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Sunday, August 31, 2014

NYC Woman and Her Children Assaulted by Impostor Cabbie

     A fake cabbie violently flung children on the ground and battered a desperate 26-year-old woman in a brutal sexual assault that was caught on video. The impostor claimed to be a cab driver when he picked up the woman and her children on 207th Street in Manhattan on Sunday August 24, 2014. When the car arrived in Queens, the suspect began to sexually assault  the woman in the vehicle. Once she resisted the man can be seen going ballistic.

     He first elbows the 5-year-old in the head before forcibly removing the 3-year-old from the car. He then throws the other child to the ground before getting back into the car and driving off.

     The children were taken to Elmhurst Hospital with minor injuries. Police are searching for a man in his 40s. [Their mother was treated for more serious injuries and released.]

     [Update: On August 28, police arrested 48-year-old Pedro Vargas, an ex-con from Yonkers, New York. He has been charged with felony assault and three counts of endangering the welfare of children.]

Joe Tacopino, "Fake Cabbie Throws Kids, Sexually Assaults Woman," New York Post, August 27, 2014 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Horse and Buggy Crime: Robbing The Amish


     Michelle Rodriguez lived in Berne, Indiana, a town of 4,000 35 miles south of Fort Wayne. The 42-year-old resided with her three teenage sons. In September 2012, Rodriguez informed her boys that she couldn't travel to Fort Wayne to buy cocaine because she had run out of money. (And probably food stamps as well.) To solve the problem, she asked her sons to climb into her faded green Chevy Malibu and drive the rural roads in the area's Amish country looking for buggies to pull over and Amish people to rob.

     The teenagers piled into the old car equipped with gas masks and baseball bats. Within a span of two hours they pulled over four buggies occupied by a total of five Amish persons. Four of the robbery victims were woman accompanied by children.

     Shortly after the buggy heists police officers took the mastermind and her sons into custody. In April 2013 Michelle Rodriguez and her boys pleaded guilty to robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and criminal confinement. The judge sentenced the mother to 15 years in prison. Her 18-year-old son, Alezandro Lopez, received a 6-year sentence. The two juvenile defendants got off with probation.


     In southern Tennessee along the Alabama boarder, Lawrence County is home to a growing Amish enclave that has become a tourist attraction. On April 18, 2014, three men drove into Waterfork Park where they robbed an Amish man at gunpoint. A short time later, a few miles away, the same criminals held up a second Amish person.

     That night, as police officers conducted an investigation at the scene of the second robbery, they spotted the suspects' car as it sped by following a hit-and-run incident with another Amish buggy.

     The police chase that followed resulted in the arrest of three men in their thirties from the nearby towns of Lawrenceburg and Ethridge. A local prosecutor charged the three suspects with aggravated robbery. Their cases are pending.


     Gladwin and Clare Counties in rural, central Michigan are homes to a growing settlement of old-order Amish. In this community, a man armed with a shotgun, from May 22 to June 4, 2014, committed a string of late night hold-ups of Amish people riding in their buggies on the area's rural roads.

     Detectives with the Michigan State Police believe that several Amish victims have not reported being robbed. (Many Amish people are reluctant to get involved with the authorities.) In an effort to identify the lone bandit, police officers asked members of the Amish community to come forward if they have any clues regarding the identify of the robber. In addition, Crime Stoppers posted a $1,000 reward in the case. The crimes remain unsolved.


     At 12:30 in the morning of Monday August 25, 2014, a masked gunman driving a white minivan robbed an Amish man of $11 in a park in Intercourse, a town in the heart of eastern Pennsylvania's massive Amish community. Ten minutes following that crime, the robber struck again in East Lampeter Township five miles outside the town of Lancaster. In the second heist, the gunman in the minivan forced an Amish buggy occupied by three people off a rural road. The robber jumped out of the vehicle, pointed a handgun at the victims, and demanded money.

      The three Amish victims facing the barrel of the robber's weapon tossed their wallets out of the buggy onto the road. As the robber turned his back on the victims to retrieve one of the wallets, the driver of the buggy drove it into an adjacent field. The robber, unable to negotiate the rough terrain in his van, drove off.

     The police in Pennsylvania's largest Amish community have not identified this robber.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Barricaded Soldier Shoots Herself To Death on Military Base

     A female soldier shot herself on Monday August 25, 2014 at a military post in central Virginia. She later died…The incident began at 8:45 AM at Fort Lee when the soldier brandished a weapon and then barricaded herself in an office at the Army Combined Arms Support Command headquarters building…

     Fort Lee police responded within two minutes and quickly established contact with the barricaded woman. But during the course of the negotiations she turned the weapon on herself and fired one shot…The soldier, who was not identified, died at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center…

     Fort Lee is located near Petersburg, about 30 miles south of Richmond…

"Soldier Who Shot Herself Dies, Army Says," CNN, August 25, 2014 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Oklahoma City Cop Accused of On-Duty Sexual Assaults

An Oklahoma City police officers is being held on $5 million bond for allegedly committing a series of sexual assaults against at least six women while he was on duty. Twenty-seven-year-old Daniel Ken Holtzclaw was arrested Thursday, August 21, 2014 on complaints of rape, forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery and indecent exposure…Officer Holzclaw allegedly stopped the women, forced them to expose themselves, fondled them, and in one case, allegedly raped the victim. [On January 9, 2015, the police chief fired Holtzclaw who is free on $609,000 bail.]

"OKC Police Officer Accused in Sexual Assaults," KRMG News, August 22, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Memphis Police Officer Ronald Harris: The Make-A-Wish Robbery Case

     In January 2002, 22-year-old Ronald Harris joined the police department in Memphis, Tennessee. Twelve years later, he was assigned to the substation at the Memphis International Airport. Officer Harris' supervisors, over the years, documented his failure to live up to the department's standards of professional behavior. He abused the agency's sick leave benefits, did not answer radio calls, and in 2013 was suspended for insubordination.

     In May 2014, Officer Harris' wife reported that he had become delusional and had threatened to kill her. The department granted him leave to seek psychiatric help.

     In June 2014, Harris learned that an employee of St. Jude Children's Hospital, on the seventh of that month, would deliver a credit card worth $1,500 to a Make-A-Wish Foundation family before they boarded a plane with their terminally ill child. On that day Harris followed the Make-A-Wish organization's volunteer into the airport terminal.

     When the paper bag containing the credit card and five St. Jude T-shirts exchanged hands, the off-duty, out-of-uniform cop grabbed the container and tried to flee the scene. Nathan Moore, a member of the sick child's family, confronted officer Harris. In the scuffle that ensued, Harris caused a deep laceration in Mr. Moore's forehead by head-butting him.

     Airport police officers, a couple of bystanders, and the injured Nathan Moore eventually subdued the out-of-control cop. Once inside the police car, Harris kicked open the door and tried to escape.

     Paramedics stitched up Mr. Moore's forehead at the airport. Not long after that the shaken child and his family boarded the plane and flew off to DisneyWorld or wherever they were going to make his dream come true.

     When investigators searched Ronald Harris' car, they found pieces of mail that had been stolen from his neighbor's mailbox.

     Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong suspended Ronald Harris from the force as officers booked him into the county jail on charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and escape from felony incarceration. At his arraignment, the judge set the suspect's bond at $25,000.

     Ronald Harris may or may not go to prison for his outrageous robbery and assault. There is little doubt, however, that he will not get back on the police force. He will probably end up in a mental health facility.

     Few situations are more dangerous than a violent, mentally ill cop. At least in this case the officer, when he went off the deep end, was not armed. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Two Suicide-by-Cop Cases in Maryland

     Howard County Maryland police shot and killed a knife-wielding man who confronted officers and threatened relatives…County police were called shortly after 6:30 AM Saturday August 13, 2014 to Montgomery Road in Ellicott City where police encountered a 61-year-old man in the front yard of a house. One officer shot the man with a Taser weapon, but the man was able to get back inside the house.

