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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Miami Spots Club Shooting Spree Mystery

     The Spot Nightclub, a strip-mall bar built into a storefront wedged between a furniture store and a smoke shop on Northwest 64th Street at Seventh Avenue in Miami, opened its doors sometime during the first week of September 2014. Just before one in the morning of Sunday September 28, 2014, an unknown number of gunmen opened fire inside the crowed nightclub. The assailants fired 100 or more shots. Fifteen of the 100 or so patrons were wounded, some seriously, others not.

     The Spots Nightclub victims were aged 11 to 25 with five of the injured under 17. Most of the victims received non-life threatening wounds. One girl was hospitalized in critical condition.

     Miami police and emergency rescue crews came upon a loud and chaotic scene. Wounded people were both inside the club and lying outside on the parking lot. People were screaming, running about, and calling for help. The shooters who had caused the mayhem had slipped into the night.

     From the beginning, investigators operated on the theory that at least four people were responsible for the shooting spree. Among the things detectives were trying to determine included the nature of the event and why so many teens were in attendance. Was this a private party or was the place open to the public? Early in the investigation the police didn't know what prompted the violence or if the attack was gang-related. Over the past few years Miami has been the site of several nightclub/restaurant mass shootings. 

Whackademia Quote: Kid, Don't Take Your Bomb to School

     A 16-year-old boy is in jail after bringing a homemade bomb to his high school in St. Helens, Oregon. The student at the school near Portland showed off the device to friends Friday morning September 26, 2014. Those friends told school officials who called the police and quickly evacuated the building…

     After the school was evacuated, students were bused to local elementary school as police and bomb squad personnel investigated. During a sweep, police found the homemade device in the student's locker. The student didn't threaten or do anything with the bomb.

     Following the all-clear, students were allowed to return to class but many opted to go home. The young bomb maker faces several felony charges for possession and manufacturing an explosive device and for disorderly conduct….

"Oregon Teen Accused of Bringing Homemade Bomb to School," ABC News, September 27, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Drug Dealers' 5-Year-Old Son Collateral Damage in Their Lives of Crime

     A Sylmar, California couple's 5-year-old son tested positive for cocaine after detectives in Ventura County stopped his parents' vehicle and found the boy in the back seat along with a half pound of the drug…Marco and Sandy Cuevas were arrested Friday September 26, 2014 in Moorpark, California by detectives investigating cocaine use and sales in the eastern portion of Ventura County…

     Through a series of investigations, detectives learned that Marco Cuevas was allegedly the source of the majority of cocaine in these cases…Members of the Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit, along with other investigators with the sheriff's office stopped Cuevas as he was en route to make a cocaine deal…

     The son was tested for cocaine and preliminary results indicated he had the drug in his system…

     Detectives searched the Cuevas' home…and found evidence of drug sales, several pounds of marijuana, hundreds of prescription pills, $75,000 in cash, 16 guns and nearly 300 pounds of ammunition…

     Marco Cuevas was booked into the Ventura County Jail on suspicion of possession of cocaine for sales, conspiracy to sell cocaine, child endangerment, and multiple weapons violations, including being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He was being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

     Sandy Cuevas was booked on suspicion of possession of cocaine for sales, conspiracy to sell cocaine, and child endangerment, but she bailed out and is awaiting a court hearing.

"Suspected Drug Dealers' Son, 5, Tested Positive for Cocaine,", September 29, 2014. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Another Mass Youth Detention Center Breakout

     Thirteen teenagers escaped overnight from a youth detention center in Nashville, Tennessee. All but one were captured within hours of the breakout. This marked the latest in a rash of such security breaches involving youth corrections centers…

     Three teens overpowered a guard late Friday September 26, 2014. They took his keys and let the others out of the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center…Nashville Metro police and Tennessee Highway Patrol officers were able to regain custody of all but one 16-year-old. The twelve back in custody were taken to a juvenile court detention center after what was the third major disturbance at the Woodland Hills facility…

     Thirty-two teenagers escaped from the same center on the night of September 1, 2014. Two of those teens who escaped are still at large. The center has a history of violent clashes, breakout attempts and attacks on guards. Since the escape, officials at the center said they have adopted extra security measures. The problem sheds light on the difficulty of maintaining order at a center where most of the 14 to 19-year-olds have committed at least three felonies…

"Thirteen Escape Detention, Most Recaptured,", September 27, 2014 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Kill Fellow Officer in Domestic Standoff

     A sheriff's deputy was shot and killed Wednesday September 24, 2014 by members of his own police agency after they responded to a domestic violence call at his home in LaPlace, Louisiana just outside of New Orleans. Lieutenant Nolan Anderson was in a brief standoff with fellow deputies when he was shot multiple times and later died in the hospital.

