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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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Bethany Deaton Staged Suicide/Sex-Cult Murder Case

     Bethany Ann Leidlein, a bright, ambitious, and spiritual person, grew up in Arlington, Texas. In 2005, the 20-year-old graduated magna cum laude in English and Spanish from Southwestern University. While enrolled at the university in Georgetown, Texas, she met Tyler Deaton and his friend Micah Moore. Deaton, a domineering and charismatic young man from Corpus Christi, had been a member of the National Honor Society at Calallen High School. At Southwestern, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Methodist Church, he played jazz piano and led prayer groups in the college chapel. A campus spiritual leader, he became known for his belief that "God glorifies in your having fun."

     After Bethany and Tyler graduated from Southwestern University, the two of them, joined by Micah Moore and a handful of other young men, moved to the Kansas City, Missouri suburb of Grandview where they became members of a fundamentalist Christian church called the International House of Prayer (IHOP). In May 2009, Bethany and Tyler completed a six-month religious program at IHOP University.

     In the summer of 2012,  after Tyler and Bethany were married, they moved, along with his his male religious friends and followers, into a large, old house in Grandview. Having gone back to school and earned a degree in nursing, Bethany worked as a registered nurse at a local hospital. She and her male roommates had evolved into a cult-like religious group led by her husband. The Grandview house they all lived in became sort of a church.

     At ten o'clock on the night on October 30, 2012, Jackson County (Missouri) sheriff's deputies were called to investigate the body of a woman found in the back of a van parked near Longview Lake. The dead woman turned out to be Bethany Ann Deaton.

     Bethany's head had been covered by a white, plastic bag. In the Ford Windstar van, deputies recovered a notepad upon which someone had written what appeared to be a suicide note. It read: "My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn't be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that. I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will save me."

     In the van's cup-holder sat an empty 100-count bottle that had once held Acetaminolphen pills. While most experienced homicide investigators would have considered Bethany Deaton's death scene suspicious, the Jackson County Coroner's Office classified it as a suicide. The authorities made this call without forensically establishing if the note (much too long for a suicide note) had been written by the dead woman. Moreover, this manner of death ruling had been made without a toxicological determination that Bethany Deaton had ingested Acetaminolphen pills. The plastic bag over her head, the empty pill bottle, and the suicide note had the look of a staged suicide.

     Bethany Deaton's parents claimed her body, and had her buried in Arlington, Texas without an autopsy. According to Bethany's online obituary, she had been "a lover of books, writing, nature, deep conversations, dance, worship, and, most of all, Jesus."

     On November 9, 2012, one of Bethany Deaton's male roommates, 23-year-old Micah Moore, showed up at the Grandview Police Department with something to confess. He informed the detective who spoke to him that Bethany Deaton had not committed suicide because he had murdered her. He had pulled the plastic bag over her head, and had held it there "until her body shook."

     According to Micah Moore, he, Tyler Deaton, and the other male members of the spiritual clan had been sexually assaulting Bethany for months. They all had sex with her after drugging her with an antipsychotic drug called Seroquel. (This medication had been prescribed to a member of the sect.) Micah Moore said he had video-taped the group rapes on his tablet computer. He told the detective that he had also confessed his role in the rapes and murder to his pastor. Moore said he had written poems about Bethany Deaton's sexual assaults.

     Micah Moore informed the Grandview detective that the victim's husband, Tyler Deaton, had talked him into killing Bethany and making it look like a suicide. In the weeks prior to her death, Bethany had been seeing a counselor. Tyler Deaton, according to Moore, had been worried that she might report the group rapes to the therapist. Moore also confessed that after the men raped the drugged-up woman, they had consensual sex with each other.

     Following Micah Moore's stunning murder confession, the authorities in Jackson County, Missouri re-classified Bethany Deaton's manner of death as a criminal homicide. She had died of asphyxiation by suffocation. On November 10, prosecutor Jean Peters charged Micah Moore with first degree murder. To date, Tyler Deaton has not been charged with a crime.

     Allen Hood, the president of IHOP University, distanced the school and the church from Tyler Deaton and his followers. He described Deaton as the leader of an independent, close-knit religious group that had operated separately "under a veil of secrecy."

     There is obviously a lot more to this bizarre story. Details will be forthcoming as the case unfolds.