     Upon returning to the front yard, the man confronted the officers with a knife at which time the officers shot him. Two large knives were found at the scene.

     Relatives said the man had recently talked about suicide. Investigators believe he called 911 twice, reporting that someone at the house planned to kill the occupants…This is the second police-involved shooting in Howard County in a week. Both cases involved suicidal suspects. On Wednesday August 20, 2014, police shot a man who stabbed himself and confronted officers.

"Man With Knives Shot, Killed by Police," WBAL-TV, August 23, 2014 

Writing Quote: Before Writing Horror Stories You Must Read Horror Stories

     Horror is a genre with certain identifiable characteristics. When people who enjoy horror read your story, they are not reading it in a vacuum. They are reading it as part of a genre, constantly comparing your story to other horror stories they've read. If I had never read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and then a story very much like it, readers who know Poe's story may not be quite as thrilled with my big surprise ending as I had hoped. To them it's no surprise. They've read it before, only a better version.

     To be a creative, innovative horror writer, you must read a lot of everything--and a lot of that everything must be horror. You may be thinking: How can I be creative and original with all these other authors' ideas floating around in my head? This is critical: The sheer amount of material floating around in your head will actually prevent you copying from any one author in particular.

     Instead, you will find a tiny piece of character from this book, a tiny piece of plot from that book, a certain stylistic technique from that other--to combine into something totally new. It is the writer who reads only Stephen King who will turn out stories that sound like Stephen King--on a very bad day.

Jeanne Cavelos in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007  


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Writing Quote: Writing For Young Adults

Books for young adults often explore the gulf in understanding between parents and children. You can only do this if you enter the world of the young person and address the conflict from their point of view. Try to remember the battles you had as a teenager with those adults who wielded authority over you, be they parents, teachers, the police or whomever. How did you feel when these people tried to impose their will on you?

Allan Frewin Jones and Lesly Pollinger, Writing For Children and Getting Published, 1996

Monday, August 25, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Missing NYC Model Found

     A 22-year-old Sudanese model who had been missing for nearly two weeks was found in a New York City hospital on Monday, August 18, 2014. Detective Kelly Ort had no details about the condition of Ataui-Deng Hopkins, known in the fashion world as Ataui Deng.

     She was last seen August 6 about 11 PM on West 48th Street in midtown Manhattan…Hopkins has worked with designers from Oscar de la Renta to Diane von Fursternberg, according to Corinne Nicolas, president of Trump Model Management. She has been featured in Vogue and worked for names such as Hermes and Kenzo.

     Ataui Deng was born in Sudan and immigrated to San Antonio, Texas, before signing with Trump Models in 2008…She is 6-feet-1, weights 100 pounds and lives in Manhattan's East Village…

"Missing Sudanese Model Living in NYC Found in Hospital," CNN, August 18, 2014  

Writing Quote: Getting Into a Protagonist's Thoughts

     The defining characteristic of a contemplative scene is that your character spends more time thinking than he does in action or speech. These passages of thought are referred to as interior monologue and are meant to reveal something to the reader. These thoughts will be overheard by the reader, and therefore have a bearing on plot and character in each scene.

     While the old convention was to set off thoughts by putting them into italics, I'm more of a fan of embedding thoughts within the narrative voice as simple, elegant exposition.

Jordane Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Synopsizing Your Novel

     I hate synopses, and I've never managed to write one. How the hell can you boil down a novel from 400 pages to three?

     And what does the reader of a synopsis expect to learn from it, anyway? I'm not nearly good enough a writer to convey tone, voice, and character and summarize a 90,000-word plot in five paragraphs. Someone who writes in romance told me that the synopsis is used to prove you understand the expectations of the genre. Well, okay, I guess. But I've never heard another good reason, and even that sounds weak to me.

     If the publisher's demand for a synopsis in nonnegotiable, do the best you can. Otherwise, just skip it--attach Chapter One, or a list of writing credits, instead. For me, the whole point of the game is to get them to read the first few pages. After that, it's all about the writing, as it should be.

Michael Wiecek, in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McLeer, editor, 2008 

Criminal Justice Quote: Skateboarder Attacks Park Ranger

     Philadelphia police are investigating a video that shows a skateboarder kicking a city park ranger while others stand by laughing. The attack took place in the city's Love Park.

     The park ranger warned several young men they had to stop skateboarding in the park because there were too many children in the area. As a result he was repeatedly kicked in the head by one of the skateboarders. The assailant's friends, during the attack, spit on the victim.

     The city renovated the park in 2002 and reopened it with a permanent ban on skateboarding. But there have been other reported incidents between skateboarders and the authorities.

"Skateboarder Attacks Ranger at Philly's Live Park, Associated Press, August 17, 2014 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Death by Stray Bullet

     A 58-year-old man was killed by a stray bullet Sunday morning, August 17, 2014 while he was inside his New Haven, Connecticut home. Officers responded at two in the morning to a 911 call that reported gunfire. Moments later, a woman called saying that her husband had been shot.

     Police officers found Darryl McNair shot inside his home and say he was struck by a stray bullet inside an office area in his basement. McNair had earlier celebrated his birthday. He was treated at the scene by medical personnel and transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital where he died shortly thereafter.

"Connecticut Man Killed by Stray Bullet," CBS News, August 17, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Stealing Lego Sets

     From Arizona to New York thieves are turning those tiny iconic plastic interlocking bricks you grew up with into cold, hard cash. On New York's Long Island on Friday, August 15, 2014, a 53-year-old woman was arraigned on grand larceny charges for allegedly stealing about $60,000 worth of Lego sets and trying to sell them on eBay…Gloria Haas was arrested after allegedly stealing 800 sets from a Long Island storage facility…

     Thieves are capitalizing on the enduring popularity of the simple little bricks that generated $1.1 billion in profits last year for the Danish toymaker. "The Lego Movie," released last February, made $69 million in its opening weekend and has grossed more than $250 million so far…

     In Phoenix, police arrested four people allegedly involved in an elaborate Lego theft operation…A real estate professional, another man and two women were arrested in connection with that scheme…Police said one man bought expensive Lego sets at a discount from shoplifters and resold them online. Each of the play sets taken were valued at $100 or more…The suspect allegedly recruited accomplices to go to Toys R Us stores to steal Lego sets….

"Cops: From Arizona to NY, Thieves Turn Legos Into Hard Cash," CNN, August 16, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Romance Novel: Perception Versus Reality

     The detractors of romance novels--usually people who haven't read any--often say the stories are simplistic and childish, and they contain no big words and very little plot--just a bunch of sex scenes separated by filler and fluff. A common view of romance is that there's only one story; all the authors do is change the characters' names and hair color and crank out another book.

     Critics of romance also accuse the stories--and their authors by extension--of presenting a world in which women are helpless. Romance, they say, encourages young readers to fantasize about Prince Charming riding to their rescue, to think their only important goal is to find a man to take care of them. The books are accused of limiting women by idealizing romantic relationships, making women unable to relate to real men because they're holding out for a wonderful Harlequin hero.

     In fact, rather than trailing behind the times, romance novels have actually been on the cutting edge of society. Long before divorce was common, for instance, romance novels explored the circumstances in which it might be better to dissolve a marriage than to continue it…

     Even early romances often featured working women and emphasized the importance of economic independence for women. While some heroines are indeed young, inexperienced, and in need of assistance, the usual romance heroine is perfectly competent. Finding her ideal man isn't a necessity; it's a bonus.

