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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing Quote: How Publishers Screen Manuscripts

Publishers will tell you...that every manuscript which reaches their office is faithfully read, but they are not to be believed. At least fifteen out of twenty manuscripts can be summarily rejected, usually with safety. There may be a masterpiece among them, but it is a thousand to one against.

Michael Joseph in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Friday, April 26, 2013

Was Paul Kevin Curtis Framed in the Ricin Poison Case?

     Ricin is a naturally occurring protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal. Delivered through the air, injected, or swallowed, ricin is 6,000 times more toxic than cyanide. There is no antidote for this poison.

     In 1978, an assassin used ricin to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer, dissident and defector. The killer used the tip of an umbrella to deliver the ricin as Markov waited for a bus in London. The victim died four days after being pricked by the deadly umbrella.

     Ricin was used as a warfare agent in Iraq during the 1980s. In 2004, someone sent a ricin-laced letter to U. S. Senator Bill Frists. The letter was intercepted at a mail sorting facility outside of Washington, D. C. The sender has never been identified.

     On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings, postal workers at a mail-handling facility outside of Washington discovered a suspicious letter addressed to U. S. Senator Roger Wicker. The letter to the senator from Mississippi turned out to be laced with ricin. Dated April 8, 2013 and postmarked Memphis, Tennessee, the envelope did not include a return address.

     A second ricin letter, one addressed to President Obama, was also intercepted at an off-site D. C. area mail-handling center. Both letters were signed, "I am K. C. and I approve of this message."

     FBI agents, on April 17, 2013, arrested a 45-year-old man from Corinth, Mississippi on federal charges related to the two ricin mailings. The suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, had used the phrase "I am K. C. and I approve of this message" on his Facebook page. Curtis has a history of mental illness and a handful of misdemeanor arrests. When he wasn't posting online political rants, Curtis worked as an impersonator of celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bon Jovi, and Prince. (Prince?)

     On April 23, 2013, after searches of the suspect's home, vehicle, and computer failed to provide incriminating evidence, the charges against Curtis were dropped. A federal judge ordered his release from jail. Following his release from custody, the father of four told reporters that he had been framed by J. Everett Dutschke, a long-time personal enemy from Tupelo, Mississippi.

     According to media reports, Mr. Dutschke is awaiting trial on a child molestation charge. In 2007 he ran for a seat in the Mississippi state legislature. In that race he lost to the incumbent. Although FBI agents have searched Dutschke's house, no criminal charges have been filed against him.

     A third ricin letter, one that links Paul Kevin Curtis and Everett Dutschke to the case, actually reached its intended target. The receiver of this piece of mailed poison was an 80-year-old Mississippi judge. In 2004, Judge Sadie Holland presided over an assault case that sent Curtis to jail for six months. Judge Holland is linked to Mr. Dutschke through a long-running political feud between their families.

     After opening the threatening letter, Judge Holland called the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The judge was not poisoned by the letter. (I presume it was also signed, "I am K. C. and I approve of this message.")

     While frame-up scenarios are common in crime fiction, they are rare events in real life. If Mr. Curtis and the FBI were victims of a frame-up, this fact alone will make this an unusual case.


     FBI agents, on April 27, 2013, arrested Everett Dutschke on unspecified federal charges. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gerald Davis Shoots Lap Dancer and Himself at Rialto, California Strip Club

     On April 17, 2013, police in the southern California city of Rialto were called to the Spearmint Rhino Gentleman's Club regarding shots fired. When the officers arrived at the strip club, they found a 23-year-old exotic dancer named Jacqueline Marquez-Figueroa bleeding from a gunshot wound to her neck.

     Paramedics rushed the strip club dancer to the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton where she underwent emergency surgery. The bullet had entered the back of her neck and was lodged in her jaw. (She is expected to survive the wound.)

     Police officers had found the wounded dancer, a resident of Moreno Valley, lying just outside a private lap dance room. On the other side of the door officers discovered Gerald Paxton Davis. The 46-year-old was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

     According to the police, the San Bernardino strip club regular had been paying Marquez-Figueroa, who worked under the name "Egypt," for lap dances since January 2013. Investigators believe he shot the dancer and them himself after she rejected his sexual advances.

     At the time of the shootings, there were ten employees and ten customers in the club.

     A week earlier, in the same establishment, a California correctional officer attempted suicide by cutting his wrists following a lap dance.

     These two cases suggest that among those drawn to gentlemen's clubs are lonely, depressed men who are losing touch with reality. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing Quote: Margaret Atwood: The Writer as Optimist

All writers are optimists. We have to be. In order to be a writer, you need to believe in four things. First, I have a book to write. Second, I can write it. Third, I can get it published. And fourth, that someone will read it. That's about as optimistic as it gets. [At times I've felt more stupid than optimistic.]

Margaret Atwood, novelist, 2013 interview 

Monday, April 22, 2013

El Cajon, California Police Officer Shot Bicycle Rider Raymond Goodlow in the Face

     At ten in the morning, while on routine patrol in the San Diego County city of El Cajon, a police officer saw Raymond Goodlow riding his bicycle on the sidewalk in violation of the municipal code. It was Friday, April 19, 2013.

     From the police car, the officer told the homeless man to pull over and stop. Goodlow ignored the order and pedaled into a used car lot. The officer got out of the cruiser and chased Goodlow down on foot.

     What should have been a minor, routine police stop took an ominous turn when the officer instructed Goodlow to move his hand away from his waistband. When the cyclist failed to respond to the order, the officer shot him in the face.

     Paramedics rushed the bleeding man to a nearby trauma center where doctors diagnosed him with a non-life threatening gunshot wound.

    At the site of the shooting, among pieces of Goodlow's clothing that had been cut off by the emergency personnel, investigators found two knives. (I assume they belonged to Goodlow.) The officer who shot this man is on paid administrative leave pending an internal review of the shooting.

     Routine police-citizen encounters like this should not result in the use of deadly force. Because the officer feared that Goodlow was armed with a handgun, police investigators will probably classify the shooting as justified. But that doesn't mean deadly force was necessary in this case, or that the shooting reflects ideal police work. Because Raymond Goodlow was a transient without influence in the community, this police involved shooting will probably not raise much of a stir. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Property Rights and Freedom

Man's liberty is, of course, often related to his property rights. The home and its privacy are property rights. Ownership of a press is essential to the freedom granted newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Ownership of a church or cathedral is basic to the free enterprise of religion.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, 1963

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writing Bulletin: Talent and the Creative Process

     Many writers are reluctant to talk about the creative process--that is, how and where they get their talent, ideas, and inspiration to write. Many authors deny that talent is an inborn gift while others ridicule the notion that writers have to be inspired before they can create. I believe that while there are a few people simply incapable of writing anything decent, most individual can teach themselves the craft well enough to write for publication.