     Police received a call about a domestic dispute and arrived at Anderson's house where they found him pointing a gun at his wife's head. During negotiations, Anderson pointed his gun at officers and fired several shots into the air. The police then fired at Anderson…Anderson died at River Parishes Hospital. His wife was not hurt.

Ben Smith, "Officer Gunned Down by Fellow Deputies," The Daily Caller, September 25, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Stabs Four Children in China

     A knife-wielding man stabbed to death four primary school children in southern China on Friday September 26, 2014. This was the latest in a series of attacks in recent years…The attack took place in the town of Pingsham in Lingshan County as the students were on their way to school. Three of the children died at the scene and the other died later in the hospital…

     A slightly heavyset 56-year-old man surnamed Shri rode a red motorized trishaw while stabbing the children. Local police publicized the license plate number of the trishaw and offered a reward of 20,000 yuan ($3,260) for information leading to the killer's capture.

     Violent crime has been on the rise in China in recent decades as the nation's economy has boomed and the gap between rich and poor has expanded rapidly. Studies have also described the rise in the prevalence of mental disorders, some of them linked to stress as the pace of life becomes faster in China and government support systems decline….

"Man Stabs Four School Children to Death in China,", September 26, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Corpse Wars: Coroners Versus Organ Harvesters

     Pennsylvania legislators are considering passing a law (House Bill 30) aimed at increasing the number of organ donors in the state. It's a nice goal, but there are problems and complications with this bill.

     Presently, in cases of violent or unexpected death such as traffic accidents, drownings, drug overdoses, sudden infant death cases, suicides, obvious homicides, and deaths involving infectious diseases that could threaten the community, the state's coroners and medical examiners have first claim on the corpses.

     As things stand now, when the body in question is that of an organ donor, organ procurement organizations can claim the remains after the autopsy. HB 30 would reverse that order, giving the organ procurement people first crack at organ donors' bodies.

     Under the proposed legislation (there is a similar bill working its way through the state senate), a coroner or medical examiner who needs the body, can object in writing to the harvesting of organs prior to the autopsy. But pursuant to HB 30, organ procurement officials would not have to honor the request. In cases of violent, unexpected and suspicious death, forensic pathologists and coroners could attend and view the organ harvest procedures. Moreover, the procurement organization would supply coroners and medical examiner offices with photographs of the body, blood samples, and biopsies.

     According to the chief lobbyist for the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, photographs and blood samples would be useless in the process of determining cause and manner of death. Also, organ harvesters have no training in forensic pathology and are not required to be surgeons or even medical doctors.

     Opponents of HB 30 say that autopsy results acquired after the organ harvest procedure could not be used at trial as cause and manner of death evidence against a murder defendant. Organ harvesters could, for example, leave hemorrhages in the neck as well as laryngeal fractures that would mimic strangulation. Forceps used in organ removal could inflict wounds that could be mistaken for signs of homicidal trauma.

     According to Dr. Cyril Wecht, the renowned Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist, a defense attorney could destroy a murder prosecution's case based upon the unreliable results of an autopsy performed after the corpse had been subjected to organ harvesting.

     Even before the introduction of HB 30 and its senate counterpart, the state's coroners and medical examiners have been at war with the organ harvesters. Coroners claim that representatives of organ procurement groups have called them at all hours of the night to harass them into giving up the bodies quickly for organ harvesting.

     Opponents of the proposed bills also point out there is nothing in the legislation that prevents a suspect in a homicide case who is also "next of kin" as defined by the bill, from donating the victim's organs in an effort to discredit a subsequent autopsy.

     Under the proposed legislation, organ procurement officials can void living wills in order to keep the donor alive simply to maintain the health of the organs until they can be harvested and sold. (It is against the law for individuals to sell their organs, but organ procurement organizations are allowed to market the body parts. A single body can bring as much as $3 million. Beyond saving lives, big money is involved in the organ harvesting business. The bills will probably pass because in politics money talks and forensic science walks.) 

