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Monday, July 29, 2013

Michael Madison: A Second Cleveland Serial Killer?

     East Cleveland, Ohio is an impoverished, predominantly black community of 17,000 within the Cleveland metropolitan area. During the period 1990 to 2011, the town lost 40 percent of its population. High crime, bad schools, and creeping neighborhood decay drove out residents who could afford to move away from the blight. These refugees from a dying community left behind abandoned houses, boarded-up buildings once homes to business, and overgrown, litter-filled lots. Homeless men, drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes replaced the citizens who fled.

     On Friday, July 19, 2013, a cable television installer called the East Cleveland Police Department about a foul smell coming from a garage. Inside the structure, police officers discovered the body of a woman wrapped in plastic trash bags. A 35-year-old East Cleveland man named Michael Madison used the garage that contained the decomposing corpse.

     In 2001, Madison, a 1997 graduate of Euclid High School, was arrested on charges of attempted rape, gross sexual imposition, and kidnapping. The following year he pleaded guilty to the attempted rape charge. The judge sentenced Madison to four years in prison and ordered that he be registered as a sex offender. When he got out of prison, Madison went into the business of selling marijuana on the streets of East Cleveland.

     On July 19, 2013, not long after the police discovered the dead woman in Madison's garage, they arrested him at his mother's house in Cleveland. The following Monday, a Cuyahoga County prosecutor, after the bodies of two more women were found in East Cleveland, charged Madison with three counts of aggravated murder and three counts of kidnapping. The magistrate set Madison's bail at $6 million.

     The authorities identified the woman found in Madison's garage as 28-year-old Shetisha Sheeley. The other two victims, Angela Deskins, 38 and 18-year-old Shirellda Terry, were found respectively, in an overgrown field and an abandoned house.

     On July 26, 2013, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner announced that two of the victims had been strangled by ligature. The third woman was so badly decomposed the forensic pathologist described her cause and manner of death as "homicidal violence by unspecific means."

     Madison, who has apparently confessed to murdering the three women, reportedly told his interrogators that he admired and had been inspired by serial killer Anthony Sowell. In 2009, detectives arrested Sowell on charges he had strangled to death eleven women at his home in Cleveland. Most of Sowell's victims, between the ages 24 and 52, had been strangled with a ligature. In 2011, a Cuyahoga County judge sentenced the registered sex offender to death.

     In the Michael Madison case, police officers continue to search for additional bodies.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Zero-Tolerance Policing

     It seems that more and more police officers are authoritarian types who see everything as either black or white. When it comes to enforcing the law there is no gray. If a cop sees a person breaking the letter of a minor law, or is engaged in behavior he simply doesn't like, that person could be on his way to jail in handcuffs. Policing in this country is becoming more heavy-handed, more zero-tolerant. The police are not only over-enforcing the law (the so-called broken window theory), they are manufacturing crime out of noncriminal behavior. This is what I call the criminalization of America.

     One form of zero-tolerant, heavy-handed policing involves the criminalization of school kid misbehavior such as arresting grade school children for schoolyard fights (assault); carving their initials in their desks (vandalism); truancy; drawing pictures depicting violence;  general classroom misbehavior (disorderly conduct), posessing an aspirin tablet; and carrying something as dangerous as a pocket knife. Any kid caught playing with matches today is marked as a potential pathological firesetter and sent off for psychological help.

     Otherwise law-abiding adults have to deal with speed traps; sobriety checkpoints; jaywalking tickets; rolling through stop sign busts; and thousands of regulatory infractions such as holding a yard sale without a permit. If you park your car in the wrong place, or let the meter expire, in addition to paying a fine, you may have to ransom your vehicle out of an impound lot.

     If, in the war against real criminals, police need the cooperation of law abiding citizens, zero-tolerance policing is not a good way to get it. Too many officers seem unable or unwilling to distinguish between a burglar and someone trespassing across someone's yard to find his dog. Because militarized law enforcement is replacing community based policing, cops have become isolated from the public they are paid to serve. They do not see themselves as public servants but as crime-fighting warriors. Officers with this mindset see everyone as a potential enemy combatant. In this way of thinking, it's not good guys versus criminals, but cops versus everyone.  