UPDATE

     On November 28, Micah Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, announced that her client had recanted his confession. The lawyer described the confession as "bizarre, nonsensical and most importantly, untrue." Attorney Moore went on to say that Moore was a "distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressure as a result of his friend Bethany's untimely suicide (what is a timely suicide?) and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton from their extremely close-knit religious community."    

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. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Did Computer Pioneer John McAfee Murder His Belize Neighbor?

     In 1994, 49-year-old John McAfee, a computer tycoon who developed anti-privacy software and helped pioneer instant messaging, sold his Silicon Valley company for $100 million. About this time, following twenty years of drug abuse, he suffered an heart attack. In 2007, after losing all but $4 million of his fortune on bad investments, McAfee moved to Belize, a small Central American County south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the Atlantic coast. McAfee moved into a house in San Pedro's Mata Grande subdivision.

     According to media reports, John McAfee had slipped back into a lifestyle of hallucinogenic drugs like crystal meth and bath salts that made him erratic, paranoid, and according to his neighbors, dangerous. In April 2012, the Belize police raided his home looking for drugs and guns. Although some weapons were seized, and he was taken into custody, the police quickly released him. No charges were filed. (Later, McAfee donated handcuffs, tasers, batons, firearms and other law enforcement items to the police department.)

     A few months after McAfee's arrest, a group of residents of the Mata Grande subdivision submitted a written complaint against him to the authorities in San Pedro. McAfee's neighbors complained about his security guards who "walked around with shotguns at night and up and down the beach." According to the complainants, the guards "shine spotlights right into peoples' eyes at night and act aggressively with their guns, chambering a bullet [a round] and nonsense such as this. People are scared to walk down the beach at night as a result. The tourists are terrified." The neighbors also didn't like the taxi cab and delivery truck traffic to and from McAfee's house at all hours of the night. (According to reports, the cabs often delivered prostitutes to his home.) In addition, McAfee's four security dogs frightened and harassed residents of the subdivision. One of the dogs supposedly bit a tourist.

     On November 7, 2012, one of McAfee's neighbors, Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old builder from Florida, filed a formal complaint with the San Pedro mayor's office. Faull accused his 67-year-old neighbor of recklessly firing off his guns, and exhibiting "roguish behavior." Faull also complained about McAfee's loud and aggressive attack dogs.

     There is no question that McAfee's neighbors considered him, if not insane, an unstable, drug-addled gun nut in the mold of the gonzo journalist, Hunter Thompson. Photographs have surfaced showing McAfee posing with a variety of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. One of them depicts the skinny, bearded, and bare-chested millionaire pressing the muzzle of a pistol to his temple.

     On Sunday morning, November 11, 2012, Gregory Faull's 39-year-old Belizean housekeeper, Laura Tun, found him on the second floor of his house lying face-up in a pool of blood. Someone had shot him in the back of the head. The police found a 9 mm shell casing on the floor near his body. There was no sign of forced entry, and the dead man's iPhone and laptop computer had been taken. Mr. Faull had been murdered the night before.

     John McAfee immediately emerged as an obvious suspect in his neighbor's murder. The police went to his house that Sunday to question him. He wasn't home, and no one knew his whereabouts.

     Two days after the murder, McAfee was still at large. A spokesperson for the Belize Ministry of National Security publicly urged him to come in for questioning. Not long after that, McAfee, in a telephone interview with Joshua Davis, a writer for Wired Magazine, said he was in hiding. According to McAfee, "they [the police] will kill me if they find me." The so-called person of interest (I prefer the term suspect) in the Faull murder case told the journalist that his four dogs had been poisoned by the Belizean authorities as part of a vendetta against him. He claimed that he is unarmed, accompanied by a young woman, and has to move from place to place to stay ahead of the police.

     I don't know if John McAfee had anything to do with Gregory Faull's murder, but statements like the one about his poisoned dogs smacks of drug-induced mental illness and paranoia. I think it's important that the police find this man, for his own well-being, and the safety of others.

UPDATE

     On November 16, McAfee told a reporter for CNBC that he had spent six days hiding from the police at his compound on Ambergris Caye, a stretch of island just off the Belizean coast. When the police were searching his property, he hid by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head which allowed him to breathe. He denied any knowledge of Mr. Faull's death.