     Modern romance novels tell a young woman that she can be successful, useful, and valuable on her own; that there are men who will respect her and treat her well; and that such men are worth waiting for.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Writing Quote: Selecting Your Main Character

     Novice writers continue to make the mistake of choosing as the main character people who don't--or shouldn't--have enough freedom to be interesting. If the story is about a great war, they assume their hero must be the commanding general or the king, when in fact the story might be more powerfully told if the main character is a sergeant or a common soldier--someone who is making choices and then carrying out those choices himself. Or the main character might even be a civilian, whose life is transformed as the great events flow over and around him…

     As a main character, only use people in positions of highest authority when you are forced to because the story can't be told any other way. And then be very sure that you understand how people in such positions make their decisions, how power actually works.

Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1990 

Writing Quote: Creating Chronology in the Documentary Film

As a documentary film storyteller, you decide where to begin and end the story. You can begin in the middle, go back to the beginning, catch up with your story, and then move ahead to the end. You can start at the end before moving to the beginning to ask, "How did we get here?" You can flash forward or back. The only thing you can't do, in a documentary that's driven by a narrative sequence of events, is change the important facts of the main underlying chronology.

Shelia Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 2007 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Running Gun Battle With Police Results in Shooting Death of Child

     A 3-year-old girl died Saturday, August 16, 2014, after a man and police officers engaged in a chase and gun battle in Prince George's County, Maryland…Officers began pursuing the man early in the afternoon when he drove a Nissan Maxima away from the scene of a shooting in Temple Hills. One of the wheels fell off the suspect's car and he stopped and exchanged gunfire with police…

     The suspect kept driving but stopped again and traded bullets with the police a second time. Officers killed the man in the second exchange…Inside the vehicle, police found the wounded 3-year-old girl who later died.

     Police say they don't know who fired the bullets that killed the man or the girl…Police believe the dead man was the girl's father.

     At the scene of the first shooting, two people had been wounded. One of the victims was the girl's maternal grandfather and her maternal great-grandmother. They were in critical condition at a local hospital.

"Girl, 3, Dies After Maryland Gun Battle Involving Driver, Police," CNN, August 16, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Legal Windfall

Americans feel that if something untoward happens to them, someone else ought to pay. In Richmond, California in the mid-1990s, lawyers had a field day. An explosion in the local chemical works spread fumes over the city. Within hours a swarm of lawyers descended on the town and persuaded 70,000 of them to issue claims. The insurers of the plant were obliged to pay out a total of $180 million, of which the lawyers creamed off $40 million.

Ronald Irving, The Law Is An Ass, 2011 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dropping Rocks Onto Interstate 80

     The husband of an Ohio middle school teacher was among those expected to testify Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at a court hearing about a rock-dropping incident on a stretch of rural interstate in Pennsylvania that left a woman with severe head injuries. The preliminary hearing at the county courthouse in Lewisburg involves the criminal case against four teenagers accused of a July 10 crime spree that included dropping a rock onto the car in which 52-year-old Sharon Budd was riding.

     Budd's husband, Randy, said there are indications she may be recovering some sight in her left eye, as she has been blinking and opening it for short periods, and that her ability to communicate also has been improving. She was moved to a rehabilitation hospital two weeks ago…Surgeons plan in the coming weeks to remove her right eye and install a temporary plate to protect her brain…

     Investigators have charged Dylan M. Lahr, 17; Brett M. Lahr, 18; Tyler Gregory Porter, 18; and Keefer Lance McGee, 17 of assaulting Sharon Budd as well other crimes that include another rock throwing incident, driving vehicles through a cornfield, and breaking a home's window with a baseball bat…

     Tyler Porter told investigators he threw a rock from the Interstate overpass but did not hit anything. But a rock thrown by Dylan Lahr hit a passenger vehicle that then pulled off the road. The Budds were passengers in a Nissan Rogue driven by their college student daughter. They were on their way from their home in Uniontown, Ohio to see a show in New York City when the rock smashed through the windshield and nearly killed Sharon Budd….

"Rock-Throwing That Injured Teacher Goes to Court," Associated Press, August 19, 2014 

Writing Quote: Biographies Must Have Drama

Considerable commentary focuses on the nexus between biography and fiction. As a narrative genre, biography would seem to have the greatest affinity with the novel, since both excel in the creation of characters and scenes through the sensibility of narrators. And yet the biographer has much in common with the dramatist, since biography is a kind of impersonation and the biographer functions as a kind of actor attempting to represent his subject's sensibility. The greatest biography in the English language, Boswell's Life of Johnson, consists mainly of dialogue, with Boswell's own comments serving almost like those of a director's notes.

Carl Rollyson, Biography, 2008

Writing Quote: Writing Humor

Humor writers mine their personal experiences for material. They may tell a story using narrative techniques, or they may relate personal experiences to make a point and offer an opinion. Humor writers gain a lot of help in craft by learning how to structure jokes, work with timing, and deliver punch lines.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writers's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Writing Quote: Fiction is Drama

Many students in fiction workshops have trouble understanding how important it is to dramatize as much of their material as possible; they'd much rather tell the reader about what happened than show it. I've never understood why this is so; perhaps it's only that they resist the notion of "being dramatic" and therefore corny.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Writing Quote: Writing Essays

Essays, unlike articles, intentionally include or even feature the writer's subjective viewpoint and experiences. Besides political and social commentary in newspapers, the essay form encompasses personal experiences of all kinds. Essays are further distinguished from articles by a structure suited to argue an opinion or tell a story.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Chase Woman Who Stole a Patrol Car

     Traffic in Atlanta came to a screeching halt late Sunday afternoon August 10, 2014 when a woman leading Cobb County police on a chase that reached 100 mph crashed into several vehicles…Among the crumpled cars was the Cobb County patrol car the suspect had stolen…

     It all began when officers confronted a woman wandering along Windy Hill Road pointing a weapon at motorists. The suspect managed to get into a police cruiser and led officers on a chase down Interstate 75 onto the connector. Witnesses say the suspect was driving extremely fast and crashed into a Chevrolet Cavalier. The impact sent the Cavalier into another vehicle, and they crashed into a wall. The driver in the Chevy had to be extricated from his car…In all, four people were injured including a Cobb County officer...

     After the crash the suspect jumped out of the patrol car and charged toward an officer…According to a witness, "She was on the ground and making all of these noises. There were people all around her holding her down because it looked like she was resisting arrest."

     Authorities identified the suspect as Emmerli Wilcoxson. She reportedly suffered head trauma and was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital. The driver of the Cavalier suffered severe injuries to his lower body.

"Woman Steals Police Car and Leads Officers on Chase," WXIA-TV, August 10, 2014 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Writing Quote: The Source of Writer's Block

The most common reason for writer's block is problems with the storyline. There are no hard and fast rules as to overcome this, but without swift attention, an acute attack can turn into a chronic condition. Start by revisiting the storyline. Have you introduced new elements, and are the characters true to your original outline? If you have veered from your original plan then you have to decide whether to rewrite the outline, and potentially the plot line of the story, or rewrite chapters. Both are painful decisions to make, but remember that writing is a work in progress, so revisiting your ideas is an essential element of writing successfully. By focusing on the bigger picture (the framework, context, plot and characters) the details often become clearer.

Maeve Binchy, The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club, 2008 

Criminal Justice Quote: Federal Judge Arrested For Assaulting His Wife

     A Federal judge spent the night in an Atlanta jail after being charged with misdemeanor battery in an alleged domestic violence incident involving his wife. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller, 55, of Montgomery, Alabama was charged with the crime after Atlanta police officers responded to the downtown Ritz-Carlton hotel shortly before 11 PM on Saturday, August 9, 2014.

