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Monday, January 28, 2013

Leroy Kuffel: A Police Pension For a Sex Offrender

     Round Lake Beach is a northern Illinois town of 26,000 on the Wisconsin state line. In 2009, Round Lake Beach police officer Leroy Kuffel, a 29-year veteran of the force, got into serious trouble. In February and March of that year, the 52-year-old cop had sex with his son's ex-girlfriend. She was sixteen. Following his arrest, Kuffel admitted giving the teen gifts, and taking her out to dinner, but he denied have sexual relations with the minor.

     In January 2010, following a three-day trial in a Lake County court, the jury found Kuffel guilty of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. (Had the girl been a few months younger, he could have been charged with statutory rape.) The state prosecutor recommended that Kuffel be sentenced up to seven years in prison. The defendant's attorney pushed for a probated sentence. In speaking to the court, Kuffel apologized for what he called "bad decisions."

     Sentencing-wise, Judge Daniel Shanes took the middle ground. He sentenced Kuffel to sixty days in the county jail followed by thirty months of nighttime incarceration at a halfway house where the inmate would be allowed to work during the day. The judge also ordered the ex-police officer to seek sex offender treatment. (Since Kuffel considered his relationship with the minor nothing more than a "bad decision," I'm not sure what good this would do.) At the conclusion of the thirty-month work-release program, Kuffel would be under probation for three years.

     On September 20, 2009, while working during the day and spending nights in custody, Kuffel began receiving his $48, 000 a year police pension. Following a legal challenge by Round Lake Beach municipal authorities, the town's mayor, in January 2013, announced that Illinois state law required that Kuffel, notwithstanding his sex offense conviction, be paid his police pension.

     Under Illinois law, no pension benefits will be paid to a retired police officer convicted of any felony relating to, arising from, or in connection with his law enforcement job. Since Officer Kuffel had been off-duty when he had sex with the minor, the above law did not apply to him. (One could argue that Kuffel's victim might have been intimidated or impressed by the fact he was a cop.) Had Kuffel, while off-duty, murdered his wife, under Illinois law, he'd still be eligible for his pension benefits.

     By 2013, Kuffel's increased monthly pension benefits were based on an annual  income of $53,709. When the ex-cop turns 65, he'll rake in $70,079 a year. If Kuffel lives to the year 2026, he will have received, in total pension benefits (not including health care), more than $1 million. Not bad for a registered sex offender.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pest Exterminator Jason Smith Charged with Strangling and Burning Dr. Melissa Ketunuti to Death in Her Philadelphia Town House

     Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, a 35-year-old pediatrician, was a second-year infectious disease fellow and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine in downtown Philadelphia. The Thailand native lived in a central city town house not far from the hospital. Except for her 6-year-old pit bull/lab mix Pooch, she lived alone. Dr. Ketunuti had resided at this address for three years, and was in the process of rehabilitating the dwelling.

     On Monday, January 21, Dr. Ketunuti left her town house around nine in the morning to run some errands. She planned to return to her home at ten-fifty to meet with an exterminator with a pest-control company headquartered in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ketunuti was having mice problems. When the doctor's dog walker came to the house to pick up Pooch at twelve-thirty, she smelled smoke, and upon investigation, discovered Dr. Ketuniti dead in her basement. The terrified dog walker called 911.

     Homicide detectives and crime scene technicians arrived at the town house to find a still smoldering, badly burned corpse. The victim's face had been so severely charred by the fire it was unrecognizable. The fully dressed woman was lying face-down and had been hogtied with her wrists and ankles bound behind her back. The killer had left a length of cordage around the victim's neck suggesting that before being set on fire, she had been strangled.

     Based on the dead woman's apparel and other points of identity, investigators assumed that the murdered woman in the basement was Dr. Melissa Ketunuti. Detectives found no signs of forced entry, or indications of a sexual assault. Because it didn't appear than anything had been taken from the premises, the killer had not been motivated by theft.

     As investigators began tracing the victim's activities that morning, and gathering footage from neighborhood surveillance cameras, the city of Philadelphia posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the identification and arrest of this murderer. The next day, a local community group added $15,000 to the incentive.

