techniques designed to psychologically induce admissions of guilt without the use of force. As a polygraph examiner in the Chicago Crime Lab, he knew that confessions beat out of people by the Chicago Police were unreliable, not to mention inhumane. Inbau's methods, however, weren't universally practiced until after the 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. Cops loved the third-degree, and old habits are hard to break.

     During the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, police detectives didn't routinely conduct professional crime scene investigations, take detailed notes, write case reports, or submit physical evidence to crime labs. Crimes were not systematically investigated and solved, and if a case didn't present an obvious suspect, detectives quickly closed it. Crime novelists and their readers love murder mysteries, cops didn't. Homicide detectives regularly ignored or bungled murder cases, no one knew how to investigate arsons, and burglars were rarely caught because these crimes do not produce eyewitnesses. Most rape complaints received no investigation whatsoever. Cops who wore suits and carried gold badges were detectives in name only. (The word "detective" wasn't introduced into the English language until 1853 when Charles Dickens coined the term in his novel Bleak House.)

     Today, police detectives are well-paid and have access to cutting edge forensic science. They also can avail themselves of all sorts of relevant education and training. Still, in some big cities, small towns, and suburban communities, criminal investigations are regularly bungled due to indifference, laziness, corruption, and a shortage of qualified personnel. Modern law enforcement is principally focused on street crime, anti-terrorism, and the war on drugs. Criminal investigation has taken a backseat to these law enforcement priorities, and is becoming a lost art. (The nation's crime labs are also underfunded and understaffed.) In the history of criminal investigation, we are coming full circle.

The Diane McDermott Case

     A murder ignored by the police in 1967 drew attention in the spring of 2012 because the victim's son, a TV actor named Dylan McDermott, prevailed upon the authorities to take a second look at his mother's violent death. The Diane McDermott case is one of thousands of suspicious deaths in the past 100 years never investigated seriously or competently by the police.

     In 1967, Diane McDermott lived in a Waterbury, Connecticut apartment with her 5-year-old son Dylan, her 7-month-old daughter Robin, and John Sponza, her 27-year-old boyfriend. In February of that year, Sponza shot Diane McDermott in the head at point-blank range, placed a handgun next to her body that wasn't the firearm he had shot her with, then called the police. Sponza, a heroin addict with organized crime connections, told detectives with the Waterbury Police Department that Diane had picked up the gun he had been cleaning and accidentally shot herself in the head. Only an idiot, or cops on the take, would buy this story.

     Police interviews of Dylan McDermott, neighbors, and friends of the victim contradicted Sponza's claim that he and Diane rarely argued. Dylan said he had seen the boyfriend, who had once locked him out of the apartment, point a gun at his mother. Moreover, the two of them were often heard yelling at each other.

     Following a cursory investigation, the Waterbury Police closed the McDermott case as an accidental shooting. Four years later, police in Waltham, Massachusetts found Sponza's body in the trunk of a car parked in front of a a grocery store.

     The fact Sponza had murdered Diane McDermott in 1967 before DNA and other forensic science breakthroughs does not excuse the bungling of this case. (I don't know if McDermott's body had been autopsied, or if a forensic pathologist had recovered the fatal bullet. Media coverage of the case has focused on the actor's angst.) Even if the fatal slug had been too damaged for microscopic comparison with a test-fired bullet from the death scene handgun, a forensic firearms identification expert could have determined if the two projectiles were the same caliber. The victim's hands could have been tested for traces of gunshot residue, and the firearm next to her body could have been processed for latent fingerprints.

     In June 2012, Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner for the state of Connecticut, reviewed the McDermott case file and concluded that the gun next to the victim's body was too small a caliber to have fired the fatal shot. In his report, Dr. Carver wrote, "The wound also showed that the murder weapon had been pressed to the back of the head." (This suggests the victim had been autopsied, and photographs had been taken.)

     Since people don't accidentally shoot themselves in the back of the head, Diane McDermott had obviously been murdered, and the last person to have seen her alive was John Sponza.

     While it's possible the detectives in charge of the McDermott case were either extremely stupid, lazy, or indifferent, I think they were corrupt. While the Connecticut criminal justice system failed to do its job in this case, John Sponza ended up where he belonged, dead in the trunk of someone's car.