Criminal Justice Quote: Mass Murder on the Rise

     The number of U.S. shootings in which a gunman wounds or kills multiple people has increased dramatically in recent years, with the majority of attacks in the last decade occurring at a business or a school, according to an FBI report released on September 24, 2014. The study focused on 160 "active shooting incidents" between 2000 and 2013. Those are typically defined as cases in which a gunman in an attack shoots or attempts to shoot people in a populated area.

     The goal of the report, which excluded shootings that are gang and drug related, was to compile accurate data about the attacks and to help local police prepare for or respond to similar killings in the future…

     According to the report, an average of six shooting incidents occurred in the first seven years that were studied. That average rose to more than 16 per year in the last seven years of the study. That period included the 2012 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, as well as last year's massacre at the Washington Navy Yard in which a gunman killed 12 people before dying in a police shootout.

     The majority of the shootings occurred either at a business or a school, university or other education facility, according to the study…A total of more than 1,000 people were either killed or wounded in the shootings. In about one-quarter of the cases, the shooter committed suicide before the police arrived. The gunman acted alone in all but two of the cases. The shooters were female in six of the incidents…

     "The copycat phenomenon is real," said Andre Simons of the FBI's Behavioral Unit. "As more and more notable tragic events occur, we think we're seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks."

"U.S. Mass Shootings on the Rise, FBI Warns in Call for More Police Training," Associated Press, September 25, 2014 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Retrial in Florida Loud Music Murder Case

     Was it fear for his own life that prompted Michael Dunn to fire ten shots into a SUV, killing teenager Jordan Davis? Or was it contempt? A Jacksonville, Florida jury couldn't decide in February 2014, getting hung after thirty hours of deliberation. So, on Monday September 22, 2014, Dunn goes to trial again. The prosecutor takes another crack at proving first-degree murder in the racially charged case. The shooter, Dunn, is white. Davis, who was 17-years-old when he died, was black.

     There was an argument about loud music coming from Davis' Dodge Durango before Dunn opened fire in November 2012 at a gas station. He argues that he fired his weapon because he saw a gun barrel sticking out of the other vehicle's window and feared for his life…

     The new jurors will be tasked with deciding if State Attorney Angela Corey can disprove Dunn's self-defense argument…Police found no weapon in Davis' Durango. After the shooting, Dunn drove off and never notified the police.

     Three other teens were in the Durango during the shooting. Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted second-degree murder in the first trial for endangering them. He could face up to 60 years in prison for that alone--a life sentence for a 47-year-old….

"Retrial: Did Michael Dunn Kill Jordan Davis Out of Fear? Or Loud Music?" CNN, September 22, 2014  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who Killed Brandon L. Woodard?

     Raised in the Ladera Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Brandon Lincoln Woodard, the son of wealthy parents, lived a privileged life. His uncle, Leonard Woods, was a celebrated drag car racer, and his mother, Sandra Wellington, ran a successful mortgage business. Woodard, in 1999, graduated from a private Episcopal high school in LA called Campbell Hall. He and his parents belonged to an exclusive society of prominent black families called Jack and Jill of America.

     In 2003, Woodard graduated from southern California's Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor's degree in business administration. While working in his mother's mortgage company (shut down in the summer of 2012 for state lending code violations), Brandon cultivated fast-living friends in the music business and in professional sports. He developed a reputation as a man about town.

     Between 2004 and 2012, Woodard would acquire an arrest history consisting of at least twenty arrests. A supermarket security guard in Hermosa Beach, California caught him stealing several bottles of wine in 2009. After struggling with the security officer, Woodard sped off in his car, but in so doing, he slammed into two other vehicles. To flee the scene, he abandoned his disabled car and hailed a cab. The police took him into custody shortly after the incident. (I don't know the disposition of this case, but would guess that Woodard pleaded no contest and paid a fine.)

     A year after the retail theft incident, Woodard was accepted into Whittier Law School. During his first year at Whittier, he was arrested on the charge of battery. (In most states this offense is called assault.) In April 2012, while the 31-year-old was enrolled at the west Los Angeles law school, police arrested him in West Hollywood for cocaine possession. By now, Brandon Woodard was holding himself out as a hip hop promoter in LA's music industry.

