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Friday, November 30, 2012

Byron Smith Kills Teen Home Invaders: Self Defense or Murder?

     On November 21, 2012, the day before Thanksgiving, a resident in a neighborhood in Little Falls Township south of Little Falls, Minnesota, phoned the Morrison County Sheriff's Office to report a suspicious car parked at the foot of his driveway. To the officers who rolled up to the red Mitsubishi Eclipse, the lone occupant of the vehicle, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady, said that he and his 18-year-old cousin, Haile Kifer, had been riding around when they ran out of gas. He was a junior at Pillager High School in Little Falls, and Haile was a year ahead of him. She had left the vehicle to find a gas station. One of the deputies gave Brady, a nice-looking kid interested in wrestling and the martial art of taekwondo, a ride home. His cousin Haile, a high school gymnast, diver, cross country runner, and softball player, had nothing in her background that would arouse a police officer's suspicion.

     Byron Smith, a 64-year-old retiree, lived in a modest, township home located a few miles north of Little Falls. In recent months, Mr. Smith had been plagued by a series of home burglaries believed to have been committed by teenagers looking for drugs, money, and guns. In October 2012, burglars had broken into his house and stolen weapons and other items. The fact Byron Smith had been a physical security expert who specialized in preventing criminal intrusion into government buildings, had added to to his frustration and anger over being a repeat burglary victim. 

     In 2007, Byron Smith, after serving overseas in places like Bangkok, Thailand, Beijing, China, and Cairo, Egypt, retired from the U.S. State Department. He had been one of a handful of highly trained security engineers responsible for making our embassies and consulates difficult for terrorists and spies to physically penetrate. An expert on anti-intrusion building design, locks, access control, alarms, video surveillance,  protective lighting, and physical barriers, Smith had overseen the construction and renovation of these government facilities. 

     Byron Smith's job not only required technical knowledge and experience, it came with top security clearance. This meant he had been thoroughly investigated for mental illnesses, personality disorders, and possible substance abuse. Moreover, he had to live a straight-arrow lifestyle to avoid the potential of blackmail. Mr. Smith was also familiar with handguns and assault rifles. It is not difficult to understand why this man had a particular dislike, even hatred, for criminal intruders. 

     On Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2012, a day after the Morrison County Deputies checked out the suspicious Mitsubishi south of Little Falls, Byron Smith, while sitting in his basement, heard the sound of breaking window glass. The sound of footsteps on the first floor told him that he had at least two burglars in his dwelling. The government retiree grabbed his Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle and waited. 

     Mr. Smith readied his rifle when he saw the feet of one of the burglars on his basement stairs. When the intruder's torso come into view, Mr. Smith fired twice, striking and killing Nicholas Brady. Mr. Smith dragged the 17-year-old's corpse into the basement and laid it out next to his workbench.  

     Not long after he had killed the high school student, another set of feet appeared on the stairway. As Haile Kifer descended into Smith's basement far enough for the homeowner to see up to her waist, he fired the Ruger. The girl collapsed and her body tumbled down the steps. She was still alive, and gasping for air. Byron Smith interpreted the sounds the wounded girl made as she struggled for air as laugher. He tried to shoot her again, but his rifle jammed. Mr. Smith dragged Haile deeper into his basement and laid her body next to her cousin Nicholas. After securing a handgun, Mr. Smith placed its muzzle under the girl's chin. He pulled the trigger, killing her. 

     Instead of calling the police and reporting that he had shot and killed two intruders in his house, Byron Smith decided to spend the night with the dead bodies lying in his basement. The next morning, Smith called a neighbor and asked if he could recommend a good attorney. The neighbor replied that he didn't know any lawyers. At this point Smith informed the neighbor that he had killed a couple of burglars the previous night. He asked the neighbor to call the authorities. 

     While homicide investigators were processing the death scene, deputies searched Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi parked a few blocks from Mr. Smith's house. The officers identified the vehicle as the suspicious car they had checked on the day before. At that time they had questioned Nicholas Brady, the boy who lay dead in Smith's basement. Inside the car, searchers found six bottles of medicine that had been prescribed to a Little Falls Township man named Richard Johnson. They also recovered a jar of pennies and some foreign coins. 

     A Morrison County prosecutor, based upon Byron Smith's account of the shootings, charged him with two counts of second degree murder. While under Minnesota law the occupant of a dwelling can legally use deadly force against an intruder, the homicide defense doesn't apply if the burglar was killed after the threat had been neutralized. Byron Smith, when describing to the police what happened to Haile Kifer, said, "If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again." Mr. Smith characterized his follow-up shooting of the girl as a "good clean finishing shot under her chin up into the cranium." Neither of the teen intruders had been armed. 

     On Sunday, November 25, 2012, three days after the fatal shootings, 68-year-old Richard Johnson, upon returning to his Little Falls Township home after vacationing in Spain, found that it had been ransacked by intruders. The burglars had used a crowbar to smash a sliding glass door. The home invaders had stolen bottles of prescription medicine Mr. Johnson took to treat diabetes and high cholesterol. The burglars had also taken a collection of foreign coins and some pennies. The police had recovered these items three days earlier from Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi. Investigators figured that Brady and Kifer had burglarized Mr. Johnson's home on the day before Thanksgiving about the time one of Johnson's neighbors reported the suspicious car. 

     Byron Smith was held in the Morrison County Jail on $2 million bond. 

     It seemed that Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer had been breaking into older people's homes looking for drugs, money, and guns. House burglary is a dangerous business, and it had gotten these youngsters killed. They were smart kids and should have known better. As for the man who shot them, his life, at least as he knew it, is over. But Byron Smith should have known that the way he killed the 18-year-old girl, burglar or not, was murder. You can shoot home invaders, but the law won't let you execute them.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rick Jackson Fingerprint Misidentification Case

     In 1997, detectives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a community outside of Philadelphia, arrested Rick Jackson shortly after Jackson's friend, Alvin Davis, was stabbed to death in Davis' apartment. In the interrogation room, detectives showed Jackson a crime scene photograph of a bloody latent print found near the body. According to a pair of fingerprint examiners with the Upper Darby Police Department, one of whom was also a police superintendent, that latent  had been left at the scene by Jackson.

     Rick Jackson didn't deny that he had been in Davis' apartment, but he denied killing him, and said he was certain the bloody print wasn't his. Jackson was actually relieved when he realized that the police were basing their case on a misidentified print. He figured that once the police realized their mistake, they would look elsewhere for a suspect.

     With Jackson so insistent that the bloody print wasn't his, Michael Malloy, his attorney, took the unique step of having it examined by outside experts Vernon McCloud and George Wynn. The retired FBI fingerprint examiners had 75 years of experience between them. Both men had been certified by the International Association of Identification (IAI). (Only a handful of the nation's fingerprint examiners have gone through the rigorous IAI certification process.) Wynn and McCloud, to their amazement, found that the bloody crime scene latent was not Rick Jackson's.

     The district attorney, confronted with a defense bolstered by a pair of prominent fingerprint experts who disagreed with the local examiners (who were not IAI certified), pushed forward with the trial anyway. In anticipation of the then unheard-of-situation of fingerprint examiners squaring off against each other in court, the district attorney brought in a fingerprint expert from another state to add quantity if not quality to the prosecution's case.

     In 1998, the Jackson case went to trial, and the jury, despite the conflicting fingerprint testimony, found Jackson guilty of first degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

     Vernon McCloud and George Wynn were so concerned abut the fingerprint misidentification in the Jackson case, they asked the IAI to gather a group of experts to review the evidence. When the IAI panel agreed that the crime scene latent was not the convicted man's, the district attorney began to doubt his own experts, and sent a photograph of the bloody print to the FBI Lab for analysis. The examiners in Quantico, Virginia, agreed with McCloud and Wynn and the IAI panel. Rick Jackson had been sent to prison on the strength of a misidentified crime scene latent.

     In December 1999, after Rick Jackson had spent two years behind bars, his conviction was set aside, and he was set free. The out-of-state fingerprint examiner who testified at the trial was fired, but the Upper Darby examiners were not disciplined or prohibited from future fingerprint work. Moreover, they would continue to insist that they had been right, and all the experts were wrong. In 200l, Rick Jackson filed a civil suit against the examiners and the Upper Darby Police Department. He lost the case.