   

   

      

Monday, July 9, 2012

Crazy Naked Men on PCP, Bath Salts, and Meth

     Within the past few weeks, police in Tempe Town, Lynx Lake, Phoenix, and Scottsdale, Arizona have arrested naked men high on synthetic drugs. They had shed their clothing because PCP, bath salts, and meth causes body temperatures to rise. The drugs also produce bizarre behavior that is often criminal. The recent cases in Arizona may be a harbinger of problems families and police officers will be facing due to the increasing popularity of these drugs.

Chris Brown

     On June 20, 2012, at 11:30 AM in Tempe Town, a community 10 miles east of Phoenix, police received a call that a man was swimming in a municipal lake in violation of an ordinance prohibiting such activity. The trespasser, 38-year-old Chris Brown, was swimming in his birthday suit. When he refused to come out of the lake, rescuers climbed into a boat to fish him out of the water. On the shore, among Brown's clothing, police officers found drug paraphernalia.

     The naked swimmer avoided apprehension for an hour, but eventually ended up in the rescue boat. The local prosecutor charged Chris Brown with indecent exposure, failure to identify, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Believed to have been high on some kind of synthetic drug, his case is pending.

Calvin Forrey

     Yavapaia County sheriff's deputies, on June 25, 2012, responded to Calvin Forrey's home in Prescott, Arizona. A family member had called 911 to report that Forrey, naked and drug addled, had become disorderly. The 27-year-old, who admitted to the responding officers that he had been using bath salts, was not arrested because he wasn't belligerent.

     Four days later, a man at a Lynx Lake campground called the Yavapaia Sheriff's Office to report that a naked man "on drugs and out of his mind" had stolen his Jeep. When deputies arrived at the scene, they found Forrey, not far from where he had stolen the vehicle, screaming at the top of his lungs. The Prescott man had crashed the Jeep and was injured. Forrey's pit bull charged one of the officers who shot and killed the dog.

     On Saturday morning, July 1, Calvin Forrey died in the Yavapai Regional Medical Center. Information regarding his cause of death has not been released. His blood is being analyzing to determine if he had been under the influence of bath salts or other synthetic drugs.

Unidentified Naked Man

     In Phoenix, at 2:30 in the morning on July 4,  2012, a nude man driving a Budget rental truck plowed through the front lawn of a home and slammed into the house, ending up in one of the dwelling's bedrooms. Fortunately the room was at the time unoccupied. The naked man jumped out of the truck and fled the scene on foot. Later in the day police identified the driver and took him into custody.

John Brigham

     On November 24, 2011, John Brigham, a 45-year-old from Gilbert, Arizona was staying at his Uncle Ed's house in Scottsdale. That day, a neighbor called 911 to report a man with nothing on but a bath towel around his waist was stacking furniture and other household items into a big pile in the front yard. The man was also dancing about this stack of stuff to loud music. This strange-acting man turned out to be John Brigham.

     When police officers rolled up to Uncle Ed's house, they saw Brigham standing nude in the front doorway. The nephew admitted to the police he had been smoking marijuana and snorting meth, and referred to the mess he had made in his uncle's front yard as a sculpture constructed in anticipation of a visit from a witch.

     An officer called Brigham's Uncle Ed who was in New York City at the time. The owner of the house confirmed that his nephew had permission to be in the home, but was not pleased that he had trashed the place. Although Uncle Ed agreed to press charges, he said he was worried about his nephew's mental state, and drug habit.

     At the Scottsdale city lockup, Brigham, who had gotten dressed for the police, stripped again, and created a commotion by yelling and banging the bars to his cell. After getting him dressed, officers took Brigham to a nearby hospital for a mental evaluation. A few days later, the charges against him were dropped, and Brigham went home.

     On June 29, while driving in Scottsdale, Brigham collided with another car, injuring the driver. Brigham got out of his damaged vehicle, took off his clothes, and started yelling and chanting. He then climbed onto the roof of another car and danced about in the nude.

     Brigham's bizarre behavior took an ominous turn when he yanked a woman out of a Toyota Prius and drove off in her car traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed in the westbound lane. He hadn't gone far when he crashed the blue Prius into four cars. As Brigham tried to carjack a second vehicle, police officers took him into custody. One of the cars Brigham had smashed into contained a woman who was 8-months pregnant. Both of her legs had been broken. Brigham, in his reckless driving spree, had injured seven people.