     On December 5, 2012, the authorities arrested John McAfee in Guatemala, but a week later, a Guatemalan judge ruled his detention illegal and released him. McAfee will probably return to the Unites States.

     Deported from Guatemala, John McAfee, on December 12, arrived in Miami aboard an American Airlines flight. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

David H. Petraeus: A Love-Sick General or a National Security Risk in a Benghazi Cover-Up?

     In June 2012, Jill Kelley, a married mother of three living in Tampa, Florida, received six or so anonymous emails that disturbed her enough to ask a FBI agent she knew to look into the matter. The sender of the messages wanted the 37-year-old to stay away from her man, David H. Petraeus, the Director of the CIA. Kelley and her husband Scott, a Lakeland, Florida cancer surgeon, were on friendly terms with Petraeus and his wife Holly. While Jill Kelley, a Lebanese-American who grew up in Philadelphia was known for her lavish parties and social events, she and her husband were in serious financial trouble with credit card debt and home foreclosure threats. She functioned as an unpaid liason to the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. (I have no idea what this position entails, how she got it, or what people meant when they referred to Kelley as an "honorary ambassador" to the base. Perhaps it's like being an honorary Kentucky Colonel or something like that.)

     Kelley's FBI contact, a Tampa office field agent and terrorism expert named Frederick Humphries, opened a cyberstalking case which led to the identification of 40-year-old Paula Broadwell as the email sender. Broadwell is a mother of three who is married to a Charlotte, North Carolina radiologist. In the context of the FBI agent's inquiry, this subject was no ordinary woman warning a perceived rival to lay off her man. Broadwell was a West Point graduate, Ph.D. candidate, and U.S. Army Reserve Officer who had met General Petraeus in the spring of 2006 when he spoke at Harvard University. In the course of writing a dissertation on the general, Broadwell remained in touch with him through a series of email interviews. In 2010, when General Petraeus replaced General Stanley McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan, Broadwell spent months in that country interviewing him for a book a professional writer named Vernon Loeb was writing for her.

     In August 2011, General Petraeus retired from the U.S. Army, and the following month, was sworn in as Director of the CIA. (This appointment reflects the militarization of the civilian spy agency.) Two months after Petraeus took over as the head of the CIA, he began having an affair with Paula Broadwell. (With this decision, he had, in my view, shown himself unfit for that office.)

     Broadwell's ghost-written biography, All In: The Education of General David H. Petraeus, came out in January 2012. The sexual relationship came to an end, by mutual agreement, in the summer of 2012, about the time Broadwell sent the angry emails to Jill Kelley.

     As the story goes, FBI Agent Frederick Humphries became so infatuated with Jill Kelley, his cyberstalking complainant, the 47-year-old investigator allegedly started sending her, via the Internet, bare-chested photographs of himself. In reality, this happened a long time ago, and was done in jest. There are reports, however, that Humphries was taken off the case, and replaced by a team of field agents who were in consultation with the local United States Attorney's Office. As the FBI agents combed through Broadwell's emails, they found information regarding the movements and activities of high-level military personnel, including Petraeus. The investigation suddenly evolved into something potentially more serious than a cyberstalking case.

     Eric Holder, the United States Attorney General already up to his neck in the fast-and-furious gun running scandal (talk about another guy unfit for his job), learned of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair from FBI Director Robert Mueller in September 2012. When pressed to comment on the matter, President Obama said that he had not been told of the scandal, and potential security breach, until November 7, the day after he had been elected to his second term in office.

     On September 13, 2012, two days after the terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya that led to the death of our ambassador and three others, CIA Director Petraeus told the American people that the attack had involved a flash-mob reaction to an anti-Muslim video. Following his resignation from the CIA on the day after Obama's reelection, Petraeus indicated that he no longer intended to testify on the Benghazi matter before members of Congress. A few days later, under pressure from Congress and a few media outlets, the former CIA Director said he would testify at the November 16 hearing.

     On November 13, the sex scandal, already disturbing and bizarre, became even more complex and shocking. The FBI announced that its cyberinvestigation of Broadwell had uncovered twenty to thirty thousand "inappropriate" Internet messages to Jill Kelley from Marine General John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. A government spokesperson has described the emails as "flirtatious" while others have characterized the material as the equivalent of phone sex. (Further investigation has revealed that both Petraeus and Allen had taken time from their busy schedules to write letters on behalf of Jill Kelley's twin sister. The letters were sent to the judge presiding over a child custody battle. What in the hell is going here?)

