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Friday, May 31, 2013

Disneyland Vendor Christian Barnes Plants Dry Ice Bomb in Mickey's Toonstown Section of Park

     At four in the afternoon of May 28, 2013, parents who had brought their children to Mickey's Toontown section of Anaheim, California's Disneyland, were startled by a small but loud explosion that tore the lid off a trash can near a kiddy ride called Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. While no one suffered injuries from the blast, officials of the famous theme park evacuated the Toontown area. (How was Disneyland? Oh, we had a blast.)

     At the site of the low-order explosion, detectives found fragments of a plastic water bottle which led them to conclude that a so-called dry ice bomb had been the source of the explosion. A maker of such a device adds chunks of dry ice to a quarter-full bottle of water. Once sealed, the water warms the dry ice which produces carbon dioxide that builds inside the container and eventually ruptures the bottle. These simply made little bombs, if moved, can blow off the handler's fingers. As booby traps, dry ice bombs function as little anti-personnel devices.

     Because dry ice is used at Disneyland to keep refreshments like ice cream and sodas cold, detectives figured there was a good chance the bomber worked for the theme park. As it turned out, they were right.

     On Wednesday, May 29, 2013, officers with the Anaheim Police Department arrested a 22-year-old man from Long Beach named Christian Barnes. Barnes, a so-called "outdoor vending cast member," peddled soda drinks and bottled water from a mobile cart. Charged with possession of a destructive device in a public place, the Disneyland employee was booked into the Orange County Jail. A magistrate set his bond at $1 million.

     It's hard to imagine a rational motive for a crime like this. Some kid dropping a piece of garbage into that trash can could have lost his hand. The fact that Barnes worked at the theme park suggests he doesn't have a criminal record.

     On Thursday, May 30, Barnes pleaded not guilty to the felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The judge reduced his bail to $500.000.

     Big theme parks have been relatively safe places from crime. Recently, at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, a grandmother, after getting off the Dinosaur ride, found a .380-caliber pistol on her seat. She handed the gun over to a park attendant. A few minutes later, a man returned to the site and claimed the weapon. It had fallen out of his pocket during the bumpy ride. Security personnel escorted him out of the park. (Who would go to a place inhabited by live, exotic animals and ride a fake Dinosaur?)

     The Disney Animal Kingdom incident exposes the reality that millions of people walk through hundreds of turnstiles into parks all over the country without being searched or exposed to metal detectors. There is no way to keep guns and dry ice bombs out of these places. If going to a theme park becomes as inconvenient and intrusive as getting on an airplane, Mickey and his friends will find themselves alone among the Roger Rabbit rides and phony dinosaurs.


     According to prosecutors, Barnes allegedly placed dry ice into two water bottles and locked one inside his vending cart. When a co-worker came to take over the cart, one of the bottles exploded. Barnes then took the second bottle and placed it in the trash can. That device went off a short time later after a park janitor removed the trash bag and put it on the ground.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Edison, New Jersey Officer Michael Dotro Accused of Firebombing Police Captain's House

     Michael A. Dotro, a nine year veteran of the Edison, New Jersey Police Department, worked in the internal affairs unit. Since the 36-year-old officer had a history of misconduct complaints, including charges of excessive force, he didn't seem to be the right person for the job. But nothing within the Edison Police Department was right.

     For years, officers on this police force had been engaged in a civil war. Cops were suing each other, and there were accusations that detectives in the internal affairs unit were gathering information on local politicians and others, and ignoring citizen complaints of police brutality.

     In 2005, a member of the Asian-Indian community who had been arrested by officer Dotro accused him of police brutality. Amid citizen protests, and a lot of bad publicity, Dotro was administratively cleared of any wrongdoing.

     Three years after the excessive force complaint, Dotro got into a fistfight with his 68-year-old neighbor, Dennis Sassa. Mr. Sassa claimed that the then 31-year-old officer had punched him in the face six times. The dispute revolved around a shed that sat on Dotro's property. Both men filed assault charges, and both were acquitted in municipal court. (Shortly before the fight, someone had torched a shed on Mr. Sassa's property. Flames from the structure had spread to a camper and to Sassa's house.)

     Edison Police Captain Mark Anderko considered Michael Dotro unfit to be an officer of the law. Captain Anderko and officer Dotro were on opposing sides in the departmental civil war. With 24 years on the force, Captain Anderko served as the top aide to Chief Thomas Bryan. Anderko resided in a two-story colonial home in Middlesex County's Monroe Township with his wife, their two children, and his 92-year-old mother.

     At four in the morning of Monday, May 20, 2013, someone firebombed Captain Anderko's home. The family dog alerted Anderko's wife who woke up the other four occupants of the dwelling. No one was injured, but the fire destroyed the front section of the house where the children had been sleeping.

     On Thursday afternoon, May 23, 2013, officers with the Edison Police Department arrested Michael Dotro and searched his Manalapan, New Jersey home. Charged with five counts of attempted murder and aggravated arson, a Superior Court judge set the officer's bond at $5 million. He is incarcerated in the Middlesex County Jail. Following the arrest, Chief Byran placed officer Dotro on paid administrative leave. (The accused cop receives an annual salary of $118,000. Law enforcement is no longer a low-paying occupation.)




Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crime Bulletin: FBI Agent Kills Suspected Terrorist Ibragim Todashev

     In 2008, the U. S. Government granted 22-year-old Ibragim Todashev, an immigrant from the turbulent Russian region of Dagestan and Chechya, political asylum. (Todashev had been in the county some time before that.) The mixed martial arts fighter attended college in the Boston area. In 2010, officers with the Boston Police Department arrested the hot-tempered Chechen after he used his car to cut off another motorist in a road rage incident. According to the police, Todashev had threatened the other driver by yelling, "You say something about my mother, I will kill you."

     Todashev, after moving from Watertown, Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida, ran into trouble with the law again. On May 4, 2013, he got into an argument with a father and his son over a parking space at an Orlando Shopping Mall. Todashev split the son's lip and knocked out several of his teeth. Charged with aggravated battery, the unemployed Chechen spent the night in jail before posting his $3,500 bond.

     In the aftermath of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Todashev, an acquaintance of Tamerlan Tasarnaev, the terrorist killed on April 19 in a shootout with the police, became the subject of investigations conducted by the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police. In interviews with FBI agents and officers with the Massachusetts State Police, Todashev had reportedly implicated himself in a September 11, 2011 triple murder that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts. In that case, three young men were found in an apartment with their throats slit. The killer or killers had sprinkled marijuana over their bodies. One of the victims was an amateur boxer who knew Todashev and the Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

     On Wednesday morning, May 22, 2013, an FBI agent accompanied by two investigators with the Massachusetts State Police were in Todashev's Orlando home interrogating him about the Waltham murders, his relationship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and his possible involvement as a co-conspirator in the Boston bombing plot. At some point in the interrogation, Todashev lunged at the FBI agent who shot him dead. (According to some news reports, Todashev attacked the agent with a knife. In other reports the knife isn't mentioned. It has also been reported that just before the attack, the suspected terrorist was about to sign a confession related to the triple murder.)

     According to media reports, Imbragim Todashev had Tamerlan Tsarnaev's phone number in his cellphone. The FBI agent who shot Todashev was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Criminal Justice Chaos: Rogue, Out of Control Law Enforcement

     In America, law enforcement is inefficient, heavy-handed, militaristic, zero-tolerant, and out of control. Virtually every law enforcement agency in the country has a SWAT team used for predawn, no-knock raids in the hopeless war on drugs. Wrong houses are raided and innocent people are injured and killed. (Family pets are frequent victims as well.) Cops are using taser guns on misbehaving kids, and police officers are regularly shooting mentally ill adults.

     U. S. Secret Service agents on duty to protect the president have hired prostitutes. The FBI has accused a television journalist of criminal behavior for simply doing his job. IRS agents have targeted more than 400 groups because of their political and religious beliefs. The tax collectors have also harassed the president's political opponents with audits and other forms of intimidation. ATF agents have shipped hundreds of assault rifles to Mexico where they have ended up in the hands of drug lords. Border Patrol officials have released illegal aliens who have been charged with felonies. American drones have killed four U. S. citizens without due process. (Contrast the drone-killings with the bleeding-heart governor of Colorado who recently commuted a mass murderer's death sentence to life.)