     According to a police release, "Officers spoke to the victim who stated her husband assaulted her. Officers observed injuries to the victim. Paramedics treated her on the scene."…

     The judge granted Judge Fuller a $5,000 signature bond. He walked out of the Fulton County Jail at noon, August 10, 2014…Fuller was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in 2002.

"Federal Judge Spends Night in Jail," CNN, August 11, 2014


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Serial Abuser Accused of Beating His 5-Year-Old To Death

     At eleven in the morning of December 18, 2013, an official at the Pershing Elementary School in Pine Hills, Florida, a community of 60,000 near Orlando, asked Darell Avant to come to the school and take his son home. The principal had suspended the 5-year-old for kicking a teacher.

     Perhaps the unruly boy had learned his bad behavior from his father. Since 2003, the 26-year-old Avant had been arrested in Orange County 25 times for domestic violence and other crimes including assaulting a pregnant woman, drug possession, aggravated assault, and grand theft.

     At seven in the evening on the day Avant removed his son from the school, he called 911 to report that the boy was unconscious and wouldn't wake up. Twenty-five minutes after the emergency call, a member of the Orange County Fire and Rescue crew pronounced the boy dead at his father's apartment.

     In speaking to Orange County Sheriff's deputies, Avant said that after picking up his son from school, he spanked him and sent him to his room. Later that day, Avant punished the boy by making him do push-ups and squats. According to the father, after twenty minutes of this, the child became dizzy, collapsed and lost consciousness.

     Avant told investigators he tried to awaken his son by shaking and slapping him. When that didn't wake up the boy father called a friend who came to the apartment to resuscitate him. That didn't work either. Finally, Avant called 911. Avant didn't explain why he didn't call for professional help immediately after his son lost consciousness.

     Deputies at the apartment and officers at the morgue noticed fresh contusions and bruises on the boy's back, stomach, chest, and arms. His mother told detectives that when the child left for school that morning he did not have those injuries. It looked to investigators that the boy had been severely beaten.

     Police officers booked Avant into the Orange County Jail on charges of domestic violence and several lesser offenses. A social worker with the Department of Children and Families took the dead child's younger sibling into protective custody.

     On December 20, 2013, the medical examiner, following the autopsy, announced that the 5-year-old had died from multiple blunt-force trauma. The medical examiner ruled the death a criminal homicide. Shortly after the medical examiner's ruling, an Orange County prosecutor upgraded the charges against Darell Avant to first-degree murder. If convicted as charged Avant could be sentenced to death. The judge denied him bail.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Angry Old Woman With Shotgun

     A 90-year-old Texas woman armed with a shotgun held off police officers for four hours before surrendering. Officers arrived at the great-grandmother's home on July 31, 2014 because construction workers called and said she threatened them with the weapon.

     Eleouise Adcock was reportedly outraged that workers were digging up dirt and piling it behind her house. Recently, a company bought up the land surrounding the home where Adcock has lived for more than 40 years. Adock was the last holdout and was frustrated by the company's repeated attempts to buy her property.

     Adock surrendered and was taken to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. No charges are expected.

"Fed Up Grandma Holds Shotgun in Standoff With Police," Fox News, August 2, 2014 

Writing Quote: Keep Jokes Short

The best humor is concise. Ask yourself: Is this line needed? Can I make this line shorter? Is this aside that funny? Can I format this joke differently to make it move quicker? Here's an example of a lean joke: George W. Bush's plan to gain environmentalists' support for his energy policy: solar-powered oil pumps.

J. Kevin Wolfe in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba editor, 2001

Friday, August 15, 2014

Getting Burned: Stupid Teens and the Online Craze "The Fire Challenge"

     It's no secret that teenage boys are capable of incredibly dangerous and stupid acts. In the past, only a handful of peers might witness a kid drawing attention to himself by pulling off a reckless stunt. Today, through social media, acts of youthful idiocy reach a larger audience.

     Recently, kids have been inspired through the online craze called "The Fire Challenge" to set themselves on fire in front of video cameras for the entertainment of others. This activity is so stupid only a psychiatrist could even begin to explain the thinking behind it.

     On July 29, 2014, in Charlotte, North Carolina, a bare-chested 16-year-old boy took the fire challenge by dousing his neck, chest and abdominal area with nail polish remover, a highly flammable liquid. With his 41-year-old mother behind the video camera, the teen set himself on fire. Obviously shocked by the intensity of the blaze, the burning boy panicked and ran. Fortunately other kids witnessing the insanity took him to the ground and smothered the flames. The boy escaped with minor burns.

     The fact the kid's mother, Janie Lachelle Talley, participated in the spectacle boggles the mind. Not only that, mother and son posted the video on Facebook. Stupidity on top of stupidity.

     Someone with the state Department of Social Services saw the fire video and notified the police. On August 6, 2014, after viewing this boy light himself up, officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department arrested the mother on the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
     Over the past few weeks, several boys have taken the fire challenge by using flammable liquids to ignite themselves. A 15-year-old in Kentucky doused himself with rubbing alcohol. The fire caused second-degree burns on his chest and abdomen. In California, a 16-year-old set himself ablaze and ended up with third-degree burns that will require skin grafts.

Criminal Justice Quote: Does Tweeting Aid Criminals?

Authorities want social media to use restraint during crime investigations. Police in Washington state are asking the public to stop tweeting during shootings and manhunts to avoid telling the bad guys what officers are doing. The "TweetSmart" campaign began in late July 2014. Some are calling the effort a step that could lead to censorship.

"Police: Stop Tweeting During Shootings, Manhunts," KRMG News, August 24, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Jelly Jar Assault

A Florida woman faces a charge of aggravated assault after she used a full jar of jelly to attack another woman on Monday, August 11, 2014. Denisha Day, 20, of Belle Glade was arguing with another woman because the woman's daughter poured out some of her shampoo. Day wanted the woman to pay for the shampoo and the argument turned into a physical fight. After family members broke up the fight, Day hit the woman with the jar of jelly. The assault caused a large lump on the side of the victim's face. Day was released from the Palm Beach County Jail after posting a $2,000 bond.

Matt Morgan, "Police: Florida Woman Attacked With a Jar of Jelly," WFTV News, August 13, 2014 

Writing Quote: Nonfiction Writers are Curious People

We seem to be living in an age of know-it-alls: talk show hosts and guests, expert witnesses, pundits, gurus on every conceivable subject. The information age is exhausting. It is also dull, like a dinner party guest who never stops talking. In my view, this climate is anathema to good writing, which is rooted not in knowledge but in curiosity.

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998

Writing Quote: Subjects of Unauthorized Biographies

Unauthorized biographies undress their subjects. When John Updike realized that a biographer was on his case, he hurriedly wrote a memoir, Self-Consciousness, so that he could forestall the biography. Autobiography and the authorized biography are time-honored methods of attempting to derail independent biographies and make them seem illicit.

Carl Rollyson, Biography, 2008 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Crime Prevention or Crime Displacement?

Those who have examined whether crime prevention at one place results in total displacement of crime to other places find little evidence for such a hypothesis. Any occurrence of displacement can be highly contingent on the nature of the neighborhoods, the particular crimes, and the particular offenders. One can posit as well that even if a portion of some crimes being prevented in one crime-ridden neighborhood is displaced into ten nearby but different neighborhoods, that same amount of crime will cause less overall fear and disintegration of community. One can also posit a diffusion-of-benetfits effect from protection of certain places or items. For example, some evidence exists that if a potential offender knows that security devices cover one portion of a place or a portion of items in a place, he may attribute that coverage to other portions as well.

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003 

Writing Quote: Can Writing Students Handle the Truth?