     At present, there are two general schools of thought on the Petraeus/Broadwell/Kelley scandal. Democrats in Washington, and the so-called mainstream media, are treating the debacle as merely an embarrassing sex scandal. You know, big deal. John Kennedy played around with mob women, Ike had a squeeze, and President Bill Clinton deposited his DNA on an intern's dress.

     Republicans, on the other hand, based on the timeline of events, and David Petraeus' statements regarding the video as the source of the Benghazi attacks, smell a White House Benghazi conspiracy involving political blackmail and election politics.

     Regardless of one's take on this mess, there are many aspects of the scandal that raise serious concerns. It seems that once the FBI learned of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair, a clear breach of national security, the President should have been notified, and the CIA Director immediately removed from office. That the Attorney General of the United States did not alert President Obama of this threat to national security doesn't ring true. It's simply hard to believe that the nation's top law enforcement officer sat on this information for two months. If he did, Holder should resign. If the President knew of the affair, why did he wait until after his reelection to inform the American people? The answer to that question is obvious.  

     Two days after the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, why did CIA Director Petraeus blame the murders on the video? He obviously knew better. Did his backing of the initial White House version of the attack have something to do with the President's knowledge of the Broadwell affair? It's not unreasonable to suspect that Petraeus was toeing the political line to save his job. Had Paula Broadwell not emailed a woman who had a friend in the FBI, David Petraeus might still be head of the CIA.

     To believe that the CIA Director's affair did not compromise national security is naive. Who is Paula Broadwell? (FBI agents have searched her home and seized boxes of documents.) What did Petraeus tell her? How do we know that she didn't coax sensitive information out of him? At the end of October 2012, at a speech she gave at the University of Denver, Paula Broadwell suggested that the real reason behind the terrorist attack in Benghazi involved Libyan prisoners being held at the U.S. compound for interrogation. If Broadwell did not get this information from the news media, where did she get it?

     During a press conference on November 14, President Obama said there has been no indication that as a result of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair, classified information has been compromised. However, the FBI search of Broadwell's home computer revealed that it contained a substantial amount of classified data. The FBI discovery was significant enough to warrant further investigation of this woman. Broadwell has been stripped of her military clearance.

     The Washington Post columnist and Fox News Contributor Charles Krauthammer believes that CIA Director Petraeus' Benghazi analysis, at variance with what the director had heard from the station chief in Tripoli, was given in order to save his job. In other words, the White House had blackmailed him into lying to the American people. Krauthammer, on November 14, wrote "[Petraeus] understood that his job, his reputation, his legacy, his whole celebrated life was in the hands of the administration, and he expected they would protect him by keeping [the affair] quiet." Under this theory, David Petraeus became just another casualty of Chicago-style politics employed by Obama and his people.

     Regardless of how all of this comes out in the wash, the fact that two of our most important generals were so distracted and unprofessional, raises serious questions regarding the kinds of people we have protecting us from our enemies.

   

     

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Curtis Bonnell and the Violent Death of a 16-Year-Old New Brunswick Girl

     Fourteen-year-old Hilary Bonnell, in 2007, resided with her mother Pam Fillier on the Esgenoopetitj  Fist Nation Indian Reservation in northeastern Canada's New Brunswick Province. In 2008, the girl and her mother moved to Miramichi, New Brunswick, the largest town in the province. The teen had behavioral problems that included drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and running away from home. Her mother, in an effort to help her daughter get control of her drinking and drug use, put Hilary into a group home for two months in the fall of 2008. Because Hilary Bonnell missed her old friends, her mother, in 2009, allowed the strong-willed teen to spend the summer on the reservation with her aunt.

     On September 5, 2009, at 3:11 in the morning, Pam Fillier received a call from her daughter who sounded like she had been drinking. Hilary said she was at a party and having fun. Mother and daughter agreed to go shopping the next day. Later that morning, and throughout the day, Hilary Bonnell did not show up at her aunt's house. Because of her history of running away, and staying for days at the homes of friends, Hilary's mother didn't report her missing until September 7.