     On Wednesday, January 23, homicide investigators were in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a sprawling suburban Bucks County community 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The officers were in town questioning a 37-year-old pest-control subcontractor named Jason Smith. Smith lived in a powder-blue, two story house surrounded by a white picket fence still displaying Christmas decorations. The exterminator lived there with his girlfriend, their young daughter, and the girlfriend's stepfather.

     Surveillance camera footage in Ketunuti's neighborhood showed Smith, who had been scheduled for a service call at the murder victim's house that morning, walking toward the doctor's town house at ten-fifty. (The house itself was off-camera.) The tall, thin exterminator was wearing a NorthFace jacket and work gloves, and carried a satchel. Just before noon, Smith was video-recorded driving his silver Ford F-150 pickup out of the neighborhood. Before leaving, he circled the block two times. While in Levittown, officers searched Smith's house, his trash, and his truck. Investigators took a computer out of the dwelling, and from the Ford F-150, seized a jacket and a pair of work gloves.

     The next day at nine o'clock in the evening, detectives returned to Levittown to arrest Jason Smith. They took him into custody as he, his girlfriend, and their daughter watched "American Idol." Charged with first degree murder, arson, abuse of corpse, and risking a catastrophe (burning down the neighborhood), Smith was locked up and held without bail.  During the arrest, the family's dog, a boxer named Tyson,  charged the arresting officers and had to be shot dead.

     According to a statement released by a Philadelphia law enforcement spokesperson, Smith and Ketunuti, while in the doctor's basement, got into some kind of argument. The suspect punched her to the floor, jumped on top or her, and used a length of rope to strangle her to death. In an effort to destroy physical evidence that might link him to the body, Smith set fire to the victim's clothing with his lighter. (The body contained no traces of an accelerant.)

     Jason Smith, except for a 2004 DUI conviction, has no criminal record. He told his interrogators that he is addicted to prescription painkillers, and that when arguing with the pest-control customer in her basement, he "snapped." According to Smith, when the doctor "belittled" him, he flew into a murderous rage.

     A friend of the suspect, in speaking to ABC News, revealed that Smith, as a child, had a difficult time controlling his anger. The friend remembers that in his childhood Smith had problems with pyromania.

     In April 2013, at a preliminary hearing before Philadelphia Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni, homicide detective Edward Tolliver read Jason Smith's murder confession into the record. According to Detective Henry Glenn, the victim, at the time of her violent death, was wearing riding boots. Dr. Ketunuti's hand and feet had been tied behind her with a leather strap from horse gear. Smith, in his confession, told the detectives that he had bound the victim's ankles with a riding stirrup.

     After murdering Dr. Ketunuti in her home, Smith drove to another pest extermination job in New Jersey.

     At the preliminary hearing, Smith's attorneys, James A. Funt and Marc Bookman, did not contest the murder charge but asked the judge to dismiss the arson count because their client had not intended to burn down the building.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan: Crime Lab Rogues

     Last August, authorities in Massachusetts shut down the state crime lab in Jamaica Plain. A month later, state police officers arrested Annie Dookhan on charges related to the forensic chemist's deliberate mishandling of drug evidence, and her failure to follow lab testing protocols. During her tenure at the Jamaica Plain lab, Dookhan had handled more than 50,000 drug samples involving some 34,000 defendants. Now all of these cases are in jeopardy.

     On January 20, 2013, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced that state police officers had arrested forensic chemist Sonja Farak. The 35-year-old had been a drug analyst at the state lab in Amherst. The officers arrested Farak at her home in Northhampton on charges she had stolen cocaine and heroin from evidence she had certified. The forensic chemist had replaced the stolen contraband with counterfeit substances. Farak, a state chemist since 2002, was held on $75,000 bail pending her arraignment.

     Two weeks before Farak's arrest, federal inspectors had given the Amherst lab a clean bill of health. After the closing of the Jamaica Plain and Amherst facilities, police and prosecutors in Massachusetts are left with the crime lab in Sudbury, the only laboratory still open in the state.