     In Illinois you can be arrested for videotaping an on-duty police officer. Citizen's using their cellphones to record police abuse have been arrested, handcuffed and hauled off to jail. Under Illinois law you cannot audio-tape a phone conversation without the consent of the other party. The police are using this law to justify arresting people who have videotaped them in public.

     In 2007, Simon Glik videotaped a Boston police officer using excessive force. The police arrested Glik for this activity. The videotaper fought the case and won. He then sued the Boston Police Department for violating is First Amendment right to record police activity. He won that case as well.

     In California, it's legal to videotape a police officer if the video taker is in a public place and has a right to be there. Police in the state fought against this law and lost.

     In Philadelphia the police have arrested many videotaping citizens. The arresting officers have confiscated and destroyed the offending cellphones. Public outrage over this over-enforcement led the police commisioner, in October 2011, to issue a departmental order declaring it legal for citizens in the city to videotape police officers doing their jobs. Rank and file police officers were not pleased.


     One of the worst speed traps in America was (and possibly still is) on U.S. Route 19 as is passes north and south through Summersville, West Virginia. At this popular interstate shortcut to and from Florida, the speed limit drops from 65 to 50 MPH where traffic cops lie in wait with radar guns. Police in Summersville wrote between 10,000 and 18,000 speeding tickets a year, generating millions in revenue for the town of 3,250.

     Local businessman Charles McCue objected to the speed trap on the grounds it scared away business. He banned police officers from using his shopping center parking lot as a place to clock passing motorists. When that didn't solve the problem, he put up a giant billboard along Route 19 warning drivers of the upcoming speed trap. Although the police were not amused, Charles McCue became a hero to thousands of motorists who managed to get through this town without paying a fine.

     In central Florida, police officers routinely pulled over and fined motorists who flashed their headlights to warn oncoming drivers of an upcoming speed trap. In justifying these tickets, the cops cited a Florida statute that prohibits the flashing of lights except as a means of indicating a turn or to indicate when a vehicle is stopped on the road. Motorists stopped for trying to save their fellow citizens the cost of speeding tickets were fined around a hundred dollars. They were charged with "Improper Flashing of High-Beams." Traffic cops considered this motorist to motorist form of communication "obnoxious and disrespectful" and equated it to obstruction of justice. These officers saw no difference between warning someone of a drug bust and telling a fellow motorist to slow down to avoid a speeding ticket.

     One of the fined "high-beam" flashers filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Florida on behalf of 2,400 people who had been ticketed for this activity between 2005 and 2010. A few days after the filing of the suit, the head of the Florida Highway Patrol ordered officers to stop ticketing the light flashers until the case is resolved in the courts.


     On September 8, 2011, Alan Ehrlich encountered a traffic-light outage at a major intersection in South Pasadena, California. To bring some order to the traffic chaos, Ehrlich took matters into his own hands. He put on a bright orange shirt and began directing traffic. Within ten minutes he had traffic flowing smoothly again. When a police officer arrived at the scene, instead of thanking Ehrlich and taking over the job, he wrote him a ticket and drove off. Once again traffic became snarled at this intersection. Officers do not appreciate citizens who think they can do police work.


     In Washington, D. C., the police are authorized to arrest drivers if their license plates are more than thirty days out of date. These offenders, under D. C. law, can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to thirty days.

     In October 2011, a naval officers was pulled over in D. C. for having an expired Florida plate. The Navy man carried a Maryland driver's license, but lived in D. C. (He kept his legal residence in Florida for voting and income tax purposes.) Because he was in the military, the officer didn't change his driver's license everytime he moved from one state to another. (Military personnel are exempt from having to acquire a new driver's license everytime they move.) The naval officer tried to explain all of this to the police officer. He promised to go home and immediately renew his Florida tags online.