     The Jackson case is historic because it is one of the first cases in which the identification of a crime scene latent was successfully challenged by the defense. This and later misidentification cases raised serious questions about the scientific backgrounds and qualifications of police department fingerprint examiners. Today, because of law enforcement budget cuts, there are fewer fingerprint examiners working in the nation's police departments than there were ten years ago. As a result, latent fingerprint identification plays less a role than it once did in our criminal justice system. In forensic science generally, and in this field particularly, we are going in the wrong direction. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Ira Bloom Case

     In the domestic battle over who gets what in a divorce, one of the most contentious issues centers around who will acquire principal access to, and responsibility for, the children. Parents who believe they have received a raw deal in the custody fight are embittered. Quite often they are fathers who resent supporting children from whom they have become estranged. Some parents who have lost custody to ex-spouses they consider unfit to raise their children have taken the law into their own hands. A few of these parents, motivated by hatred, the need for control, and the desire to win, have resorted to murder.

     Zhanna Portnov, a political refugee from Russia, emigrated to the United States in 1992. Two years later she met and married Ira A. Bloom, a violent and sadistic criminal who made Portnov as miserable in America as she had been in her home country. The couple lived in Enfield, Connecticut.

     In the summer of 2004, following a string of restraining orders, Zhanna divorced Bloom and gained custody of their 8-year-old son. Bloom, dissatisfied with his 3-day-a-week visitation schedule, petitioned the judge for full custody. Six weeks before the August 2005 custody hearing, Bloom began planning to have his ex-wife murdered.

     Following their divorce, Bloom moved to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a town outside of Springfield. From there he would plot his wife's death, and commit the mistake most murder for hire masterminds make: reach out to the wrong person to help him carry out his mission. Bloom asked his friend Donald Levesque, a petty criminal and drug snitch who claimed underworld connections, to find a hitman who would carjack Zhanna as she drove home from the chiropractor's office in Enfield where she worked as a receptionist. Bloom wanted the hitman to rape then kill his ex-wife. Pursuant to his plan, the killer would dump her body somewhere in Hartford, Connecticut.

     Levesque, snitch that he was, went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax and Firearms (AFT) where he informed agents of Bloom's murder for hire scheme. (Levesque was a regular, paid ATF confidential informant.) Because murder for hire is a state as well as a federal offense, the ATF had jurisdiction in the case.

     The informant told ATF agents that Ira Bloom had promised him $15,000 out of his dead ex-wife's $100,000 life insurance payout. Working with local law enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the ATF launched its investigation.

     On July 8, 2005, Levesque and Bloom met in a restaurant in Enfield. The snitch wore a hidden recorder, and had driven a car to the meeting that was wired for sound. To the amazement of the officers and agents surveilling the meeting, Bloom arrived with a woman he had just met. Seated in a booth, Bloom began talking about his battle to regain custody of his son. He said, "I'm really tired of this game anyway. This will save me. I mean, I only owe my lawyer about $500 right now. If we go to court on August 12, I'll owe him about another fifteen grand by then. So everything's gone. I mean, she's dead."

     Before the meeting broke-up, Levesque, acting on instructions from his handlers, asked Bloom for a hand-drawn map showing the route to the target's place of employment. "You think I'm gonna give you a map?" Bloom said. "We'll all go to jail." But the snitch persisted, and a few minutes later, the mastermind sketched a crude map on a napkin.

     In Levesque's car outside the restaurant, he and Bloom, with the mastermind's date sitting in the back seat, continued discussing the hit. When enough had been said to justify an arrest, the officers and agents rushed the car. Just before being yanked out of the vehicle, Bloom looked at Levesque and said, "Don, what did you do to me?"

     In October 2006, Ira Bloom was tried in Hartford, Connecticut before a federal jury. While the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf, his attorney, in his closing argument, characterized the conversation in the restaurant as nothing more that his client's blowing off steam to impress his date. The jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to murder his ex-wife. Following a series of appeals, federal judge Alfred V. Covello, in April 2008, sentenced the 48-year-old Bloom to the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

     

Friday, November 23, 2012

O.J. Innocent? Junk History in the Simpson Case

     From the June 1994 day in Los Angeles when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were stabbed and slashed to death outside of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife's condo, to his October 1995 acquittal, the double murder case dominated the news in the U.S. and abroad. The investigation and trial involved DNA analysis, blood spatter interpretation, and plenty of forensic medicine. Because the physical evidence pointed to Simpson's guilt, the not guilty verdict introduced the public to the concept of jury nullification.

     The infamous case turned police detectives, defense attorneys, and the trial judge into instant celebrities. Several of the major players in the case cashed-in with lucrative book deals. A few of these people evolved into television personalities. The Simpson case put CNN on the map, and elevated the careers of more than a few talking-heads.

     In America, the combination of celebrity-worship and the fascination with violent crime has produced a dozen or so "crimes of the century." In my opinion, the 20th Century featured three crimes of the century: the Lindbergh Kidnapping (1932), The John F. Kennedy Assassination (1961), and the O.J. Simpson double murder. In the Lindbergh case, Bruno Hauptmann, after being convicted on the strength of physical evidence connecting him to the crime, was executed in April 1936. Since then, there have been a handful of books, several television documentaries, hundreds of articles, and a HBO movie devoted to the theory that Hauptmann was an innocent man framed by the New Jersey State Police. It is my view that these exonerations of Hauptmann amount to junk history.

     There have been more than 500 books written about the Kennedy assassination. While I am not an expert on this case, I subscribe to the view that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Dr. John Kelly, a friend of mine who taught in the University of Delaware's criminal justice department, spent twenty years investigating the assassination. He is firmly convinced that the Warren Commission got it right, and that's good enough for me.

     Because the physical evidence pointing to O.J. Simpson's guilt was so plentiful and incriminating, the case hadn't moved into the revisionist stage until this year. A few months ago a book came out that purports to exonerate Simpson. It has been followed by a television documentary in which another man is identified as the Nicole Simpson/Ronald Goldman killer. The revisionist stage of the O.J. Simpson case has begun.

     In his book, O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It, true crime writer/private investigator William Dear makes the case that Simpson's then 40-year-old son Jason committed the murders. According to the author, while O.J. was present when they were murdered, he didn't wield the knife. This is convenient because it helps explain away the physical evidence linking O.J. to the death scene.

     So, what evidence does this revisionist author have against Jason Simpson? Not much. In Jason's abandoned storage locker, Mr. Dear found a hunting knife that could have been the murder weapon. There was nothing on the knife connecting it to the crime. After the murders, Jason retained an attorney. The author also found a photograph of Jason Simpson in which he is wearing a knit cap similar to one recovered from the crime scene. Two months before the murders, Jason Simpson assaulted his girlfriend, and according to some crime profiler, the suspect has a homicidal personality. And finally, Jason Simpson did not have an airtight alibi. Although there is not enough here to justify a legal arrest, William Dear managed to pad this "evidence" into a book-length manuscript someone was willing to publish. When the book first came out, it attracted a little media attention then quickly fell out of the news. But uncritical readers willing to believe revisionist accounts of famous cases based on nothing but speculation and faux evidence, have embraced Dear's book. I am not one of them.

     On November 21, 2012, the Investigation Discovery Channel aired a documentary called "My Brother the Serial Killer," a story about a convicted serial killer from Kentucky named Glen Edward Rogers. Narrated by his older brother Clay Rogers, the documentary is a well-told, visually dramatic, and interesting biography of a serial killer. The 60-year-old murderer, who claims to have killed 70 women, has been on Florida's death row for fifteen years. Rogers has exhausted his appeals and could be executed within the year. To me, the documentary revealed how easy it is for serial killers to get away with their murders.

     The documentary's main hook, however, is its connection to the O.J. Simpson case. According to a criminal profiler and true crime writer named Anthony Meloli, Glen Rogers revealed to him that O.J. Simpson had hired him to break into Nicole's condo. Rogers, who claims that he was working at the dwelling as a painter, was supposed to steal a set of $20,000 diamond earrings Simpson had given to his ex-wife. According to Rogers, O.J. told him that "You may have to kill her." Rogers also informed the profiler that after murdering Nicole Simpson, he took an angel pin off her body and mailed it to his mother. The killer's mom supposedly wore this piece of jewelry at one of her son's murder trials.