     In California and other states, convicted rapists and pedophiles are serving their sentences on unsupervised parole and re-offending at an alarming rate. Federal officers have recently lost track of a pair of terrorist snitches who, after being given new identifies, entered a witness protection program. These two terrorists left the program and have disappeared from government view. The president, who seems reluctant to concede that organized terrorism is a problem, wants to shut down Gitmo, and to bring terrorists to justice in civilian courts rather than military tribunals.

     As federal and local law enforcement agencies abuse their power, pandering politicians keep passing unnecessary criminal laws. Thanks to sexual harassment related regulations promulgated by the Executive Branch, college students, already burdened by university-imposed speech codes, are losing their First Amendment rights. A student can be punished criminally simply for saying the wrong thing.

    Our criminal justice system, in general, has become irrational, uncontrollable, too politicized, and much too intrusive for a nation founded on the principles of individual rights and due process.


Razor Blades in Doughnuts: Utah Couple Try to Pull Off Product Liability Scam

     Michael Condor and his girlfriend Carol Leazer-Hardman worked at a Dollar Tree store in a shopping plaza in Draper, Utah, a town of 40,000 midway between Salt Lake City and Provo. On March 6, 3013, Condor called the Draper Police Department to report that he and his 39-year-old girlfriend had discovered fingernail-sized pieces of razor blade in doughnuts they had eaten. One of their fellow Dollar Tree employees, while chewing on one of the doughnuts the couple had brought to the store, cut her mouth on a razor blade shard. Because the fellow-worker didn't swallow the blade fragment, she escaped serious injury.

     Hospital X-rays revealed that Leazer-Hardman and her 35-year-old boyfriend had each swallowed a piece of razor blade. (I can't find any information regarding their medical status, or if the razor blade pieces they had swallowed have been surgically removed.)

     Condor and Leazer-Hardman informed the police they had purchased the deadly doughnuts at Smith's Food & Drug Store located in the same shopping plaza as the Dollar Tree store. Once notified of the razor blade scraps, Smith's Food & Drug pulled the tamper-proof-packaged doughnuts off their shelves.

     Detectives faced the challenge of determining how the razor blade fragments found their way into the doughnuts. These foreign objects had either gotten into the product at the out-of-town bakery prior to packaging, or had been inserted afterward by someone at the retail location. Given the tamper-proof nature of the packaging, the latter scenario seemed unlikely.

     Condor and Leazer-Hardman, upon being questioned separately by detectives, confessed to placing the sharp objects into the doughnuts. Desperate for money to get out of debt, they had concocted the harebrained scheme in an effort to acquire a civil suit settlement from Smith's Food & Drug Store.

     A Salt Lake City prosecutor charged the couple with aggravated assault and filing a false police report. I presume they are no longer working at the Dollar Tree.

     While I find this case fascinating, local media reportage of the doughnut tampering scam was thin and mediocre. In my view, people who would risk their lives and the life on an innocent victim pursuant to a shake-down swindle are worthy of study. Who was the mastermind behind this potentially homicidal plot? Do the suspects have histories of fraud and other larceny related crimes? Are these people sociopathic, drug-addled, crazy, or simply stupid? Where are the crime reporters? 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Two FBI Agents Killed in Training Exercise Accident

     In 1984, the FBI, in preparation for the Olympics in Los Angeles, formed an elite counterterrorism hostage rescue team comprised of so-called "assaulters," and snipers. Trained in scuba diving, rappelling from helicopters, and close combat tactics, the hostage rescue agents were equipped with military-style gear and assault weapons.

     Unlike FBI SWAT teams that only train a few days a month, members of the hostage rescue unit prepare full-time. This highly militarized squad is more comparable to Navy Seal Team 6 and U. S. Army Delta units. The elite FBI counterterrorism team is headquartered at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

     Since its inception, agents in the rescue unit have responded to 850 incidents including last month's Boston Marathon Bombings. Members of this civilian combat force have also responded to situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     On Friday night, May 17, 2013, twelve miles off the Virginia Beach coastline, two hostage team members participating in a maritime counterterrorism exercise, fell to their deaths into the Atlantic Ocean. Forty-one-year-old Christopher Lorek and forty-year-old Stephen Shaw were rappelling from a helicopter when the aircraft suddenly tilted because of a strong gust of wind. As the pilot struggled to regain control of the helicopter, the agents, loaded down with gear, lost their grips and fell.

     By the time the agents were pulled out of the ocean, one of them was dead. The other hostage team member died at a hospital in Norfolk. The men were killed by blunt force trauma. Both agents were married and lived with their wives and children in the northern Virginia town of Quantico.

     During the past thirteen years, six other FBI Agents have died in the line of duty. There are currently 14,000 special agents in the bureau. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ex-Philadelphia Cop Richard De Coatsworth: From Hero to Heel

     In September 2007, when Richard De Coatsworth was a 22-year-old rookie on the Philadelphia Police Department, he pulled over a suspicious vehicle occupied by four men. Three of the suspects jumped out of the car and fled. As the young officer alighted from the patrol car to give chase, the fourth suspect blasted him with a shotgun. Notwithstanding the gunshot wound to the lower portion of his face, officer De Coatsworth chased the gunman while calling in for help. Although he eventually collapsed, other officers apprehended the shooter. (The assailant was later convicted and sentenced to 36 to 72 years in prison.)

     Officer De Coatsworth, following his medical recovery, was promoted to an elite highway patrol unit. In 2008, the National Association of Police Organizations named him that year's "Top Cop."

     In February 2009, Vice President Joe Biden invited Officer De Coatsworth to sit next to Michelle Obama at the President's address to the Joint Session of Congress. The officer was seen on national TV sitting next to the First Lady in his ceremonial police uniform. In his brief law enforcement career, officer Richard De Coatsworth had achieved full hero status. It was at this point that his life and career began to deteriorate.

     Just seven months after appearing with Michelle Obama, De Coatsworth was accused of excessive force after he shot a motorcyclist in the leg. In November 2011, the hero-cop was under investigation by the Internal Affairs Office for fighting with a fellow officer. A month later, after having amassed, during his brief tenure as a police officer, nine civilian complaints of assault, abuse, and misconduct, De Coatsworth retired from the force on full disability.

     Two months after leaving the police department, De Coatsworth was charged with threatening a woman in the Port Richmond section of the city.

     On May 1, 2013, De Coatsworth, after meeting a woman in a downtown bar, forced her into acts of prostitution out of the Day's Inn on Roosevelt Boulevard. At two in the morning of Thursday, May 16, 2013, De Coatsworth showed up at this woman's home in the Fishtown-Kensington section of the city.
At her residence, De Coatsworth allegedly forced the 21-year-old and another woman her age to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint. The next day, immediately after the ex-cop departed the house, the woman he had allegedly forced into prostitution at the Day's Inn, called the authorities.

     On Saturday, May 18, a prosecutor charged Richard De Coatsworth with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, trafficking in persons, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault. At his arraignment, the magistrate judge set the defendant's bail at $25 million for each of the women. The judge added another $10 million bond in connection with an unrelated charge involving De Coatsworth's alleged May 9 assault of his live-in girlfriend. In total, the ex-police officer has been charged with 32 felonies. His bail is the highest in the history of city, and probably the state.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Police Kill Andrea Rebello and the Robber Who Took Her Hostage

     Andrea Rebello and her twin sister Jessica attended Hofstra University located in Hempstead, Long Island. In 2012, the second-year students from Tarrytown, New York moved from the dormitory into a rented, two-story house a half block from the campus.

     On Thursday night, May 16, 2013, Andrea, Jessica, Jessica's boyfriend John Kourtessiss, and a third student named Shannon Thomas, were celebrating the end of the school year at McHebes Bar in Hempstead. The four students returned to the twin's off-campus dwelling a little after midnight.

     At two-thirty in the morning of Friday, May 17, 30-year-old Dalton Smith, a wanted criminal with a long history of robbery and assault convictions, entered the unlocked front door of the Rebello house wearing a ski mask and carrying a 9 mm handgun with a filed-off serial number. (Smith was wanted on an April 25, 2013 warrant for absconding from parole.)

