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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Too Fat To Execute? America's Biggest and Baddest Losers

     America's weight problem has changed the way we live (and die), and has affected how we punish, or can't punish, some of our worst criminals. The issue of a condemned man's weight arose in 1994 when a death row inmate argued that he was too fat to be humanely executed. In 1981, Mitchell Rupe shot two bank tellers to death in a Olympia, Washington robbery. In 1994, federal judge Thomas S. Zilly ruled that the 425-pound convicted double murderer was too heavy to be hanged.

     Judge Zilly was afraid that when Mr. Rupe ran out of rope, his body would keep going without his head. Although not as clean as having one's head severed by a guillotine, this form of decapitation is no less effective. Since the whole point of executing someone is to kill them quickly, it's not clear to me why Judge Zilly considered hanging Rupe as cruel and unusual punishment. Okay, it would comprise an unusual way of dispatching a condemned prisoner, but how can one method of state-run sudden death be crueler than another equally effective technique? From the perspective of the death row inmate, the cruelty lies in watching the clock tick down to the big moment. In Mitchell Rupe's case, Judge Zilly was apparently more concerned with execution aesthetics than effectiveness.

     As it turned out, Judge Zilly, by saving Mitchell Rupe from a quick and painless end, sentenced him to a slow, painful death caused by liver disease, advanced cirrhosis, and hepatitis C. Rupe died on February 8, 2006 at age 51. At the time of his death his weight had fallen to 260 pounds. As a result of the Rupe case, the Washington legislature, in 1996, changed the state's method of execution from hanging to lethal injection.

     In 1981, the year Mitchell Rupe gunned down the two bank tellers in Olympia, Allen "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later, a jury found him guilty of three counts of first degree murder. The judge sentenced Davis to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old death row inmate's attorney argued that his 355-pound client was too heavy for the state's 76-year-old electric chair. (In the old days, when the prison diet consisted of bread and water, weight wasn't a problem. Just kidding.)

     Since it was built in 1923, Florida's "Old Sparky," having dispatched 200 occupants, had done it's job quite effectively. However, in 1997, during the execution of a prisoner, the chair sort of malfunctioned. When the executioner applied the juice, flames shot a foot in the air from the top of the condemned man's head. The following year, following this gruesome tableau, the prison, with Allen "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair that could accommodate a 350-pount guest. On July 8, 1999, the Florida state execution ran 2,300 volts through the metal cap on Davis' head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, but Old Sparky II did its job.

     Executing overweight prisoners through lethal injection has also presented problems for condemned men and their executioners. On May 24, 2007, an executioner in Ohio ran into difficulty killing 38-year-old Christopher Newton. Six years earlier, while serving time for burglary, Newton had murdered his cellmate. Now it was his time to go. Because of his weight--Newton tipped the scales at 265--it took the executioner two hours and ten attempts to find a proper vein for the inmate's lethal dose of pentobarbital. During the prolonged execution, Newton was actually granted a bathroom break. Once again, the death room aesthetics were not good. While obese people are generally unhealthy, and die relatively young, they are apparently difficult to execute. I guess you'd call that a paradox.

     Nineteen-year-old Richard Cooey, in 1986, threw chunks of concrete off a bridge over Interstate 77 near Akron, Ohio, causing the deaths of two University of Akron students. As his execution date approached, the five-foot-seven, 267-pound inmate claimed that prison food and the lack of exercise had made him too fat to execute. According to Cooey, because of his excess weight, the executioner would have a difficult time locating a vein for the lethal dose. The 41-year-old killer did not prevail in his effort to escape his date with the deadly needle. On October 14, 2008, the Ohio executioner had no difficulty finding a way in for the pentobarbital.

     Ronald Post is currently on death row at Ohio's Mansfield Correctional Institution for murdering a woman in 1983. According to his attorney, Post is so heavy at 480 pounds the execution gurney may not be strong enough to roll him to his death. Moreover, because of his morbid obesity (pun intended), Post's executioner may have a hard time locating a good vein for the killing agent. In support of his petition to escape his death sentence, Post has submitted evidence that medical personnel at the institution have in the past struggled to insert an IV into the 53-year-old's left arm.

     Perhaps Ronald Post's executioner can find a receptive vein in the inmates right arm. And it seems to me that in a country that has sent men to the moon, we can manufacture a gurney that can hold a 480-pound man.

     If candidates for the death penalty are becoming too fat to electrocute, hang, or inject, maybe we should consider bringing back the firing-squad. Since there are rifles that can bring down elephants, I  see no reason to spare the lives of fat murderers who's crimes were so atrocious they qualified for the death sentence. I don't think it's right to allow prisoners to eat themselves out of death row. Since people who have not murdered anyone pay the consequences for overeating, so should inmates scheduled for execution. 

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.