     Most of the highly literate novel writers born with special literary gifts are, is some shape or form, mentally ill. No joke. A good many of them are also suicidal alcoholics and drug addicts. Being hit with the born literary gift is like being struck by lightening. No thanks.

     Perhaps having some natural ability to write and create is more common that not having it at all. The need to create probably resides in most people. When a reader tells a writer that he can't imagine how one can write a book or an article, some writers may wonder how a person couldn't produce a literary work.

     I think a lot of authors like to give the false impression that writing is extremely difficult. Once you get the hang of it, it's fairly easy. That's the writer's dirty little secret. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Defense Attorney Fees

It doesn't matter if my client is guilty. By the time he's paid my fee I've punished him enough.

Percy Foreman (1902-1988)

Writing Quote: Book Signings

My favorite book signing story is about Stephen King, who one time signed books in Seattle until his fingers cracked and started to bleed. The publicist who watched this says how she had to hold an ice pack to King's shoulder the whole time, and the moment he asked for a bandage, a fan in line shouted for some of King's blood on his books. The bandage never arrived, and after hours of bleeding, King left the event pale and flanked by bodyguards.

Chuck Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction, 2004

Planted DNA Evidence in the Anthony Turner Rape Case

     In 1999, when DNA from three rape victims matched Anthony Turner with a probability of three million to one, he was convicted of rape. Turner claimed the DNA must have come from someone else, but he had no twin brother. When he was awaiting sentencing, a woman said she had been raped. When tested, her attacker's DNA matched Turner's--even though he had been in jail at the time of the last rape.

     As it turns out, the woman who made the fourth (and final) accusation had been hired by members of Turner's family. They paid her $50 to make the rape claim, and even supplied her with the "evidence"--all to discredit the three previous, positive DNA tests. The semen that had been tested had actually been snuck out of prison by Turner in a ketchup packet.

The Monday Murder Club, A Miscellany of Murder, 2011 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Writing Bulletin: Being In Touch With The Literary World

     Like most writers, my principal connection with the literary world has been through books and magazines. I've read hundreds of books and articles about writing, publishing, and the writing life by well-known writers, how-to authors, editors, literary agents, critics, journalists, and writing teachers.

     Besides literary biographies and autobiographies, as well as the published letters and journals of literary figures, I enjoy reading memoir/how-to books by celebrated writers. Examples of this genre include The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer, On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing by George V. Higgins, The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, None But a Blockhead by Larry L. King, and Chandler Speaking by Raymond Chandler.

     My library is also stocked with collections of author interviews such as the Writers at Work series featuring the Paris Review interviews conducted by George Plimpton and his colleagues. Interviewees in this eight-book series, which ran from 1958 to 1981, include Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John O'Hara, John Cheever, and James Jones.

     I also like to read so-called "conversation with" books, collections of interviews featuring a single writer such as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Graham Green, Tom Wolfe, and Eudora Welty.

     While I've corresponded over the years with a handful of well-known authors, I've only had one literary friend. That person is the mystery writer Ross H. Spencer who died in 1998. 

Criminal Justice Quote: How Many Serial Killers Are There?

The total maximum number of all known serial killer victims in the United States over a span of 195 years between 1800 and 1995 is estimated at 3,860. Of this total, a maximum of 1,398 victims were murdered between 1975 and 1995, at an average of 70 victims a year. Even if we account for unknown victims, that figure is nowhere near the 3,500 annual number [of serial killer victims] so often bandied about.

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Historic Dates in American Crime and Terrorism

     The crimes, trials, arrests, and acts of terrorism listed below generated heavy media coverage as well as public fear. Some of these events caused major changes in law enforcement. They also influenced American culture and the way we live our daily lives.

February 14, 1929:  Chicago's St. Valentines Day Massacre

March 1, 1932:  Lindbergh Kidnapping/Murder

April 3, 1936:  Execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for Lindbergh Murder

January 17, 1950:  The Great Brinks Robbery in Boston

July 4, 1954:  Murder of Dr. Sam Shepard's Wife Marilyn

November 30, 1957 to January 21, 1958:  Charles Starkweather/ Caril Ann Fugate murders

November 14, 1959:  Clutter Family Murders (Kansas)  that inspired Truman Capote's  In Cold Blood

November 22, 1963:  John F. Kennedy Assassination

April 7, 1967:  Henry Hill's Air France Kennedy Airport Heist that inspired Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy and the Movie "Goodfellas"

April 4, 1968:  Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination

June 6, 1968:  Robert Kennedy Assassination

August 9, 1969:  Charles Manson's Followers Kill Sharon Tate and Others

November 24, 1971:  D. B. Cooper's  Skyjacking of 727

May 28, 1972:  First Watergate Burglary in D. C.

January 4, 1974 to February 9, 1978:  Ted Bundy Serial Murders

July 29, 1976 to March 8, 1977:  Sam Berkowitz (Son of Sam) Murders

December 12, 1980:  John Lennon Murder

March 30, 1981:  Assassination Attempt on President Ronald Reagan

October 5, 1982:  31 Million Tylenol Bottles Recalled After 7 Poisoning Deaths

May 30, 1970 to March 30, 1987: Donald Harvey's Angel of Death Hospital Poisoning Spree

March 13, 1991:  Rodney King Police Beating

February 26, 1993:  First World Trade Center Bombing

April 19, 1993:  Deadly FBI Raid of Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas

June 12, 1994:  Murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman

April 19, 1995:  Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing

October 3, 1995:  O. J. Simpson Acquittal

April 3, 1996:  Unabomber Ted Kaczynski Arrest

December 25, 1996:  Murder of JonBenet Ramsey

April 20, 1999:  Columbine School Shootings

September 11, 2001:  Terrorist Attack on New York's Twin Towers

December 22, 2001: Richard Reid Shoe Bomber Case

August 1 to October 24, 2002:  D. C. Beltway Sniper Shootings

December 24, 2002:  Scott Peterson's Wife Laci Goes Missing

August 28, 2003: Brian Wells Murdered by "Pizza Bomber"

May 30, 2005:  Natalee Holloway Disappearance in Aruba

October 2, 2006:  Pennsylvania Amish School Shootings

April 16, 2007:  Virginia Tech Shootings

November 5, 2009:  Fort Hood (Texas) Shootings

January 8, 2011:  Shooting Spree Involving Gabrille Giffords

July 5, 2011:  Casey Anthony Murder Trial Acquittal

June 22, 2012:  Jerry Sandusky's Guilty Verdict in Penn State Child Molestations

July 20, 2012: Aurora, Colorado Theater Shootings

December 14, 2012:  Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings in New Town, Connecticut

April 15, 2013:  Boston Marathon Bombings

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: History's Obscure Serial Killer

Henry Lee Moore, between 1911 and 1912, was a traveling serial killer who murdered more that twenty-three people--entire families. But little is known about him--he is a mere footnote. In September 1911, using an axe, Moore killed six victims in Colorado Springs--a man, two women, and four children. In October [of that year] he killed three people in Monmouth, Illinois, and then slaughtered a family of five in Ellsworth, Kansas, the same month. In June 2012, he killed a couple in Paola, Kansas, and several days later he killed seven people, including four children, in Villisca, Iowa. Moore then returned home to Columbia, Missouri, where he murdered his mother and grandmother. At this point he was arrested and prosecuted in December 1912. [I presume he was hanged.]