     As the story goes, O.J., shortly after the murders, walked up the bloody sidewalk to check on Roger's work. This doesn't make sense. One would think that Simpson would take pains to distance himself from the burglary and possible murder.  In so doing, he left his shoe impressions at the crime scene. (Again, how convenient.)

     Ronald Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, in speaking to a reporter after having watched "My Brother the Serial Killer," said, "I am appalled at the level of irresponsibility demonstrated by the network and the producers of the so-called documentary." A spokesperson for the LAPD said, "We have no reason to believe that Mr. Rogers was involved [in the case]. Nevertheless, in the interest of being thorough in the case, our robbery/homicide detectives will investigate [Roger's] claims." If I were in charge of the re-investigation, I would bring in an objective, highly qualified polygraph examiner and hook Rogers up to the instrument before they give him the needle. If he passes the test, the case could move forward. If he fails the lie detector, chalk up his story to a guy who just wants some attention, and a criminal profiler looking for his next book. Except for the O.J. Simpson angle, "My Brother the Serial Killer" is an outstanding true crime documentary.    

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The David H. Petraeus Scandal: Bring in the Spin Doctors, Celebrity Lawyers, and Media Hired-Guns

     In today's America, fame is power, and unless you're someone like Jerry Sandusky, it generally doesn't matter if you acquired it by hitting home runs, with musical talent, or having your sex-tape go public. Fame can also be fleeting, and can turn into a curse. According to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the 1920s aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, "Fame is a kind of death because it arrests life around the person in the public eye. If one is recognized everywhere, one begins to feel like Medusa. People stop their normal life and actions and freeze into staring mannequins."

     Anne Lindbergh, a private person who did not want to be famous (her father Dwight Morrow was a wealthy and well-known banker) lived before the age of television and the dawn of America's celebrity culture. While fame made Charles Lindbergh rich and powerful, it led to the kidnap and murder of his first child. Today, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean is remembered by many as a Nazi sympathizer who cheated on his wife. (The latter is true.) Charles Lindbergh's fame did not fade, but it did become a nightmare for him and his wife. He died in 1974 harboring an intense hatred of the media.

     In Charles and Anne Lindbergh's day, there weren't many famous people. Today, there are thousands of celebrities. There are so-called A-list stars down to D-list personalities. Many of these people pop onto the public stage, make a big splash, then just as suddenly, pass into obscurity. For people who crave public attention, the loss of fame is their own form of death.  Film actors, successful athletes, and TV personalities, in an effort to gain some control over their reputations and images, hire public relations professionals who help them create favorable personas and manipulate the media. Knowing a celebrity through the media is like knowing a cartoon character. Charles Lindbergh might have benefited by hiding behind a fictitious persona created by a public relations expert. But in those days, media consultants and news manipulators didn't exist for people who weren't movie stars.  

     Today, even for people who want to become famous, overnight fame brought on by public scandal is not the best way to achieve celebrityhood. For these folks, the question becomes, how can I turn bad publicity into an asset? In other words, how can I create a phony but positive persona, and most important of all, hold onto my fame? This is where the professional scandal lawyers, spin masters, and public relations specialists enter the picture to manage the publicity fallout.

     The current sex/political/national security scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, his former mistress Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley, the Tampa area social-climber who received Broadwell's threatening emails and contacted the FBI, illustrates how the second phase of a national political scandal unfolds. The Petraeus scandal is now being managed, from the inside, by four well-known media management hired-guns who have been brought in for damage control, image rehabilitation, and fame exploitation that could include lucrative book deals, movie rights, and television gigs. The fact professional media spin doctors, legal advisors, and news manipulators exist reflects the celebrity-obsessed nature of our popular culture. Simply being represented by one of these high-profile media experts confers celebrity status on the scandalized client.

     David Petraeus, the scandal's central figure, is being represented by Robert B. Barnett, a Washington, D.C. super-lawyer who has represented our last three presidents. Barnett is also known for negotiating big money book deals for his clients. The fact Petraeus' career came to a premature end as a result of a sex scandal will accrue to his monetary benefit when it comes time to negotiate the advance for his future memoir. The average reader is much more interested in illicit sex that the war in Afghanistan.

     Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' ego-stroking, opportunistic mistress, is being handled by Dee Dee Myers, the former Clinton White House press secretary. Since her time with Bill Clinton (a public relations handful) Myers has kept up her public profile as a cable TV talking-head. (These people prefer to be called television pundits.) Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer and former lover, has made it known to  her friends and acquaintances that important people have been encouraging her to run for the U.S. Senate. This notion sounds absurd until you realize that it doesn't take much to do the job of a senator. Really. You accept special interest money and cast votes, usually without any idea of what you're voting for. We may have, one day, if Dee Dee Myers has anything to do with it, a Senator Broadwell.

     Jill Kelley, the bankrupt Florida party hostess whose complaint to the FBI ignited the Petraeus scandal, is being represented by Abbe D. Lowell, the top Washington, D.C. lawyer who got John Edwards, the disgraced ex-senator and presidential candidate, off the hook. (Edwards was accused of using campaign money to keep his mistress and the mother of his "love child" in comfort and hiding while he ran for president.) Edwards is not in the White House, but thanks to attorney Lowell, he's not in prison. Who knows, we may see Mr. Edwards back on the campaign trail.

     Even Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley's twin sister who had prevailed upon Mr. Petraeus and General John R. Allen to write letters on her behalf in a messy child custody case, has armed herself with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. The famous "wronged-woman" attorney has already held a news conference at Washington's Ritz-Carlton Hotel aimed at correcting "misconceptions" about her client.

     Media hired-gun Dee Dee Myers, in speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, laid out her Paula Broadwell mission statement as follows: " To help Paula and her legal team (wow, she now has a legal team), navigate a crowded media environment, manage incoming requests, and ensure that her story is accurately told." (These people have "stories," us ordinary folks merely have daily routines.)  Dee Dee went on to say, "It's really impossible for anyone in Paula's situation to manage the daily avalanche of interview requests, let alone rebut rumors, correct supposed misconceptions and put the client's story in a sympathetic light." Who better to make a person like Paula Broadwell "sympathetic" than Dee Dee Myers, one of Bill Clinton's former bimbo-erruption spin doctors. All of this is enough to make you sick.

UPDATE

     According to reports, David Petraeus has been offered teaching positions at four universities. He is also weighing book offers from several publishers, and is contemplating various positions as a television commentator. This is a former general who has no intention of fading away. This guy is on a mission to become even more famous. Big surprise. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

General Jeffrey Sinclair: Above the Law?

     In 1985, after graduating from West Virginia University, Jeffrey Allen Sinclair began his career in the U.S. Army as an officer and a paratrooper. He served at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overseas, Sinclair was stationed in Germany and in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. As he rose in rank, Sinclair served two tours in Iraq and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. This high-profile, highly decorated officer rose to the rank of Brigadier General. In July 2010, General Sinclair became the Deputy Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

     In May 2012, the 50-year-old One-Star General was removed from his command in southern Afghanistan and sent home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was named Special Assistant to Lieutenant General Daniel Allyn, the Commanding General of the 18th Airborne Corps. General Sinclair's transfer from a position of leadership in Afghanistan to a desk job in the states raised eyebrows and inquiries from the media. The Army, however, refused comment on the reason behind the general's sudden removal from command.

     The reason behind the Army's action against General Sinclair became public on September 26, 2012 with the announcement that criminal charges had been filed against the general, and that an Article 32 hearing had been scheduled to determine if Army prosecutors had enough evidence to move the case forward to a full court-marital trial before a military judge and jury. (An Article 32 hearing is the military version of the civilian grand jury.)

     The Army, at this point in the case, refused to provide detailed information regarding the nature of the charges against the general except to reveal that the most serious charges were sexual offenses. Although court-martial cases against high-ranking officers are extremely rare, the media didn't pay much attention to this story.

     General Sinclair's Article 32 hearing, held at Fort Bragg, the Fayetteville, North Carolina home to the 82nd Airborne Division, got underway on Monday, November 5, 2012 before hearing officer Major General Perry L. Wiggins. For the first time, the specific allegations against the general became a matter of public record. The most serious accusations involved forcible sodomy committed on five women--four military subordinates and one civilian--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Fort Hood, and Fort Bragg between 2007 and 2012.