Criminal Justice Quote: The Unreliability of Memory

     Think of your mind as a bowl filled with clear water. Now imagine each memory as a teaspoon of milk stirred into the water. Every adult mind holds thousands of these murky memories....Who among us would dare to disentangle the water from the milk?...Memories don't sit in once place, waiting patiently to be retrieved; they drift through the brain, more like clouds or vapor than something we can put our hands around....

     This view of memory has been a hard sell. Human beings feel attached to their remembered past, for the people, places and events we enshrine in memory give structure and definition to the person we think of as our "self." If we accept the fact that our memories are milky molecules, spilling into dream and imagination, then how can we pretend to know what is real and what is not? Who among us wants to believe that our grasp on reality is so provisional, that reality in fact is impenetrable and unfathomable because it is only what we remember, and what we remember is rarely the literal truth?

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994

Criminal Justice Quote: James F. Neal on Trial Technique

You wait for the prosecutor to make a mistake and hope that your total, thorough preparation will allow you to take advantage of that mistake. And they will make mistakes....I never take the chance that will result in a bad error. I try not to stretch what I'm doing into making a mistake--not to try to put on too much cross-examination, not to put a witness on who might either be a great witness or a disaster. If someone is going to win a case against me, they're going to beat me. But I don't beat myself.

 James F. Neal in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988 [James Neal, the famed trial attorney, was one of my professors at Vanderbilt University Law School. Neal also became an actor who appeared in several theatrical movies. He died in 2010.]   

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Writing Quote: Stephen King on His Genre

Louis L'Amour, the western writer, and I might both stand at the edge of a small pond in Colorado, and we both might have an idea at exactly the same time. We might both feel the urge to sit down and try to work it out in words. His story might be about water rights in a dry season, my story would more likely be about some dreadful, hulking thing rising out of the still waters to carry off sheep...and horses...and finally people. Louis L'Amour's "obsession" centers on the history of the American west; I write fearsomes. We're both a little bit nuts.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Criminal Justice Quote: How Many Women Kill, And Kill Often?

One in nearly every six serial killers in the U. S. is a woman, acting as a solo perpetrator or an accomplice. Of a total of about 400 serial killers identified between 1800 and 1995, nearly 16 percent were females--a total of 62 killers. While that might not be an overwhelming majority, it is not an insignificant number either--these 62 women collectively killed between 400 and 600 victims--men, women, an children. Three female serial killers alone--Genene Jones, Belle Gunness, and Jane Toppan--might account collectively for as many as 200 suspected murders.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

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.  

COPS VERSUS CAMERAS

     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.

SPEED TRAPS

     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.

HELP NOT WANTED

     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.

GOING TO THE SLAMMER FOR EXPIRED PLATES

     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.

Criminal Justice Quote: The Insanity Defense

Insanity defense cases should be tried not by juries but by specially trained and credentialed judges. I have seen firsthand the debacle of naive and inexperienced judges struggling with complicated psychological testimony, ineptly charging juries, and generally remaining clueless throughout the proceedings. These judges should be given on-the-job training and assistance to become proficient in the application of psychological principles.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Criminal Justice Quote: Jack The Ripper as a Tourist Attraction

Jack the Ripper...is considered by many to have ushered in the concept of serial murder even though such a form of killing has been on the Earth for hundreds of years. The Ripper's twisted sense of humor and his brutal method of killing and dismemberment brought to bear the attention of the world. To this day, tourists go to Whitechapel [East London] to retrace the footsteps of Jack the Ripper.

Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Fourth Edition, 2006

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.] 

Writing Quote: Learning to Write From Writers

     The serious student of writing and the teacher of writing should know that the extensive testimony of writers has largely been ignored by composition researchers. What writers know about their craft has been dismissed as the "lore of the practitioner."...

     Researchers usually dismiss what writers say about writing because they believe that writers do not know, intellectually, what they do. But writing is an intellectual act, and writers who are able to repeat acts of effective writing demonstrably know what they are doing. And they are articulate in sharing it.

Donald M. Murray, Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers, 1990

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Perverted Life and Death of Serial Killer Herb Baumeister

In November 2006, 29-year-old Jason Young and his 26-year-old wife Michelle lived in a suburban home outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. They had a 2-year-old daughter named Cassidy. Michelle was five months pregnant with their second child. It was not a happy marriage. He had several girlfriends, and as a salesman for a medical software company, he spent a lot of time on the road. Michelle told friends and relatives that she hated her life.

     On the morning of November 3, 2006 Jason was out of town. The previous night he had checked into a Hampton Inn in Huntsville, Virginia 169 miles from Raleigh. At nine that morning, he left a voicemail for Michelle's younger sister, Meredith Fisher. Jason asked Meredith to stop by his house and retrieve some papers for him. (I presume he told Meredith he had called home and didn't get an answer.)