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Crime Bulletin: "Celebrity Swatting" in LA

     The term "swatting" pertains to a dangerous practical joke involving a false 911 report of a shooting that riggers a SWAT team response to the home of the prankster's victim. (Many of these 911 callers disguise the origins of their messages by using multiple computer servers and other high-tech tricks.) Swatting defendants are usually charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor offense that usually brings a fine and up to 90 days in jail.

     While the law doesn't treat swatting as a serious offense, the crime involves the potential that a police officer or an occupant of the target dwelling could get shot.  SWAT raids are tense, hair-trigger operations that frequently go wrong. If a SWAT officer is accidentally shot and killed during a raid caused by a swatter, the offender cannot be charged under the felony-murder doctrine because the underlying crime is a misdemeanor.

     Last year in Los Angeles, several celebrities were targeted by these 911 pranksters. Victims of the so-called celebrity swattings included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell, Ashton Kutcher, and the Kardashian family. In 2013, swatters victimized Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Selena Gomez, Clint Eastwood, Ryan Seacrest, and Justin Timberlake. Nationwide, the police have reported more than 400 of these 911 abuses. (On a less serious note, a 911 caller in Girard, Pennsylvania recently asked the emergency dispatcher to divorce her from her husband. The woman was charged with disorderly conduct.)

     In April 2013, the media relations spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department announced that the agency would no longer issue press releases regarding celebrity swatting cases. Police administrators believe that the publication of these incidents has produced copycat offenses. The media spokesperson, in further justifying the news blackout, expressed concern over how this reportage intruded on the celebrity victims' privacy. (Celebrities, by choice, are not private people. They are however, rich and wield a lot of influence in southern California.)

     On April 9, 2013, a California state Senate committee unanimously approved a bill to require people convicted of swatting pay for the cost of the police response. (Some of these SWAT deployments cost up to $10,000.) The Senate bill also imposes a stiffer sentence for convicted swatters. Under the proposed legislation, an offender will receive a minimum of 120 days in the county jail. (These local politicians are either unaware of California's shortage of jail space, or are simply grandstanding for attention and votes.)



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Effect of Prison Overcrowding

Cramped quarters and a lack of privacy can lead to a heightened level of tension in correction facilities. In turn, as tension grows the incidence of violence against staff and fellow inmates increase. With minimum staffing and growing supervision responsibilities, corrections officers and inmates are more vulnerable.

Matthew T. Mangino, attorney and columnist 

Writing Quote: Successful Novelists Who Practiced Law

I enjoy the dubious distinction of being known among lawyers as a writer, and among writers as a lawyer.

Arthur Train (1875-1945). My Day in Court, 1939.

[Other lawyers who became successful novelists include: Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, John Mortimer, Louis Auchincloss, John Grisham, and Richard North Patterson.] 

Crime Bulletin: Fear of Terrorism Outweighs Fear of Crime

     A recent study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland reveals that Americans are more concerned about a terrorist attack than being victims of violent crime. The prevailing view expressed in this study is that terrorists will find a way to carry out major attacks no matter what the government does to prevent such assaults. This reality regarding the threat of terrorism is illustrated by the Boston Marathon Bombings.

     Notwithstanding the recent carnage in Boston, Americans are at a much higher risk of crime victimization than terrorism. That of course is subject to change. 

Recommendations for Less Militarized Policing

     Although militarized policing doesn't provide added protection from crime and domestic terrorism, it alienates innocent people, costs money the country can't afford, turns public servants into combat warriors, and, in a free nation, is inappropriately oppressive.

     The first step toward police demilitarization would include a de-escalalation of the war on drugs followed by the disbanding of SWAT teams that exist primarily to serve predawn, no-knock search warrants. Demilitarizing law enforcement would also include the termination of the special forces training of ordinary police officers.

     Step two would involve replacing zero-tolerance, no-discretion law enforcement with the less aggressive community model of policing where officers function more as public servants than as occupiers of enemy territory. Less fear mongering from politicians and police administrators would also improve police-community relations.

     And finally, reducing the role of the federal government in dealing with criminal offenses that can be adequately handled on the local level would further enhance police-community relations.

     In the larger jurisdictions where SWAT teams are occasionally needed, training should be standardized and intense. Officer assigned to routine patrol should not receive SWAT training, or be issued paramilitary weapons. SWAT operations should be subjected to enhanced civilian oversight and, if there are too many botched or low-risk raids, disbanded. Legislators, in cases where victims of wrong-house raids sue the government, might consider a kind of tort law reform that would make the recovery of civil damages less difficult.

     As crime rates have been decreasing nationally for decades, American policing has become more militarized. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Writing Bulletin: How Factual are Biographies?

     As a literary form, is there such a thing as pure nonfiction? How close to pure nonfiction can a biographer get in recreating the life of his subject? In a 1968 magazine interview, Irving Stone, the originator of the so-called biographical novel, suggests that, in biography, there is no such thing as pure nonfiction:

     "You can never get 100 percent documentation on what a man or woman thought and did throughout a lifetime. Even if you get everything available, and that is what I strive for, you are still a way short of a full understanding of that individual because thousands of hours of interior monologue are unrecorded--many of the days, weeks and months of worry and anxiety and frustration and taking time to think through a problem....It is very difficult for the author to know what went on in that mind, step by step."

Writing Quote: Science Fiction Versus Fantasy

     A science fiction story is one in which the story couldn't happen without its scientific content. The story can't contradict what we currently accept as scientific fact, such as the possibility of going faster than light, but it can speculate on what may turn out to be fact--such as a way to travel though some kind of space where the speed of light is not a factor.

     A fantasy story is one in which the conditions are flatly contrary to scientific fact. Magic works. Supernatural beings intervene in human affairs. People have destinies, often foretold long before their birth. [In science fiction there are rocket ships; in fantasy, magic carpets.]

Crawford Kilian, Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1998

Criminal Justice Quote: The Courtroom as a Forum

The courtroom is an ideal forum in which to radicalize people, to expose the government and so on. It's a battlefield. And it's a good battlefield. And it's one in which we have a forum. My people can't get on the floor of Congress. They can't get on the Supreme Court. They can't get in the oval office. But, by God, they have a spokesperson in that courtroom.

William M. Kunstler (1919-1995) self-described "radical lawyer" 

Crime Bulletin: Angel of Death Doctor and Her Team accused of Murdering Seven ICU Patients in Brazil

     During the past seven years, at Hospital Evangelico in the city of Curtiba in the south of Brazil, 1,700 intensive care patients have died. These patients were under the care of Dr. Virginia Helena Soares deSouza and her ICU team of three doctors, three nurses, and a physiotherapist. Dr. deSouza and members of her staff have been charged with murdering seven critically ill patients between 2006 and 2013.