     Lesser charges against General Sinclair included possession of pornography; use of alcohol while deployed; engaging in inappropriate relationships; misuse of government travel charge cards; and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to court documents, the General is also accused of trying to silence a victim by threatening her career and life, and the lives of her relatives.

     Major General James Higgins, the defendant's commanding officer, testified that he launched an investigation after a female captain accused General Sinclair of forcing her to have sex with him over a period of three years. According to accounts of this testimony as reported in the Fayetteville Observer, the general's sexual encounters with several women occurred "in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel, and on a plane where he allegedly groped a woman." (One of these encounters involved an accusation of rape.) When subordinates confronted the general with his out-of-control behavior with women, he reportedly said, "I'm a general, I'll do whatever the [expletive] I want."

     On Tuesday, November 6, the second day of the Article 32 hearing, the female Army captain took the stand and testified that the defendant had initiated their three-year sexual affair in 2008 while they were stationed at a forward operations base in Iraq. In Afghanistan, he threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their relationship. On two occasions, the Brigadier General, following a conversation in which the captain tried to end the relationship, exposed himself, then forced her to perform oral sex. In Afghanistan, Sinclair was so controlling, he told the captain how much water she could drink as well as where and when she could use the bathroom.

     On several occasions, during the captain's testimony, she broke down in tears. Seated at the defendant's table, the general rolled his eyes, sighed audibly, and glared at his former aide. The witness avoided eye contact with the general. "I was extremely intimidated by him," she said. "Everyone in the brigade spoke about him like he was a god." The witness said she had taken his threats seriously because of his Ranger training and his reputation of fearlessness in battle. The captain reported the general after finding messages from another woman in his email account.

     On cross-examination, the general's attorney tried to portray this witness as a jilted lover seeking revenge. The defense attorney also pointed out that his client had passed a polygraph test in which he denied forcing the captain into oral sex. The cross-examining lawyer also introduced explicit test messages the captain had sent to the general in which she referred to him as "Mr. Sexy Pants." The witness had also expressed her love and admiration for General Sinclair, comparing him, in a birthday card inscription, to General Washington, a man he admired. In response to the cross-examiner's questions, the captain, at one point said, "In a (expletive)-up way, I still love him. I don't want him to be mad at me."

     The next day, prosecutors put a second woman on the stand who testified that she first met the general when she was a staff sergeant serving in Afghanistan. They did not have a sexual relationship, but over the years stayed in touch. In 2011, when the witness was married and a captain, the general asked her to send him nude photographs of herself. (They hadn't seen each other in years.) After several of these requests, the captain downloaded photographs from a porn site, cropped the head of a model onto a woman posing nude, and sent the photographs to Sinclair. The general didn't realize the images where not of the captain. For her participation in this bizarre exercise, the Army had issued this officer a letter of reprimand.  

     Another female officer took the stand and testified that in 2010 she sent the general photographs of her breasts. At the time they were both stationed at Fort Bragg. The major, a company commander under Sinclair, has been disciplined in this matter for so-called "indecent acts."

     On November 8, in her closing argument, defense attorney Major Elizabeth Ramsey, painted the general's primary accuser as a scorned lover who was trying to ruin the life of an outstanding warrior and patriot. "Her lies are her fury, and these charges are Jeff Sinclair's hell," she said.

     The prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel William Helixon, in his closing presentation, drew a different picture of the defendant by stating that, "General Sinclair has engaged in a deliberate, degrading course of conduct where he targets his subordinates to satisfy his abhorrent desires."

     Under the military system of justice, there are no minimum sentencing guidelines. This means that even if the case goes to trial and the general is convicted of all charges, he could avoid punishment. The judge could demote him, allow him to retire, dismiss him from the Army, or send him to prison for life. Experts on military justice who are following this case do not think the general, if convicted, will be sent to prison.

     On November 15, 2012, about a week after the close of the four-day Article 32 hearing (the hearing officer has not yet made his ruling regarding whether the case will proceed to court-martial), General Sinclair's wife Rebecca, in an 800-word opinion column for the Washington Post, blamed her husband's infidelity on "the stress of war." Mrs. Sinclair said she is certain the sex offense charges against the general will be dropped. So, if we are to take the general's wife seriously, he wasn't a horny control freak abusing his power. He was merely a man under stress.

     The Sinclair case didn't generate much media interest until the sex-scandals regarding Generals David H. Petraeus and John R. Allen became news. Even though General Sinclair has been charged with crimes that could put him away for life, the scandals involving David Petraeus, Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley have dominated the news. That's because Petraeus was Director of the CIA and a key player in the Benghazi massacre.

     

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No Protection from Scottye Miller, the Stalker Who Murdered Tricia Patricelli

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, victims of stalking and assault do not get relief even when their offenders are in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must be frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. One of the knives was 8 inches long. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first degree murder. The homicidal stalker is back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, buy themselves a gun and do the job themselves, or hire a contract killer. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sandy Ford: The Toledo Grandmother and the Murder-Suicide Pact That Killed Five

     In 2009, Chris and Mandy Hayes lived with their four children, ages seven, six, three, and two, in Sylvania Township, Ohio, a community of 20,000 ten miles northwest of Toledo not far from the Michigan state line. Because their 6-year-old son had "behavioral problems" and required extra attention, Mandy Hayes' parents, Sandy and Randy Ford, agreed to temporarily care for and house their other three children. The grandparents resided in west Toledo.

     In the fall of 2012, Chris and Mandy Hayes decided it was time to reunite the family under the same roof. Their troubled son had received a lot of help and was now on medication. This decision, however, did not sit well with Sandy Ford, the 56-year-old grandmother who did not want her three grandchildren leaving her home. Mother and daughter quarreled repeatedly over whether it was safe to return 10-year-old Paige, 6-year-old Logan, and 5-year-old Madalyn to their parents' home in Sylvania Township.

     On November 6, 2012, at 5:50 in the evening, officers with the Toledo Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance call at the Ford residence. Mandy Hayes and her mother had gotten into a fight over the children that led to the grandmother being taken to the hospital for injuries to her shoulder and eye. According to the police report, Sandy Ford told officers that the "family crisis is continuing while the children are at the mother's home in Sylvania Township."

     The Hayes children were scheduled to move back into their parents' home on November 7, but when it was time for the switch, the police were summoned when another fight broke out between the children's mother and grandmother. The next day, under police escort, the three children were transferred back to the family home in Sylvania Township. This did not, however, end the domestic feud.

     On November 8, the day she lost physical custody of her three grandchildren, Sandy Ford and her 32-year-old live-in son Andy, began preparing for mass murder and suicide. Early on Monday morning, November 12, 2012, Sandy and her adult son boarded up the doors and windows to the Ford's unattached, double garage. Later that morning, at twenty after eight, Mandy Hayes delivered her three children to Whiteford Elementary. Sandy Ford, who had been waiting for them in the school lobby, intercepted the children and escorted them out of the building and into her car. Sandy transported her grandchildren from Sylvlania Township to her home in west Toledo.

     The grandmother drove her blue Honda Civic into the garage next to the family pickup. She (or Andy) unplugged the overhead garage door operating system, and threw the manual locking latch. The children, carrying snacks and coloring books, and accompanied by two dogs and a cat, climbed into the back seat of the car. Sandy, or her son, ran a hose from the pickup truck's exhaust into the Honda via a back seat window. After someone started the pickup, Andy and his mother joined the children and the pets in the back seat of the Honda.

     That morning, at ten o'clock, officials from the Whiteford Elementary School in Sylvania Township called Mandy Hayes to report that her children were not in class. At the mother's request, a police officer drove to the Ford residence in west Toledo. He knocked on the door, and when no one answered, he left the scene. (The officer must not have heard the truck running in the unattached garage.) The police returned to the Ford home several times that morning and early afternoon, but did not enter the dwelling.

     Randy Ford, the 60-year-old grandfather, spoke to a police officer stationed outside the house when he arrived home from work at 2:30 that afternoon. Mr. Ford entered the dwelling, and inside found "suspicious" notes from his wife and the grandchildren that suggested murder-suicide.

     At 3:30 that afternoon, a member of the fire department broke into the garage with a sledgehammer. Responder discovered Sandy Ford, Andy Ford, and the three Hayes children. They had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The pets were dead as well.