     Later that morning, Meredith Fisher entered the Young house on Jason's behalf. When she climbed the stairs to the second floor, she was shocked by the sight of bloody footprints. In the master bedroom she discovered her sister lying facedown in a pool of blood. The victim, wearing a white sweatshirt and black sweatpants, had been bludgeoned to death beyond recognition. Meredith found Cassidy hiding under the covers of her parents' bed. She had not been harmed, but her socks were saturated in her mother's blood. Meredith Fisher called 911.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, the assailant had struck Michelle Young at least thirty times in the head. The attacker had tried to kill the victim by manual strangulation before beating her to death. The extent of the head wounds suggested an attack by an enraged, out-of-control killer who hated the victim.

     The authorities, from the beginning, suspected that Jason Young had snuck back to North Carolina from Virginia, murdered his wife, then returned to the Hampton Inn. The killer had not forced his way into the house, nothing had been taken, and the little girl's life had been spared. At the time of the murder, Jason was having an affair with one of his wife's friends. The couple had been fighting, and Jason had made no secret of the fact he wanted out of the marriage.

     From a prosecutor's point of view, there were serious holes in the Jason Young case. The suspect had an alibi 169 miles from the murder scene, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the carnage. Moreover, no one had seen him at the house on the night of the murder. Even worse, investigators had not identified the murder weapon. As a result of these prosecutorial weaknesses, the Wake County District Attorney's Office did not charge Jason with the murder of his wife.

     Michelle Young's parents were convinced that Jason had murdered their daughter. When it became apparent that the authorities were not taking action, they filed a wrongful death suit against him. In March 2009, two years and four months after the homicide, the civil court jury, applying a standard of proof that is less demanding than a criminal trial's proof beyond a reasonable doubt, found the defendant responsible for Michelle's brutal killing. The jurors awarded the plaintiffs $15.5 in damages.

     Eight months after the civil court verdict, a Wake County prosecutor, based on a three-year homicide investigation conducted by the City-County Bureau of Investigation, charged Jason Young with first-degree murder. Police officers, on the afternoon of December 15, 2009, arrested Young after pulling over his car in Brevard, a town in southwest North Carolina. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     The Jason Young murder case went to trial in Raleigh in June 2011. The prosecutor, following his opening statement in which he alleged that the defendant had drugged his daughter that night with adult-strength Tylenol and a prescription sedative, put on an entirely circumstantial case that relied heavily on motive.

     The defense attorney hammered home the fact the prosecution could not place the defendant at the scene of the murder. The state did not have a confession, an eyewitness, or even the murder weapon. Jason took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when his wife was murdered, he was sleeping in a hotel 169 miles away. He said he had loved his wife and their unborn child.

     On Monday morning, June 27, 2011, the foreman of the jury of seven men and five women told the judge that the jurors were "immovably hung" on the verdict. "We currently sit," he said, "at a six to six ration and do not appear to be able to make any further movement. Where do we go from here?"

     The trial judge instructed the jurors to return to the jury room and try to reach a verdict. But later in the day, after deliberating a total of twelve hours, the foreman announced that they were deadlocked in an eight to four vote in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial.

     The Wake County District Attorney, determined to bring Jason Young to justice, announced that he would try him again. Jason, who had been incarcerated in the Wake County Jail since his arrest in December 2009, went on trial for the second time on February 10, 2012.

     The prosecutor, in his opening statement, alleged that the defendant had checked into the Hillsville Hampton Inn just before eleven on the night of November 2, 2006. An hour later he left the building through an emergency exit he had propped open with a rock to avoid using his computer card key to re-enter the hotel. According to the prosecutor, the defendant arrived at his Birchleaf Drive home at around three in the morning. Shortly after his arrival, he drugged his daughter and murdered his wife. After cleaning up and disposing of his bloody shirt, shoes, and trousers, and ditching or cleaning off the murder weapon, he returned to the hotel, arriving there around seven in the morning.

     Following the testimony of the victim's sister, Meredith Fisher, and the testimony of several other prosecution witnesses, a Hampton Inn hotel clerk took the stand. According to this witness, he had found the emergency door on the first-floor stairwell propped open with a rock, He also noticed that in the same stairwell, someone had unplugged the security camera and turned its lens toward the ceiling.

     One of the City-County Bureau of Investigation crime scene officers testified that it appeared that someone had moved the victim's body to get into the defendant's closet. The detective said that despite all of the blood on the upstairs floor, certain items such as the sink drain had been sanitized by the killer. The investigator said he did find traces of blood on the knob to the door leading from the house to the garage. This witness had been present when, on the day after the murder, the suspect's body was checked for signs of trauma related to the killing. No injuries were found.