     According to homicide investigators, Dr. deSouza ordered members of her medical team to kill these patients in a variety of ways. Some patients died of asphyxia when their oxygen levels were reduced. Others were either given muscle-relaxing drugs or simply had their plugs pulled. The authorities believe these patients were murdered to free up hospital beds.

     Dr. deSouza and her seven assistants have each been charged with aggravated first degree murder. According to the authorities in charge of the homicide investigation, detectives have identified an additional twenty suspicious ICU deaths, and will be reviewing another 300 cases.

     Dr. deSouza, a 56-year-old widow, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Following her arrest in February 2013, she posted bail and was released.

     When all is said and done, this case could end up being one of the worst angel of death serial murder sprees in Brazilian history. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Quote: The Age of the Memoir

This is the age of the memoir. Never have personal narratives gushed so profusely from the American soil as in the closing of the twentieth century. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it....Until this decade [1990s] memoir writers tended to stop short of harsh reality, cloaking with modesty their most private and shameful memories. Today no remembered episode is too sorid, no family too dysfunctional, to be trotted out for the wonderment of the masses in books and magazines and on talk shows.

William Zinsser, Inventing the Truth, The Art and Craft of Memoirs, 1998

Crime Bulletin: The Dubai Police and the World's Fastest Patrol Car

     Dubai, an oil-rich international playground for the wealthy on the Persian Gulf Coast of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. If you are arrested by the Dubai Police, you'll be driven to jail in one of their green-and-white patrol cars.

     In April 2013, the deputy police director of Dubai announced that the department had upgraded its patrol fleet with several Camaros and other American-made muscle cars. But the crown jewel of the Dubai fleet is a new Lamborghini Aventador, and Italian-made V-12 sports car that sells for $404,000 and can reach speeds up to 225 mph. In addition to the tallest building in the world, the largest shopping mall, and what will become the biggest ferris wheel on the globe, Dubai now has the fastest police car.

     I'm sure the officer driving the Lamborghini will not be using the sleek vehicle to haul drunks to jail. I don't even know if the car has a backseat.

     The Lamborghini is obviously for show, an advertisement promoting the city's wealth and prosperity. In America, money-strapped police departments show-off high-dollar SWAT tanks to project the image of power and authority. These are completely different messages that distinguish the two nations. 

Writing Quote: Mickey Spillane's Hardboiled Private Detective Mike Hammer

I lived to kill the scum and the lice that wanted to kill themselves. I lived to kill so that others could live. I lived to kill because my soul was a hardened thing that reveled in the thought of taking the blood of the bastards who made murder their business. I lived because I could laugh it off and others couldn't. I was the evil that opposed other evil, leaving the good and the meek in the middle to live and inherit the earth.

Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane's One Lonely Night, 1961

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Christopher Knight: Maine's North Pond Hermit Burglary Case

     In 1986, a year after Christopher T. Knight graduated from Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Maine, he took to the woods where he lived as a hermit for 27 years. From his Kennebec County campsite in the central part of the state, the so-called North Pond Hermit managed to survive in the wilderness without hunting, fishing, or foraging for food, clothing, or shelter. He stole what he needed from camps and cottages around the town of Rome. To avoid detection, Knight never started a fire. He stole propane to cook and keep warm on stolen propane stoves.

     Christopher Knight lived in a tent covered by tarps suspended between two trees. He slept in a LL Bean sleeping bag on a raised, homemade bed. In addition to his propane heating and cooking stoves, he had a battery-operated radio with an antenna that ran up a tree. Over the years the hermit burglar had stolen shovels, rakes, Nintendo Game Boys, a battery-operated TV set, coolers, coffee pots, and all of his clothing. He didn't even buy his own toilet paper.

     On April 4, 2013, Knight stole $283 worth of food from the Pine Tree Camp for Children with Disabilities located near the village of Rome. Knight had broken into this camp fifty times. On this occasion, however, he got caught when he activated a surveillance camera sensor that had been installed by a game warden. State troopers arrested Knight later that day at his campsite.

     Charged with one count of burglary and a single count of theft, Knight is in the Kennebec County Jail under $5,000 cash bond. Police officers have dismantled and hauled-off the hermit's campsite. The job required two pickup trucks, and will probably lead to more burglary charges.

     While Knight's long suffering burglary victims should be happy he's in custody, the North Pond Hermit will probably become, in the eyes of many, some kind of folk hero. You know, a real-life Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to himself.

     In this unusual case, I'm having trouble figuring out how a man in the woods got away with 1,000 burglaries over a period of 27 years. One would think that hunters and game wardens had stumbled upon his campsite many times. Others must have seen him walking on roads around Rome. In the world of crime, I can't image any burglar not getting caught well before his 1000th break-in. I'm guessing that Mr. Knight's activities and location were known by a number people who chose not to turn him in.  


     On April 13, 2013, a man who doesn't known the hermit burglar, showed up at the Kennebec County Jail and offered to pay his $5,000 bond. (Charged with additional burglaries, the authorities have raised Knight's bail to $250,000.) A woman has called the jail with a marriage proposal. It won't be long until literary agents, movie producers, and reality TV executives arrive at the jail with proposals of their own.  

Criminal Justice Quote: The Fascination of Murder

     To say that as a society we take an interest in murder is an understatement. From today's headlines to tomorrow's books, TV, and movies, murder reigns supreme. And as if the more that half a million real-life murders a year around the globe (some 17,000 in 2010 in the United States alone) somehow constituted a lack of violent death, we make up for that lack in fiction--adding a never-ending supply of made-up stories of murder and mayhem to the count.

     To paraphrase P. D. James [an English crime novelist], our fascination with this worst of crimes--a crime against the very humanity of our fellow humanity--perhaps lies more with our desire to restore order than it does with the despicable act itself. At any rate, fascinated we are--and remain.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Expert Witness

The expert's greatest weakness lies in the fact that he is called as an expert and is most reluctant to admit that he doesn't know all that is knowable about the subject to which he is called to testify.

Edward Huntington Williams, The Doctor in Court, 1929

Friday, April 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Physical Murder Clues

Clues are tangible signs which prove--or seem to prove--that no crime can be committed by thoughts only, and that we live in a world regulated by mechanical laws. The dead man was not killed by a ghostly hand but by a murderer of flesh and blood.

Theodore Reik, The Unknown Murderer, 1945

Eugene Maraventano: The Man Who Could Kill His Wife and Son But Not Himself

     Sixty-four-year-old Eugene Maraventano, his wife Janet, and their 27-year-old son Bryan lived in Goodyear, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. On April 6, 2013, Maraventano called 911 to report he had killed his wife and son. To the dispatcher her said, "I can't kill myself. I stabbed them to death. My wife had cancer."