     On November 15, Mandy Hayes told a local television correspondent that "I don't know what happened. They [her mother and brother] weren't in their right minds. That's all I can say. Something snapped...I just can't explain it, really." To the same TV reporter, the children's father said, "I think she [Sandy Ford] really did not want those kids to even come home, is what the deal was there. She felt she was their mother." 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Laquanta Chapman and the Murder and Chainsaw Dismemberment of Aaron Turner

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juvenile delinquents. He wore an electronic ankle monitor. Before he reached his parents' house, Turner encountered 28-year-old Laquanta Chapman and two other men. Chapman, who lived across the street from Turner, lured the boy into his house. (It is not clear from the reporting on this case why Chapman did this.)

     Chapman, his friend Michael Purnell, his cousin Bryan Boyd who was visiting from Newark, New Jersey, and Aaron Turner were together in Chapman's basement. Chapman told his 19-year-old cousin to go upstairs and turn the music on as loud as possible. After he did this, Boyd returned to the basement where Chapman and Purnell were screaming at the terrified teen. (Turner either owed Chapman drug money, or had stolen marijuana from him.) The two men pointed handguns at Turner and ordered him to strip off his clothing. Once he was nude, Purnell, then Chapman, shot him. Turner died on the spot.

     When Aaron Turner didn't come home that day, a member of his family called the Coatesville Police Department and reported him missing.

     Five days after the cold-blooded murder, with Aaron Turner still missing, and his decomposing body still lying in Chapman's basement, Chapman decided it was time to dispose of the corpse that was starting to give off a telltale odor. With his cousin's help, Chapman laid Turner's body on a makeshift table. Bryan Boyd and Laquanta Chapman used a pair of chainsaws to cut the body into pieces small enough to fit into trash bags. Chapman, in an effort to destroy DNA evidence left in the chainsaws, used the tools to chop up his pet pit bull. (Chapman, a man with a history of animal abuse, killed his dog for nothing because the ploy didn't work. Fortunately for the police, criminals are not the brightest people around.) Chapman placed several trash bags containing Turner's body parts on the street for refuge pickup.

     More than a year passed, and the police still hadn't recovered Aaron Turner's body. (The teen's dismembered remains had been hauled by trash pickup workers to a local landfill. It has not been recovered. Criminals, while fairly stupid, can get lucky.) In the meantime, Laquanta Chapman had become a suspect in Turner's disappearance and presumed murder. On November 15, 2009,  Coatesville police raided Chapman's house and conducted a search. Officers recovered the two chainsaws which contained DNA evidence that linked Chapman to Turner's murder and dismemberment, and gave the prosecutor circumstantial evidence of Turner's death. (It's hard to believe these killers didn't dispose of the chainsaws.)

     Laquanta Chapman and Bryan Boyd were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. The Chester County prosecutor also charged Chapman with a cruelty to animals offense. Under Pennsylvania law, both defendants had qualified themselves for the death penalty.

     On November 20, 2011, Bryan Boyd, the cousin from Newark, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. While he would avoid the death sentence, Boyd could be sentenced up to 97 years in prison. Boyd, as part of his plea deal, agreed to testify against his older cousin.

     Laquanta Chapman went on trial on October 24, 2012 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. On November 9, following the testimony of his cousin, the jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of first degree-murder. He was also convicted of the lesser offenses. The jurors deliberated less than three hours before delivering their verdict.

     A week after the guilty verdict, the judge, following a sentencing hearing, sentenced Laquanta Chapman to death.  

       

Saturday, November 17, 2012

David Petraeus and the Disgraced Celebrity Sociopath Syndrome

       In a celebrity-obsessed nation under the leadership of sociopaths who play by their own rules, sex scandals are predictable and common. This is particularly true in a country under constant government surveillance. The current political/sex scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus; Marine General John R. Allen; and their power and influence groupies, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, should not surprise anyone.

     Sociopaths exist in all walks of life. They populate prisons, halls of government, television studios, movie sets, police departments, corporations, sports arenas, churches, and military bases. When these highly intelligent, super-ambitious, amoral narcissists find themselves in positions of power and authority, they often behave as though the rules of society and the laws of the land do not apply to them. They stupidly believe they can get away with reckless, outlandish, and often puerile behavior that eventually brings them down.

     People who aren't sociopaths have a difficult time understanding why a former top general and Director of the CIA would risk his marriage, career, reputation, and the nation's national security on a 40-year-old ego-stroking opportunist like Paula Broadwell. The same question has been asked about President Bill Clinton. Why did the leader of the free world risk his marriage, career, and the dignity of his office by engaging in White House sex with an intern? How could Marine General John R. Allen allow himself to get tied-up with an aspiring influence peddler and social climber known for lavish parties and crushing personal debt? What could possibly explain why these high-level government officials would let themselves get involved with a pair of reality television types? These men are not alcoholics, on drugs, or insane. And they surely aren't stupid.

     The only explanation for this kind of reckless behavior that makes any sense is sociopathy. The generals did these things because sociopaths feel entitled, and immune from scrutiny and criticism. These powerful men knew better, but sociopathy is a personality disorder that overrides the ability to restrain oneself.

     Someone once said that old generals don't die, they just fade away. While that may be true for some, for hard-core sociopaths like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, fading away is not an option. Look at Larry King. The poor guy looks like he has a week to live, but refuses to slip into obscurity. He can't. They will have to carry the former talk show host off the stage. A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. They are hooked for life.

     Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are a sad but interesting story. They almost always find a way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced sociopath often resurfaces as the promotor of a ghost-written memoir bearing his name. Take ex-congressman Anthony Wiener. It's just a matter of time before we will see this disgraced politician on television talking about his memoir, My Package (or something like that.) Sociopaths who became well-known because they possess some kind of expertise, often end up as cable television commentators. Regular people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, they are bullet-proof.

     The disgraced, celebrity sociopath can't live without attention, and because he has a personality disorder rather than a curable illness, change is out of the question. It's my guess that former general and ex-CIA director David Petraeus will not fade away. As for Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, expect to see these sociopaths on a reality television series featuring married women who become mistresses and/or confidants of powerful men.

     

Ralph Godbee: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Chief of Police

     I guess it's not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline has a troubled and shrinking police department and a disgraced chief. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit moved out of the city to the suburbs. Today, there are 700,000 people living in a city that in the 1950s had a population of 2 million.

     So far in 2012, a whopping 283 victims have been murdered in Detroit, a ten percent increase over the same period last year. There are cities the size of Detroit that have under 20 murders a year. Over the past twelve months, Detroit's murderers have been dumping their victims' corpses around several decaying inner city neighborhoods. Because the police don't patrol these districts, the bodies lay around for days, even weeks, rotting and stinking up the city. It's hard to believe there is a place like this in America. (If you want a miniature version of Detroit, drive over to Youngstown, Ohio, another troubled city. Camden, New Jersey, a town of 77,000 with 59 homicides so far this year, is another decaying, crime-ridden place.)

     Because of massive budget cuts, the Detroit Police Department has gotten smaller while the crime problem has gotten bigger. Police response time, even to major crime scenes, has significantly slowed. Recently, a man who had just committed a murder called the Detroit Police Department and asked to be picked-up. When no one showed, the killer had to walk to a precinct station to turn himself in. In Detroit, it's actually hard to get arrested.

     When Ralph Godbee jointed the Detroit Police Department in 1986, the city, while a shell of its former self, had not entered its final stage of decline and decomposition. The 19-year-old high school graduate, after just a few years on patrol, was assigned to the elite Executive Protection Unit. (That's how it works in a lot of police departments, you have to have someone upstairs who likes you.) In 1995, when Godbee was just 26, the chief named him commander of the unit.

     Seven years after taking over the Executive Protection Unit, Chief Jerry Oliver appointed Godbee commander of the 1st Precinct. In 2005, Godbee made Assistant Chief of Police, but three years later, was demoted. Godbee retired, and started a private security consulting agency. Just a year into Godbee's retirement, Chief Warren Evans brought him back into law enforcement by making him the Assistant Chief of Police.