     The Maricopa County prosecutor charged Brigham with aggravated assault, robbery, and driving under the influence of drugs. He was held in the Maricopa County Jail on $100,000 cash-only bond. A toxicological test revealed he had been high on PCP. Brigham's preliminary hearing is set for July 13, 2012. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

More Crime Lab Problems

     Crime laboratories in the United States are underfunded and understaffed. This has produced serious backlogs, sloppy work, and bad forensic science. Defense attorneys across the country are routinely challenging the scientific reliability of crime lab results. Convictions have been overturned based on bad forensic science. Several crime lab units have been temporarily shut down, and denied accreditation. Recently, the troubled crime lab in Houston was taken from the police department and put into the hands of an independent group of civic leaders. (See: "The Houston Crime Lab: The Nation's Worst," June 18, 2012.)

The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division

     The seven crime labs in the state of Michigan under the control of the Michigan State Police are at risk of losing their accreditation by the Laboratory Accreditation Board of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. If this happens, the Michigan crime lab system will lose its scientific credibility, and could even be shut down.

     In December 2011, the seven laboratories were examined by inspectors with the Laboratory Accreditation Board which issued 118 "Corrective Action Requests." (This information would not have been made public had The Detroit News not filed a Freedom of Information Act suit.) The crime labs have been slow or unable to address the problems. As a result, the board has given the state three accreditation extensions, the last and final extension granted last April. If the problems are not fixed soon, the entire Michigan crime lab operation, and the state's criminal justice system, will be in trouble. If this happens, Michigan's crime lab work might have to be farmed out to other labs, including the FBI laboratory which is itself overwhelmed and struggling with backlogs.

     While Michigan state police administrators have insisted that the problems in the crime labs are more clerical than substantive, many of the shortcomings involve issues of quality control. The accreditation inspectors found that some of the facilities were improperly storing hazardous chemicals. In the lab in Grand Rapids, food was being kept in a refrigerator that contained chemical supplies. There were also problems with measures to prevent lab contamination and evidence tampering. Inspectors saw unescorted visitors roaming the laboratories.

    Most of the lab inadequacies involved various forms of record keeping and lab result reporting, problems that reflect sloppy work, lack of supervision, and understaffing. In the Michigan Forensic Science Division, there is currently a backlog of 10,000 cases. Criminal investigators and prosecutors, to function effectively, need prompt crime lab results, especially in the fields of DNA and toxicology. Backlogs slow down an investigation, and in some cases, accrue to the benefit of suspects and defendants.

     The rates of violent crime across the country are dropping, but the rates of drug abuse are rising, cases that require crime lab analysis. Moreover, prosecutors, to meet jury expectations, are telling detectives to gather as much physical evidence as possible. Crime labs are having a difficult time keeping up with these demands. The public's high expectations for forensic science, thanks to the "CSI" TV shows (ten years ago no one knew what CSI stood for), the nation's crime labs are under a lot of pressure.       

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why is the FBI Covering Up Cruise Ship Crime?

     Worldwide, there are 200 cruise ships owned by 26 cruise lines. The average ocean cruise consists of a huge boat carrying 2,000 passengers and a crew of 950. The biggest ships can hold more than 4,000 vacationers. These are small towns on water. In 2007, 12 million people purchased cruise line tickets. This is a big, global industry represented by an influential trade association called the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

     Over the years, cruise line companies have received bad publicity due to a series of high seas rapes, murders, and passenger disappearance cases. These high-profile crimes suggest the possibility that women and children on these huge vessels are vulnerable to molestation by crew members and other passengers. One expert on cruise ship crime believes that a woman is twice as likely to be raped aboard one of these boats than on land.

     When a U.S. citizen aboard a cruise ship anywhere in the world is raped, assaulted, or murdered, the FBI has jurisdiction. But until recently, the bureau did not make these crime statistics a matter of public record. As a result, people contemplating an ocean cruise had no way of assessing the crime risks associated with this form of recreation.