     In 2012, crime laboratory auditors reported serious quality control problems in the Michigan state system as well as in labs in St. Paul, Minnesota, Houston, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, Hartford, Connecticut, Los Angeles and New York City. Over the past ten years, dozens of crime labs across the country lost their accreditation or were temporarily closed. These crime lab failures represent a serious breakdown in American forensic science.

     While there has been some budget cutting that affects street policing, SWAT operations, anti-terrorism programs, and drug enforcement, crime labs have suffered the most from economic austerity. The lack of adequate crime lab funding has created personnel shortages, diminished training, physical plant deterioration, and attenuated administrative oversight.

     The crime lab scandals in Massachusetts illustrate how much damage a couple of rogue forensic practitioners can inflict on a criminal justice system overwhelmed by the government's massive war on drugs.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tyrik S. Haynes: Nutcase With a Knife

     In December 2012, Tyrik S. Haynes, a disturbed 19-year-old from Middletown Township, New Jersey, set fire to a cat trapped in a carrying case, then dumped its charred remains in the woods. After torching the animal, Haynes went to a local Petco store where he tried to adopt another cat to torture and kill.

     On December 24, 2012, Victor Amato, chief of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, filed a criminal complaint against Tyrik Haynes. (One can only image what's in this  young man's juvenile file. Youngsters who set animals on fire are often mentally slow misfits with alcoholic parents and histories of erotic fire-setting. These are people you don't want living in your neighborhood.)

     If convicted of animal cruelty, a judge could sentence Haynes up to six months in jail. (The problem with cases like this is that corrections administrators don't want these people in their lock-ups.) Following his arrest, Haynes posted his bail and was released from custody.

     On Monday afternoon, January 14, 2013 at three o'clock, Tyrik Haynes was loitering inside a Bed Bath and Beyond franchise not far from his favorite Petco store. For reasons beyond comprehension, Haynes pulled out a knife and stabbed 29-year-old Kerri Dalton at least a dozen times. The victim, from Keansburg, New Jersey, was pushing a stroller containing her five-month-old baby. Parmedics rushed Dalton to the Jersey Shore University Medical Center. She is expected to survive her wounds. The victim's baby was not hurt in the bloody attack. The knife-wielding assailant and his victim were total strangers.

     Police officers, shortly after the random, senseless assault, placed Tyrik Haynes back into the Monmouth County Jail. This time his bail was set at $1 million. Haynes has been charged with attempted murder, child endangerment, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

     Politicians and criminal justice pundits can talk all day about gun control and other irrelevant, window-dressing anti-violence measures. Since we can't ban knives, or make killing cats criminal homicide, we are left with the question of how to prevent people like Tyrik Haynes from randomly stabbing total strangers in public places. Because there is nothing the police can do to prevent crimes like this, politicians avoid talking about pathologically violent criminals who cannot be deterred or rehabilitated. No politician wants to tell voters that no public place is safe from people like Tyrik Haynes. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nouel Alba and the Newtown Shooting Swindle

     Politicians aren't the only people who know how to take advantage of a crisis. Swindlers are good at it, too. (Many politicians are swindlers, but that's another story.) On December 14, 2012, shortly after Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty students in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Nouel Alba jumped into action.

     The 37-year-old resident of The Bronx, New York, using the Internet handle Victorian Glam Fairys, posted the following on her Facebook page: "All this killing and just scary. Praying for all those families and all the kids who are affected (sic) by this today. My heart goes out to all those innocent kids." Fifteen minutes later, at one-thirty on the afternoon of the massacre, Alba allegedly wrote that her nephew, a 6-year-old named Noah Pozner, was one of the victims. (Pozner, an actual victim of the mass murder, was not related to Alba.) The next day, Alba posted a message regarding how donors could send money to a Paypal account to help the boy's family pay for his funeral. Several people donated money to Alba's phony funeral fund.

     On December 19, 2012, in an interview on CNN's TV news show "AC360," Alba denied involvement in the Newtown swindle. In response to her denial, the CNN interviewer said, "This has your email on it. Right there. This is about Noah Pozner's funeral."

     "I never sent that," alba replied. On December 27, FBI agents took Alba into custody.

     Alba, in speaking to a donor who had contacted her by phone, allegedly claimed to have helped identify her nephew's body at the elementary school.