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980

Writing Quote: Aspiring Writers Avoid Writing Biographies

     Although biography is one of the most popular forms of nonfiction among readers, it attracts relatively few aspiring writers. Young writers say to themselves, "I want to be a poet…a novelist…a playwright," may even say, "I want to write a memoir," but seldom, "I want to be a biographer."

     Maybe aspiring writers find biography a less attractive form of nonfiction because they like to write about themselves, and, unlike memoir, poetry, fiction and drama, biography seems to offer little chance for self-expression.

Philip Furia in Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, editors, 2001 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Writing Quote: Writing Well is an Acquired Craft

     For some reason everyone thinks, "I should know how to write." No one thinks, "I should know how to play the piano." But when it comes to writing, "I should know how to do it."

     What if I told you a story about a man who buys a piano, sits down to play for the very first time and is shocked when he doesn't sound like Arthur Rubinstein?

     "I don't understand," he complains. "I've listened to lots of music, I should know how to play the piano."

     Ridiculous, you say? Yet there you are. You're mortified when your work isn't as good as Ernest Hemingway's.

Joel Saltzman, If You Can Talk, You Can Write, 1993 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Rabbi Murdered on Miami Street

     A Miami rabbi was killed while walking to his synagogue on Saturday morning, August 9, 2014. Rabbi Joseph Raksin, 60, was walking to a North Miami Beach synagogue with a friend around nine in the morning when two young men approached and shot him. Raksin was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center where he died shortly thereafter. Police have not determined if this was a hate crime.

     The two suspects fled on foot and by bicycle….

"Rabbi Murdered in Miami," The Jerusalem Post, August 10, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Drive-By Shooting Spree in New Orleans

Three people, including two children, are in critical condition after a drive-by shooting that killed two people and injured five on Sunday, August 10, 2014 in New Orleans…All of the victims were in front of a house when a dark car occupied by several men drove up, opened fire, and sped off. Witnesses said several people were on the porch of the house in the Lower 9th Ward, a predominantly black neighborhood less than 5 miles from the French Quarter tourist district. Hurricane Katrina's floods overwhelmed the neighborhood in 2005….

"Two Children Cling to LIfe After New Orleans Shooting," WWL-TV New Orleans, August 11, 2014  

Writing Quote: Keeping a Journal

I've kept a journal on a capricious basis since I was sixteen. For me, my journal is a supplement to my imagination. I recently heard of a novelist who cuts out magazine photos of people, pastes them on his study wall, and uses them as the basis for his character descriptions. I completely approve. Writing is hard enough, and I welcome anything that helps me along. Besides, I can't help but filter what I see through my imagination, so even my most autobiographical fiction is, in a sense, wholly imagined.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

Writing Quote: News Versus Story

News is plot, event, what happened last night or this afternoon or is in process right now. News breaks fast, somebody writes it up, the gun is barely fired before the world is clued in. Story is a wider map and involves any number of whys, relating to personal history, family background, the times, the place, and cultural background. Story makes a stab at explaining how such a wonderful or terrible thing could have happened. News enjoys a brief shelf life, turns stale fast, grows a quick crust. Story addresses complicated possibilities and reasons, therefore lasts longer, maybe forever.

Beverly Lowry, in Writing Nonfiction, Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, editors, 2001

Monday, August 11, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: John Hinckley Jr. Could be Charged With Murder 33 Years After He Shot James Brady

     The death of James Brady, who served as press secretary for Ronald Reagan and died August 4, 2014 at the age of 73, was ruled a homicide, 33 years after he was wounded during an attempt on President Reagan's life. The District of Columbia medical examiner's ruling opened up the possibility of murder charges against John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot Brady, Reagan and two others outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981.

     Brady suffered a gun shot wound to the head and was partially paralyzed. Reagan was wounded by a ricocheted bullet that struck him in the chest. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the attempted assassination and is currently a mental patient outside of Washington…

     Members of the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Branch, the United States Attorney's Office, and the FBI will review the case. [There is no way Mr. Hinckley will be charged with homicide in connection with Mr. Brady's death. Too many years have passed to establish causation. Moreover, if he couldn't be found guilty due to mental illness in Reagan's case, he won't be found culpable in Brady's death.]

Chuck Ross, "James Brady's Death Ruled a Homicide," The Daily Caller, August 8, 2014 

Writing Quote: Setting up the Novel's Big Scene

I can always tell when a writer has rushed through a scene or written around it in order to get to the good stuff. The dialogue is hurried, like the wedding vows in a tired old comedy where the bride's in labor. Descriptions are sketchy or nonexistent. Too often, the scene isn't even there; the novelist has lifted it out and thrown it away, or not written it at all. At best, this leaves an annoying gap. At worst, the "good" scene has not been set up and so it falls in like a cake because someone skimped on the eggs. In between is a lost opportunity, because sometimes the scene you dreaded most turns out to be the best in the book.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

Writing Quote: For the Novelist No Subject is Taboo

Is there a subject too daunting, a perversion too kinky to mention? Show a writer a taboo and we'll turn it into a story. Pedophilia? Nabokov's Humbert Humbert has been there, done that…The recent craze for zombie fiction offered an orgy of the restless undead feasting on human flesh. Genre novels serve up all sorts of grisly horrors and murder, and the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray suggests that readers have no problem with sex beyond the vanilla. Even love between the species finds its expression in fairy tales like The Frog Prince and Beauty and the Beast.

Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review, July 20, 2014 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Convicted Pill Pusher Too Fat and Sick For Prison

     Steven Goodman, a 70-year-old former pharmacist and resident of Treasure Island, Florida, a gulf coast community of 7,000, pleaded guilty in 2012 to supplying more than one million oxycodone and other prescription pain pills to illegal pain management clinics throughout south Florida. Illicit prescription drug lords Christopher and Jeffrey George were already serving prison terms in connection with the $40 million pain mill operation.

     At Goodman's federal sentencing hearing in Tampa, defense attorney Edward Page argued that his client's health problems--morbid obesity (551 pounds), sleep apnea, heart fibrillation, high blood pressure, gout, and arthritis--rendered him too sick for prison. Moreover, the prescription pill pusher couldn't dress or feed himself and was too fat for the standard prison cot.

     In light of Goodman's physical condition, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra sentenced the defendant to thirty months of house arrest followed by four years of probation. The judge also fined Goodman $25,000. (Because of his obesity and health problems this man was already confined to his house.)

     Attorney Page, in July 2014, was back in court before Judge Marra. According to the defense lawyer, his client had just one to three years to live. Because Mr. Goodman wanted to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit family and friends before he died, attorney Page asked the judge to lift Goodman's house arrest sentence.

     In denying the attorney's motion, Judge Marra said, "But for the defendant's obesity, he would have been given a prison sentence. To reduce the period of home confinement would result in the elimination of the only real form of punishment Mr. Goodman has received in this case." 

Governor Denies Charles Manson Follower Parole

     On August 8, 2014, California governor Jerry Brown reversed a parole board and denied the release of a former Charles Manson follower who served more than 43 years in prison. It was the third time a California governor denied the release of Bruce Davis 71, a member of the murderous Manson Family convicted in the 1969 slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea.

     In March 2014, the parole board once again found that Davis was suitable for parole based on his age, conduct in prison--he became a born-again Christian, earned a doctoral degree in philosophy of religion, ministers to other inmates--and other factors. The governor lauded Davis for his efforts to improve himself. However, he wrote his his five-page decision that the evidence shows that Davis "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison." [In reality, Davis posed an unreasonable danger to Brown's political future if released. I'm not saying this man should be released. But asserting that he's still dangerous is ridiculous. He shouldn't be released because of what he did.]

"California Governor Denies Manson Follower Parole," Associated Press, August 9,  2014 

Writing Quote: The Novel: How to Begin the Story?