     Once inside the house, Smith asked the occupants where they kept their cash. One of the victims told the armed intruder there were valuables on the second floor. Unsatisfied with what he found in the upstairs bedrooms, Smith said, " I saw you at the bar drinking. I know you have more money than this!" Smith asked if any of the students could withdraw money from a bank account. Shannon Thomas said she would bring Smith cash from a nearby ATM. Smith sent Thomas out for the money. He told her she had eight minutes to return. If she wasn't back by then, he'd start killing people. Once out of the house, Thomas called 911. (Nobody said criminals were bright.)

     When a pair of officers with the Nassau County Police Department rolled up to the robbery scene, they saw Andrea Rebello's twin sister Jessica running out the front door. Dalton Smith and Andrea were on the second floor while John Kourtessiss hid behind the living room couch. The officer who had been with the Nassau Police Department twelve years, and before that the New York City Police, entered the dwelling.

     Once inside the house, the police officer encountered Smith as he descended the stairs holding Andrea Rebello in a headlock with his gun pointed at her face. "I'm going to kill her," he said. When Smith turned his pistol toward the officer, the officer fired eight shots at the hostage-taker, killing him on the spot. One of the bullets hit Rebello in the head, killing her as well.

     In the wake of the fatal shootings, the police officer, who has not been identified, placed himself on sick leave. The police involved shooting will be the subject of an internal investigation. There should also be an inquiry as to why a career robber like Dalton Smith was out on parole. No doubt there will be questions why the officer didn't call in a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator.

     Shortly after the fatal shooting incident, Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale traveled to Tarrytown where he explained Andrea Rebello's death to her parents. I don't believe most police administrators would have the fortitude to face the parents of a child accidentally shot by one of their officers. Over the years, officers with the Nassau County Police Department have not shot many citizens.



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kai McGillvary and the Hatchet Hitchhiker Murder Case

     On February 1, 2013, a CNN reporter in Fresno, California interviewed a 24-year-old homeless drifter named Caleb "Kai" McGillvary. The long-haired, backpack-carrying, bandana-wearing hitchhiker who went under the names Kai Lawrence and Kai Nicodermus, described, in a rambling, profane-laced TV interview, how he had thwarted an assault on a female Fresno area utility worker.

     On the day in question, McGillvary had hitched a ride with a manifestly insane driver who intentionally tried to run over the female utility employee. The large man behind the wheel jumped out of his car, and as he approached the injured woman said, "I am Jesus and I am here to take you home." (By home the driver was not referring to the victim's place of residence.) When the mentally ill assailant began punching the helpless woman, McGillvary pulled a hatchet out of his backpack and used it to subdue the attacker by whacking him in the head a couple of times.

     According to media reports, the crazy man, a month earlier, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a murder charge. (This begs the question: what was this guy doing out in society?) The utility worker underwent surgery for her non-life-threatening injuries. Her mentally ill assailant was charged with attempt murder. (I presume this man has not posted bail in the attempted murder case. But who knows? The crime was committed in California.)

     Kai McGillvary's television interview went viral with more than 4 million YouTube hits. An instant cyber-culture celebrity, the self-named "Hatchet Hitchhiker" appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where he informed America that he prefers to be thought of as "home-free" rather than homeless. (He is also "car-free", "job-free",  and probably "money-free" as well.) The story of McGillvary's hatchet intervention in the Fresno assault was also featured on The Colbert Report. 

     On Saturday, May 11, 2013, the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" was seen in New York City's Times Square in the company of a 73-year-old lawyer named Joseph Galfy, Jr. That night, Mr. Galfy took McGillvary back to his house in Clark, New Jersey, a town 20 miles west of the city. According to reports, the drifter spend two nights with Galfy who lived in the house by himself.

     On Monday morning, May 13, 2013, when Mr. Galfy failed to show up for work at the law firm, a fellow employee asked local police officers to make a welfare check at his residence. Inside the tidy, brick dwelling, officers found the lawyer lying dead in his bed wearing socks and his underwear. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Mr. Galfy had been bludgeoned to death. Detectives believed the victim had been murdered sometime on Sunday.

     On Tuesday, the day after the discovery of Mr. Galfy's corpse, Kia McGillvary, on his Facebook page, asked his readers what they would do if they awoke in a stranger's house to the realization they had been drugged and sexually assaulted. One Facebook commentator suggested hitting the rapist with a hatchet. To that McGillvary responded, "I like your idea."

     Late Thursday night, May 16, 2013, police officers arrested the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Philadelphia. Officers noticed that McGillvary had cut his hair to change his appearance. Currently held on $3 million bail, the freedom-free suspect will be shipped back to Union County, New Jersey where he faces a charge of murder in connection with Joseph Galfy's violent death. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The IRS Scandal

The IRS calling taxpayers their "customers" is like a rapist calling his victims "girlfriends."

Keisha Jackson 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Did State Department Officials Commit Involuntary Manslaughter in the Four Benghazi Deaths?

     There are, theoretically, two sets of perpetrators criminally responsible for the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three Americans--Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone S. Woods--who fought the terrorists who attacked the U. S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. These four men were murdered in the first degree by Islamist terrorists. State Department officials who knowingly, or at least recklessly failed to perform their duty to protect the Benghazi compound and its personnel could, theoretically, be prosecuted for negligent homicide. (This theoretical discussion of homicide law as applied to the Benghazi deaths does not take into consideration procedural issues of jurisdiction or sovereign immunity.)

     In many states involuntary manslaughter is also called negligent homicide. The offense involves victims who have been killed as a result of defendants' reckless or highly negligent behavior. For example, a drunk driver who runs over and kills a pedestrian will likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter. It is a lesser homicide offense because the culpable party did not intend to take a life. In most states, pursuant to sentencing guidelines, defendants found guilty of involuntary manslaughter are sentenced to 10 to 16 months in prison. Generally, the more reckless the behavior, the more serious the sentence.

     Take the hypothetical case of an apartment building fire that results in the death of a tenant. Assume that fire scene investigators determine that the blaze quickly raged out of control because of a sprinkler system that had fallen into disrepair. If fire safety inspectors had repeatedly cited the owner of the building with code violations pertaining to a faulty sprinkler system, broken fire-escapes, and blocked exit doors, the landlord could be held criminally culpable for the tenant's death. The appropriate charge would be involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. The landlord, by knowingly or recklessly putting his tenants at risk, had violated his legal duty to protect them from fire. In cases like this, prosecutors have to prove a direct causal link between the defendants' negligent behavior and the victims' deaths.

     In the weeks and months prior to the terrorist attack of the U. S. Consulate in Benghazi, State Department officials in Washington received a steady stream of warnings from the Ambassador and others that the Islamist threat in the region was severe, immediate, and growing. The CIA had warned the State Department that ten Islamist militias including members of Al Qaeda had set up training centers in Benghazi. Moreover, the consulate, already attacked by terrorists, was under constant enemy surveillance. British diplomats and their staff had already fled the city. American Red Cross personnel, feeling threatened by terrorism and political instability in the region, had also departed. Ambassador Stevens, aware of the impending danger, pleaded with State Department officials to send help in the form of added security.

     Under these conditions, a reasonable and prudent person would expect that security at the U. S. Consulate would either be beefed-up, or the foreign service personnel in harm's way would be pulled out of the danger zone. Instead, Ambassador Stevens received a State Department cable signed by Hillary Clinton proposing a scaling back of consulate security, a proposal that was carried out. Despite repeated requests for added protection, Ambassador Stevens and his people, already in harm's way, were placed, by their colleagues in Washington, into even greater danger. (While it is not necessary in criminal law to prove motive, the only explanation that makes any sense regarding why the State Department knowingly placed Ambassador Stevens and his people in such danger is politics.)

     Ranking State Department officials have a legal duty to protect the people they send to dangerous places. In the Benghazi case, these officials breached that responsibility. Unfortunately, no one will be held criminally responsible for not protecting these four Americans. A few low-level bureaucrats may lose their jobs while the people truly responsible for this dereliction of duty will probably not even be held politically accountable.

     Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while testifying before a Congressional Committee on the Benghazi affair, said something to the effect, "Who cares how these men died?" Since I believe the Ambassador and the other three Americans were essentially murdered by politicians and bureaucrats, I found this comment not only ironic but offensive.