      A second detective testified that the dark shirt the defendant was seen wearing on hotel surveillance video footage was not in the suitcase he had used on that trip. The implication was that the defendant had disposed of the bloody garment.

     Included among the prosecution witnesses who took the stand over the next two weeks were two daycare employees who said they had seen Cassidy Young acting out her mother's beating. The girl was using a doll to demonstrate the attack. A therapist took the stand and testified that a week before her death, the victim had come to her seeking counseling to cope with her unhappy marriage. In the therapist's opinion, Michelle Young had been verbally abused by her husband.

     Jason Young's mother and father took the stand for the defense. On November 3, 2006 Jason had driven from the Hampton Inn in Virginia to his parents's home in Brevard, North Carolina. His mother testified that when they broke the news to him that Michelle had been murdered, "you saw the color just drain from his face."

     On February 29, 2012 the defense rested its case without calling Jason to the stand. (The defense attorney was probably worried that the prosecutor, having studied Jason's direct testimony from the first trial, would rip him apart on cross-examination.)

     The prosecutor, in his closing argument to the jury, said, "This woman wasn't just murdered, she suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see. This woman was punished. The assailant struck her over thirty times with a weapon of some sort, and she was undoubtedly unconscious after the second or third blow."

     The defense attorney pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case, talked about reasonable doubt, and reminded the jury that being a bad husband did not make his client a murderer.

     On March 5, 2012, after the jury of eight women and four men had deliberated eight hours, the judge, before a packed courtroom, read the verdict: guilty of first-degree murder. The 38-year-old defendant, after the judge announced the verdict, showed no emotion. Facing a mandatory life sentence without the chance of parole, Jason Young was escorted out of the room in handcuffs.

     Following the trial, several of the jurors spoke to reporters. Two members of the jury said that the lack of physical evidence in the case pointed more to the defendant's guilt than his innocence. For example, what happened to the shirt and shoes he was seen wearing on the hotel surveillance footage? A third juror found it incriminating that Cassidy had not been murdered, and possibly cleaned-up after the attack.

     The prosecutor in the Jason Young murder trial, the second time around, turned a weakness--a lack of physical evidence--into a strength. In the era of the "CSI" television shows, advanced DNA technology, and high forensic expectations on the part of juries, this is an unusual case. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Jack Abbott On His Prison Life

I know how to live through anything they could possibly dish up for me. I've been subjected to strip-cells, blackout cells, been chained to the floor and wall; I've lived through the beatings, of course; every drug science has invented to "modify" my behavior--I have endured. Starvation was once natural to me; I have no qualms about eating insects in my cell or living in my body wastes if it means survival. They've even armed psychopaths and put them in punishment cells with me to kill me, but I can control that. When they say "what doesn't destroy me makes me stronger," that is what they mean. But it's a mistake to equate the results with being strong. I'm extremely flexible, but I'm not strong. I'm weakened, in fact. I'm tenuous, shy, introspective, and suspicious of everyone. A loud noise or a false movement registers like a four-alarm fire in me. But I am not afraid--and that is strange, because I care very much about someday being set free. I want to cry when I think that I'll never be free. I want to cry for my brothers I've spent a lifetime with. Someday I will leave them and never return. [After the publication of his prison memoir, Abbott was paroled. Not long after he got out, this psychopathic time-bomb murdered a waiter in New York City. So Abbott did leave his prison brothers for awhile, but he came back to them after a short period of freedom. Assuming that his prison memoir is true to the facts, Abbott, though his violent behavior, invited the institutional violence directed against him. He couldn't live without violence in prison or out.]

Jack Henry Abbott, In The Belly of the Beast, 1981  

Writing Quote: P. D. James on the Mystery Genre

The mystery's very much the modern morality play. You have an almost ritual killing, you have a murderer who in some sense represents the forces of evil, you have your detective coming in--very likely to avenge the death--who represents justice, retribution. And in the end you restore order out of disorder.

P. D. James, English mystery novelist 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Ivory Tower Criminologists

     The fact is that the social scientists who have done most of the research on violent criminals are academics. There is certainly nothing in the backgrounds of most of them, either prior to or after coming to the university, that prepares them to achieve rapport with violent criminals. On the contrary, most academics find the average violent criminal so alien and repugnant that they do not want to have any face-to-face contact whatsoever, much less to establish rapport with them. Moreover, academics often cast aspersions upon those researchers who can establish rapport with such persons. Although anyone can understand the desire of academics, like other people, not to have close contact with violent criminals, it is not understandable for those who hold themselves out as experts on the problem.

Lonnie H. Athens, The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals, 1992 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Celebrity Stalker's "Entitled Reciprocity" syndrome

If the celebrity stalker thinks he's being rejected, he can feel humiliated and develop anger and hatred toward the star he loves. He thinks, "I have spent hundreds of hours writing and communicating and sending e-mails and presents to this celebrity; this celebrity figure owes me time, he owes me attention--how dare he ignore me." Narcissism is the aggressive underbelly of this idealized fantasy.