     The D. C. cop ordered the officer out of his car. When a second policeman arrived at the scene, they handcuffed the motorist and hauled him off to jail where they fingerprinted him and took his mug shot. The police released the officer three hours later. While he was incarcerated, his wife, who had sent him out for some fast food, had no idea what had happened to him. The judge who dismissed the case told the Navy man that in two years he could request to have his arrest record sealed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Detroit: A Decaying City of Rotting Corpses

     Beginning in the 1950s, the middle class in Detroit, Michigan began moving to the suburbs. The exodus accelerated in 1967 following the race riots, and it hasn't stopped. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 residents have moved out of the city. Detroit now has a population of 700,000 living in a place  built for 2 million.

    The massive migration from crime, taxes, lousy schools, and falling real estate values has left vast sections of the city virtually abandoned. Because of its dwindling tax base, the city can't afford to demolish more than 30,000 vacant houses. (Youngstown, Ohio has a similar problem.) These urban wastelands consist of empty dwellings, crumbling buildings, crack houses, abandoned vehicles, and vacant lots. And there is garbage everywhere.

     In rural, small town, and suburban America, when someone commits murder and needs to dispose of the body, they deposit the corpse in the woods, in a rural field, or toss it into a river, pond, or lake. Not in Detroit. Murderers in that city take their dead victims to these dying neighborhoods where weeks later they are found decomposing in empty buildings, abandoned vehicles, trash-littered alleyways, and overgrown lots.

     In 2012, more than a dozen homicide victims were dumped in these decaying areas of Detroit. The place has become a dumping grounds for killers. Because the police don't patrol these districts, the corpses lay around for days and weeks stinking up the city.

     There is a forensic scientist in Tennessee named William Bass who runs a so-called body farm where homicide investigators can study post-mortem changes in corpses subjected to a variety of controlled conditions. Perhaps the professor of death could open a branch campus in Detroit.

     In July 2013, the rotting city of Detroit, twenty billion dollars in debt, filed for bankruptcy in federal court. An autopsy of this place will reveal its cause and manner of financial death--fifty years of big government and political corruption. Public unions in Detroit are challenging the right of the municipality to enter bankruptcy. This means the Michigan city will lay around that much longer stinking up the rest of the country. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Violent Crimes of Stanley B. Hoss

We watch the evening news and hear that one person has murdered another. We get up from the TV, have supper, and soon forget the names of the killer and victim as we go on with our lives. But some events sear the soul. Some dramas become sagas that stick with us, hanging like a mist over the mountain. That seems to be so with Stanley Hoss

James G. Hollock, Born to Lose: Stanley B. Hoss and the Crime Spree that Gripped a Nation, 2011
[A fascinating book about the criminal career of a violent western Pennsylvania psychopath. I highly recommend this well-written, well-reseached true crime book.] 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Alan Dershowitz Finds Race, Politics and Prosecutorial Misconduct in the George Zimmerman Case

[In the Zimmerman trial] there was reasonable doubt all over the place. I think there were violations of civil rights and civil liberties--by the prosecutor. The prosecutor sent this case to a judge, and willfully, deliberately, and in my view criminally withheld exculpatory evidence. They denied the judge the right to see pictures that showed Zimmerman with his nose broken and his head bashed in. The prosecution should be investigated for civil rights violations, and civil liberty violations. If the judge had any courage in applying the law, she never would have allowed this case to go to the jury. She should have entered a verdict based on reasonable doubt. The special prosecutor [Angela Corey] had in her possession photographs that would definitely show a judge that this was not an appropriate case for second-degree murder. She deliberately withheld and suppressed those photographs, refused to show them to the judge, got the judge to rule erroneously that this was a second-degree murder case. That violated a whole range of ethical, professional, and legal obligations that prosecutors have. Moreover, they withheld other evidence in the course of the pretrial and trial proceedings, as has been documented by the defense team. Angela Corey is basically a prosecutorial tyrant, and well known for that in Florida.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor, author, and famed appellate attorney, July 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Big Time Employee Thief

     On July 1, 2013, at 8:45 PM, three men walked into the jewelry store inside the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, smashed a glass jewelry display case, scooped up $200,000 in Rolex watches, then ran out of the hotel.

     While the Atlantic City smash-and-grab theft was considered a fairly big haul, it was nothing compared to what a jewelry thief working from the inside can steal.