     It is not surprising that because of the Benghazi outrage and the other government scandals involving the IRS and the Department of Justice, an increasing number of citizens do not believe or trust politicians and bureaucrats and the political pundits and journalists who lie for them. Watergate involved the cover-up of two burglaries. Benghazi involves the cover-up of four homicides.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Leila Fowler Murder Case

     Barry Fowler lived with his fiancee and his three children in Valley Springs, a central California town of 7,500 60 miles southeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

     On Saturday evening, April 27, 2013, Barry Fowler's 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were home alone while he attended a little league baseball game. That evening, Crystal Walters, the children's mother, received a call from her son who reported that an intruder had just run out of the house. Crystal called 911 and informed the dispatcher that, "My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of our house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming. He [the boy] came out and a man was in the house. They [the children] said they're okay. My daugher is freaking out right now." (It is not clear if the mother also spoke to her daughter about the incident.)

     Deputies with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, upon arrival at the Fowler house, found the 8-year-old girl, Leila Fowler, bleeding to death from several stab wounds. (She died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital. Based on the context of Crystal Walter's 911 call, I presume Leila was stabbed sometime between her brother's call to their mother and the arrival of the police.)

     The victim's 12-year-old brother described the intruder as a tall man with long, gray hair. At some point after the man ran off, the boy discovered his dying sister. (I don't know if crime scene investigators recovered a bloody knife, made a blood spatter analysis, or collected the clothing worn by the brother.) According to media reports, the officers found no evidence that theft had been a motive for the intrusion. Moreover, there was no physical evidence of a break-in. (The intruder could have gained entry by knocking on the door.)

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy determined the cause of death to be shock and bleeding. The manner of death, of course, was homicide by stabbing.

     Investigators with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, operating on the intruder theory, launched a massive manhunt for Leila Fowler's killer. The investigation included rounding up and questioning the area's registered sex offenders. With a murderous home invader on the loose, residents of the community locked their doors and loaded their guns.

     A week or so into the murder investigation, rumors surfaced that detectives now considered the Fowler boy as their prime suspect. On May 11, two weeks after the murder, deputies arrested the victim's 12-year-old brother. Detectives also searched the Fowler house and walked away with several knives. (This suggests they did not have the murder weapon.) Charged as an adult with second degree murder, the Fowler boy was placed into a juvenile detention center.

     At a press conference following the boy's arrest, Sheriff Gary Kuntz said, "Citizens of Calaveras County, you can sleep a little better tonight."

     On May 13, two days after the arrest, the murder suspect's father told an Associated Press reporter that he will believe his son is innocent until he sees evidence that proves otherwise. "If they have the evidence, well that's another story. We're an honest family," Barry Fowler said. (I presume that detectives interrogated the boy without acquiring a confession.)

     On May 15, 2013, after a closed juvenile hearing, attorney Mark Reichel, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter, said that his young client may have lied about encountering a long-haried man in the house. Reichel added that such an admission is not evidence of the boy's guilt. "How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?" he asked. (I wonder how a guilty kid his age could withstand police questioning without confessing or at least giving himself away.)

     The murder suspect's second attorney, Steve Presser, raised doubts that his client was old enough to assist in his own defense. "Can a 12-year-old be psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally mature enough to aid his attorneys in defending himself against the most serious of charges? We have no reason to have any doubts about our client's innocence," he said. "We have questions. Why do the police think the minor did this?...And how did it not lead to an immediate arrest and take 2,000 hours of resources by the sheriff's office and the FBI?" 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Writer's Bulletin: Survivor Winner John Cochran and Why Almost Every Celebrity "Writes" a Book

     John Cochran, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, is the new winner of the TV reality show Survivor: Caramoan (Philippines). Last year Cochran, a self-described nerd, came up short as a contestant on Survivor: South Pacific. As a result of his extended media exposure, he currently qualifies as a D-list television celebrity. This means he will probably spend the rest of his life trying to maintain that status. For most people, the taste of even minor fame ends up being a life-long curse.

     Survivor host Jeff Probst, after announcing the winner of the million dollars that comes with the title  "sole survivor", asked Mr. Cochran if he intended to practice law now that season 26 has come to an end. In other words, was he returning to a real-life existence. Cochran, a fan of the show since he was thirteen, predictably answered that he was not entering the field of law. In response to Probst's inquiry as to where the new reality TV star was going from here, Cochran said he'd like to write. The man who  had outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted his reality TV competitors, in explaining why he thought he had the talent to write, said, "I have the gift of gab." Well there you go. If you can talk you can write. But what would a person who has spent his entire life in a classroom write about?

     Because the vast majority of real writers--people who can write and have acquired expertise in a subject or field they can write about--are not famous. And publishers don't have the money to turn them into celebrities through advertising, book-tours, and publicists. For that reason, nobody knows about their books. Most real writers need day jobs to survive and support their writing.

     Publishers love celebrities because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshipers will come to their book-signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity journalists will invite them to appear on TV shows to talk about and promote their vacuous books.

     The fact that many celebrities can barely read let alone write is not a problem because real writers can be hired to write their books for them. A few celebrities have even published book-length fiction written by professional novelists. In the celebrity drivel genre, the lines between nonfiction and fiction are blurred anyway.

     You don't have to be Sylvia Browne to predict what's coming next for sole survivor Cochran. In a few short months some ghost-writer will crank out  a book with the newly-minted celebrity's name on the cover. The work will probably be marketed as an inspirational memoir encouraging socially awkward geeks to follow their dreams. (I weep for the tree that will die for this one.)

     Mr. Cochran's memoir/inspirational book will come in handy when he joins the celebrity motivational speaker circuit. When that string begins to run out and his fame starts to fade, Cochran will have to come up with an idea for a second ghost-written book. (Maybe the ghost writer will give him the idea.) If Cochran follows the footsteps of other D-celebrities on the decline, his second book will be some kind of tell-all that reveals just enough to rekindle his sagging career as a celebrity. His fans will read about how he struggled and overcame some problem such as drugs, alcohol, fame, self-esteem, binge eating, depression, or some illness. It will be, of course, motivational. If he can help just one person--that kind of book.

     While the last thing we need in America is another lawyer, we need a couple of newly ghost-written celebrity books even less. I would advise Mr. Cochran to exchange reality TV for simple reality. He has a law degree from Harvard that cost someone a lot of money. He should find some way to use it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Last Words of Executed Prisoners

I just want everyone to know that the prosecutor is a sorry son-of-a-bitch.

Edward Ellis, executed March 3, 1992

Writing Quote: The Humiliating Life Of The Writer

Humiliation is not, of course, unique to writers. However, the world of letters does seem to offer a near-perfect microclimate for embarrassment and shame. There is something about the conjunction of high-mindedness and low income that is inherently comic; something about the presentation of deeply private thoughts--carefully worked and honed into art over the years--to a public audience of strangers, that strays perilously close to tragedy. It is entirely possible, I believe, to reverse Auden's dictum that "art is born out of humiliation."

Robin Robertson, editor, Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, 2004

Monday, May 13, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: What Causes Schizophrenia?

There is no question that psychiatric problems can be inherited--we know this from studies comparing identical twins with fraternal twins. Identical twins are genetically the same, meaning that they share 100 percent of their DNA, whereas nonidentical (fraternal) twins share only 50 percent of their genes. Studies looking at the concordance rate of schizophrenia--that is, how commonly both siblings develop the same disorder--have found a concordance rate of 10 percent in nonidentical twins, versus 40 percent in identical twins. This implies that genetics plays a significant role in schizophrenia. But what is that role? Answering that question has been devilishly hard, and the latest landmark study found that we are much further away from identifying such genes than we ever thought.

Dr. Daniel J. Carlat, Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry, 2010

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Writing Quote: The Shared Experiences of Writers

Writers have helped me when members of my own family could not. Some writers have been closer than dear friends, even though I never have seen them in the flesh. For example, when I have read some of Somerset Maugham and his The Summing Up, the lucidity of his view of the writing profession illuminated dusky corners in my mind....I have been helped by other writers.

Margaret Culkin Banning, in Writer's Roundtable, 1959 

Criminal Justice Quote: Crime in Black Communities

     Experiencing a violent crime rate of 2,137 per 100,000 of the population, Detroit is the nation's most dangerous city. Rounding out Forbes Magazine's 2012 list of the 10 most dangerous cities are St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, Baltimore, Stockton, Cleveland, and Buffalo....In most of these cities, blacks have been mayors, chiefs of police, school superintendents and principals and have dominated city councils....