     When police officers rolled up to the two-story stucco house, they encountered Mr. Maraventano walking out of the dwelling wearing clothing soaked in his own blood. (He had murdered his 63-year-old wife and their son four days earlier, but had just attempted suicide.)

     Inside the Maraventano house, police discovered Janet dead in the master bedroom. The carpet, bed, and bedroom door were stained with the victim's blood. A bloody 14-inch kitchen knife lay on the nightstand next to the bed.

     In another bedroom, officers discovered Bryan Maraventanto dead on the floor not far from the doorway. He had been stabbed as well.

    Later on the day of the 911 call, a police interrogator asked Mr. Maraventano the obvious question: Why did he kill his wife and son? The subject explained that he suspected he had infected his wife with a sexually transmitted disease he had picked up from patronizing prostitutes when he worked in New York City. After her cancer diagnosis, he was worried she would test positive for HIV. He had killed his wife to spare incurring her wrath and disapproval.

     As to why he had murdered his son, Mr. Maraventano said that the kid had no life. He didn't have a job or a girlfriend, and just sat around the house all day playing video games. He figured Bryan had some kind of mental disability, and wouldn't be able to make it on his own.

     After the cold-blooded murder, Maraventano tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists and putting a plastic bag over his head. When he couldn't commit suicide using those techniques, he placed a knife handle against a wall and pushed himself into it. That didn't work either, so he gave up trying.

     Following treatment for his self-inflicted wounds at a local hospital, Eugene Maraventano, charged with two counts of first degree murder, was placed in the county jail under $2 million bond. 

Writing Quote: The Writer's Day Job

There's a difference between a vocation and a profession. A vocation is a calling--something you are called to. A profession is something that you practice...In the states, I think about 10 percent of the novel writers actually make a living out of their novel writing. The others have the vocation, but they can only partly have the profession, because they have to spend the rest of their time making money in order to keep themselves in their habit. They are word junkies. They've got to pay for their fix. I chose university teaching because there is a long summer vacation, and also because you could fake it.

Margaret Atwood, novelist

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Root Cause of Pathological Violence In America

In the United States, 26.2 percent of Americans ages 28 years and older suffer from some form of diagnosable mental disorder....In 2012, nearly 312.8 million people were living in the Untied States with only an estimated 412 psychiatric hospitals....These numbers are very alarming [because] there are not enough mental facilities to cover half of the population diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Many with depression, anxiety, and other...disorders do not seek medical attention because of lack of knowledge, embarrassment, or [lack of money]. (No wonder there are so many murder-suicides, spree shootings, spree knifings, hostage situations and police involved shootings.)

Ashley Chapman, The Guardian Express 

Writing Quote: What Should You Write About?

That old dictum, write what you know? I've always thought that was terrible advice. Most of us don't know much. And what we do know can feel shopworn in the retelling. Shopworn or just divested of emotional content. Sometimes, the things we're closest to--our lives, for instance--are the very things we least want to examine with rigor. So I prefer: Write what you can learn about.

Fiona Maazel, novelist

Criminal Justice Quote: Fudging Crime Statistics

As [New York City mayor] Michael Bloomberg made the rounds last spring touting the Big Apple as "the safest big city in America," an internal NYPD report confirmed that more than a dozen crime reports had been manipulated--including felonies downgraded and incident reports deep-sixed--to lower the [city's] crime rate. As punishment for exposing the tampering and corruption, the whistle-blowing officer, Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly taped the manipulation, was suspended and forced into a psych ward.

Michelle Malkin, Journalist

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Serbian War Veteran Murders Thirteen in Village Shooting Spree

     A 60-year-old veteran of the 1991-1995 Serb-Croat War named Ljubisa Bogdanovic went on a early morning house-by-house killing spree in the Serbian village of Ivanca 25 miles southeast of Belgrade. Between five and five-thirty on the Morning of April 9, 2013, Mr. Bogdanovic, using a 9 mm pistol, shot and killed thirteen people. He murdered them as they slept in their beds, in five separate dwellings. His victims included six women and a 2-year-old toddler.

     Bogdanovic began his deadly rampage by killing his son. Before being taken into custody, the spree-killer shot himself and his wife. Both survived their wounds but are in critical condition.

     According to the police, Bogdanovic was a "quiet" man with no history of mental illness. He had a government permit to own the murder weapon.

     In 2007, a Serbian villager with a hunting rifle shot nine people to death. The Bogdanovic murder spree is the deadliest shooting incident in Serbia since the end of the Balkan Wars.


     On April 11, 2013, Bogdanovic and his wife Javorka died from their gunshot wounds.


Criminal Justice Quote: Creative Writing Students Who Stalk Their Professors

For creative writing teachers, stalkers are such a basic condition of employment that, in the interest of full disclosure, they should probably be included in the job ad: Poor pay; negligible benefits (if any); and yes, you will be stalked.

Scott Bradfield, novelist

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing Bulletin: Style Over Substance

     As a reader, I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style, or is more concerned with style than communication. It's a lot like a politician who takes on a speaker's voice when talking publicly. I consider this, in writers and politicians, pretentious and phony. I prefer to read authors who don't recognize their own literary voices, or if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique.

     There is a dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in the promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, a university public relations person might write: "The goal of our institution involves providing our students with a quality education at a reasonable price." Because this is so obvious, to say it directly and plainly makes it sound kind of stupid. But when a mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst. Here is an example of highly pretentious writing taken from a pamphlet published by a relatively prestigious liberal arts college:

     "The mission of ________College is to help young men and women develop competencies, commitments and characteristics that have distinguished human beings at their best. All of us who are affiliated with the College are working toward that end each day in as many different ways as their are students on this campus. (Wow, 1,400 different ways.) Our students have unique talents and new insights that are being developed during each interaction with faculty, staff, alumni and other students. (I taught at the college level for 32 years. Where I worked, very few students had unique talent and new insights. In fact, some of them were uniquely untalented and completely without insight. So in my opinion, the talent/insight stuff is a load of stylistic crap.) For each student, those interactions become building blocks in their foundation for living." (Yeah, sure.)

     Ignore, if you can, the lack of substance, unadulterated puffing, and pandering in this mission statement and look at the style. Note the lofty and, to my mind, cheesy alliteration that starts off with the words--competencies, commitments and characteristics--and the use of the buzz words distinguished, affiliated, insights, interaction, and foundation, typical university-speak wordage comparable to university-speak favorites such as outcomes, challenges, and impact (instead of affect) not used in this passage.

     If I were a creative writing teacher, I would use passages like the above to show writing students how not to write. It's a bit ironic that so much heavy-handed, dead prose is produced by colleges and universities. Professors, notorious for being writers of unreadable fiction and highly pompous and dense nonfiction, also contribute to the style over substance problem. If you don't believe me, look through any university press book catalogue. The book titles themselves are beyond comprehension, and the catalogue descriptions of these works are so badly written it's no wonder no one buys this stuff.