Reid Meloy, forensic psychologist in Details Magazine, April 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The M'Naghten Case and the Birth of the Insanity Defense

     On Friday, January 20, 1843, in a shot heard around the world, Scottish woodcutter and conspiracy theorist Daniel M'Naghten fired at and killed Edward Drummond, private secretary of Sir Robert Peel. M'Naghten was under the impression that he was shooting at Sir Robert, then Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was further under the delusion that Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the first London Police force was part of a cabal, along with the Pope and the Society of Jesus, that plotted to abridge the rights of British subjects and that had deliberately set out to spy on and persecute him.

     That M'Naghten was insane there was no doubt; nine medical experts testified for the defense, and none for the prosecution. That insanity was accepted as a defense came as a surprise, and that M'Naghten was acquitted "by reason of insanity" came as a shock. [In many states the insanity defense doctrine is called The M'Naghten Rule.]

Michael Kurland, How To Try a Murder, 1997


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Writing Quotes: Writing Nonfiction

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book....A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as the professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable. For most people learning to write, that path is nonfiction. It enables them to write about what they know or can observe or can find out.

 William Zinsser

Being a writer of nonfiction books doesn't seem perishingly difficult; it just requires a certain amount of energy and an intelligent interest in the world. And a certain accumulated skill at organizing the materials that one's research gathers.

John Jerome

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses.

W. Somerset Maugham

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier

Fact-based writing can reach creative levels just as fiction writing does, and in the hands of an accomplished nonfiction writer, imaginative use of facts can be transformed and become art.

William Noble 

Criminal Justice Quote: Jury Duty in the George Zimmerman Murder Trial

I want people to know that we [the six-woman jury] put everything...into this verdict. We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards. I don't think any of us could ever do anything like that ever again. I have no doubt that George [Zimmerman] feared for his life in the situation he was in at the time. I think both [he and Trayvon Martin] were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think they both could have walked away. [When the jury in the Zimmerman trial began their deliberations, three were for acquittal, one for second degree murder, and two for the manslaughter charge.]

Juror B 37, George Zimmerman murder trial, Sanford, Florida 2013 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

DNA Links Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo to His Last Known Victim

     Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1931, Albert Henry DeSalvo grew up in a family defined by his alcoholic father's abuse. Mr. DeSalvo, who had knocked out all of his wife's teeth, forced young Albert and his siblings to watch him engage in sex with prostitutes in their home.

     As a child, Albert tortured animals and stole from local merchants. In 1943, the twelve-year-old was sent to the Lyman School for Boys after being arrested for battery and robbery. Shortly after his release from reform school, DeSalvo stole a car which put him back into the institution. When he turned eighteen, DeSalvo joined the Army. Two years later, he was honorably discharged from the service.

     In June 1962, when Albert DeSalvo was thirty-one, women in Boston began turning up dead in their apartments. Because there were no signs of forced entry at the murder scenes, investigators theorized that the victims either knew the rapist/killer or he had gained entry by posing as a salesman or perhaps as a detective. The serial killer's last known victim, nineteen-year-old Mary Sullivan, had been raped and strangled to death on January 4, 1964. Like all but two of the other twelve murder victims, Mary Sullivan had been strangled with a piece of her own clothing. The unidentified serial killer had stabbed two of his victims to death. All of the murder victims had been raped, and eight out of his thirteen victims were women over the age of fifty-five.

     In October 1964, ten months following Mary Sullivan's murder, a young woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts allowed a man into her apartment who identified himself as a police detective. That man tied the victim to her bed and began raping her. Suddenly, in the middle of the assault, the assailant stopped, said he was sorry, and walked out of the apartment. The victim gave a detailed description of her attacker to detectives who, independent of the ongoing serial murder investigation, were trying to identify the Boston serial rapist.

     The rape victim's description of her assailant led to Albert DeSalvo's arrest. In the course of his confession to a series of rapes, DeSalvo identified himself as the so-called Boston Strangler.

     In 1967, pursuant to a plea bargain negotiated by his attorney F. Lee Bailey, Albert DeSalvo pleaded guilty to the Boston murders. In return for his guilty plea, the 36-year-old avoided the death sentence.

     Not long after being sent to the state prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, DeSalvo took back his murder confessions. In 1973, six years after he had confessed to being the notorious Boston Strangler, one of DeSalvo's fellow inmates at Walpole stabbed him to death.

     Because of the guilty pleas, prosecutors in Boston had not been put to the test of proving the murder cases against Albert DeSalvo. This fact encouraged true crime revisionists to question whether DeSalvo was really the Boston Strangler. Perhaps he was simply a false confessor drawn to the limelight of a celebrated serial murder case. These doubts over DeSalvo's guilt made recent developments pertaining to the old case all the more newsworthy.