     In July 2010, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing promoted Ralph Godbee to interim chief of police after Chief Warren Evans had to step down as a result of a sexual affair he had with a subordinate police officer. The following month, Godbee, after having taken up with the same female officer, Lieutenant Monique Patterson, filed for divorce. Notwithstanding Godbee's relationship with officer Patterson, Mayor Bing promoted him to the permanent position of chief of police.

     The beginning of the end of Chief Godbee's law enforcement career came on October 2, 2012 when Mayor Dave Bing suspended him for thirty days. The assistant chief, Chester Logan, took over his duties. Like his predecessor, Warren Evans, Godbee's problem involved having an affair with a subordinate departmental employee. In Godbee's case, the woman was an internal affairs officer named Angelica Robinson.

     Angelica Robinson's attorney said this to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press: "She was trying to cut it off (I hope he didn't mean this literally) and he [Godbee] didn't like that. And apparently she was very depressed, and the concern was whether or not she was going to take her own life, and Godbee got wind of that. I guess he tried to intervene." Other Detroit media outlets reported that Angelic Robinson became upset after discovering that Godbee may have been attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego with another woman.

     Ralph Godbee, on October 4, 2012, announced his intention to step down as Detroit's chief of police. Retired Detroit police officer David Malhalab, a longtime Godbee critic, in speaking to a reporter with The Detroit News, said: "Godbee was a stink bomb waiting to go off. I've said from day one that because of his past actions, he shouldn't have been the face of the DPD. But [Mayor Bing] went ahead and appointed him anyway. Now he's reaping the consequences of his bad choices."

     In police work, the higher up the ranks you go, the less power you have. The cop on the street, armed with the discretionary power of arrest, exercises the real muscle. Moreover, the street officer is protected by civil service, and the police union. A street cop can abuse his authority and behave in a manner unbecoming a police officer and still keep his job. The chief, on the other hand, is wedged between the rank-and-file and the major, and is vulnerable to politics and bad publicity. Chief Godbee knew this, but risked his career and good name anyway. He may or may not have turned out to be a effective police administrator, but we will never know because of his reckless choices.

     Ralph Godbee's career, like the sad city of Detroit, started in glory, and ended in ignominy. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ex-Con Lawrence Jones: Murder-Suicide at a Fresno Chicken Plant

     During the past thirty years, hundreds of government and private sector employees have gone ballistic and murdered two or more of their fellow workers, then have killed themselves. While workplace shooting sprees have become relatively common, they still produce local headlines, and for a few days, national television coverage.

     News accounts of these violent outbursts almost always feature the question of why. What motivated the employee to commit mass murder, then take his own life? (About 85 percent of these killers are male.) Was the killer mainly motivated by the intent to murder, or to commit suicide? If suicide, why the murders? If murder, why the suicide?

     Many workplace killers are disgruntled, revenge-seeking employees with emotional problems and histories of mental illness and violence. The increasing frequency of these blood baths might reflect the deteriorating mental health of a nation devolving into a culture of violence, materialism, and entitlement.

     Employers of these homicidal workers are often accused, after the fact, of lax job applicant screening procedures. This is unfair because under federal law, employers are not allowed to ask job seekers all kinds of pertinent questions, including if they have histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness. Whether or not a job applicant has ever been arrested is, by law, none of the employer's business. All of this information, of course, is relevant to the question of the applicant's fitness and qualifications for employment.

     Employers in workplace shooting cases are usually sued for having failed to recognize and react to signs of future workplace violence. But to be fair, there is no sure-fire way to identify employees who will "go postal." Quite often, employees who have been fired for violent and threatening workplace behavior return to the job weeks, months, and even years later with murderous and suicidal intentions. There is no way to predict or prevent this type of behavior. Police officers patrol the streets, and are now present in many public schools, but they are not in our homes and places of employment where the real danger lies.

     Lawrence Jones of Fresno, California is a good example of someone an employer shouldn't hire. The 42-year-old, since his early 20s, had been in and out of prison for armed robbery, assault, auto theft, and gun-related crimes. He had spent most of  his adult life behind bars. In September 2011, three months after his last parole, Jones began working at Apple Valley Farms, a chicken processing plant in Fresno. He was hired because there aren't many people willing to work in places like this. For fourteen months, Jones did his job, then something happened to set him off.

     At eight-thirty on the morning of November 6, 2012, four hours into his shift, Jones walked up to 32-year-old Salvador Diaz who was working in the grinding room. Because of the sound of the machinery, and the fact employees wore noise-protection gear, no one heard Jones shoot Mr. Diaz in the back of the head with his 4-shot .357 Derringer pistol.

     After murdering Mr. Diaz execution-style, Jones entered the deboning room of the plant and executed Manual Verdin, 34. Jones then wounded 28-year-old Arnuflo Conrriguez, and shot Fatima Lopez in the back as she fled the scene. Jones pressed the muzzle of his Derringer to the back of Estevan Catono's head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately for the 21-year-old intended victim, the gun was out of rounds.

     After killing two of his fellow employees, and wounding two others, Jones walked out of the plant, re-loaded the handgun, and fatally shot himself in the head.

     At this point in the case, investigators do not have a motive for the killings, nor do they know if these victims had been targeted. In all probability, these workers were simply unlucky by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is doubtful that their violent deaths will ever be fully explained.

     Fatima Lopez was treated at a local hospital and released. Arnuflo Conrriguez remains in serious condition at Fresno's Community Regional Medical Center.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Jeff Hall: A Dead Neo-Nazi and His Homicidal Kid

     Jeff Hall, the 32-year-old head of a ragtag southern California chapter of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a Neo-Nazi organization comprised of malcontents and fools, lived in Riverside, a suburban community east of Los Angeles. Hall resided with his second wife and five children from his first and second marriages. The unemployed plumber's helper associated with a band of losers like himself who regularly gathered at his two-story house to get drunk and stagger around in Nazi uniforms amid swastika banners and other indicia of skin-headed idiocy. To make sure that even the most casual observer could immediately recognize him as a disgruntled failure, Jeff Hall exhibited, on the back of his shaved had, a large tattoo featuring a cross and a skull.

     Instead of taking 10-year-old Joseph, Hall's oldest child and only boy, to baseball games and amusement parks, the father dragged his son to Neo-Nazi rallies and and other fascist gatherings. Hall once took Joseph to the Mexican border where he taught the kid how so spot illegal aliens. (I presume in anticipation of all-out war with the invaders from the south.) Hall occasionally patrolled the border wearing night-vision goggles and carrying an assault rifle.

     To compound his role as a lousy father, Jeff Hall physically and verbally abused his son. The child's teachers couldn't control him. As a result, the boy had been expelled from nine schools in four years.  His first expulsion came when he was only five. He had a habit of stabbing teachers and students with a pencil. Since no school wanted the boy, he had to be home-schooled by his Neo-Nazis parents. (I'd like to see those lesson plans.) Child welfare workers had visited the Hall residence 23 times between 2003 and 2010, but didn't see fit to remove the boy and his younger sisters from this environment. (Assuming these social workers knew who the man was, you would think the massive portrait of Adolph Hitler over the mantle would at least suggest a problem. Why were the child protection people at the house in the first place?)

     Jeff Hall, following the contentious divorce from Joseph's mother, married Krista McCary. (The fact he ended up with custody of some of the children makes you wonder about the first wife.) The second marriage was on the rocks because Jeff had a girlfriend and had informed Krista that he wanted a divorce. (The fact this guy found at least three women who wanted to be with him is more than a little disturbing. I guess it's true that there is a woman--or women--for everyone. I mean, what could be more romantic that an unemployed Neo-Nazi with a massive tattoo on the back of his bald head?)

     Just past midnight on Sunday, May 1, 2011, Jeff Hall, after a night of drinking with his girlfriend, returned home to find that Krista had locked him out of the house. Hall found an open window, climbed into the dwelling, and  fell asleep on the sofa.

     At four in the morning, when young Joseph realized that his father was conked-out on the couch, he sprang into action. The boy retrieved a .357-caliber revolver of his father's closet, crept down the stairs, and from a distance of a foot, shot his father behind his left ear. Instead of being murdered by a black man, a Jew, or an illegal alien, Jeff Hall had been dispatched by his 10-year-old son. Krista McCary called 911.

     Nine days following the fatal shooting of the Neo-Nazi, Riverside County prosecutor Michael Soccio charged Joseph Hall with criminal homicide. The boy would be tried as a juvenile, and if convicted, could be held in state custody until he turned 23.