Crime Bulletin: The Great American Ammo Shortage

     There is currently a nationwide shortage of handgun ammunition. The handful of gun stores and online sites that have ammo in stock are charging gun enthusiasts an arm and a leg for .22, .38, and .45 caliber and 9 mm rounds. Many stores limit purchases to one box per person per day.

     Six months ago, standard .22 caliber rounds--the most common type of round produced--could be purchased in bulk for about five cents apiece. But that price has gone up to fifty cents each.

     When Obama first took office, gun and ammunition sales went through the roof because Obama is perceived by many to be a left-wing politician who doesn't like guns or gun owners. His re-election, along with several high-profile shooting incidents liberals have tried to exploit, reignited fears of severe gun control legislation. Once again the demand for guns and ammo has shot up significantly.

     There have been rumors that the Department of Homeland Security is buying up tens of millions of rounds to keep ammo in short supply for gun owners. There is also speculation that the federal government has limited the quantity of ammunition that manufacturers are allowed to produce. People who believe the federal government is manipulating the ammo market see it as a sneaky, backdoor form of gun control. You can have your handguns, but you have nothing to load them with.

     Government bureaucrats who have spoken about the bullet drought blame it on hoarding and speculation. They say it's a simple matter of supply and demand. Whatever the cause, the shortage is real, and it's making a lot of gun owners uneasy, and suspicious.

The Gary George Ritualistic Murder Case

     On August 30, 2012, police in Chester, England found 53-year-old Andrew Nall lying dead in a pool of blood on his bedroom floor. He had been beaten and stabbed 49 times. The killer, in an act of torture, had carved a hole in Nall's chest then filled the gaping wound with salt. The sadistic killer had also poured cleaning fluid into the victim's eyes.

     The ritualistic torture and killing in Mr. Nall's flat was witnessed by Christine Holleran. According to the victim's 50-year-old friend, Nall, an alcoholic, had been intoxicated at the time of his murder. He was set upon, tortured, mutilated, and killed by a homeless alcoholic named Gary George. After being taken into custody by the police, Holleran informed detectives that the 41-year-old killer had growled like a dog when he stabbed the victim. "He was like the Devil," she said.

     Ten hours after Andrew Hall's murder, the Chester Police arrested Gary George in connection with the assault of another man. Initially, George said he had killed the victim because he was a pedophile. Later, the truth came out. George admitted that the killing was a real-life re-enactment of a scene in the 2009 Australian horror film, "The Loved Ones." George said he was a horror film fanatic, and this was his favorite movie in the genre.

     On March 25, 2013, Chester Crown Court Judge Elgan Edwards, following a three-week trial that resulted in a guilty verdict, sentenced Gary George to thirty years in prison. (The same jury had found Georges' co-defendant, Christine Hollerman, not guilty.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Writing Quote: The Importance of Plot

If you read interviews with many prominent will notice how many of them seem to turn up their noses at the mention of plot. "I never begin with plot," they say. "Characters (or situations or setting or thought) is where I begin my novels." What's the implication? Only bad authors begin with plot. Some of these writers don't just imply it, they say it: A well-plotted book isn't really "artistic." Books like that are for the great mass of dunderheads who read trash, not for us sophisticates who appreciate literature.

J. Madison Davis, novelist

Criminal Justice Quote: The Psychopath

[In dealing with a psychopath] we are not dealing with a complete man at all but with something that suggests a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly. This smoothly operating psychic apparatus not only reproduces consistently specimens of good human reasoning but also appropriates simulations of normal human emotions in response to nearly all the varied stimuli of life. So perfect is this reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him can point out in scientific or objective terms why he is not real. And yet one knows or feels he knows that reality, in the sense of full, healthy experiencing of life, is not here.

Dr. Hervey Cleckley, The Mask of Sanity, 1941

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Reehallio Carrroll Indian Reservation Murder Case

     Twenty-one-year-old Reehallio Carroll, a burglar and thief addicted to alcohol and drugs, lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico. Just after midnight on November 1, 2009, he broke into a house trailer at the reservation's St. Berard Mission, an outpost inhabited by nuns attached to the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The trailer Carroll forced his way into was the home of 64-year-old Sister Marguerite Bartz.

     Carroll knew he was breaking into an occupied dwelling. (Under common law, breaking into an occupied home at night, by itself, was a capital crime.) Carroll entered Sister Marguerite's home to steal cash and anything he could sell to support his addictions. If the nun who lived there got in his way, that would be her problem.

    Sister Marguerite confronted the burglar when he entered her bedroom. Instead of backing out of the trailer, Carroll hit her in the head six times with his flashlight. As the nun lay bleeding and semi-conscious on the floor of the room, the home invader kicked and stomped her.

     With Sister Marguerite dying in a pool of her own blood, Carroll rummaged through her trailer home for cash and valuables. Before leaving the scene and driving off in the nun's car, Carroll returned to the bedroom. To make sure he would be leaving a dead woman behind, Carroll finished the victim off by tying a shirt around her neck and mouth.

     The following morning, when Sister Marguerite failed to show up for Mass, one of her mission colleagues discovered her corpse.

     A couple of days after the cold-blooded killing, police officers arrested Reehallio Carroll. He was driving his victim's car.

     Because crimes committed on Indian Reservations are federal offenses, the FBI took charge of the case. An assistant United States attorney out of Albuquerque charged Carroll with first-degree murder, a crime that under federal law carried a mandatory life sentence.

     On April 5, 2013, U. S. District Court Judge William Johnson accepted Carroll's plea to second-degree murder. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Carroll, in June 2013, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

     Members of Sister Marguerite's family, as well as her fellow nuns at St. Berard's, approved of the guilty plea and reduced sentence. They spoke of "forgiveness, redemption, and rehabilitation." Rehabilitation? Good heavens. Mr. Carroll had gotten off light because he murdered a nun. Had he killed a police officer, no one would be talking about forgiveness.

     In this brutal theft-motivated homicide, forgiveness requires a degree of compassion and love of mankind that I do not possess. I can't even forgive the judge who authorized the plea. 

Father Kevin Wallin: The Meth Dealing Priest

     In 1996, Father Kevin Wallin became pastor of the St. Peter's Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut. Six years later, the 50-year-old priest was transferred to the St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport. Citing health and personal problems, Father Wallin asked for and was granted a sabbatical in July 2011. A year later, the Diocese of Bridgeport suspended Wallin from public ministry.

     While performing his duties as a Catholic priest, Father Wallin was buying and selling crystal methamphetamine out of his apartment in Waterbury.

     From September 20, 2012 to January 3, 2013, a state narcotics undercover agent purchased 23 grams of crystal meth from Wallin in six transactions. Because the priest was part of an interstate drug operation, the state turned the case over to the FBI.

     On January 3, 2013, FBI agents who had been working with the state drug task force, arrested Father Wallin at his Waterbury apartment where searchers recovered a quantity of meth, drug paraphernalia, and drug packaging materials.