     Law-abiding poor black people suffer the nation's highest rates of criminal victimization from assaults and homicides. More than 50 percent of homicide victims are black.

     In addition to victimization, the level of lawlessness in many black communities has the full effect of a law banning economic growth. That's because the thugs are equal-opportunity thugs who will rip off a black-owned business just as they'd rip off a white-owned business....

Walter Williams, columnist, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Keith Richards and Drugs

I've never had a problem with drugs. I did have a problem with cops.

Keith Richards, "The Rolling Stones"

Psychic Detective Sylvia Browne Pronounced Amanda Berry Dead on the Montel Williams Show

     The biggest load of crap I can envision is a bus-full of psychic detectives en route to a charlatan convention in Las Vegas. Real detectives who give these frauds credibility by consulting them should be busted back to the street for wasting time and taxpayer money.

     A study in England published in 1996 pitted people who claimed to be psychic detectives against undergraduate psychology students. Each participant in the experiment was handed an item from a real crime scene and asked to utter whatever popped into their minds regarding the offense. As it turned out, the psychics as well as the students did no better at making accurate comments than could be expected  from mere chance. The results of this study showed that the only difference between a psychic and an ordinary person is the ability to act, and to lie with a straight face. Over the years, similar findings that discredit psychics have been replicated numerous times by other researchers. (Conducting a serious study to determine if psychics are bogus is like conducting a massive study to confirm that the earth is round.)

     In the wake of the Cleveland kidnapping case, it has been revealed that in 2004 the celebrity psychic detective Sylvia Browne, appearing on the "Montel Williams Show," told Amanda Berry's mother Louwana Miller that her daughter was "in heaven and on the other side" when in fact she was living in hell in Cleveland, Ohio. According to psychic Browne, Amanda Berry's last words were, "Goodbye, mom, I love you." (Over the years Browne has been a regular on the Montel Williams program.)

     Earlier this year, Sylvia Browne told a Fox columnist that her "God-given gift" was her DNA. "I was just born this way," she said, straight-faced. Revealing her deep love of self, pathological phoniness, and gift for the absurd, Browne continued: "Why did Beethoven create symphonies and everything? (I'm a big fan of Beethoven's everything.) Why did he play the piano when he was three years old? I was just born with this. My grandmother and my mother was and my son is, and we go back 300 years. It may be a genetic thing." (Perhaps DNA researchers have found the BS gene.)

     Given the fact that so many Americans believe in ghosts, big-foot, flying saucers, Elvis sightings and the like, I doubt Sylvia Browne's Amanda Berry misfire will knock her off television. That's my unpsychic prediction. I don't have it, my mother didn't have it, and neither does my son. And I don't know anyone whose family doesn't go back 300 years.

     If there ever would be a bus full of psychic detectives rolling toward a charlatan convention in Las Vegas, Sylvia Browne would be driving the vehicle wearing a blindfold with peep holes.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Culpability

In his brilliant book What is History?, Professor E. H. Carr asked about ultimate causation. Take the case of a man who drinks a bit too much, gets behind the wheel of a car with defective brakes, drives it around a blind corner, and hits another man who is crossing the street to buy cigarettes. Who is the one responsible? The man who had one drink too many, the lax inspector of brakes, the local authorities who didn't straighten out a dangerous bend, or the smoker who chose to dash across the road to satisfy his bad habit?

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir, 2010

Writing Quote: William Styron on Booze and Writing

I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime agent, which had contributed greatly to my writing; although I never set down a line while under its influence....Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily--sought also I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long in the dungeons of my spirit.

William Styron, novelist 

Criminal Justice Quote: America the Medicated

In 1996, 13 million Americans were taking an antidepressant; nine years later, in 2005, that number had more than doubled... One in ten Americans over the age of six is now taking an antidepressant. Other mind medications are on the rise as well. The use of sleeping pills doubled from 2000 to 2004, and in 2006 it was estimated that 8.6 million used the medications regularly. Stimulants like Ritalin and Dexedrine are also a growth industry, with 5 percent of American children taking stimulants every day.

Dr. Daniel J. Carlat, Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry, 2010

Friday, May 10, 2013

Writing Quote: A Low Opinion of the Literary Critic

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They're there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can't do it themselves.

Brendan Behan in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Criminal Justice Quote: Last Words of Executed Prisoners

I'm ready to roll. Time to get this party started.

James Jackson, executed on February 7, 2007 in Texas

Writing Quote: Tom Wolfe on Jimmy Breslin's Creative Nonfiction

     In the introduction to his breakthrough 1973 anthology, The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe writes about how Jimmy Breslin, a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, captured the realistic intimacy of experiences by noticing details that could act as metaphors for something larger and more all-encompassing that he wanted to say. Wolfe describes Breslin's coverage of the trial of Anthony Provenzano, a union boss charged with extortion. At the beginning, Breslin introduces the image of the bright morning sun bursting through the windows of the courtroom and reflecting off the large diamond ring on Provenzano's chubby pinky finger. Later, during a recess, Provenzano, flicking a silver cigarette holder, paces the halls, sparring with a friend who came to support him, the sun still glinting off the pinky ring.

     Wolfe writes: "The story went on in that vein with Provenzano's Jersey courtiers circling around him and fawning while the sun explodes off his pinky ring. Inside the courtroom itself, however, Provenzano starts getting his. The judge starts lecturing him and the sweat starts breaking out on Provenzano's upper lip. Then the judge sentences him to seven years, and Provenzano starts twisting his pinky finger with his right hand." The ring is a badge of Provenzano's ill-gotten labors, symbolic of his arrogance and his eventual vulnerability and resounding defeat.

Lee Gutkind (the "Godfather" of creative nonfiction), Forever Fat: Essays By the Godfather, 2003 

Crime Bulletin: As Violent Crime Drops, Fear of Crime Increases

     Violent crime has always been a staple of local television and newspaper news. Take out crime, sports and weather and there's nothing left. The old saying, "If it bleeds it leads," is accurate. According to researchers at the Pew Research Center, since 2007, national print and television news outlets have significantly increased their coverage of crime. In 2012, the spree shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut as well as the Jerry Sandusky pedophile case dominated the national news for months. Murder-suicide, murder-for-hire, and police involved shooting cases always attract considerable local and national media attention. So far this year, the ex-LA cop's killing spree, the Boston Bombings, the Jodi Arias murder trial, and the three women held captive ten years in Ariel Castro's house in Cleveland, Ohio dominated local and national news coverage.

     Recently, the top story on Fox News--the Benghazi cover-up--was pushed aside by the Cleveland Kidnapping case and the Arias murder verdict. (Immediately following the Arias guilty verdict, a Fox News correspondent in Phoenix landed an exclusive holding-cell interview of the convicted killer. In true crime reporting, this is a grand slam. Jodi Arias, who looks like a mean elementary school teacher who's dying to hit you with a stick, was one of the most unsympathetic female murder defendants in history.)

     Given the nonstop reporting of gruesome crime on national television, it is not surprising that most Americans believe that over the past two decades the rate of violent crime in the country has steadily increased. This spring, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that since the mid-1990s, the rate of gun killings has been cut in half. The rate of other gun crime fell by 75 percent.

     Despite the significant decline in the rate of gun violence, only 12 percent of those surveyed said they believed crimes involving firearms had dropped over the past 20 years. Twenty-six percent think that crime has stayed the same while 56 percent believe it has increased. A poll by the Pew Research Center produced similar findings. Both studies also reveal that a high percentage of gun violence involves black males shooting other black males.

     Criminologists have attributed the drop in violent crime to a variety of factors including a decline in the use of crack cocaine, and the rise in prison incarceration rates.

     Regardless of the reasons for the drop in violent crime, if an American doesn't live in a high-crime inner city neighborhood, that person resides in a country that is relatively safe from gun and other forms of violence. But people who watch television news, and have noticed how law enforcement has become so highly militarized, understandably don't feel safe. This is exactly how politicians and police administrators want us to feel. Citizens who feel threatened by crime will put up with militarized, shock-and-awe-policing, restricted civil rights, and higher taxes.