     The youngster's murder trial got underway on October 30, 2012. In his opening statement, prosecutor Soccio said that the boy had killed his father to stop the abuse. Matthew Hardy, Joseph's defense attorney who had pleaded his client not guilty by reason of insanity, in speaking to the jurors, said, "If you were going to create a monster, if you were going to create a killer, what would you do? You'd put him in a house where there's domestic violence, child abuse, and racism." The defense attorney also floated the theory that his client's stepmother, Krista McCary, had manipulated the boy into killing his father because Mr. Hall was going to throw her out of the house.

     Riverside police officer Michael Foster, one of the first responders to the scene that night, testified that the boy told them what he had done to his father. Foster said, "He [the defendant] was sad about it, he wished he hadn't done it. He asked me about things like, 'do people get more than one life?' things like that. He wanted to know if [his father] was dead or if he just had injuries."

     Officer Robert Nonreal testified that one of the defendant's younger sisters had asked the boy why he hadn't shot his father in the stomach as planned.

     Krista McCary, the defendant's stepmother since the boy was two, took the stand and testified that on the day before the murder, her husband had been at the house drinking with his Neo-Nazi buddies. After driving his guests home, Hall sent her several profanity-laced text messages telling her that he wanted a divorce. Mr. Hall also ordered his wife out of the house. (The prosecutor presented this line of testimony to establish one of the defendant's motives for the murder--to keep the family together.) McCary, who had initially informed the police that she had murdered Hall, explained on the stand that she had done this to protect her stepson.

     On the second day of testimony, the prosecution played the video of Joseph Hall's rambling confession as he sat fidgeting in a chair wearing ankle chains. He explained to his interrogators that after watching a TV episode of "Criminal Minds" featuring a boy who had killed his abusive father and had not arrested, he didn't think he would be punished for shooting his father. One of Joseph's younger sisters followed him to the stand with testimony that the defendant had planned four days to murder his dad.

     On Monday, November 5, the prosecution planed to put a San Bernardino psychologist on the stand to testify that the defendant, at the time he shot his father to death, was legally sane. The judge, because this witness had testified at a preliminary hearing that the boy was competent to stand trial, barred his appearance.

     After the prosecution rested its case, the defense put a psychologist on the stand who testified that the boy had been bashed in the head as an infant. He had also been beaten with a belt, sexually abused, and forced to eat off the floor. At this point in the trial, the prosecution asked for and was granted a postponement until January 7, 2013. The state needed time to find another psychologist to evaluate the boy, and testify that he was sane when he killed his father.

    On January 14, 2013, Riverside County Superior Judge Jean Leonard found the defendant legally responsible for his father's death. The judge, however, opted for the lesser charge of second degree murder because she did not believe the killing had been premeditated. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Betty Rice's Disputed Will and Suspicious Death: Dueling Experts and a Directed Verdict

     Betty Rice was 79 when she died on November 9, 2009 in her Sevierville, Tennessee mobile home. Elizabeth A. Ogle, Rice's 48-year-old niece by marriage, had moved from Chatsworth, Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountain region to care for her sick aunt. Ogle, who moved into the double-wide, had been taught by a hospice nurse how to administer the proper dosages of morphine to the dying woman.  Rice had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread throughout her body.

     Because of her age and illness, no one questioned the Sevier County coroner's ruling that Betty Rice had died a natural death from cardiac and respiratory arrest. This determination had been made by hospital physicians without an autopsy. A few days after her passing, the body was embalmed and buried.

     Two months after Betty Rice's death, some of her relatives informed the Sevier County Sheriff's Office of their suspicion that she had been murdered by Elizabeth Ogle. Not long before she died, Betty had added the live-in caregiver to her will. The suspicious relatives believed that Ogle had given Rice an overdose of morphine in order to inherit a portion of her estate which included the mobile home and some certificates of deposit.

     In January 2010, Sevier County Sheriff Ron Seals obtained a court order that allowed the exhumation of Betty Rice's remains for autopsy. Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Chief Medical Examiner for Knox County, and professor of pathology at the University of Tennessee, performed the autopsy. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, a native of Croatia, reported that Betty Rice's body, at the time of her death, contained a "lethal amount of morphine."

     Eight months after the autopsy, Sevier County prosecutor Jeremy Ball charged Elizabeth Ogle with first degree murder. The entirely circumstantial case was based on the changed will, a signature that looked forged, Ogle's role as the only person in charge of Rice's morphine intake, and the excess amount of the narcotic in the dead woman's system. Elizabeth Ogle, held under $1 million bond, would await her trial in the Sevier County Jail.

     On October 30, 2012, in his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Ball said that Betty Rice had died from "a liver full of morphine" shortly after the defendant had forged the old woman's signature on the new version of her last will and testament. To establish the forgery, the prosecutor put a FBI handwriting expert on the stand. According to the forensic document examiner, the signature in question was substantially different than signatures on greeting cards known to be Rice's. But on cross-examination by defense attorney Charles Poole, the document witness acknowledged that he couldn't come out and declare that the questioned signature was a forgery.

     The prosecution's key witness, medical examiner Mileusnic-Polchan, took the stand and testified that in her expert opinion, Betty Rice had died of a morphine overdose. Conceding on cross-examination that cancer had destroyed one of Rice's lungs, the medical examiner testified that the old woman had not died a natural death. In the forensic pathologist's opinion, Betty Rice had died of morphine poisoning, and by implication, criminal homicide.

     Defense attorney Poole, by asking Dr. Mileusnic-Polchaln how the presence of morphine can be ascertained from remains that had been embalmed, failed to attenuate the certainty of her conclusion.

     On November 3, after the prosecution rested its case, the defense put on the first of its three expert witnesses. Steven Karch, a cardiac toxicologist from San Francisco, testified that there is no scientific basis for determining, in the human liver, what is an abnormal level of morphine. Although this witness was not a forensic pathologist, he testified that Betty Rice's cause of death was probably heart failure.

     Dr. Gregory Davis, a medical examiner with the state of Kentucky, testified that he "respectfully but vehemently disagreed" with Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan's cause of death determination. After reviewing her autopsy report, Dr. Gregory came to the conclusion that Betty Rice had died due to complications from her cancer. The forensic pathologist also said that assuming the morphine had contributed to Rice's death, the patient could have self-administered the pain-killer.

     Dr. Davis was followed to the stand by a pharmacologist who opined that scientists have not established a way to determine abnormal levels of drugs in a person's body through liver analysis. Scientists have not figured out what an abnormal level of morphine is in a person's liver.

     At the close of testimony on the fourth day of the trial, circuit judge Rex Ogle (no relation to the defendant) took the case out of the hands of the jurors by issuing a directed verdict of acquittal. In the judge's opinion, the prosecution had not met its burden of proving a prima facie case. Elizabeth Ogle was set free.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Principal Lyn Vijayendran and the Educator's Duty to Report Pedophiia

     On October 2011, a mother and her 8-year-old daughter met with the principal of the girl's elementary school regarding the behavior of a teacher named Craig Chandler. The 35-year-old taught second grade at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School in San Jose, California. According to principal Lyn Vijayendran's notes of the meeting, the student--identified as Jane Doe--was summoned from recess to Chandler's empty classroom. Pursuant to a lesson plan he called "The Helen Keller Unit," Chandler blindfolded the student and instructed her to lie down on the floor and part her legs. After the teacher removed the girl's shoes, she sensed something "gooey" on her feet that felt like his tongue. Chandler placed something into the student's mouth, and with his hands moved her head back and forth. The girl tasted something salty that dripped onto her jacket. Before Jane Doe left Chandler's classroom, he put a piece of hard candy into her mouth.

     Instead of passing this information on to the police for further investigation, Vijayendran questioned Craig Chandler herself. The teacher explained that he had been doing his Helen Keller (a deaf and blind woman who rose to fame as an early twentieth century author) lesson plan for years. He said his "instructional goal" was to deprive students of sight so they could experience what it's like to be blind. The gooey sensation felt by the student on her feet had been caused by a wet  sponge, and the taste in her mouth from a bottle of salt water. The teacher offered to meet personally with the girl's parents to clean up any misunderstanding.