     In July 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that forensic scientists, using advanced, cutting edge technology, had linked Albert DeSalvo to the January 4, 1964 rape and murder of Mary Sullivan. The district attorney told reporters that he planned to ask a superior court judge for an order to exhume DeSalvo's remains for further forensic testing.

     Gerard Frank's The Boston Strangler (New American Library, 1966) is considered the definitive book on the Albert DeSalvo serial murder case. The author leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that Albert DeSalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Jack Abbott's Prison Cell

     In the cell, there is a barred window with an ancient, heavy mesh-steel screen. It is level with the ground outside. The existing windowpanes are caked with decades of soil, and the screen prevents cleaning them.

     A sheet of thick plywood, on iron legs bolted to the floor, is my bed. An old-fashioned toilet bowl is in the corner, beside a sink with cold running water. A dim light burns in a dull yellow glow behind the thick iron screening attached to the wall.

     The walls are covered with names and dates--some of the dates go back twenty years. They were scratched into the wall. There are ragged hearts pieced with arrows and crosses everywhere. Everywhere are the words: "mom," "love," "god"--the walls sweat and are clammy and cold.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of the Beast, 1982

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Power of Cross-Examination

     The ability to conduct an effective cross-examination is one of the most important skills in the arsenal of the trial attorney, as well as one of the most difficult to master. If the witness, as is usually the case, is telling the truth as he knows it, but that truth is overly slanted in the favor of say, the prosecution, then the defense attorney must bring that truth back toward or past the middle by careful questioning. However, if he is too assertive with a likable witness who appears to be honestly trying to tell the truth, then he runs the risk of alienating the jury and undoing any good he accomplishes in the examination.

     One question on cross-examination that tends to be productive is, "Have you discussed your testimony with the state's attorney or anyone from his office?" The answer almost has to be "yes," because the prosecutor would be foolish to put anyone on the stand without knowing what he or she is going to say. But many witnesses think that it's wrong to admit to having talked about their testimony. Consequently, they will often hem and haw and deny it, and end up looking furtive when they are forced to admit that, yes, they spoke to the prosecutor twice in his office.

Louis Nizer, My Life in Court, 1961

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Jack Henry Abbott on Solitary Confinement

     My first acquaintance with punitive longterm solitary confinement had a more adverse and profound spiritual effect on me than anything else in my childhood. [Abbott was a victim of child abuse.]

     I suffered from claustrophobia for years when I first went to prison. I never knew any form of suffering more horrible in my life.

     The air in your cell vanishes. You are smothering. Your eyes bulge out; you clutch at your throat; you scream like a banshee. Your arms flail the air in your cell. You reel about the cell, falling.

     Then you suffer cramps. The walls press you from all directions with an invisible force. You struggle to push it back. The oxygen makes you giddy with anxiety. You become hollow and empty. There is a vacuum in the pit of your stomach. You retch.

     You are dying. Dying a hard death. One that lingers and toys with you.

     The faces of the guards, angry, are at the gate of your cell. The gate slides open. The guards attack you. On top of that, the guards come into your cell and beat you to the floor.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of The Beast, 1982

[In January 1981, Abbott, who had spent most of his life behind bars as a violent criminal, was released on parole from a prison in Utah. Novelist Norman Mailer and other bleeding-heart types who liked Abbott's book, were instrumental in his release. Six months after walking out of prison, Abbott stabbed a 22-year-old waiter to death outside a New York City restaurant. The murder occurred after an argument over Abbott's use of the restaurant's employee-only restroom. Norman Mailer, who had once stabbed his wife, not only liked Abbott because he could write, the novelist may had admired him for his violence. Parole boards, when considering who to release and who not to, should not listen to novelists.] 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Murder Trial as High Drama

For sheer human interest, the ability to catch public attention and cleave to it from start to finish, nothing else in real life equals a good murder trial. A prominent victim, or, even better, a prominent defendant; a bit of mystery surrounding the facts of the case; two camps of  high-powered attorneys facing each other across the courtroom; a cluster of witnesses, each contributing a few tantalizing facts to a tale of human fallibility; a bevy of expert witnesses to explain the unexplainable; a man's or woman's life or freedom hanging in the balance--these are the makings of high drama.

Michael Kurland, How to Try a Murder, 1997

Friday, July 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Murder Trial Jury

Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind--unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.