     On Sunday, December 9, 2012, Woodard flew from Los Angeles to New York City. At five in the afternoon, he checked into a high-end hotel on Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan called 6 Columbus. He planned to return to LA the next day to take a law exam. (I wonder how many law students, on the day before an exam, spend nine hours on an airplane.) That evening, Woodard watched a football game at the hotel with a female friend, then went to dinner at a restaurant nearby.

     Just before two in the afternoon on Monday, December 10, Woodard checked out of his hotel. He left his luggage with a valet, expecting to return for it in a couple of hours. Brandon Woodard never got back to the hotel.

     As Brandon Woodard walked along 58th Street that afternoon not far from the southern border of Central Park, a man wearing a hooded jacket walked up behind him and shot him once in the back of the head with a nickel-plated pistol. As Woodward collapsed to the pavement and died, the shooter climbed into a Lincoln sedan and was driven away. The murder was captured by a surveillance camera that did not reveal a clear picture of the gunman's face.

     Crime scene investigators recovered a spent shell-casing that had been fired out of a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. A search of a ballistics database revealed that the handgun that had ejected this casing had been used in a November 22, 2009 shooting in Queens, New York. In that incident no one had been hit, and no arrests had been made.

     At the time of his death, Woodard was in possession of three cellphones. This, along with the fact that Woodard associated with music industry types, led investigators to speculate that he had been somehow involved in the drug trade. The shooting M.O. also bore the earmarks of a murder-for-hire conspiracy.

     On December 11, the day after Woodard's murder, NYPD officers with the 113th Precinct in Queens came across the abandoned getaway car. They traced the Lincoln MKZ to an Avis car rental service in Huntington Station, New York.

     New York City detectives, on December 13, searched Woodard's condo in Los Angeles. According to newspaper reports, the officers did not find drugs or useful clues into the identities of the people behind Woodard's murder.

     It has been almost two years since the Woodard murder, and no one has been charged or arrested. The brazen afternoon murder in midtown Manhattan remains a mystery.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Four California Escapees Captured

     Four of five inmates have been captured a day after their escape from a central California jail…The fifth man remained at large. A pair of special sheriff's units caught the four men Saturday night September 20, 2014 about 24 hours after they broke out of the Madera County lockup…

     Juan Lopez, 33, Jorge Lopez-Diaz, 26, Abel Ramos, 25, and Ricardo Cendejas, 19, all of Madera, were back in custody. Authorities around the state were still looking for Roel Soliz, 29, of Chowcilla. The men were being held on various charges including attempted murder and armed robbery…It's unclear how they escaped, but they were gone for an hour before they were discovered missing…The jail is operated by the Madera County Department of Corrections….

"California Authorities Catch 4 or 5 Jail Escapees," Associated Press, September 21, 2014 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Accused of Setting Massive California Wildfire

     A 37-year-old man was arrested and accused of igniting the massive King Fire that has burned 71,000 acres of Sierra foothills east of Placerville, California…El Dorado County authorities took Wayne Allen Huntsman into custody Wednesday September 17, 2014 on suspicion of felony arson. He was jailed in lieu of $10 million bail.

     The King Fire, that began Saturday September 13, 2014 and ranks as one of the largest wildfires burning in California, has forced thousands from their homes and closed a stretch of Highway 50, the popular route between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe.

     Strong mountain winds were pushing the inferno north Thursday September 18 through the El Dorado National Forest. About 500 structures have been damaged by the fire. Its trajectory was through sparsely populated hills…More than 2,000 homes remain threatened, however…The blaze is one of 11 major wildfires burning in drought-stricken California….

"King Fire: Suspected Arsonist Arrested in El Dorado County,", September 18, 2014 

Whackademia Quote: Another Frat House Death

     Authorities are investigating the death of a 19-year-old Rutgers University sophomore Sunday morning September 21, 2014. Caitlyn Kovacs of South Brunswick, New Jersey was pronounced dead at 3:19 AM at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Police began the investigation after hospital officials called at 3:28 that morning to alert them to the student's death.

     The investigation so far has determined that Ms. Kovacs was taken to the hospital by friends at about 3 AM when she appeared to be in distress while attending a small gathering at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house…The investigation has further shown that the death is likely alcohol-related, but the cause will not be determined until the autopsy is completed by the medical examiner's office.

"Student Death at Rutgers Fraternity House Under Investigation," Fox News, September 21, 2014 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Kevin Spacey's Stalker Sentenced

     A Massachusetts woman who threatened to blow up, torture and castrate Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey in what prosecutors called a "persistent and malevolent" cyberstalking campaign has been sentenced to more than four years in prison.