     A federal grand jury sitting in Meriden, Connecticut, on January 15, 2013, indicted Nouel Alba of one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (She denied using her Facebook account to falsely claim to be the Newtown victim's aunt, and to solicit donations on this false pretense.) The charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison, and a fine up to $250,000.

     Nouel Alba is free on $50.000 bond.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Murder Rates: Dangerous Places

     When it comes to murder rates, the United States, when compared to the rest of the world, ranks in the middle. Countries that enjoy extremely low homicide rates include Finland, Belgium, United Kingdom, Portugal, and France. European nations with murder rates that exceed America's are: Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus. Other countries with exceptionally high rates of criminal homicide include: Russia, Greenland, Congo, Uganda, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Saint Lucia.

     In the United States, while national homicide rates are no longer in steep decline, they are not dramatically surging. There are cities and towns, however, where the rate of criminal homicide continues to fall significantly. New York City, for example, had 414 criminal homicides in 2012, a 17 percent drop from the previous year. There hasn't been fewer homicides in New York since 1963. (In 1992 there were over two thousand.)

     Last year, Miami, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, cities with traditionally high rates of violent death, experienced declines in their murder rates. High murder towns that in 2012 remained dangerous places to live include Youngstown, Ohio, Camden, New Jersey, Chester, Pennsylvania, Stockton, California, and New Orleans.

     Big, crime-ridden cities that in 2012 saw their murder rates go up significantly include Los Angeles (294 homicides); Chicago (505); Cleveland (197); Philadelphia (331); and Oklahoma City (100).

     Detroit, a town of 706,000 with a history of violent crime dating back to the 1970s when the place was much more populated, and known as the Murder Capital of the United States, had the nation's highest per capita murder rate in 2012. New York City, a metropolis of eight million people, recorded 414 criminal homicides in 2012. There were, by comparison, 411 criminal homicides in the Motor City last year.  In Detroit, a miserable place to live, life continues to be cheap.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Amish Mafia: Real Gangsters or Social Misfits?

     Between 1693 and 1697, a Swiss Mennonite bishop named Jakob Ammon broke free of the Mennonites, bestowing his name on his followers--the Amish. Ammon's people fled to North America to escape religious persecution in Europe. They drifted in clusters across the continent, occupying parcels of land in some 26 states, concentrating in central Ohio and eastern Pennsylvania where more than one-quarter of this nation's 250,000 Amish reside.

     The Amish are honest, hardworking people known for their self-sufficiency and simple uniformity of dress. The women wear bonnets, shawls, heavy black shoes, black stockings, and plain, dark-colored dresses. The men grow beards (they do shave their upper lips) and dress in blues and blacks. The most conservative sects, referred to as Old-Order Amish, avoid the use of electricity and do not own motor vehicles or telephones. (Some use phones for business.) Their dwellings are unpretentious, furnished in spartan fashion and do not feature indoor plumbing.

     Members of this male-dominated society refer to those outside their faith as "the English." The Amish worship in clusters of 25 to 30 families led by an ordained elder called the bishop, the spiritual and cultural leader of the group. The bishop's authority is great, and his word, in matters of Amish life, is law.

     The Amish are stoical, keep their feelings to themselves, abhor violence, and loathe publicity. They do not abide departures from their principals of conformity, humility, devotion to God, and detachment from the modern world. Excommunicated transgressors are "shunned," sometimes permanently.

     The Mafia, a criminal syndicate that originated in Sicily, Italy, is a loose affiliation of professional thieves and killers involved in a variety of rackets and vices that include extortion, illegal gambling, drugs, prostitution, loan sharking, arson-for-profit, hijacking, and labor union corruption. A group that claims racketeering sovereignty over a particular territory is called a "family."

     Nothing could be more different than the Mafia and Amish versions of the family. The two subcultures are on the opposite extremes of American society. The Amish are quiet pacifists who shun materialism and conspicuous wealth. Mafia types are violent, vulgar, and ostentatious. The notion that there are Mafia types operating within old-order Amish society is not only shocking, it's hard to believe.