     Based on the state undercover buys, federal wiretaps, and informant drug purchases, Father Wallin was charged with the federal offense of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams of crystal meth. Four co-conspirators in California, between June and December 2012, had mailed the priest $300,000 worth of meth.

     Dubbed by the local media as "Monsignor Meth," Father Wallin also owned an adult video and sex toy shop in North Haven, Connecticut. (I guess that made him the "Porno Priest" as well.)

     On April 2, 2013, the defrocked Wallin pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Hartford, Connecticut. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge, on June 25, 2013, will sentence the 61-year-old  drug dealer to 11 to 14 years in prison. The defendant faced a maximum sentence of life behind bars. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Mystery of Evil

The concept of the psychopath is, in fact, an admission of failure to solve the mystery of evil--it is merely a restatement of the mystery--and only offers an escape valve for the frustration felt by psychiatrists, social workers, and police officers, who daily encounter its force.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Jails in Colonial America

[In Colonial America], murder was practically never a bailable offense; the defendant therefore, languished in jail until trial, and if convicted, until execution. Jails were not very strong and escapes were not infrequent, although recapture usually followed quickly. The jail was usually left unattended at night so that a prisoner had the long evening to work to release himself. It also permitted his friends an opportunity to pass in tools for his assistance. To add to the security of the prisoner, he was frequently manacled and chained to a ring in the floor of his cell.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Friday, April 5, 2013

Author Self-Promotion

I have a great ambivalence about interviews [of authors]. I believe writers should be read and not heard from. There are certain writers whose personalities are more responsible for their reputations than their writing. [They] use their personalities to make their works popular. I resent that, because they get far more attention than their work merits. And other writers who are really much better, but who are quiet and invisible souls, are not noticed at all. Part of me wants to be totally anonymous. The writer who I really admire most for his image is B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; he was totally unidentified in his lifetime. I admire that.

Dennis Etchison, novelist 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Criminal Law

The more law, the more offenders.

Thomas Fuller, 1732

Lee D. Smith: Murder-For-Hire Mastermind Gets Off Light

     Lee D. Smith lived with his wife Lana and their daughter in Basehor, Kansas, a suburban community of 5,000 across the line from Kansas City, Missouri. The 37-year-old and his wife had been arguing about money which led to his decision to hire someone to kill her.

     On May 8, 2012, Smith offed the job to a man who seemed interested. Smith drove the potential hit-man to his wife's place of work and showed him where she parked her car. Smith also outlined her daily routine, and described what she looked like to the man he hoped would kill her. Smith even offered this man advice on how to accomplish the job. He suggested catching his murder target's attention by calling out her name then shooting her when she turned in response. The man solicited for the hit accepted the assignment, and was given $400 in upfront money. Smith promised the rest--$1,800--when his wife was dead.

     The next day, instead of carrying out the murder of Lana Smith, the would-be hit-man went to the police. Working as an undercover operative, the phony hit-man called the murder-for-hire mastermind and reported that he was holding his wife and his daughter hostage. Did  Mr. Smith want them both murdered? Smith instructed the informant to release his daughter. But kill his wife, he said.

     The undercover hit-man, an hour later, called Smith back. He informed the murder-for-hire mastermind that his wife was dead. They agreed to meet later that afternoon at a grocery store where Smith would pay the hit-man the balance due on the murder contract. Before he had a chance to meet the hit-man, Smith received a call from a police officer who asked him to come to the station to pick up his daughter. When Smith showed up for the girl, officers took him into custody.

     The local police turned the Smith case over to the FBI, and on May 28, 2012, an Assistant United States Attorney in Kansas City charged Lee Smith with soliciting his wife's murder. In October, Smith pleaded guilty to the federal charge.

     A federal judge in Kansas City, on February 28, 2013, sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to eight years in prison. Eight years. Had Smith picked a hit-man who had been willing to complete the job, his wife would be dead. How is this any different than Smith putting a gun to his wife's head, a firearm he mistakingly believed was loaded, and pulling the trigger? Eight years for this cold-blooded murder attempt is extremely lenient, and wrong.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: How the Automobile Changed U. S. Policing

From 1900 to 1930, the number of automobile registrations in the United States rose from 8,000 to more than 23 million. This phenomenal growth posed challenging new responsibilities for urban police departments regulating traffic, limiting parking in downtown areas, and trying to keep the killed and maimed to a minimum. The introduction and spread of the automobile obliterated the distinction between the law breaking and the law abiding. [It also led to the federalization of law enforcement.]

James F. Richardson, Urban Police in the United States, 1974

Rape in Egypt: Blame the Women

     On January 25, 2013, the second anniversary in Egypt of President Hosni Mubarak's removal from office, eighteen Egyptian women, in Tahrir Square demonstrating against the new Islamist-led government, were gang-raped. Six of the victims were hospitalized.

     Rape has always been a problem for women in Egypt. Under President Mubarak, however, an omnipresent police force kept the crime behind closed doors. Islamist elected officials in the Morsi government brought back Egypt's traditional hostility toward women, particularly women who participate in politics. Quite often this hostility manifests itself in rape.

     In response to the Tahrir Square sexual assaults, a police general named Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi said, "a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions." (Politically demonstrating in public.)

     While there are no official statistics on rape in Egypt, it's an accepted fact under the new government, more women are being attacked. Rapists have also become bolder, and more violent. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Prison Culture

Inmates speak their own language, cultivate their own customs and rituals, and adhere to their own norms. They laugh at a joke that an external observer would find lame and react violently to an apparently friendly gesture. Their interpretation of behavior is clearly different from outside society. It is dictated by their own prison code, which categorizes behavior as hostile, offensive, neutral, or friendly in its own fashion.

Marek M. Kaminski, Games Prisoners Play, 2004

Federal Judge Socks It To Laser-Beam Pointer Adam Gardenhire

     According to the Civil Aviation Authority, over the past three years there have been more than 4,500 reports of pilots being targeted by laser-beam pointers. These commercially available devices produce a narrow, high-intensity light that grows in diameter with distance. If hit in the eyes, pilots can be temporarily blinded. In February 2012, Congress made aiming a laser-beam at an aircraft a federal crime.

     On March 29, 2012, a 19-year-old North Hollywood, California man named Adam Gardenhire aimed his laser pen at the pilot of a NetJet Cessna Citation as it approached for landing at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. According to the pilot of the business jet, the beam impaired his vision for several hours.

     Gardenhire compounded his crime when he targeted the pilot of a Pasadena police helicopter dispatched to locate the source of the laser-beam. Because he wore protective eye gear, the chopper pilot was not affected by Gardenhire's laser attack.

     In April 2012, following his identification by Los Angeles County detectives, a federal grand jury indicted Gardenhire for pointing his laser-beam device at the aircraft. He faced a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Six months later, the laser pointer pleaded guilty to the federal charges.