     In the old days, police administrators and politicians had to do their own fear mongering. Today, the national media unwittingly does it for them.



Writing Quote: Writing Versus Talking on TV

Gore Vidal...once languidly told me that one should never miss a appear on television. My efforts to live up to this maxim have mainly resulted in my passing many unglamorous hours on off-peak cable TV....Almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the "soft" world of dream and illusion and "perception": it has only a surrogate relationship to the "hard" world of printed words and written-down concepts to which I've tried to dedicate my life, and that surrogate relationship, while it, too, may be "verbal," consists of being glib rather than fluent, fast rather than quick, sharp rather than pointed. It means reveling in the fact that I have a meretricious, want-it-both ways side. My only excuse is to say that at least I do not pretend that this is not so.

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir, 2010

Criminal Justice Quote: The Cause of Crime

Criminals cause crime--not bad neighborhoods, inadequate parents, television, schools, drugs, or unemployment. Crime resides within the minds of human beings and is not caused by social conditions. Once we as a society recognize this simple fact, we shall take measures radically different from current ones. To be sure, we shall continue to remedy intolerable social conditions for this is worthwhile in and of itself. But we shall not expect criminals to change because of such efforts.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Missing Person Brenda Heist Legally Dead But Still Alive

     In 2002, forty-three-year-old Brenda Heist and her husband Lee were going through an amicable divorce. The couple had two children, a daughter who was eight, and a twelve-year-old son. They lived in Lititz Borough, a small Lancaster County town in southeastern Pennsylvania. Brenda worked as a bookkeeper at a local car dealership.

     In an effort to finance her own apartment, Brenda applied for state housing assistance. The agency denied her request. Depressed, overwhelmed, and distraught, Brenda, after driving the children to school one day in February 2002, drove to a nearby town and parked her car in a bus station lot. From there she walked to a park where she sat on a bench and cried.

     Brenda did not go back to her car and drive home that day. To her family and friends, and to the local police, she became a missing person.

     Four days after Brenda dropped her children off at school, police found her car parked in the bus station lot. When a mother takes her kids to school and doesn't return home, the police assume that she has been abducted. As days went by without anyone hearing from or seeing Brenda Heist, detectives began to think that she may have had been murdered. At this point the missing persons case turned into a homicide investigation. As in most missing wife cases, the suspicion in Brenda's disappearance fell on her husband.

     As psychic detectives and other whack-job callers flooded the Heist missing persons investigators with false leads, homicide investigators focused on Lee Heist as their primary murder suspect. Mr. Heist  had to quit his job. He ran into financial difficulties, and eventually lost his home. After several years as a suspect in his wife's disappearance and murder, investigators, after a series of polygraph tests, cleared Lee Heist of wrongdoing in the case. His wife remained missing, however, and was presumed dead.

     In 2008, the Lancaster County Major Crimes Unit began investigating the Brenda Heist disappearance as a cold-case murder. Two years later, Lee Heist petitioned a Lancaster County Court to declare his wife legally dead. With Brenda officially declared "missing and possibly deceased", Mr. Heist was able to marry another woman.

     As it turned out, while Lee Heist was put through hell as a suspect in his wife's murder, Brenda was alive in south Florida. On the day of her disappearance, she was approached by two men and a woman who saw her crying on the park bench. After she related her tale of woe, they invited her to join them on a hitchhiking trip to Florida. She accepted their offer.

     Brenda Heist spent her first two years in Key Largo, Florida living under bridges and eating restaurant garbage. She entered a new phase in her life when she moved into a camp trailer with a man she met on the street. For the next seven years Brenda lived with this man in Key West. They both worked as day laborers cleaning boats and doing odd jobs for cash.

     In 2011, after her relationship with her trailer roommate soured, Brenda was back on the street. She worked odd jobs and hung out on the beach. In December 2012, under her alias Kelsie Lyanne Smith, Brenda got a job as a live-in housekeeper for a family in Tampa Bay. (According to her employer she had good references.)

      A few months after landing the housekeepers job, a police pulled Brenda over for driving with an expired license plate. The officer found drugs in her car. She served two months in Pensacola County Jail on the drug possession offense. Following her release from jail, she spent a few weeks behind bars in Santa Rosa County on an identify theft charge. At one point she lived in a tent community run by a Florida social service agency.

     On Friday, April 26, 2013, Brenda Heist surrendered herself to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Thinking that there were warrants for her arrest out of Pinellas County, the 54-yar-old told the Monroe County deputies that she was at the end of her rope, and tired of running. She informed the officers that eleven years ago she had walked out on her family in Lititz Borough, Pennsylvania.

     The Florida authorities called Lititz Borough Sergeant John Schofield with the news that Brenda Heist was not dead, and no longer missing. Her children, now college students, still had a mother.

     On May 3, 2013, Brenda was sent back to the Santa Rosa County Jail on various theft related charges. Morgan Heist, her 19-year-old daughter, has told reporters that she has no interest in reuniting with her mother.


     On June 11, 2013 a judge in Pensacola, Florida sentenced Heist, known in the Santa Rose court system as Kelsie Smith, to one year in jail in connection a probation violation. She pleaded no contest to failing to check in with authorities after leaving the Pensacola area following her release from jail in April. She'd been on probation for using someone else's identification during a traffic stop.


Writing Quote: Writing Fiction Versus Nonfiction

I speak about the limitation on a nonfiction writer's scope for invention as if it were a burden, when, in fact, it is what makes his work so much less arduous. Where the novelist has to start from scratch and endure the terrible labor of constructing a world, the nonfiction writer gets his world ready-made. Although it is a world by no means as coherent as the world of fiction, and is peopled by characters by no means as lifelike as the characters in fiction, the reader accepts it without complaint; he feels compensated for the inferiority of his reading experience by what he regards as the edifying character of the genre: a work about something that is true, about events that really occurred and people who actually lived or live, is valued simply for being that, and is read in a more lenient spirit than a work of imaginative literature, from which we expect a more intense experience.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing Quote: Elements of a Short Story

It is not hard to state what Edgar Allan Poe meant by a good short story; it is a piece of fiction, dealing with a single incident...that can be read at a setting. It is original, it must sparkle, excite or impress; and it must have unity of effect or impression. It should move in an even line from its exposition to its close.

W. Somerset Maugham, Points of View, 1961

What Happened to Mandy Matula?

     Twenty-four-year-old Mandy Matula lived with her parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a town of 60,000 12 miles southwest of Minneapolis. A graduate of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, she worked for the Eden Prairie Public Works Department. In high school, Mandy had been a standout softball player.

     In September 2012, Mandy ended her relationship with David Roe, a 24-year-old from Victoria, Minnesota who had been a classmate of Matula's at Eden Prairie High School. From 2007 to 2009 Roe had attended the University of St. Thomas where he played football. After the break-up, he and Mandy remained friends.

     On the night of Wednesday, May 1, 2013, Roe showed up at the Matula house and asked to speak with Mandy. Leaving her cellphone and purse in the dwelling, she and Roe sat outside the house in his black, 2013 Ford Escape SUV. Around eleven-thirty that night, Roe drove off with Mandy in the vehicle.

     Mandy didn't return home that night, and didn't show up for work in the morning. This prompted her worried mother to call David Roe to find out what happened to her. According to Roe, they had continued their discussion in Miller Park near the Matula house. Following an argument, Mandy got out of his vehicle. He presumed she had walked home. Mrs. Matula, at eight-thirty that morning, called the Eden Prairie Police Department and reported her daughter missing.

     As the last person seen with Mandy Matula, David Roe was the obvious person of interest in her disappearance. For that reason, a detective with the Eden Prairie Police Department, on Thursday, May 2, asked him to come to the police station for questioning. That afternoon, after getting out of his SUV in the police department's parking lot, Roe put a handgun to his head and shot himself.

     Paramedics rushed David Roe to the Hennepin County Medical Center. At three the next morning, he died from his self-inflicted head wound.

     As a result of David Roe's suicide, investigators lost the best lead they had regarding Mandy Matula's whereabouts and status. A search of Roe's vehicle produced a note that, according to the police, contained "limited writing."

     On Saturday, May 4, 300 volunteers searched Miller Park for Matula's body. Not far from the Victory Lutheran Church, a searcher found a bullet.