     To enlighten and inform the American public of the relative crime risks that come with ocean cruises, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. Under this federal statute as initially proposed, the FBI would make public all crimes reported to them by the cruise lines or by passengers directly, and do it in a timely manner. This data would be stored on a U.S. Coast Guard website. However, when the bill was in committee, high-ranking FBI administrators lobbied for the insertion of a qualification that essentially defeated the purpose of the law. FBI brass managed to get Congress to limit what the bureau had to make public. Under the legislation as enacted, the FBI is required only to report cruise ship cases that the bureau has opened and closed.

     The FBI only opens 10 to 20 percent of cruise ship crimes that come to their attention, and the cases they do open are not closed for years. As a result, only a fraction of cruise ship crime statistics are made public, and what is published is old information.  This, of course, is exactly how the cruise ship industry wants it. What the public doesn't know hurts them, but helps the cruise line business.

     So, how did the cruise line industry get the FBI to thwart the intention of Congress, and the interests of the cruise-taking public? When did the bureau change from a law enforcement agency to a Washington lobby firm?

     The cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists for various enterprises is nothing new. Congress has always been up for sale. But what seems to be new is how an industry has been able to corrupt legislators and the FBI. How did the CLIA get to the bureau? Easy. The trade organization wines and dines top FBI personnel every two months at various vacation spots. And since 2007, two top-ranking FBI executives (they can retire at 50) have been given lucrative retirement jobs in the cruise industry. No one knows how many mid-level FBI administrators in D.C. have landed good security positions with cruise lines.

     The effect of the FBI tampered with, cruise line-friendly federal crime reporting law is producing the results the CLIA has paid for. If you look at the U.S. Coast Guard crime data web site, you will find that in 2012, there has been only one reported case of cruise ship rape. Just one. Thanks to the FBI's sabotage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, vacationers know nothing about the crime risks of an ocean vacation. Cruise ships are not child molester-rapist free zones.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Did Luka Magnotta Dismember Two Gay Men in America?

     In Montreal, Canada on May 29, 2012, the janitor at 29-year-old Luka Magnotta's apartment complex discovered a bloody torso inside a suitcase in the trash behind the building. The torso belonged to Jun Lin, the 33-year-old Chinese university student who had been Magnotta's boyfriend. The stripper, model, and bisexual actor in low-budget adult films had videotaped Lin's stabbing and dismemberment, and uploaded the snuff-video onto the Internet. Magnotta also mailed the victim's hands and feet to a political headquarters in Ottawa, and a boys' school in Vancouver. At this point in the case, the Montreal police were still searching for Mr. Lin's head.

     Magnotta fled to Europe where, after an international manhunt, police in Berlin Germany, on June 4, arrested him in an Internet cafe. He is now back in Canada awaiting his murder trial. Police in Montreal, Toronto, and other Canadian cities are looking into other murders of gay men to determine if Magnotta could have been responsible for those unsolved homicides.

     On June 30, the Montreal police recovered Jun Lin's missing head. It turned-up in a pond in Angrignon Park. The 110-acre site is located in western Montreal near a subway line that runs past Magnotta's apartment building where the dismemberment took place. Crime lab scientists are examining the head before announcing a positive identification.

     Homicide detectives in Miami and Los Angeles working on unsolved murder cases involving gay men who have been dismembered, are looking into the possibility that Luka Magnotta had killed and mutilated these victims as well.

The Omar Laparra Murder Case

     In 2009, a swimmer in Miami's Biscayne Bay came across, floating in the water, several plastic bags containing human body parts. The man's head, hands, and feet had been severed. The victim turned out to be Omar Laparra, a 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant who lived in a Little Havana apartment with his brother and sister. Laparra had been working as a carpenter. Detectives still working the case are trying to determine if Luka Magnotta had been in south Florida at the time of Laparra's murder, and if the two men could have crossed paths.

The Hervey Medellin Murder Case

     On January 17, 2012, two women walking their dogs on a park trail in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles not far from the famous Hollywood sign, happened upon a plastic bag containing a human head. The next day, cadaver dogs, in this section of Griffith Park, sniffed-out a pair of hands and two feet. The Los Angeles medical examiner estimated that the victim had been murdered two days before the dog-walkers discovered the severed head.

     The dismembered man was identified as 66-year-old Hervey Medellin, a retired employee of Mexicana Airlines. Medellin regularly walked the trail in the Bronson Canyon area of the park where his body parts were found. He had lived on the third floor of an apartment building not far from the walking trail. One of Medillin's neighbors told detectives that at 3AM on Jaunuary 15, he heard men yelling in Medillin's apartment. The shouting was followed by someone screaming, and sounds of scooting and knocked-over furniture.