     Satisfied with Chandler's explanation, the principal told him to discontinue the Helen Keller business, transferred the student to another class, and reported the incident to the Evergreen School District's human resources department. Someone from that department also questioned Chandler, and the matter, institutionally, went no further than that. Craig Chandler continued teaching at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School.

     Although principal Vijayendran had closed the book on the case, parents of other girls in his class were going straight to the police with complaints about Chandler's Helen Keller ploy. Following an investigation by detectives with the San Jose Police Department, a Santa Clara County prosecutor, on January 10, 2012, charged Chandler with the crime of lewd and lascivious acts performed on a child under fourteen. Seven months later, additional charges were filed against the teacher involving four other students who were, between the period August 2010 and May 2011, exposed to Chandler's Helen Keller experiment.

     Incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail, Chandler faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted of these crimes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     On October 19, 2012, with Chandler still in custody awaiting his trial, Jane Doe's parents filed a civil suit against the Evergreen School District, the O.B.Whaley Elementary School, and principal Vijayendran.

     Santa Clara County prosecutor Alison Filo, in July 2012, charged principal Vijayendran under a relatively new California law that makes the failure of an educator to report the suspected sexual abuse of a student a crime. If convicted of the misdemeanor, a judge could sentence the principal up to six months in jail.

     The Vijayendran trial got underway on October 31, 2012. Prosecutor Filo, in her opening statement to the jury said that any reasonable person under the circumstances of this case would have suspected sexual abuse on the part of this teacher. Defense attorney Eric Geffon argued that his client had no reason to suspect foul play on Mr. Chandler's part. Geffon described the teacher's Helen Keller cover as "a detailed, devious, well thought out, well prepared story he concocted that explained everything."

     On November 2, Lyn Vijayendran took the stand on her own behalf in an effort to convince the jury that there was nothing in the student's story or her demeanor that suggested sexual impropriety on the part of the teacher. Referring to the 8-year-old girl, Vijayendran said, "She had a big smile on her face. She was her normal self, very talkative...." The witness said that at no point in the meeting with the student and her mother did the subject of sexual abuse come up.

     On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that when she learned that Mr. Chandler had asked the student to "open her two legs," the idea of sexual impropriety crossed her mind. Prosecutor Filo asked, "If someone said that to you in a grocery story line, you'd slap him, wouldn't you?" (In today's society, I wouldn't recommend that.)

     "You'd have to be crazy not to think it was sexual," the defendant answered.

     On November 5, 2012, the jury found Lyn Vijayendran guilty of failing to report Craig Chandler's sexually suspicious behavior to the police. Judge Deborah Ryan sentenced the principal to two years probation, $602 in fines, and 100 hours of community service.

     It's a shame that educators, to protect the children under their care, have to be induced to do the right thing by making it a crime not to. In a perfect society, there should be no need for crimes of omission.

     Craig Chandler, the elementary school teacher principal Vijayendran has been found guilty of not reporting, has himself not been found guilty of anything. His trial is forthcoming. It is my guess that his jury will not be receptive to his Helen Keller explanation.    

     

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

John Douglas White: The Michigan Pastor Who Murdered Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     So, according to one of Pastor White's congregants, White's cold-blooded lust murder of Rebekah Gay was the devil's doing. The devil didn't kill this woman, John White did.

     In April 2013, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Rebekah Gay. The judge sentenced him to 56 years and three months. On August 28, 2013, a prison guard at the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Institution in Ionia, found White dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.





Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Grigoriy Bukhantsov and the Bukhantsov Family Murders

     Gregoriy Bukhantsov, a trouble teenager and high school dropout, lived with his parents in Rancho Cordova, California 15 miles east of Sacramento. The young man's parents were Ukrainian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They settled in this community of 100,000 immigrants from Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus.

     Gregoriy's parents, and the family of his older brother Denis Bukhantsov, belonged to the 6,000-member Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, an evangelical Pentecostal congregation founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

     In December 2011, Grigoriy Bukhantsov pleaded no contest to burglary. The judge sentenced him to one year in jail (he served seven months) and five years probation. Over the past year, Grigoriy, a drug and alcohol abuser with serious mental problems and a propensity for violence, had threatened virtually everyone he knew. People had good reason to be afraid of him.

     In the summer of 2012, Grigoriy assaulted his father and his sister, and threatened to stab his entire family to death. Florin Ciuriuc, the executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, helped Mr. Bukhantsov obtain a temporary restraining order against the 19-year-old. (Grigoriy's parents struggled with English.) The Sacramento county judge issued the order, but when the family didn't seek to make it permanent, the restraining order expired.

     Grigoriy became so disturbed and threatening, his parents, fearing for their lives, moved out of the state, taking their daughter with them.

     According to Florin Ciuriuc, Grigoriy Bukhantsov "...was going nuts. Saliva was coming out of his mouth when he was screaming, yelling, and cussing. He was talking nonsense. He was making threats to everybody."

     After Grigoriy's parents fled California, the young man became homeless, living temporarily in the houses of relatives until he wore out his welcome, and was asked to leave. On Monday, October 22, 2012, Grigoriy asked his 29-year-old brother Denis if he could spend a couple of nights at his house. Denis, his 23-year-old wife Alina and their three children, ages 3, 2, and 6-months old, lived in Rancho Cordova. Because his nomadic brother seemed calm and in control of himself, Denis agreed to shelter his younger brother.

     The next day, when Denis returned home at 3:30 in the afternoon following a class he was taking, he found that Alina and two of the children had been bludgeoned, stabbed, and slashed to death. The 6-month-old boy had not been harmed. Denis ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The police immediately launched a search for Grigoriy Bukhantsov. After committing the murders, the suspect had stolen the family's 2005 Chrysler minivan. The next day, at two in the morning, a police officer spotted the stolen vehicle parked in front of a Denny's restaurant. Inside they found Grigoriy asleep in a booth. Taken into custody, he was booked into the Sacramento County Jail where he is being held without bond. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Morena Costello's Plot to Murder Her Father's Doctors

     In January 2010, when Bella Costello died of heart failure while being treated at the Staten Island University Hospital, his distraught 38-year-old daughter, Morena Costello, blamed the 65 year old's doctors and nurses for his death. Morena had been caring for her ailing father, a retired musician, in his home in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island. Following his demise, she sank into deep depression, and brooded over the role she believed doctors and nurses played in his death.

     In late July 2010, Morena, who blamed two of her father's doctors, and a pair of nurses for Mr. Costello's fate, reached out to a friend who was at the time in trouble with the law. Morena informed this man that she was looking for someone to kill the doctors and the nurses she believed responsible for his death. At first the intermediary brushed the request off as the frustration of a grieving daughter. But as time passed, and after a series of phone conversations, her friend became convinced that Morena Costello was dead serious when she said she wanted these people murdered. She meant business, and there was no way he could talk her out of her murderous mission.

     Morena's friend, after notifying the FBI of Costello's intentions, called her on October 22, 2010 with the news he had located a hitman. The contract killer would be in touch with her soon. Five days later, Morena and the "hit man," an undercover FBI agent, met in his car. The FBI recorded the meeting with a hidden camera in the agent's car.

     Morena showed the agent a photograph of her father, and a copy of his death certificate. She handed him a handwritten list containing the names, addresses, work schedules, and physical descriptions of the people she wanted the hitman to murder. She said she wanted these people to suffer like her father had suffered. When the agent asked Costello specifically what she wanted him to do with the people on the list, she pointed to the word "death" on her father's death certificate. She also wrote him a note that read: "Just do it." To seal the deal, Costello handed the agent $400 as downpayment for the murders. Upon receipt of the blood money, the agent identified himself, and took Costello into custody.

     Following Morena Costello's arrest, a federal grand jury returned a murder-for-hire indictment. Her attorney, while not presenting his client as innocent of the murder for hire plot, told reporters that Morena was seriously depressed, and psychotic.

     On October 18, 2012, before a federal judge in a Brooklyn district court, Morena Costello pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of obstruction of an investigation. In June 2013, the judge sentenced Costello to three years' probation. She could have received up to 57 months in prison.

     Had this woman reached out to the wrong person (or from her point of view, the right person), who knows how many people might have been murdered? The fact she was depressed and having mental problems would have not made her victims any less dead. As a mastermind in a murder-for-hire solicitation case, Morena Costello got away with murder.