     In October 2013, Mindy Matula's body was found in a shallow grave not far from where she went missing.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Origins of the Serial Killer Culture

In the 1990s there were all sorts of secondary stories related to serial killing. First was the movie Silence of the Lambs, which introduced into mass consciousness the idea of FBI profilers and the character of serial killer Hannibal Lecter. The controversies of Bred Easton Ellis's book American Psycho, the marketing of serial killer trading cards, AOL's closing of Sondra London's serial killer web site, the market for artworks created by serial killers, and online auctions of their artifacts all contributed to a prevailing serial killer culture.

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

Book Signings and Other Writer Humiliations

Writers can only moan to each other about all this, really: the humiliating reading to an audience of two, the book signing where nobody turns up, the talk where the only question is "Where did you buy your nail varnish?" Nobody is really going to care, are they, if we sit alone unloved besides our pile of books, approached only once in the two hours and that by a woman who is trying to flog us her self-published book on recovering from breast cancer? Or that we wait, alone in the darkness, on the deserted platform at Newark station, the only reading matter a VIOLENT ASSAULT: WITNESSES WANTED sign swinging in the wind, until we realize we've missed the last train home.

Deborah Moggach, in Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, 2004

[I once gave a talk at a public library attended by the security guard and a homeless man. When I invited questions at the end of the speech, the homeless guy raised his hand and asked, "Who's going to eat those donuts?"]

Monday, May 6, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Crime Lab Problems in San Francisco

If you had to get caught dealing drugs, San Francisco was the place to be in 2010, especially if the evidence against you went to criminalist Deborah Madden. That's when Madden was accused of pilfering small amounts of cocaine from the lab for personal use. An internal review turned up significant shortages of drug evidence in several cases she handled. But Madden said she was not surprised by that because weight discrepancies occurred frequently at the lab. The San Francisco district attorney's office first said a half-dozen cases might be compromised, then began to drop hundreds of cases. Later, the investigation of the lab expanded to look at the potential involvement of other crime lab employees, and the DA's office had to analyze 1,400 pending felony narcotics cases they might be forced to drop. Madden retired and no charges were filed.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club, 2011

Kiera Wilmot: If You Can't Prevent Real Terrorism, Go After 16-Year-Old Chemistry Students

     On Monday, April 29, 2013, a 16-year-old girl in a high school chemistry class in the central Florida town of Bartow, mixed a couple of household products in an eight-ounce plastic bottle. When Kiera Wilmot, a student with good grades and no history of trouble-making, shook the mix, a mild explosion blew off the bottle cap. (She might have placed cough drops or Tylenol pills into a bottle of soda.) The result of the experiment startled the student more than anyone.

     No one was hurt, the tiny explosion caused no property damage, and the student had not intended anything malicious. (In my day, when mischievous kids got too old to put tacks on teachers' desk chairs, a few of them dropped cherry-bombs into school toilets. Getting caught blowing up a public commode usually resulted in a paddling and a brief expulsion. Unless the student was a known juvenile delinquent, the matter was handled in-house. Police and prosecutors did not get involved.)

     The administrators at Bartow High School, following Wilmot's harmless chemistry experiment, called in the authorities. Notwithstanding the student's background, lack of criminal intent, and the absence of physical harm or property damage, a local prosecutor charged the student with possession and discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device. Having been charged with these felonies, school administrators had no choice but to expel the suspected bomber. If convicted of these crimes, Wilmot will have to finish her high school years in an expulsion program.

     Kathleen Nolan, author of Police in the Hallways, told an education reporter that the Wilmot case " an example of the absurdity of zero tolerance and the over-use of police intervention in schools....This young woman, all because of misguided curiosity, now faces expulsion and felony charges which could negatively impact her future opportunities and alter the course of her life."

     When looking for the source of such insanity, you usually don't have to look beyond the U. S. Congress. In 1994, Congress passed a law that forces states that receive federal education funds to enact legislation that requires mandatory one-year expulsions for students who bring firearms to school. As one can be expect, school officials and criminal justice practitioners took this law and went to hell with the joke.

     The beauty of a zero-tolerance enforcement policy is that it exempts bureaucrats from having to think. It also protects them from making decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions. It's a policy for people without the guts to lead.

     Although Kiera Wilmot didn't bring a firearm or a bomb to school, Bartow High administrators notified law enforcement authorities. Once the knucklehead prosecutor decided to treat the student as a terrorist, the school had to kick her out. With Wilmot expelled from school, the mindless school administrators and the crusading prosecutor can tell themselves that Bartow High is now a safer place.

     When comparing the Wilmot story to the tale of government incompetence, inaction, and political correctness that led to the Boston Marathon Bombings, it's hard not to conclude that the people in charge of protecting our country possess weird priorities and have no sense of proportion.




Criminal Justice Quote: Goodbye Psychotherapy, Hello Drugs

Over the last thirty years, [psychiatrists] have constructed a reliable system for diagnosing mental disorders, and we have created medications that work well to treat a range of psychological symptoms. But these very successes have had unpredictable consequences. As psychiatrists have become enthralled with diagnosis and medication, we have given up the essence of our profession--understanding the mind. We have become obsessed with psychopharmacology and its endless process of tinkering with medications, adjusting dosages, and piling on more medications to treat the side effects of the drugs we started with. We have convinced ourselves that we have developed cures for mental illness...when in fact we know so little about the underlying neurobiology of their causes that our treatments are often a series of trials and errors.

Dr. David J. Carlat, Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry, 2010

Writing Quote: The Editor/Writer Relationship

An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. [Editors should never] get to feeling important about themselves, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing. A writer's best work comes entirely from himself. If you [an editor] have a Mark Twain, don't try to make him into a Shakespeare or make a Shakespeare into a Mark Twain. Because in the end an editor can get only as much out of an author as the author has in him.

Maxwell Perkins as quoted in A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, 1978

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Why Serial Killers Murder

     How and why do serial murderers kill again and again? Serial killing is an addiction, some experts say. Simply explained, once they begin killing (and sometimes they kill the first time by accident), serial killers find themselves addicted to murder in an intense cycle that begins with homicidal sexual fantasies that in turn spark a desperate search for victims....Once a killing cycle is triggered, it is rarely broken.

     The worst aspect [of serial killing] is that murder fantasies are often the only thing the budding serial killer has that gives him comfort and solace. Once he crosses the line and actually realizes his fantasy, and discovers that the actual murder is not as satisfying as his fantasy, he is driven into the depths of depression and despair, from which rise even more intense homicidal fantasies driving him forward to kill again....With time, trapped in this addictive cycle, serial killers become more frenzied....The frequency and violence of their murders escalate...until they are either caught or "burn out''--reach a point where killing no longer satisfies them and they stop on their own accord....Others commit suicide, move on to commit other crimes, or turn themselves into the police.

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

Writing Quote: Barry N. Malzberg on Science Fiction

Science Fiction is the only branch of literature whose poorer examples are almost invariably used by critics outside the form to attack all of it. A lousy western is a lousy western, a seriously intentioned novel that falls apart is a disaster...but a science fiction novel that fails illuminates the inadequacy of the genre, the hollowness of the fantastic vision, the banality of the sci-fi writer...this phenomenon is as old as the American genre itself...and as fresh as the latest rotten book.

Barry N. Malzberg, "The Engines of the Night" 1980, reprinted in Breakfast in the Ruins, 2007

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Writing Quote: Memoirs and The Culture of Public Confession

Memoirs are no longer reserved for those who have climbed the Himalayas or swum the Atlantic. On the contrary, what is valued are the ordinary accounts of ordinary people about ordinary things. The market is swamped with products which claim reality--from [TV] soap operas, which people believe more than life itself, to real-life stories, which people believe as much as soap operas. In the culture of public confession, everyone has acquired the right to his personal fifteen minutes, just as Andy Warhol predicted.

Dubravka Ugresic, Thank You For Not Reading This, 2003

Crime Bulletin: Dennis McCouley's Six-Month Cohabitation With a Corpse

     In November 2012, 72-year-old Ann Marquis died of natural causes in the trailer house she rented in Long's Mobile Home Court in Redford Township just west of Detroit. At the time of her death Marquis resided with Dennis McCauley. The 64-year-old had been living with Marquis for two and a half years.