     Los Angeles detectives investigating Medillin's murder have no suspects, and are considering the possibility that Luka Magnotta had been in the city last January. While the universe of gay males who murder and dismember other gay men is small, the Magnotta leads in these two U.S. cases are long-shots. But Magnotta did a lot of traveling, so who knows?

     

       

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Joe Paterno Sex Scandal Cover-Up

     In February 2001, Penn State graduate student Mike McQueary saw former football coach Jerry Sandusky having sex with a 10-year-old boy in the school's locker room showers. McQueary went to Joe Paterno's home and reported what he saw. The legendary coach and Jerry Sandusky had been colleagues and close friends for decades. Paterno, given his status at the school and in the community, could have done whatever he wanted with this troubling information. In 2004, when the president of the university and the head of the board of trustees went to Paterno's office to tell him it was time for him to retire, the coach threw them out. (They were lucky Paterno didn't fire them.)

     After the sex scandal broke in November 2011, when Joe Paterno was called before the grand jury looking into the case, he said, under oath, that he had passed McQueary's information on to his supervisor, athletic director Tim Curley. His supervisor? At Penn State, Joe Paterno didn't have a boss. If the coach wanted to do the right thing, he would have reported the matter directly to the state department of welfare, or to the police. He didn't want to do either. Jerry Sandusky was his friend, and he was worried about the reputation of his football program.

     On January 14, 2012, eight days before his death, Paterno spoke to a reporter with The Washington Post. Regarding what he had done with McQueary's information, Paterno said, "I didn't know exactly how to handle it, and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more experience than I did." What a load of crap. Joe Paterno knew exactly how to handle this situation--keep the outside world from knowing that his friend and colleague was a serial pedophile.

     On June 20, 2012, CNN's Susan Candiotti broke a story based on the content of key emails written by Penn State President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz. When read in context, these emails present strong evidence of a cover-up.

     On February 26, 2001, V.P. Schultz, in an email to President Spanier, says it is his plan to report the Sandusky matter to the department of welfare. The next day, Athletic Director Tim Curley, in an email to the president, said this: "After giving it some thought and talking it over with Joe [Paterno]...I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps [reporting the matter to the authorities]." From this email we see who the real boss is--Joe Paterno. In this email, Curley tells the president that coach Paterno wants to "work with Sandusky" instead of reporting him to the authorities.

     In a later email to the president, his VP, Gary Schultz, writes: "There is a more humane and upfront way to handle this." More humane to whom? Upfront? This revealing email brought the following response from President Spanier who indicates that while he supports Paterno's plan, "the only downside for us is if the message [to Sandusky] isn't 'heard' and acted upon...we become vulnerable for not reporting it." There it is, the cover-up. And Joe Paterno was the architect.

     Sandusky, who had retired in 1999 but kept an office in the football building, and had access to all of the sports facilities, including the locker room showers, was asked to stop bringing "guests" on campus. This rule, of course, was not enforced. Paterno's pedophile friend remained in his inner circle as a member of the Penn State football family, the beneficiary of a code of silence a Mafia don would have envied.

     Coach Joe Paterno, in my opinion, cared more about Penn State football than the fates of Jerry Sandusky's victims. By dying when he did, Paterno avoided being indicted for lying to the grand jury, and his role in the Penn State sex scandal cover-up. To name anything after this guy at Penn State would be an abomination.      

Protecting People with Disabilities and Special Needs: More Bureaucracy in New York

     Politicians are something else. Whenever there is a social problem that isn't being dealt with properly by a bloated, corrupt government, instead of firing the useless and corrupt bureaucrats, they simply create another government agency to deal with the problem not being solved by the existing bureaucracy. On the federal level, the creation of the Homeland Security Office, with a politician in charge, is a good example of this kind of governmental excess. Making an already dysfunctional state or federal system bigger creates its own problem.

     Last month, in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators announced they were going to create a new law enforcement agency. It's going to be called the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. The new agency will feature a special prosecutor with subpoena power and the authority to convene grand juries. District attorneys across the state already have this authority.