Unlike bombastic journalism that relies on opening with a bang, a novel can open less loudly. Here's an example of a bang opening by Truman Capote in "Children on Their Birthdays": "Yesterday afternoon the six o'clock bus ran over Miss Bobbitt." Yes, this catches our interest, but what next? It'll be hard to match the intensity of the beginning with what follows. The story starts with a climax rather than working toward one; instead of looking forward, we look backward, and the whole story might be an anticlimax.

Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer's Workshop, 1995 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Internet Data Heists

     A Russian crime ring got its hands on more than a billion stolen Internet credentials, according to a New York Times report. Citing records discovered by the Milwaukee based Hold Security company, the Times revealed on August 5, 2014 that the stolen credentials include 1.2 billion password and username combinations and more than 500 million email addresses.

     Hold Security, which has a strong track record of uncovering data breaches, says the stolen data was gathered from 420,000 websites. Organizations affected range from household names to small Internet sites…In October 2013 Hold Security identified the disclosure of 153 million stolen credentials from Adobe Systems…

     A number of high-profile companies have fallen victim to hackers. In 2013, for example, thieves stole the credit card numbers of 40 million Target customers. In July 2014, six people were indicted in connection with the cyber ring that allegedly defrauded StubHub out of $1 million. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the indictments connected a global network of hackers, identify thieves and money-launderers….

James Rogers, "Report: Russian Crime Ring in Massive Internet Data Heist," Fox News, August 5, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Mystery Novel Series Versus Standalone Books

     A series mystery novel has repeating characters whose stories continue book to book and a puzzle that gets solved within the context of each book. A standalone is written as a one-off, without a plan for a prequel or sequel.

     At the outset, it's a good idea to decide whether the book you're about to write is the first of a series or a standalone. This will affect many of the decisions you make--not the least of which is whether you can bump off your main character.

Halle Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005 

Writing Quote: Preferring Nonfiction to Fiction

I prefer nonfiction to fiction. I reviewed so many novels in the 1970s that I sort of burned out on fiction. I enjoy books on travel and have an extensive women travelers collection in my personal library…My personal library contains over 28,000 volumes, so I have plenty of books at home to keep me company.

Larry McMurtry, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Tutko Family House of Horrors

     Jarrod and Kimberly Tutko and their six children, ages 3 to 13, resided in a three-story house in Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania. All of the Tutko children had medical problems and disabilities. One of the siblings was deaf and at least two others were autistic. One of the girls was in a vegetative state and confined to a hospital bed on the second-floor. She had to be fed through a feeding tube. Kimberly Tutko devoted much of her time caring for this severely autistic child.

     Mr. Tutko took care of this girl's 8-year-old brother, Jarrod Jr. Besides severe autism, young Jarrod had a genetic defect called Fragile X Syndrome that rendered him unable to communicate, eat solid food, or use the toilet. Confined to his bedroom on the third-floor of the house, the boy had ripped up the room's floor and carpet. He refused to wear a diaper and regularly smeared his feces on windows and walls. He was so disabled he was unable to attend school.

     On Saturday morning, August 2, 2014, Kimberly Tutko noticed an unusually four odor coming from the third floor. She asked her husband to investigate. A short time later Mr. Tutko came down the stairs carrying young Jarrod. He laid the corpse, wrapped in a sheet, on the bathroom floor.

     Kimberly pulled back the sheet and recoiled in horror at the sight of her son's decomposing remains. She asked her husband how long the boy had been dead. Four days, he replied. Why didn't he immediately report Jarrod's death? The father said he was afraid of how the other children would react to the death of their sibling. Kimberly Tutko called 911.

     Later that day a Dauphin County prosecutor charged Jarrod Tutko with endangering the welfare of children, concealing the death of a child, and abuse of corpse. Social workers with the Dauphin County Children and Youth Services removed the other five children from the Tutko house.

     The judge set the 38-year-old's bail at $500,000 pending further investigation and the results of the boy's autopsy. (I imagine physicians have looked closely at the boy's medical history for indications of past abuse.)

     On August 5, 2014, the Dauphin County coroner announced that the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy had been unable to determine the child's cause of death. The coroner said he had ordered further tests that he hoped would shed some light on the case. According to the coroner the results of these inquiries wouldn't be available for several weeks.


Professional Basketball Player Punches Ex-Girlfriend

     Police arrested NBA player Greg Oden on August 7, 2014 in Lawrence, Indiana for punching his former girlfriend. The incident happened around three-thirty in the morning. Officers arrived at the house to find the victim crying and lying across a bed holding her face. At first the victim was reluctant to inform on her ex-boyfriend.

     Police officers observed physical evidence of violence on the victim's face and in the room where the attack took place. The assaulted woman had a badly swollen nose and lacerations on her forehead. A flower pot had been knocked over and the carpet contained fresh blood stains. One of the victim's friends had witnessed the assault committed in the living room of the house owned by Oden's mother.

     When police officers asked Oden what happened, he said, "I was wrong. I know what has to happen." The NBA player said he and the victim had broken up a couple months ago after having dated for two years.

     Police officers took Oden into custody and transported him to the Marion County Jail where the suspect faced a charge of battery.

     As a freshman in 2007, Oden led Ohio State University to the national title game. After one year in college he entered the NBA. He missed three seasons (2011-2013) due to an injury before making his comeback in 2014 with the Miami Heat. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Who Bombed His In-Laws Sentenced

     A Tennessee man pleaded guilty on August 5, 2014 to killing his elderly in-laws with an explosive device disguised as a lamp. Richard Parker, 50, who had owed his father-in-law money before the killings was sentenced to life without parole at a hearing in Lebanon, Tennessee…He had pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of retired attorney Jon Setzer, 74 and his wife Marion Setzer, 72…

     Jon Setzer died on the scene of the February 2014 explosion at his Lebanon home while his wife died a few hours later at Nashville Hospital. Parker had placed a bomb in a lamp, put it in a box with a FedEx label and left the package on the Setzers' porch…

     Parker had owed his father-in-law a substantial amount of money…There was no evidence that Mr. Setzer had pressed Parker about the loan.

Tim Ghianni, "Tennessee Man Pleads Guilty to Killing In-Laws With Exploding Lamp," Reuters, August 4, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Literary Novel

A literary novel generally offers some or all of the following: psychological acuity, characterization that rises above stereotype, astute social observation, inventive or powerful use of language, and artful use of form. [Notice that plot or a good story is not included. This is why literary novels go unread.]

Lionel Shriver, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Love-Triangle Assault Case

     Lisa Nolan, after she and her husband Thomas separated in April 2014, began dating Nicholas Peterson, a 34-year-old friend of the family. Lisa's new relationship angered Thomas Nolan. Moreover, the 39-year-old estranged husband became irritated every time Lisa called him up and asked for a lift in his car.

     On July 3, 2014, in Longview, Washington, a town of 36,000 in the southwestern corner of the state, Lisa phoned Thomas and asked if he would pick her up at the courthouse. She had just finished jury duty and needed a ride to work. Thomas reluctantly agreed to give her a lift.

     As Lisa and Thomas headed toward their destination in his black 1996 Ford Explorer, Thomas spotted his wife's lover standing on the sidewalk. "I have to run somebody over," he said.

     With his estranged wife looking on in horror, Thomas gunned the SUV. The bulky vehicle jumped the curb and rolled over Nicholas Peterson. Thomas pulled to a stop, jumped out the car and fled the scene while Lisa called 911.

     An ambulance crew rushed the 34-year-old victim to a hospital in Longview. Later that evening a doctor discharged Peterson. The victim had escaped the vehicular assault with only cuts, bruises and a broken foot.