     The missing persons case came under the jurisdiction of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Tracadie-Shelia, Canada. Sergeant Greg Lupson took charge of the investigation.

     As time passed, and the 16-year-old remained missing, the RCMP began considering the possibility of four play. On September 19, Sergeant Lupson questioned the missing girl's 32-year-old first cousin, Curtis Bonnell as a person of interest. Curtis and Hilary had been captured on a 4D Convenience Store surveillance camera on the morning she disappeared. (They were not together, but in the store between 7 and 8 AM.) Curtis Bonnell denied any knowledge of his first cousin's disappearance.

     On November 13, 2009, officers with the RCMP arrested Curtis Bonnell on the charge he had murdered Hilary Bonnell. When questioned in police custody, the suspect admitted picking Hilary up in his truck as she walked along Micmac Road en route to  her aunt's house. Curtis told the officers that he wanted to have sex with his cousin, but when she demanded $100 for the act, he got angry and sexually assaulted her. According to his account of her death, she died when he covered her mouth to keep her from screaming. He said he didn't intend to kill her.

     After killing Hilary, the suspect, in a state of panic, drove her body to a remote area near the town of Tracadie-Sheila where he buried her corpse in the woods. Bonnell returned to his home (he lived with his father) and burned some of Hilary's personal items in his backyard. Following the confession, Bonnell led officers to his cousin's remains.

     On November 14, 2009, Dr. Ken Obenson performed the autopsy. The forensic pathologist identified her cause of death as asphyxia. In Dr. Obenson's opinion she had either been strangled or smothered. The pathologist didn't find any fractures or injuries other than two cuts--one on her hand, and the other on her head near her eyebrow.

     According to a toxicologist who worked on the case, the victim had evidence of cannabis and alcohol in her system.

     The Curtis Bonnell first degree murder case went to trial on September 17, 2002 in Miramichi, New Brunswick before a jury of six men and six women. The prosecutor for the Crown showed the jury a video tape of the defendant's police station confession. On October 22, Dr. Graham Bishop, a respiratory physician, took the stand and testified that it was plausible that Hilary Bonnell had died from someone sitting on her chest with his hands covering her nose and mouth. The witness said it was his expert opinion the victim had died the way the Crown believed she had been killed.

     On cross-examination by defense attorney Gilles Lemieux, Dr. Bishop said it was also possible that the victim had somehow "self-smothered" under the effects of alcohol and drugs. The witness conceded that without "definitive proof" such as handprints or video surveillance, it was impossible to say for sure exactly how Hilary Bonnell had died.

     The Crown rested its case on October 24, 2012, and five days later, the defense put Curtis Bonnell, its chief witness, on the stand. Dressed in a dark suit and a blue tie, the witness gave the jury a different story than the one he had told the RCMP. Bonnell said that on the morning of September 5, 2009, he woke up in his truck that was parked in his father's garage. Next to him in the front seat was slumped the body of a woman. At first he didn't know who she was, so he climbed out of the vehicle and opened the passenger's side door. The woman, who he recognized as his cousin, started to fall out of the truck. Thinking that she was passed out from a night of drinking, he grabbed her body which was cold and rigid. He panicked when he realized that Hilary Bonnell was dead. "What am I going to do?" he thought. "Nobody is going to believe me. I just got out of jail. Nobody's going to believe an Indian."

     The defendant testified that he put Hilary's body into the bed of his truck, drove to the wooded area near Tracadie-Sheila, and laid her on the ground with her sandals beside her. He drove back to his home to look for physical evidence that might link him to his dead cousin.

     That night, according to the witness, he couldn't sleep because he was worried that animals might get to Hilary's body. The next day, he took a shovel from his father's garage and drove to Tracadie-Sheila and the spot where he had dumped her body. He put the corpse back into his truck and drove it to a different place where he dug a shallow grave. He tossed the victim's body into the hole, shoveled in the dirt, and drove home. (There had been prosecution testimony that the victim may have been buried alive.) Throughout his testimony, the defendant denied having sex with his cousin or doing anything to cause her death. This, of course, begged the question that if he didn't kill the girl, how did she die?

     On cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Bill Richards challenged the defendant over numerous discrepancies between his police statements and his courtroom testimony. The blistering cross-examination lasted two days, and at one point the defendant broke down in tears.