     In New York state, there are 1 million people with disabilities and special needs. (I have no idea how they define "special needs" in New York.) The disabled include people who suffer from autism, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injuries, and mental retardation. Why do these individuals need special law enforcement protection? The state already has a massive law enforcement infrastructure, and there are six state agencies in place to serve this constituency. They are: The Office of Mental Health; the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services; the Heath Department; the Education Department; and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

     So, what's the problem? In 2011, there were 10,000 allegations of abuse against the state's disabled person population. (No one knows how many rapes, assaults and cases of neglect go unreported.)  These crimes are committed by government employees (and some private contract workers) who are supposed to be caring for these people. The abuses occur because lax hiring procedures expose disabled people to criminals protected by public employee unions and agency administrators who cover-up these crimes to save their own careers (and pensions).

     Instead of reforming the existing system by weeding out the abusers, and punishing administrators who cover up these crimes, Governor Cuomo and the legislators have done what all local politicians do in big government states like New York, they've created another agency. And when that law enforcement bureaucracy fails to do the job, they will add another layer of government on top of that mess. Eventually these feel-good measures start to feel bad, and fool fewer and fewer taxpayers.         

Monday, July 2, 2012

Meth Lab Contaminated Homes: The Toxic Business of Cooking Methamphetamine

     Methamphetamine is an addictive, synthetic stimulant that causes the brain to release a surge of dopamine that, depending upon how it is ingested, and its potency, creates a high that lasts from a few minutes to 24 hours. Meth comes in two forms, powder and rock. The powder can be snorted, smoked, eaten, or dissolved into a drink. Rock, the crystalized form of the drug, is usually smoked or injected. One hit costs the meth user between $25 and $80. There are 1.4 million users of methamphetamine in the United States, and this number is rising.

     Meth is addictive because it depletes the brain of dopamine. Once this happens, users are unable to experience pleasure without the chemicals. Addicts who try to quit become depressed, and in some cases, psychotic. The prolonged use of meth permanently destroys the brain, and can cause heart attacks and strokes.

     Manufacturing or "cooking" meth is a multi-step operation that takes 48 hours to complete. The process produces toxic fumes, and there is always the potential for an explosion. There are a handful of large, commercial super labs, and thousands of small home laboratories. Super labs, like the one featured on the AMC TV series "Breaking Bad," are staffed by trained chemists who purchase the key ingredients--ephedrine and pseudoephedrine--in bulk from chemical suppliers. A super lab can manufacture more than 100,000 does per cook.

     Amateur meth cooks who operate home labs use chemicals derived from over-the-counter cold, cough, and allergy medicines. These shade-tree chemists acquire ingredients such as ammonia and lye from everyday household items. For example, they can obtain red phosphorus by scraping it off matches. The operator of a home meth lab can only produce about 300 doses a cook, enough product for himself and a few sales.

     The vast majority of meth factories raided by narcotics officers are amateur operations. In 2011, drug enforcement agents in the U.S. seized 10,287 residential meth labs. (One of the largest meth lab raids occurred in San Jose, California where, in March 2012, DEA agents seized 750 pounds of meth with a street value of $34 million.) Because of the highly toxic nature of meth production, these sites have to be professionally scrubbed.

     The government spends about $200 million a year de-contaminating meth labs. But not all of the homes that were once meth labs are sanitized, and some of them go on the real estate market. People who move into these places become very sick. As a result, about half of the states have passed residential meth lab disclosure laws.

The Bates Family

     Unfortunately for John Bates, his wife Jessie, and their 7-year-old son, the state of Washington didn't have a meth disclosure law in 2007 when they purchased a house for $235,000 in Suquamish, a town near Seattle. Shortly after moving into the dwelling, their son Tyler developed breathing problems. Mr. Bates developed a variety of unexplained symptoms, and his wife kept getting horrible skin rashes. The family and their physicians didn't have a clue what was causing these ailments until a neighbor, 18 months after the onset of the illnesses, casually mentioned that the former occupant of the home had made his living cooking meth.

     A state inspection of the Bates home revealed that toxic chemicals had soaked into the carpets, walls, studs, and flooring. Instead of shelling out $90,000 to replace the contaminated areas of the house, the Bates demolished the place and built a new home on the two-acre lot. The project cost them $184,000. Today, the Bates are healthy, and the state of Washington has a residential meth lab disclosure law.