     Mr. McCauley, instead of notifying the appropriate authorities of Ann Marquis' death, told her friends and neighbors that she had moved out of the trailer park. In reality, the dead woman, laid out on a living room sofa bed, hadn't gone anywhere.

     Over the next six months, as Dennis McCouley cashed Marquis' social security checks and used her credit cards, she decomposed on the sofa bed. (That's one piece of used furniture that will not end up in a Salvation Army store.)

     Mr. McCauley should have used some of his dead roommate's money to pay the monthly trailer rent. On April 22, 2013, Redford Township police officers, accompanied by the landlord, showed up at the trailer with an eviction notice. When the landlord opened the front door, she and the officers were assaulted by the smell of death. The gruesome discovery terminated McCouley's six-month postmortem relationship with Ann Marquis.

     A Wayne County prosecutor charged Dennis McCouley with nine felony offenses related to his macabre relationship with a dead woman. These crimes include larceny, social security fraud, illegal possession of a credit card, failure to report a death, and mutilation of corpse. The latter charge related to the discovery that the dead woman's right arm was separated from her body. (The arm may have come off when McCouley, months after Marquis' death, moved the corpse.)

     Dennis McCouley is incarcerated in the Wayne County Jail under $250,000 bond. If a judge throws the book at him, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Had he ripped-off a woman who was alive, he'd be looking at probation. Theft and fraud are crimes against property. Living six months with a dead woman is a crime against nature. As a result, Mr. McCouley will probably spend some time in prison.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Henry Gribbohm Loses Life's Savings, Wins Giant Banana

     In April 2013, 30-year-old Henry Gribbohm from Epsom, New Hampshire, took his toddler son to a carnival in nearby Manchester. Lured by the prospect of winning a Xbox Kinect (a motion-sensing accessory worth $100), Gribbholm began playing a game called Tubs of Fun operated by an independent contractor with an arrangement with the carnival's owner, Fiesta Shows.

     When Tubs of Fun contestants make free practice throws, the balls land where they are supposed to. But when playing for money, the balls don't stay in the tubs. That means the player doesn't win a prize. (Welcome to the carnival world where nothing is on the level, and all the food is bad for you.)

     As hard as he tried, Mr. Gribbohm couldn't get the balls into the right tubs. It wasn't long before he had squandered $300 on the game. Instead of cutting his loses and walking away poorer but wiser, Gribbohm drove home for more cash. Determined to win his money back, he returned to Tubs of Fun with his entire life's savings, $2,300. (Like P. T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every day.")

     In a desperate effort to win back his money, Mr. Gribbohm played double or nothing until he was broke. He had dropped a total of $2,600 on the Tubs of Fun Game. (These particular tubs were not much fun for Mr. Gribbohm.

     The next day, Gribbohm returned to the carnival where he accused the Tubs of Fun operator of running a rigged game. To show his good faith, the operator gave Gribbohm $600 in cash and a "Rasta Banana"--a six-foot stuffed banana with a happy face and dreadlocks.

     The disgruntled owner of a Rasta Banana filed a complaint with the Manchester Police Department. Pending the results of the game-rigging investigation, Fiesta Shows has put Tubs of Fun on the shelf.

     To a local television reporter, Gribbohm said, "You just get caught up in the whole 'I've got to win my money back thing.' "

     Generally I have contempt for suckers. But when I saw a news photograph of this father pushing a stroller with the Rasta Banana over his shoulder, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the guy. I don't know if it's because he has a child, or looked pathetic carrying around that giant banana. Maybe the story got to me because I don't like carnivals. I guess all of us, at some time in our lives, have doubled down. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But when the game is rigged, you always lose.


Crime Bulletin: Political Correctness in the War on Crime

     If you need proof that some politicians are idiots, look no further than the state of New York. In the Empire State, a few legislators have been talking about a new law that would prohibit law enforcement officials from incorporating race into the descriptions of criminal suspects. In the looney world of extreme political correctness, police officers in search of terrorists, rapists, robbers, and murderers wouldn't be on the lookout for Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American males. They'd just be looking for males.

     If describing criminal suspects by race is inappropriate, what about using gender in describing perpetrators of crime? Isn't that sexist? If politicians devoid of common sense get their way, police dispatchers will be advising all units to be on the lookout for two human beings who just robbed the First National Bank. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Writing Quote: Pros and Cons of Note-Taking

During my first twenty years or so of magazine writing I had no working method at all. On most interviews I'd try just to go through the experience, paying as much attention as I could, and then later, write the piece from memory. That worked fairly well, but I didn't realize how insulted the subjects were that I took no notes. When I finally did start taking notes--to ease their fears--I found the process of note-taking got in the way of paying attention. I never did solve that one.

John Jerome, The Writing Trade, 1992

Last Words of Executed Prisoners: George Harris

Somebody needs to kill my trial attorney.

George Harris, executed in Missouri on September 13, 2000

Criminal Justice Quote: The "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders"

[The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] is a compendium of expert opinions masquerading as scientific truths, a book whose credibility surpasses its integrity, whose usefulness is primarily commercial.

Gary Greenberg, The Book of Woe, 2013

Writing Quote: Jonathan Raban,The Detached Journalist

A few days spent in someone else's world (however dismal, violent, pretty or even boring that world may be) is simply not enough to experience it as real. It is too tightly framed by one's own domestic normality. Wherever you are today, you know that next Monday you will be home, and from the perspective of home today will seem too exaggerated, too highly colored, too remote to take quite seriously. So the writer slips into a style of mechanical facetious irony as he deals with this wrong-end-of-the-telescope view of the world. The perfervid [phony passionate] similes that are the trademark of the hardened magazine writer betray him as he tries to make language itself mask and make up for the fundamental shallowness of his experience with its synthetic energy....Emotional disengagement, self-conscious observation, the capacity to quickly turn a muddle of not very deeply felt sensations into a neat and vidid piece, are part of the necessary equipment of the writer as journalist.

Janathan Raban, For Love & Money, 1988

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Art and Science of Crime Detection

Crime detection is not a secret art; anybody can do it if he has the wits, and the time, and patience to get all the facts, and if he knows enough of the ways of men and women. [That may have been true in 1927, but not today. The modern detective must possess, among other skills and know-how, knowledge of criminal law, forensic science, criminology, and interrogation techniques.]

Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) mystery novelist 

Writing Quote: Novelist John Gardner on Editors

One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors. They are all, without exception--at least some of the time--incompetent or crazy. By the nature of their profession they read too much, with the result they grow jaded and cannot recognize talent though it dances in front of their eyes.

John Gardner in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

The Economics of Taking A Terrorist Alive

     If the Boston terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had robbed a bank and shot a teller instead of setting off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, he probably would, under the same capture circumstances, been shot dead by SWAT officers. Police officers in America shoot and kill at least two people a day. While about a third of these shootings involve subjects who are unarmed, 95 percent of these police involved shootings are ruled justified. That's because the officers had reason to believe the subject had a knife or a gun. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, at the time of his capture, was known to be in possession of a gun and several bombs. He had earlier engaged in a gun battle with the police. He was also complicit in the murder of a police officer. To take the Boston Marathon terrorist alive, officers assumed risks they normally would not take against an armed fugitive.

     Police officers risked their lives to capture this 19-year-old killer alive because he may possess valuable terrorist related information. As it turned out, before FBI agents had a chance to complete their interrogation, a federal magistrate judge came into the hospital room and read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. After that, the terrorist clammed up. He now has a lawyer which means there is little chance the FBI will be questioning him further. When all is said and done, the arresting officers probably risked their lives for nothing.

     The taking of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive will, over the years, cost American taxpayers millions of dollars. His medical expenses will be staggering. He will also have to be physically rehabilitated. Moreover, there will be huge legal bills, and if he's convicted, the cost of housing and feeding him for the rest of his life.

     If Tsarnaev is eventually executed, that will cost even more money than housing him until he dies a natural death in prison. Is this terrorist worth all this trouble and money? In my opinion, no. And besides costing more than he's worth, he'll be worshiped as a martyr by terrorists around the world. The mass-murdering bomber, for a very long time, will be one big national pain in the butt. This is also true of his publicity-seeking, American-hating mother.