     When police officers took Thomas Nolan into custody he admitted that the day before he had been smoking methamphetamine. Officers booked him into the Cowlitz County Jail on charges of first-degree assault. The judge set his bond at $100,000.

     To reporters on the day of the incident, Lisa Thomas, in referring to her estranged husband said, "He's not usually like this." 

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Pepper-Spray Knife-Wielding Six-Year-Old

     Police in Hancock, Maryland pepper-sprayed an unusually large six-year-old who had stabbed his grandmother. Deputies were called to the scene where the boy, who police described as "out of control,"was attempting to stab his mother.

     Officers issued one shot of pepper spray after the 100-pound child charged them while making stabbing motions with two butcher knives. The kid dropped the knives and fell to the ground…He was transported to a medical center for mental evaluation. He was not injured by the mace.

     The boy's grandmother suffered a laceration on her hand but refused medical treatment. Because of his age the boy will not be charged with a crime.

Chuck Ross, "Police Pepper-Spray Large 6-Year-Old," The Daily Caller, August 5, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: A Playground Stabbing Death

     A 9-year-old boy who was stabbed repeatedly by a 12-year-old boy on a playground in western Michigan died Monday night, August 4, 2014. Michael Conner Verkerke died from his injuries after being stabbed in the playground area in the Pinebrook Village community in Kentwood, Michigan.

     Police say that four children were playing when one of the kids pulled out a knife and repeatedly stabbed Verkerke. The 9-year-old ran back to his porch where he collapsed. He died later at a nearby hospital.

     A 12-year-old boy left the playground and went to a residence and asked to use the phone. He called 911 and said, "I just stabbed someone. Come and get me. I want to die." Police officers took the boy to a hospital for evaluation. Later the child was taken to the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center.

"Boy 9 Fatally Stabbed by 12-Year-Old on Playground," WZZM-TV Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 5, 2014 

Writing Quote: Cat and Dog Memoirs

Memoirs about cats and dogs are nearly as common as cats and dogs.

John Williams, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Boring Novel

Imagine, if you will, a book on trial for being boring…Imagine the arguments: the solid citizens called by the prosecution to testify that this book had bored them senseless. Imagine the authors and hip professors brought in by the defense to assert that the book was not boring at all, but on the contrary a work of great and lasting interest.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, July 20, 2014 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Waking Up With a Hand in Your Pants

     On June 10, 2012, Janarol Ali Dickens boarded a Delta flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. The 32-year-old asked the girl next to him if she wanted to watch a movie with him. She declined and went to sleep. When the 19-year-old woke up mid-flight, Dickens' hand was in her pants underneath her underwear. In addition, the victim discovered that Dickens had pulled her arm onto his lap. The alarmed passenger alerted a flight crew member who placed her into another seat.

     Upon arrival in Amsterdam officers with the Dutch Royal Military questioned Dickens who denied any sexual contact between him and the complainant. The authorities in Amsterdam released the accused molester without charging him with a crime. The woman Dickens had sexually assaulted filed a criminal complaint against him when she returned to the U.S. Because the offense took place on an international flight that originated in the U.S., the federal government had jurisdiction in the case.

     On April 22, 2014, Dickens returned to the United States. His flight landed in Miami where FBI agents took him into custody at the airport.

     To the FBI agents Dickens denied fondling the woman on the plane two years earlier. But after further questioning he admitted that he had put his hand inside the victim's pants for about ten seconds. (As though brevity in this case was relevant.) Dickens claimed he had placed the offending hand outside the girl's underwear. (Again, not  relevant.) He admitted that his neighbor on the plane had not given him permission to touch her.

     A federal prosecutor charged Dickens with Abusive Sexual Conduct. Dickens posted his bond and walked out of jail shortly after his arrest. If found guilty he could spend up to two years in federal prison.

Writing Quote: Don't Ask a Novelist What's Autobiographical in the Book

Novelists can take offense when someone asks what's real or autobiographical in our work, because to us, that's not what counts. The bits taken from real life are tiny scales on the dragon's tail--what about the whole beautiful writhing fire-breathing dragon?

Michelle Huneuen, The Paris Review, July 28, 2014 

Writing Quote: Describing Science Fiction

Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I'm borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn't exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Ray Bradbury, The Paris Review, Spring 2010 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Credit Card Vulnerability

In 2013 large scale hacks at Target and Neiman Marcus stores were a reminder that our credit cards were increasingly vulnerable. In these cases, hackers found a way to install malware on point-of-sales devices and then sat back as the credit and debit card numbers streamed in.

Lily Hay Newman, "What Happens After Hackers Steal Credit Cards,", January 14, 2014

Writing Quote: Trials and Tribulations Children's Books

As America's postwar baby boomers grew up, dipped a toe in child psychology studies at college and started families of their own, children's book publishers took note of a new, pop cultural sensitivity to a wide array of developmentally-based childhood trials and tribulations. Picture books about potty training, tantrum throwing, the death of a pet and other emotionally charged topics proliferated, and were often shelved together at the library under the catchall heading of "bibliotherapy."

Leonard S. Marcus, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014 

Writing Quote: A Writer's Progression

When I was young, the main struggle was to be a "good writer." Now I more or less take my writing abilities for granted, although this doesn't mean I always write well.

Jonathan Franzen, The Paris Review, Winter 2010

Writing Quote: Put a Prologue in Your Memoir

I advocate prologue in a memoir. I feel that it helps everyone involved--the writer, the reader--if certain early declarations are made. The thrill of literary memoir isn't bound up in plot, per se, and it shouldn't be bound up in gossip. The thrill of the genre--or at least one of its chief pleasures--is all about how well the author manages to answer all the questions or explore the themes or concerns that lie at the story's heart. Coy doesn't work--or at least I don't think it does. The questions, themes, and concerns that fuel a memoir are often best enunciated at the start. And prologues are such fine, flexible containers. You can make them do whatever you want them to do.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Cop Shoots Dog Then Delays the Pet Medical Care

     A Georgia man said he was threatened with jail time if he tried to treat his dog after a police officer shot the animal in the throat. Tim Theall said that Doctor, his 9-year-old German Shepherd, ran to the front of his house after being let into the backyard on the evening of July 24, 2014. "And before I turned the corner of the house, I heard two shots. I heard a cop say, 'Holy [expletive].' "

     Doctor caught a DeKalb County police officer off guard as he investigated a false house alarm call. Theall said he was less angry about the shooting since the officer was surprised by the dog. But he was upset over the officer's refusal to let him and his wife take their pet for medical treatment for more than an hour.

     "No steps were taken by the DeKalb police whatsoever to save my dog's life," Theall said. "The dog was still alive, clearly bleeding like crazy and the police officer blocked my exit. Finally he convinced me that I would be thrown into jail if I didn't stay where I was."

      Doctor did receive treatment and survived the bullet wound.

Chuck Ross, "Man Says Police Wouldn't Let Him Help His Dog After They Shot It," The Daily Caller, July 26, 2014 

Writing Quote: Telling Versus Writing

     Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper.

     Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even when they bomb, spoken words float off into space. They can always be denied. "That's what I said?" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Self Defense or Murder?

     An 80-year-old man in Long Beach, California came home and found two burglars in his house. He shot and killed one of them despite her pleas that she was pregnant. Prior to being shot, the woman said, "Don't shoot me, I'm pregnant. I'm going to have a baby." Tom Greer, the homeowner, shot her anyway.

     At a press conference regarding the July 22, 2014 shooting, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said the woman, 28-year-old Andrea Miller, did not appear to be pregnant.

     Officers arrested  her accomplice, 26-year-old Gus Adams, on charges of residential burglary and murder. Because Miller had been killed during the commission of a felony perpetrated by Adams, he was charged with criminal homicide under the felony-murder doctrine. The judge set Adams' bail at $1 million.