     The Assistant United States Attorney, at Gardenhire's March 2013 sentence hearing, characterized the defendant's behavior as a criminally reckless disregard for aircraft safety. Gardenhire's attorney claimed that his client had no idea the borrowed laser pen was powerful enough to distract a pilot thousands of feet away. The defense attorney asked that Mr. Gardenhire be sentenced to two years probation, a fine, and community service.

     The federal judge sentenced Adam Gardenhire to thirty months in federal prison. Ouch, no leniency here. Targeting that police helicopter had not been a good idea.

     Adam Gardenhire is the second person to be convicted of this federal crime. In August 2012, a Florida man went to prison for six months for the same offense. If one of these laser pointers actually causes a plane to crash, Congress will probably ban the devices.

     I'm sure the judge in the Gardenhire case hopes that the stiff sentence will deter this criminal act.  That is wishful thinking because it is impossible to deter idiots from being criminally reckless.   

Monday, April 1, 2013

Will Race be an Issue in the DeMarquis Elkins Murder Case?

     On Thursday morning, March 21, 2013, in the small southeastern Georgia coastal town of Brunswick, Sherry West pushed her 13-month-old son in a stroller not far from her house in the Old Town historic district. Two young black males approached the 41-year-old mother and her child a quarter after nine that morning. The older kid, described by Sherry West as between 13 and 15-years-old and five-foot-seven to five-nine, pulled a handgun and demanded money. The robber's companion, as described by the victim, looked to be between 10 and 12-years old. The older boy, who was wearing a red shirt, when told by the mother that she didn't have any money, said, "Well, I'm going to kill your baby."

     The terrified mother tried to use her body to protect her son. "Please don't kill my baby," she pleaded.

     The young robber, after pushing the mother aside, shot the sleeping child in the face. Before fleeing on foot, the gunman shot Sherry West in the leg. A second bullet grazed her head. As the boys ran off, the wounded mother called 911, and tried in vain to save her son by administering CPR. (Sherry West was no stranger to the tragedy of violent death. In 2008, in Gloucester County, New Jersey, her 17-year-old son Shaun was stabbed to death in a street fight.)

     The next day, the police arrested 17-year-old DeMarquis Elkins and his 15-year-old friend, Dominique Lang. Elkins was charged with murder, and was held without bail. The authorities have charged Dominique Lang, as an adult, with felony-murder. The juvenile was denied bond as well. Under Georgia law, Elkins is considered an adult.

     On March 27, 2013, a Glynn County grand jury indicted three members of DeMarquis Elkins' family of offenses related to interfering with the investigation of the murder of Sherry West's son. The defendant's mother, 36-year-old Karimah Aisha Elkins, and his aunt, Katrina Latrelle Elkins, 33, were charged with making false statements to the police regarding a false alibi. DeMarquis' sister, 19-year-old Sabrina Elkins, has been indicted for helping her mother dispose of the murder weapon, a .22-caliber pistol.  (Police recovered the gun from a pond two miles from the murder scene.)

     Brunswick City Commissioner James Henry Brooks, an Elkins' family distant relative, was charged with influencing a witness and obstructing law enforcement in the murder case. The 59-year-old is free on $5,000 bond.

     On Monday, March 25, 2013, Commissioner Brooks, at DeMarquis Elkins' arraignment hearing, had informed members of his family that they did not have to cooperate with homicide detectives investigating the baby's murder. (What would compel a city official to do that?)

     In another development in the case, Wifredo Calix-Flores, the pastor of a small church in Brunswick, identified DeMarquis Elkins as the young gunman who shot him in the arm on March 11, ten days before the murder of the West child. According to the preacher, Elkins had come to the church to rob him of his cellphone and his wallet.

     On July 15, 2013, Elkin' s attorney filed a motion asking the judge to force prosecutors to hand over the entire Georgia Bureau of Investigation file on the case. According to the defense attorney, investigators, after the murder, found gunshot residue traces on Sherry West and on the baby's father, Louis Santiago. At the time of the killing, Louis, according to Sherry West, was at the local Walmart store. In the GBI report, an investigator noted that Sherry West could have picked up the GSR traces because of her proximity to the shooting. Regarding Mr. Santiago, his GSR traces could have "originated from occupational and/or industrial sources." Neither of the parents were considered suspects by GBI detectives. (The couple is no longer together.)

     Here comes the touchy part. Following O. J. Simpson's acquittal in 1995, it became clear that a large segment of the black community cheered the verdict. Many were surprised to learn that this support was not based on a belief that Simpson was innocent of the double murder. His supporters simply didn't like the police. These feelings about the Simpson case revealed a racial divide in the country that white people were not aware of. (This is a bit ironic given the fact that whites had liked and admired Simpson as an athlete and TV personality. He was hardly a black activist.)

     On July 13, after the jury of six women in Sanford, Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty or second degree murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, protestors broke windows and set fire in Oakland, California. In Los Angeles, Trayvon Martin supporters who believed that nightwatchman shot the unarmed 17-year-old because he was black, blocked traffic on a major Los Angeles highway. Not long after the February 2012 shooting, President Obama injected race into the case by noting that Trayvon Martin could be his son. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and others held "Justice for Trayvon" rallies. The national media covered the case as a race story when in fact, as revealed by defense attorneys at the trial, Trayvon Martins race had nothing to do with his getting shot.

     One would hope that in Brunswick, Georgia, race won't become an issue in such a heinous murder. But the gratuitous interference in the case by Commission Brooks is not, in my opinion, a sign of community cohesion.  

Crime Bulletin: The Credible Forensic Pathologist

     To be credible, a forensic pathologist has to be professionally qualified, experienced, and scientifically independent. Once a forensic pathologist has been caught taking shortcuts, making mistakes, or giving in to political pressure, that forensic scientist has lost his credibility. 

Arcangelo Bianco: The Walmart Deer Hunter

     On November 26, 2012, at two in the afternnon, Arcangelo Bianco, Jr. was sitting in his pickup truck parked at the Walmart store in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, a small town 43 miles east of Pittsburgh in the southwestern part of the state. From his truck, Bianco spotted a 10-point white-tailed buck emerge from behind the building. The 40-year-old grabbed his handgun and jumped out of his truck. As the animal ran for cover across the parking lot, Bianco opened fire. Shortly after the deer crossed a nearby highway, Bianco brought it down.

     After killing the deer, Bianco got back into his pickup, pulled up to his kill, and loaded the carcass onto the truck. From there he drove to a meat processing plant where the deer would be butchered.

     The parking lot deer hunter was charged with reckless endangerment, hunting without a license, shooting across a highway, and unlawful killing of big game. If he pleads guilty to these misdemeanors he can expect a large fine. I doubt the judge will send this man to jail. What Bianco did, however, was extremely reckless.

      Walmart parking lots are dangerous enough without idiots running around shooting at deer.

Writing Quote: Journalists and the People They Interview

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man preying on peoples' vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns--when the article or book appears--his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know", the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990