Pollice Lieutenant Parnell Emmett McCarthy in Robert Traver's true crime classic, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958

Criminal Justice Quote: The "Refreshed" Memory of a Trial Witness

The common doctrine of what is known as "refreshing the memory" in actual practice is notoriously absurd. Witnesses who have made memoranda as to certain facts, or even, in certain cases, of conversations, and who have no independent recollection thereof, are permitted to read them for the purpose of "refreshing" their memories. Having done so, they are then asked if they now have, independently of the paper, any recollection of them. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it would be absolutely impossible for them really to remember anything of the sort. They read the entry, know it is probably accurate, and are morally convinced that the fact is as thereon stated. They answer yes, that their recollection has been refreshed and that they now do remember, and are allowed to testify to the fact as of their own knowledge.

Arthur Train (author and practicing attorney), The Prisoner at the Bar, 1926

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Fear of Violent Criminals

Most people dread becoming the victim of a heinous violent crime more than any other crime because they fear that without any real provocation on their part, someone could gravely harm them. People justifiably fear that merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and by saying and doing the wrong thing or not saying and doing the right thing to the wrong person, they or someone they care about could be seriously injured, maimed, or killed. The likelihood of this happening in our present society is not so remote as to make this a groundless or needless worry for any individual, including those most heavily shielded from the vagaries of social life.

Lonnie H. Athens, The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals, 1992

Criminal Justice Quote: Serial Killers and Mass Murderers are Different

     In both mass and serial murder cases, victims die as the offender momentarily gains control of his or her life.... But the differences between these two types of offenders outweigh the similarities. First, mass murderers are generally apprehended or killed by the police, commit suicide, or turn themselves in to the authorities. Serial killers, by contrast, usually make special efforts to elude detection. Indeed, they may continue to kill for weeks, months, and often years before they are found and stopped--if they are found at all.....

     People generally perceive the mass killer as one suffering from mental illness. This immediately creates a "they versus us" dichotomy in which "they" are different from "us" because of mental problems. We can somehow accept the fact that a few people go "crazy" sometimes and start shooting others. However, it is more disconcerting to learn that some of the "nicest" people one meets lead Jekyll-and-Hyde lives: a student by day, a killer of coeds by night [Ted Bundy]; a caring, attentive nurse who secretly murders sick children, the handicapped, or the elderly [Donald Harvey]; a building contractor and politician who enjoys sexually torturing and killing young men and burying them under his home [Wayne Gacy]. When we discover that people exist who are not considered to be insane or crazy but who enjoy killing others for "recreation," this indeed gives new meaning to the word "stranger."

Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Fourth Edition, 2006

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jewelry Theft: The Inside Job at Tiffany & Company

     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. As of this writing the thieves have not been identified.

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

     On Tuesday, July 2, 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 had charged the 46-year-old vice president in charge of product development at the Tiffany flagship location on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue with stealing $1.3 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 stands accused of selling the checked-out pieces of jewelry to another company. Federal investigators believe the suspect used her husband and a friend as sales intermediaries.

     Last February, 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 has not been charged in connection with the case. She has 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. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Serial Killer Belle Gunness

     She was never arrested or charged with a single crime, but Belle Gunness is recognized as one of the deadliest serial killers in criminal history. Born in Norway in 1859 to a family always teetering on the brink of ruin, she immigrated to the United States at age twenty-one, married, and seemed to be content. In 1896, her husband's confectionary business was failing when two disasters struck the family: their oldest child died suddenly and mysteriously, and the sweet shop was destroyed in a fire. Both were insured.

    Two years later, the family's new home burned to the ground and another child died mysteriously. In 1890, Belle's husband died. She collected benefits on all three occasions. Belle moved her children to an Indiana farm, where she continued her murders for money. Her second husband met with a fatal accident, and many of the farm workers who answered Belle's advertisements were never seen again.

     In 1908 the Gunness farmhouse was destroyed by fire. The bodies of Belle's three children and the decapitated corpse of a woman were found in the basement. Within a month, investigators had started digging up the remains of at least sixteen people and possibly twelve more. Most of the females had been buried, but some of the males had been fed to the hogs.

The Monday Murder Club, A Miscellany of Murder, 2011

Criminal Justice Quote: The "Moral Idiot"

Over a century ago, French psychiatrists coined the term "moral idiot" to describe the type of personality who seems to be utterly lacking in conscience and unable to conform his conduct to prevailing cultural norms. Such people were later called psychopaths (a term from the Greek, meaning, literally, disease of the soul). With the rise of behaviorism, social psychology, and the emphasis on environmental influences on the shaping of the individual's personality, the term was dropped in favor of the word "sociopath." For decades, psychologists viewed this morally nonconformist flaw as the result of deficits in a person's socialization experiences, often as a result of poverty, discrimination, or some other environmental deprivation or hardship. The person's lack of social conformity--and human caring--was now laid at the doorstep of society. Sociopaths were thought to be acting out the behaviors they had learned in adapting to harsh realities.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Monday, July 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Establishing Time of Death

     Throughout the long annals of true crime lore, countless murder convictions and acquittals have come down to this: When did the killer strike? When did the victims breathe their last? In the absence of credible witnesses, the lack of an easy answer has bedeviled our criminal justice system since its inception....