     One of this year's cable TV hits is a docu-series on the Discovery Network called "Amish Mafia." Set in the heart of Lancaster County's Amish country in southeastern Pennsylvania, the show, through reenactments, on-camera interviews, and the interactions of the series' main characters, chronicles the lives and adventures of Lebanon Levi and his three-man crew of Amish Mafioso.

     The star of the series, Lebanon Levi, is a tall, pudgy-faced, clean-shaven, soft-spoken Amish man in his late 20s or early 30s. (I presume he is from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, thus the name. I've never heard of a Mafioso with a name like Chicago Tony, or Brooklyn Paulie.) A roofer by trade who owns local real estate, the unbaptized godfather wears go-to-church Amish garb, and drives around in a Cadillac SUV. He conducts his "Mafia" business behind a desk in his barn.

     The mildly illicit business conducted out of Lebanon Levi's barn includes setting up and collecting "insurance" payments from local Amish businesses. (One owner of an Amish enterprise identified as one of Levi's premium payers has denied making protection payments.) Another source of income involves the operation of so-called "Hut Parties" where Amish and English kids gather, for a fee, to drink, dance, and do whatever. The godfather also organizes a small gambling operation connected to organized softball games.

     Lebanon Levi's bodyguard and right-hand-man is Alvin, a clean-shaven Amish man who dresses like his boss, drives a fancy pickup truck, and poses on camera with a baseball bat. No one can see the godfather without going through Alvin, Levi's most loyal and trusted soldier.

     Jolin, a tattooed Mennonite who drives a Mercedes, and poses a lot with assault rifles and pump-action shotguns, plays the role of enforcer. Notwithstanding his job description, Jolin is rather soft-spoken and mild-mannered. He comes off as too thoughtful to be violent. Like Levi, he has a minor arrest record featuring disorderly conduct type offenses. Like his boss, he has not spent time in jail, and none in prison.

     John, a tough-talking Amish man who spends a good deal of time getting advice from his sister Esther, functions as Levi's errand boy. Humiliated by the fact he has to get around on a foot-scooter, John wants desperately to take on bigger assignments and have access to a car. John wants more power, and to move up in the organization. But first he has to earn Levi's trust. John is also not above discussing, for the TV audience, the possibility of challenging Levi for control of the organization. He seems to have his sister's blessing on this issue. Eventually, by conducting business behind Levi's back, and associating with an Amish hood from Ohio who wants to expand into Pennsylvania, John gets into trouble with his former boss.

     Through his small squad of "Mafia" foot-soldiers, Lebanon Levi mainly functions as the enforcer of the Old-Order Amish code of conduct, an odd role for a man who doesn't even belong to the church. In one episode, Levi's men confront and photograph a high-ranking member of the church who's with a prostitute in a seedy motel. In another segment of the series, Levi's men confront an Old Order Amish man who has been taking advantage of an Amish woman whose husband has abandoned her. A member of Levi's crew, in a third show, visits the mobile home of an English guy involved in a buggy hit-and-run case. When the English fellow doesn't admit wrongdoing, and tells Levi's operative to get the hell off his property, the Amish Mafioso fires a shotgun slug through the windshield of the man's unoccupied parked car.

     It's what Lebanon Levi doesn't do that distinguishes him from a real Mafia leader. He doesn't sell drugs, run prostitutes, fence stolen goods, finance heists, or operate a loan sharking business. Instead of Mafia hits and severe beatings, Levi's men issue stern warnings, do a lot of tough-talking, and pose with high-powered weapons. "Amish Mafia" is not HBO's "The Sopranos."

     "Amish Mafia" is essentially a soap opera featuring four social misfits who aren't Amish, English, or Mafia. Since the show doesn't accurately depict the Amish or organized crime, I'm surprised it's so successful. Given the popularity of "Amish Mafia," next year we may be watching "Amish Housewives." 

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Steubenville Gang-Rape Case

     Steubenville, Ohio, a rust-belt town of 19,000 along the Ohio River across from the West Virginia panhandle, has seen better days. The steel mills are long gone, and what's left is unemployment, an ongoing war on drugs, and violent crime. (Even in its heyday, Steubenville was known as a hotbed of Mafia activity.) The only institution that still energizes and inspires the residents of this decaying, crime-ridden community is its high school football program. Like most people in the upper Ohio Valley, the citizens of this town 40 miles west of Pittsburgh are obsessed with high school football.