     On Tuesday, July 2, 2013, the day after the Borgata Hotel smash-and-grab, FBI agents arrested Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun at her fancy home in Darien, Connecticut. A federal prosecutor charged the 46-year-old vice president in charge of product development at the Tiffany flagship location on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue with stealing $12 million worth of jewelry from the famed store.

     FBI agents working the case believe that between November 2012 and February 2013, the executive had checked out more than 165 pieces of jewelry that were not returned to the store. The missing merchandise included diamond bracelets, platinum and gold diamond drop and loop earrings, platinum and diamond rings, and platinum and diamond pendants. Lederhaas-Okun stoos accused of selling the checked-out pieces of jewelry to another company. Federal investigators believed the suspect used her husband and a friend as sales intermediaries.

     After Tiffany & Company auditors couldn't find the 165-plus pieces of merchandise in the store's inventory, the firm fired Lederhaas-Okun. She had held the position of vice president since January of 2011. Lederhaas-Okum began working for the company in 1991 following her graduation from Georgetown University.

      Ledherhass-Okun's husband was not charged in connection with the case. She pleaded not guilty to the jewelry theft charge.

     In terms of stolen merchandise and cash, retailers are hit the hardest by employee thieves who steal three times more than shoplifters and robbers combined. Quite often the most trusted and longtime employees are the thieves who do the most damage. Most of them are eventually caught. A few of these so-called internal thieves avoid prosecution by agreeing to pay restitution. Occasionally, a retailer will decline to prosecute a dishonest employee because such an action would create unwanted publicity. Most of the time, however, inside retail thieves who have stolen large amounts of cash or merchandise end up in prison.

     It's hard to understand why a trusted, high-paid executive would risk everything by stealing from his or her employer. Some prominent, high-end thieves steal because they are living beyond their means, have large medical expenses, are compulsive gamblers, or addicted to drugs. Some employees simply enjoy the thrill of enriching themselves at the expense of their employers. Forget the Robin Hood Syndrome, rich people often steal from other rich people so they can remain rich.

     On December 23, 2013, following her guilty plea to one count of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property, U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe sentenced Lederhaas-Okun to one year and one day in federal prison. By any standard, this big time thief got off extremely light.:

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Refrigerator as a Source of Clues

I love to enter the crime scene from the kitchen. People's minute-to-minute movements are registered here. I routinely open the refrigerator to get people's lifestyles: the type of food they like, where they buy, how much they pay, how they wrap. In one homicide I investigated, the homeowner returned early, surprising the burglar, so the burglary ended in murder. But the burglar was hungry, so he had a bite to eat before leaving. We found distinct teeth marks in the cheese!

Dr. Thomas Noguchi, Coroner at Large, 1985 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Re-Broadcast of Discovery ID's "Murder in Amish Country"

     "Murder in Amish Country," episode one of the Discovery ID channel's new crime series "Deadly Devotions", is being re-broadcast on Friday, July 5 at five PM.

     The compelling one-hour docudrama is based on my book, Crimson Stain, a nonfiction account of the brutal, ritualistic murder of an old-order Amish woman by her husband, Edward Gingerich. Eighteen years after he murdered his wife Katie in the kitchen of their farmhouse in northwestern Pennsylvania, Ed Gingerich hanged himself in a barn not far from the murder scene. He is the only Amish man in history to be convicted of criminal homicide.

     The revised and expanded edition of Crimson Stain is now available in paperback on, and through your local bookstore. The re-enactments in "Murder in Amish Country" are based on scenes described in the book.

     According to an employee of the production company that made the docudrama, viewer response has been overwhelmingly positive.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Catholic Church's Justification of Pedophilia in the 1980s

Contrary to most state laws, which criminalize sex with adolescents under 16 or 18, the Catholic Church considered [in the 1980s] the age of consent to be as young as 12. This provided a convenient rationale for the Milwaukee archbishop Rembert Weakland, who shifted the blame onto teenage victims in a 1988 article for The Catholic Herald. "Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so innocent," he opined. "Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise."

Janet Reitman in a New York Times review of Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal (2013), by Michael D'Antonio