     On re-direct, defense attorney Gilles Lemieux asked Bonnell why he had confessed to a crime he didn't commit. The defendant replied that he felt pressured, and just wanted the interrogation to end. He told the RCMP officers what he figured they wanted to hear. The defendant also accused his interrogators of putting ideas into his head, suggesting incriminating details for him to include in his confession. According to Curtis Bonnell, his police station confessions reflected the police theory of the case rather than what really happened that night in his pickup truck.

     On October 31, the Bonnell defense put a forensic pathologist on the stand named Dr. David Chiasson. Dr. Chiasson, a pathologist with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said, "I don't think we have enough information [in this case] to make a homicide determination. You have a young woman buried in clandestine circumstances. I believe that is why a homicide determination was made." Under defense attorney Lemieux's guidance, Dr. Chiasson said that Hilary Bonnell did not have any of the physical injuries he would expect to find had she been smothered by a hand forcible held over her nose and mouth.

     On cross-examination, Dr. Chiasoon agreed with the prosecutor that if someone had sat on the victim's chest while covering her nose and mouth, it would have taken less force to smother her. The prosecutor also got the forensic pathologist to concede that the circumstances of this girl's death were, at the very least, "criminally suspicious."

     On November 3, 2012, the Bonnell case jurors, after deliberating six hours, found the defendant guilty of first degree murder. The Miramichi courtroom erupted in cheers. Curtis Bonnell's conviction carried with it an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

      

Monday, November 12, 2012

Killing Andres Ordonez: Sudden Death in Gangland LA

     Because of heavy gang activity, no place is safe in the neighborhood surrounding the Iglesia Principe de Paz (Prince of Peace) Church on Beverly Boulevard and Reno Street in Los Angeles' Westlake District. Members of the Pentecostal storefront church are immigrants from Guatemala and other Central American countries. When these congregants settled in this part of Los Angeles, they probably had no idea they would be living in such a dangerous, lawless place.

    On November 4, 2012, during a Sunday evening service, a male parishioner, while checking on the food being set up in the church parking lot, saw a teenage girl spray-painting gang graffiti on one of the church's walls. The churchgoer approached the girl and asked her to stop defacing the place of worship. She responded by shoving the man to the ground.

     After decking the churchgoer, the teen continued tagging the wall. Two other worshippers came out of the church and saw their fellow parishioner lying on the pavement. As the men ran to help, a male gang member who was with the young church-tagger, climbed out of a parked car and began shooting.

     One of the gunman's bullets struck and killed 25-year-old Andres Ordonez. Another member of the church, a man in his 40s, was seriously wounded. The girl with the spray-paint and her murderous companion drove off as stunned members of the congregation knelt over the victims sprawled out and bleeding on the church parking lot.

     Andres Ordonez and his pregnant wife Ana were parents of a one-year-old son. Andres had come to the United States from Guatemala as a young boy. He had worked long hours as a cook in a local restaurant, and had attended this church since he was ten. His widow is the pastor's granddaughter.

     Police believe the gunman and the girl were members of a rival gang who were tagging in enemy territory. As a result, when the church member approached the girl, the gunman, on edge, had an hair-trigger response. Investigators familiar with gang-related crime know that witnesses in these neighborhoods, out of fear of reprisals, are reluctant to cooperate with the police. LAPD homicide detective Jeff Cortina told a reporter with the Los Angeles Times that "we need the public's assistance. This wasn't gangster-on-gangster. It [the murder of an innocent citizen] could happen to anybody...."

     At a press conference on November 8, Ordonez's young widow asked witnesses to come forward and help the authorities. The city of Los Angeles has posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman, his female companion, and a third subject who had been in the car with the killer. The vehicle in question has been described as a red, four-door compact. The gunman is a Latino man in his early twenties with a muscular build and short hair.

     The senseless murder of a family man attending church on a Sunday evening by a trigger-happy gang member has sparked public outrage and demands for more aggressive anti-gang policing. This comes at at time when the LAPD is stretched thin, and out of money. Because this case has received a lot of local media coverage, there is a good chance these gang members will be identified and brought to justice. But the problem of gang violence in large sections of Los Angeles will not go away, and with law enforcement budget cuts, probably get worse. 

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.