     During football season on Friday nights, half the town's population gathers in the 10,000-seat stadium to watch Steubenville Big Red roll over its opponents. The team, featuring 19 coaches, has won nine state championships. It's therefore not surprising that kids who play on the high school football team, as small-town heroes, are treated as privileged citizens. Some would even say that these kids can pretty much get away with anything.

     On the night of August 11, 2012, at the home of a "volunteer coach" (I have no idea what that is), fifty teenagers from several area high schools gathered to celebrate the end of summer and the approach of a new football season. With the beer, vodka, rum, and whisky flowing, several of the young partygoers got predictably drunk. (Drugs may also have been involved.) A 16-year-old Weirton, West Virginia girl, an honor student and athlete who attended a private religious school, allegedly fell victim to booze and lost consciousness.

     The next day, several kids who had attended the party, in their Twitter posts, wrote about the gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl who had passed out drunk. According to these social media messages, members of the Steubenville High football team, over a period of several hours with dozens of partygoers looking on, had fondled and raped the girl as she lay nude and unconscious on the floor.

     At one in the morning of August 14, 2012, two full days after the alleged sexual assaults, the girl's parents reported the crime to the Steubenville Police Department. The delay in reporting meant there would be no physical evidence of rape, or blood tests to establish the victim's intoxication. The parents provided the police with a computer flash drive containing Twitter page references to the sexual assault.

     Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty, at an August 22 press conference, announced the gang-rape allegations, and asked witnesses to come forward. The chief's request for additional information produced no results. It appeared that no one wanted to say anything that would reflect poorly on the high school football program. The Jefferson County prosecutor, and the local judge who handled juvenile matters, recused themselves from the case due to ties with the football team. As a result, the investigation was turned over to the state attorney general's office.

     Attorney general's office investigators seized 15 cellphones and 2 iPads that contained material that was quite disturbing. In a 12-minute video posted by a partygoer, a teenager is heard joking about the girl's condition, noting that because she wasn't moving while a boy was raping her, she must be dead. This witness, reflecting a state of mind that is stunning in its puerile sociopathy, says, "Is it really rape because you don't know if she wanted to or not? She might have wanted to. That might have been her final wish."

     Investigators were also in possession of a cellphone photograph of two boys carrying a limp girl in a t-shirt and blue shorts by her wrists and ankles. Another cellphone image depicts a nude girl lying on the floor naked. From other social media sources, teenagers are heard bragging about the rape. One kid called the victim "sloppy," and made comments that suggested that some of the boys had urinated on the girl.

     A prosecutor with the state attorney general's office, on August 27, 2012, charged two 16-year-old Steubenville football players with the rape of the girl from Weirton. The police arrested Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond. Mays played quarterback, and was a star on the wrestling team. Richmond, besides football, starred in basketball and track. Through their attorneys, both boys claimed they were innocent. (Mays was also charged with disseminating a photograph of a nude minor.) After spending two months in a juvenile detention center, the suspects were placed under house arrest.

     At a probable cause hearing (to establish if the state had enough evidence to take this case to trial) in October 2012, the prosecutor presented three Steubenville high school students who testified against both defendants. According to these witnesses, Mays and Richmond had driven the victim to three other parties that night where she had been raped. Mays had allegedly used his cellphone to videotape himself fondling the girl in the car en route to another party venue. Special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter told the judge that the victim had been "unresponsive, not in a position of consent, and they [the defendants] knew it. Let's be clear," she said, "they knew she was drunk."

     The judge, based upon the social media evidence, and the probable cause testimony of the three partygoers, bound the case over. The trial is scheduled for February 13, 2013.

     In late December 2012, the activist hacking group Anonymous, injected itself into the case by posting the photograph of the rape victim being carried by the wrists and ankles by two boys. The group also posted the video where male partygoers are heard joking about the alleged assault. Walter Madison, Ma'lik Richmond's attorney, told a CNN correspondent that while his client is one of the boys in the photograph, he does not appear in the video. Madison called the photograph showing Richmond as one of the boys carrying the girl "out of context," and said that the girl in question was not unconscious. The defense attorney, in referring to the hacking group, said, "A right to a fair trial for these young men has been hijacked."