     Both Miller and Adams had criminal histories involving burglary. Investigators believed the couple had broken into Mr. Greer's home three times before. When Mr. Greer returned home at nine at night on July 22, he encountered the intruders. Both suspects attacked him, hitting him with their fists and body slamming him to the floor, breaking his collar bone.

     While Adams tried to pry open Mr. Greer's safe, the victim snuck into a room where he grabbed his .22-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. As Greer opened fire the burglars fled through the garage and into an alley. Greer chased after them firing his gun. One of his bullets hit Miller who died in the alley.

     On July 29, 2014, police officers arrested 49-year-old Ruby Adams on suspicion she had acted as a lookout in the burglary of the Green home. The judge set her bail at $175,000.

     The authorities also announced that according to the medical examiner's office Andrea Miller was not pregnant.

     Regarding Mr. Greer, prosecutors have not determined if he acted in self defense or committed murder.


Criminal Justice Quote: Pennsylvania State Police Accused of Sex Discrimination in Hiring

     Saying that the physical fitness tests that the Pennsylvania State Police use to identify entry-level candidates are not job-related, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the agency for sex discrimination since more men pass that tests than women…At issue are the state agency's 2003 and 2009 physical fitness tests that are one of eight criteria used to choose entry-level state troopers.

     The 2003 test had five events--a 300-meter run, sit-ups, push-ups, a vertical jump, and one-and-a-half mile run. To become a cadet, applicants had to pass each event. Between 2003 and 2008, 94 percent of male test-takers and 71 percent of female test-takers passed all five events.

     In the new test implemented in 2009, pass rates rose for both groups. Ninety-eight percent of male test-takers and 72 percent of female test-takers passed the exam. The Department of Justice claims that these results indicate gender discrimination….

Chuck Ross, "Obama Administration Suing Pennsylvania State Police Over Physical Fitness Tests," The Daily Caller, July 30, 2014  

Criminal Justice Quote: Stray Bullet in Detroit Kills Child

     Police say an 8-year-old boy died after being shot in his bedroom in Midtown Detroit. One of several bullets fired from outside went through a wall about one in the morning of July 23, 2014. One of the bullets struck Jakari Pearson. He died at a nearby hospital.

     Bullet holes were visible in the bricks and a window of an upstairs bedroom in the rear of the townhouse…Neighbors said this was the first time a child was killed in the neighborhood by a stray bullet. Gunshots, however, were not unusual in the community…

     A police spokesperson said investigators had a good idea of who they were looking for in connection with the shooting….

Robert Allen, "Detroit Boy Fatally Shot in Bed," Detroit Free Press, July 29, 2014   

Writing Quote: The Fear of Writing For Publication

Whenever I start writing a book, my fears follow a predictable path. First I'm scared that I won't finish it; that I'll be exposed as a fraud who conned a publisher into thinking he could write a book. When I do complete the manuscript, I'm afraid my editor won't accept it. If my editor does accept the manuscript, I'm worried that critics will hate it. If critics don't hate it, I'm sure no one will buy my book. And even if readers do buy my book, there's a danger that they won't like what they read. They might find it laughable. Worst of all, someone I know may ridicule my efforts. These are the types of fears that keep me, and anyone who presumes to write for public consumption, awake at night.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Three Murders and a Suicide

     In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 18-year-old Brooke Slocum and her boyfriend Charles Oppenneer, 25, were homeless. She was eight months pregnant. The couple frequently exchanged sex for food and a temporary place to stay. They hooked up with Johns through the online service Craigslist. An Internet pay-for-sex arrangement brought them into contact with Brady Oestrike.

     The 31-year-old Oestrike, employed as a lineman for a utility company, resided in a suburb of Grand Rapids called Wyoming. Because he talked about killing people and having bizarre dreams, many of his acquaintances considered him disturbed.

     On Saturday, July 12, 2014, Slocum, Oppenneer and Oestrike engaged in sexual activity at Oestrike's house. At some point that night the utility company lineman stabbed Charles Oppenneer to death and took Slocum prisoner.

     Hikers, on Wednesday July 16, 2014, came upon a headless corpse in nearby Gezon Park. A forensic pathologist identified the remains as Charles Oppenneer.

     The day following the gruesome discovery, Oestrike strangled the pregnant teen to death. He stuffed her body into the truck of his car for later disposal.

     By now homicide detectives had identified Oestrike as a suspect in the murder and missing person case. At nine-fifteen on the night of July 17, 2014, uniformed police officers and investigators rolled up to Oestrike's house in Wyoming armed with a search warrant. The suspect saw them coming, jumped into his car, and drove off.

     Following a brief chase, Oestrike crashed his vehicle into a tree. When officers approached the wrecked car they found Oestrike dead. He had shot himself in the head.

     Inside the dead man's trunk officers found Brooke Slocum's body. Her unborn baby was dead as well.

     A search of Oestrike's house produced several guns, ammunition, swords, knives, and items that belonged to the murdered couple. Mr. Oppenneer's head remained missing.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Illegal Alien Beats College Student to Death

     A 19-year-old suspected of fatally beating a University of Southern California student with a baseball bat told authorities he had been in the U.S. illegally for seven years. Jonathan Del Carmen, while incarcerated in the Los Angles County Jail, revealed this fact to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times…

     Police believe Del Carmen and three other teen-aged suspects attacked 24-year-old Xinran Ji with a baseball bat and a wrench during an attempted robbery early on the morning of July 24, 2014 as the engineering student walked home from a study group.

    Del Carmen and the other suspects faced charges of capital murder. A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency issued an immigration detainer against Del Carmen…

     According to the Los Angeles Times, authorities believed Ji attempted to get away from his attackers only to be beaten a second time. The victim made it to his home where he later died. Roommates discovered his body. Police believed that Del Carmen and his associates robbed and beat a man and a woman at Dockweiler State Beach. The man fled the attack and flagged down a police officer.

Chuck Ross, "Suspected Killer of USC Student Had Been in U.S. Illegally for Seven Years," The Daily Caller, July 31, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Corruption of Narcotic Cops in Philadelphia

     The arrests of six longtime narcotics officers on federal corruption charges on July 30, 2014 prompted Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey to reiterate his call for the department to regularly rotate narcotic officers out of the drug unit.

     Such a move is prohibited by the police union contract and is one that Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby has long opposed. In contract negotiations Ramsey had sought to permission to transfer narcotics officers every five years in a effort to discourage corruption.

     On July 20, 2014, the police commissioner told reporters that allowing officers to remain in specialized units for long periods prevented other officers from getting a chance to serve in these units. And if officers started cutting corners they could, over time, fall into "bad habits."

     The police union fought time limits for serving in narcotics squads arguing that experience in the unit allowed officers to become more skilled and specialized and build better relationships with informants….

Aubrey Whelan and Mike Newall, "Ramsey Calls Anew for Narcotics Squad Rotation," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 2014 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writing Quote: Stories Are Forever

People ask me: do you think that books will exist in the next millennium? And I say: maybe the form won't, maybe we'll have other things instead of books, but stories will be with us forever because they're part of us. I think the role of the storyteller is just repeating the story so the people who hear it can find some particles of truth that will illuminate their own lives.

Isabel Allende in Writers and Company, edited by Eleanor Wachtel, 1996 

Writing Quote: What is Plot?

     Plot is the nervous system of your story. In the same way nerves connect your brain and muscles so you can move and live, plot interconnects and moves the elements of your story.

     Of the journalist's six questions, plot answers as many as three: what, how and why. Plot is the key event of your story and the logic between the event and the supporting events, which serve to illuminate it. Plot establishes the causes and the consequences.

Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer's Workshop, 1995