     Murder investigators found themselves desperate for clues as to time of death, and not just for evidence of guilt at trial. Knowing when a victim died could speed the earliest stages of an inquest by ruling out suspects with confirmed alibis and focusing scrutiny on those who did not. The postmortem interval, or time since death, proved even more critical in cases where a corpse turned up decomposed beyond recognition. Even an approximate time of death gave investigators a framework in which to connect the remains to a suspicious disappearance.

     Yet for all its importance, determining the time of death has defied the detective's magnifying glass and the pathologist's scalpel for over 2,000 years. Even today, despite crime labs crammed with high-tech equipment for DNA analysis, toxicology, serology, and the detection of rarefied chemical vapors, we remain nearly as blind as the ancient Greeks with their belief in maggots sprouting fully formed and spontaneous from the flesh of the newly dead. [They did not realize that maggots were fly eggs.]

     Nonetheless, it still startles most people to learn that a prudent medical examiner can rarely, if ever, accurately measure the interval between death and a body's discovery....

     The myth of the medical expert's ability to nail down time of death has endured. No doubt this stems in part from the many pathologists who continue to offer more precision in court than their science can rightfully claim. That they do so is understandable enough, given the relentless pressure [put on them by detectives, prosecutors, and the public].

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001 

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 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Forensic Entomology

     Not until the 1980s would an American entomologist add the line "Forensic Consultant" to his curriculum vitae. Yet, whenever modern-day forensic entomologists step before an audience--be it a jury, college class, or a room full of homicide detectives--they invariably introduce their science as "ancient," nearly 800 years old. They trace its first known use to a tale of murder by slashing recorded in Sung Tz'u's thirteenth-century Chinese detective manual, Hsi Yuan Chi Lu (The Washing Away of Wrongs).

     On a sweltering afternoon, a group of farmers returning from their fields outside a small Chinese village found the slashed and bloodied body of a neighbor by the roadside. Fearing bandits, they sent for the provincial death investigator, who arrived to convene an official inquest. "Robbers merely want men to die so that they can take their valuables," he informed the gathered crowd. "Now the personal effects are there, while the body bears many wounds. If this is not a case of being killed by a hateful enemy, then what is it?" Nonetheless, questioning the victim's wife revealed no known enemies, at worst some hard feelings with a neighbor to whom her husband owed money. On hearing this, the official ordered everyone in the neighborhood to bring their farm sickles for examination, warning that any hidden sickle would be considered a confession to murder. Within an hour, the detective had seventy to eighty blades laid before him on the town square. "The weather was hot," Sung Tz'u notes. "And the flies flew about and gathered on one sickle," presumably attracted by invisible traces of flesh and blood.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001

Writing Quote: Stephen King on Being a Successful Writer

The idea that success in itself can hurt a writer is as ridiculous and as elitist as the commonly held belief that a popular book is a bad book--the former belief presumes that writers are even more corruptible than, say, politicians, and the later belief presumes that the level of taste in the world's most literate country is illogically low. I don't--and perhaps can't, as a direct result of what I'm doing--accept either idea.

Stephen King, Adelina Magazine, 1980 

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 Amazon.com, CreateSpace.com 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.

     

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Role of the Forensic Psychologist in Insanity Defense Cases

My forensic workup is a good deal more intensive than that of most other forensic psychologists, but anything less would not satisfy my standard for formulating an opinion "with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty," which is what New York's insanity defense statute calls for. What goes on in the mind of a murderer at the moment of his crime will always remain unknowable. But I believe it is my professional mandate to make the most thorough, informed, and educated judgment I can. [Critics of this branch of psychology would call it an educated guess.]

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Writing Quote: Stephen King on the Craft of Writing Fiction

     All my life as a writer I have been committed to the idea that in fiction the story holds value over every other facet of the writer's craft; characterization, theme, mood, none of those things is anything if the story is dull. And if the story does hold you, all else can be forgiven....

     I'm not any big-deal fancy writer. If I have any virtue it's that I know that. I don't have the ability to write the dazzling prose line. All I can do is entertain people. I think of myself as an American writer....

     My greatest virtue is that I know better than to evade my responsibilities by the useless exercise of trying to write fancy prose. I entertain people by giving them good stories dealing with the content of ordinary American ives, which is the best, truest tradition of American fiction.

Stephen King, Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

     

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 

Writing Quote: Nobody Writes About Good People

Goodness, which we praise so highly in life, is infertile terrain for a writer, whether a novelist or a journalist. [This is particularly true in crime writing. Nobody cares about the victim, all of the interest is directed at the villain.]

Adam Kirsch, 2013