     On January 5, 2013, another incriminating video surfaced on the Web featuring the comments of a Steubenville High School student named Michael Nodianos who is heard saying, "She is so raped right now. There won't be any foreplay for a dead girl. It ain't wet now to be honest. Trust me, I'm a doctor."

     Ma'lik Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison told CNN on January 5 that he plans to file a motion for change of venue. Because the local judge has taken himself out of the case, a judge sitting in Cincinnati will rule on the motion.

     Steubenville city manger Cathy Davison, on the day the video featuring Michael Nodianos became public, held a press conference. Davison announced the formation of a municipal website aimed at combating the perception that "...everyone in Steubenville is acting like the individuals involved in the case. That we are a community that is run by football. That is not the case." (I find it interesting that the city manager, instead of condemning the video-recorded behavior of the partygoers, is mainly concerned about the image of the town. This case should be about the alleged crime, and the attitude of the teenagers who witnessed and may have participated in the rape. The hell with the town. The focus should be about what's wrong with these kids? Are we producing a generation of moral zombies?)

     The Steubenville football scandal has divided the town into two camps: Big Red fans intensely loyal to the team who call the case a witch-hunt; and residents fed-up with athletes behaving badly and getting away with it. Regardless of how this case turns out for the two defendants, what has been revealed in the social media about what happened that night is really disturbing. The case also illustrates what I consider to be extreme athletic fandom, a phenomena I've never understood.


     The FBI is looking into allegations that Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla and others investigating the case have been targets of threats. Potential witnesses for the two defendants have been threatened as well. Critics of the way the crime is being handled by the authorities wonder why more high school students haven't been charged with rape. This alleged gang-rape has divided Steubenville, Ohio into warring camps of disgruntled citizens with conflicting ideas on how justice should be administered in this high-profile case.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Rape in India: A Victimless Crime

     Because of the country's high rate of infanticide, child marriage, and slavery, India is one of the worst places in the world to be a female. Moreover, girls and woman who have been raped are routinely blamed for their victimization, and discouraged from reporting these assaults to the police. If they do, the victims and their families are subjected to public ridicule and humiliation.

     Police officers in this male-dominated society often refuse to accept rape complaints. And when they  do register rape complaints, the crimes aren't professionally investigated. In those occasional instances where rape cases are taken seriously, crime lab delays slow down the process of identifying the rapists. In India's Forensic Science Laboratory in Rohini, it takes 75 days for a DNA report to come back to the investigating officer. These delays are caused by a work backlog caused by a serious shortage of qualified lab personnel. (There are many crime labs in the U.S. that have worse backlogs.) In the rare instance of an Indian rape prosecution, the case will drag on for years, and almost always ends with an acquittal. In India, rape is treated as a victimless crime.

     Among India's major cities, New Delhi, the nation's capital and home to 16 million people, has the country's highest number of reported rapes. Because such a small percentage of these assaults are reported, crime statistics do not come close to reflecting India's extremely high sex crime rate. If just half of India's rapes were reported and investigated, the nation's crime lab system, unable to cope with the workload, would completely break down.

     On the evening of December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, a 28-year-old software engineer and his 23-year-old female companion boarded a city bus after attending a movie. The woman, from an urban, middle-class family, had recently qualified as a trainee physiotherapist in a private New Delhi hospital. The bus driver and five men from the city's slums were the only other people on the bus. The passengers began taunting the woman's friend, then knocked him unconscious with a iron rod. Five of the men then beat and gang-raped the woman. At some point, the bus driver turned the wheel over to one of the rapists, walked to the back of the bus, and had sex with the beaten and bloodied woman. Before the one-hour ordeal came to an end, one of the attackers inserted the iron rod into the female victim's body. The men undressed both victims, then threw their nude bodies off the moving bus.

     The unidentified woman (In India, journalists do not have the kind of access given to American reporters.) was taken to the Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi with serious brain trauma and severe injuries to her intestines and abdomen. The police, with the help of the rape victim's friend, quickly identified the bus driver and the five other rapists. Shortly after the suspects were taken into custody, the men confessed, telling the police they had tortured and raped the woman "to teach her a lesson."

     On December 26, following three operations and a heart attack, the authorities flew the victim to Mount Elizabeth's Hospital in Singapore.

     This brutal beating and gang rape on a city bus (operated by a private company) sent thousands of protesters into the streets in several Indian cities. The irate protestors demonstrated against the government's lax attitude toward crimes against women. In New Delhi, demonstrators clashed with riot police.

     Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, facing serious civil unrest, promised police and legislative reforms. But the public demonstrations continued throughout the country, growing in strength daily.

     On December 29, 2012, at 4:45 in the morning, the female victim of the brutal bus attack died in the Singapore hospital. Her body was flown back to India for cremation. (In the United States, there would be an autopsy.) The rape victim's cause of death has been listed as brain injury complicated by a lung infection. The six men responsible for her torture, rape, and death have been charged with murder, which in India can lead to the death penalty. (The Indian media has not provided any information regarding the identities of the rapists, or of their male victim.)

     The fact that Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations voiced "deep sorrow" over this young woman's ordeal and death, reveals how this case has focused international attention on India's rape problem.

     On the day following the 23-year-old's passing, a human rights organization called on the Indian government to ban the so-called "finger test," a medical procedure routinely given to rape victims. This unscientific and irrelevant measure involves testing the laxity of a rape victim's vagina to determine if she has been "habitual to sexual intercourse." The obvious purpose of this procedure is to humiliate victims and to discourage them from reporting their rapes.

     Amid the women's rights protests, a legislator from the state of Rajasthan, in proposing his own rape prevention measure, suggested replacing girls' school uniform skirts with pants. While many ridiculed this politician and his idea, it reflects how most men in India blame rape on the rape victim . If the five slum degenerates and the bus driver hadn't beaten and murdered this young woman, she would be alive, and they would still be out in public raping women with impunity.

     City politicians in New Delhi, facing a wave of public anger, have tendered the rape victim's family monetary compensation. Officials have also offered one of the victim's unemployed relatives a government job. I'm sure they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.

     I don't know enough about India to venture a guess as to whether or not this case will be the catalyst for change in that country. But given the nature of government, and how difficult it is to change deeply ingrained cultural traditions, it's hard to be optimistic. There is one good sign, however. At least half of the anti-rape protestors have been men. (The women held candles for the victim while the men called for the perpetrators to be quickly hanged.)


     On January 3, 2013, five of the suspects were charged with, among other crimes, rape, kidnapping, and murder. The defendants are Ram Singh, the 33-year-old bus driver; his brother Mukesh, 26 who cleaned buses for the company; Pavan Gupta, 19, a fruit vendor; Akshay Singh, 24, a bus washer; and Vinay Sharma, 20, a fitness trainer. The sixth suspect, a juvenile, has not yet been charged.

     The male friend assaulted by the men on the bus, in his first public statement about the case, said that he and his friend were lying nude and bleeding on the street for an hour while pedestrians passed by without stopping to help them.

     On January 6, 2013, a popular Indian spiritual guru who calls himself godman Asharam, in a video circulated in the Internet, said, "This tragedy would not have happened if she [the murder victim] had chanted God's name and fallen at the feet of the attackers. The error was not committed by just one side." (Since when is gang-rape/murder an "error?" This so-called guru should rename himself "Asharam The Idiot."

     A defense attorney representing three of the accused rapist/murderers, announced on January 9 that his clients will be pleading not guilty. The attorney has also claimed that the suspects were beaten by the police.

     A second gang-rape involving an Indian bus passenger has occurred in a village in the northern state of Punjab. On January 11, 2013, the bus driver and his conductor drove the 29-year-old victim, the only passenger on the bus, to a vacant building where they and five other men raped the woman. The timing of this crime makes one wonder if these rapists were making a political statement.


     On March 11, 2013, one of the men in custody for the New Delhi bus rape was found dead in his cell. Police say Ram Singh had hanged himself. The suspect's father claimed that he had been murdered.