     A federal judge in Boston also ordered Linda Louise Culkin of Quincy to pay Spacey $124,000 in restitution for bodyguards. The 55-year-old Culkin has been in jail since January 2012, meaning she has about 18 months left to serve. She pleaded guilty in November 2013 to charges including mailing threatening communications, and sending false information regarding explosives.

     Spacey was not in court for the September 17, 2014 sentencing. He said in an impact statement it was "difficult to measure the degree of terror" he felt. Culkin apologized and blamed her actions on mental illness.

"Massachusetts Woman Who Stalked Spacey Sentenced," Associated Press, September 18, 2014 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Memphis Head in the Bag Case

     On Saturday September 13, 2014, in Memphis, Tennessee, Lacedric Ruffin and his truck were in Michael Wilson's backyard to haul away some scrap metal Wilson had offered him. The men were neighbors and acquainted. As Ruffin loaded his truck he saw Wilson pull a trash bag out of a garbage can. Wilson was about to drop the black bag into a metal bucket when it ripped open. The severed head of a black man fell out. A stunned Ruffin said, "Man, what the hell is going on?"

     Wilson muttered something to the effect that he had not meant to kill the man whose head lay on the ground before them.

     "Kill who, brother?" Ruffin asked. Before his 36-year-old neighbor responded to that question, Ruffin added, "You don't got to tell me that."

     As Ruffin climbed into his truck Wilson begged him not to alert the authorities. Ruffin, who was on parole, couldn't afford not to notify the police about what he had just witnessed. When he got a few blocks from Wilson's Dunn Avenue house he called 911.

     In the bedroom of Michael Wilson's dwelling, officers with the Memphis Police Department discovered a headless corpse lying near a pair of severed hands and an unattached leg. Inside the house officers also found bloody knives and other instruments that had been used to dismember the body.

     Police identified the dead man as 48-year-old Andre Cole, a schizophrenic who had been off his medication for months. A few days earlier Cole had moved into Wilson's house.

     A local prosecutor charged Michael Wilson with second-degree murder and abuse of corpse. The judge set his bail at $2 million.

     Lacedric Ruffin, in speaking to a local television reporter, said he believed Wilson had intended to place the head into the bucket then put the bucket in Ruffin's truck with the scrap metal. Had the head not tumbled out of the bag it would have ended up in a junk yard. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Lisa Coleman Executed in Texas

     Attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the scheduled Wednesday evening September 17, 2014 execution of a Texas woman convicted of the starvation and torture death of  her girlfriend's 9-year-old son a decade ago. Lisa Coleman, 38, would be the ninth convicted killer and second woman to receive lethal injection in Texas this year. Nationally, she would be only the 15th woman executed since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to resume. During that same time, nearly 1,400 men have been executed.

     Coleman was condemned for the death of Davontae Williams, whose emaciated body was found in July 2004 at the Fort Worth, Texas apartment Coleman shared with the boy's mother, Marcella Williams. Paramedics who found him dead said they were shocked to learn his age. He weighted 36 pounds, about half that of a normal 9-year-old. He had more than 250 injuries, including ligature marks to his arms, hands, feet and genitals, burns from cigarettes or cigars, and that his growth had stopped because of a lack of food.

     "There was not an inch of his body that had not been bruised or scarred or injured," said Dixie Bersano, one of Coleman's trial prosecutors. After a Tarrant County jury in 2006 convicted and sent Coleman to death row, Williams took a plea bargain and accepted a life prison sentence. Now 33, she's not eligible for parole until 2044.

     Coleman's lawyer, John Stickels, argued to the high court that while the child's hands were tied with clothesline at various times, it was "mostly a misguided means of discipline" used by both woman. According to the attorney, the aggravating factor of kidnapping, which made the charge against Coleman a capital murder case, was incorrect, making the jury's conviction on that charge also incorrect...

     [At six-thirty Wednesday evening September 17, 2014, Lisa Coleman received her lethal injection at  the state prison in Huntsville, Texas.]

Michael Graczyk, "Texas Woman Set to Die For Starvation of Child, 9,", September 17, 2014 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing Quote: The Young Adult Novel (Ages 12 and Up)

     Most young adult novels are over 30,000 words long or 120-250 pages. Although younger adult novels can deal with intense and serious subjects, they are often mysteries and thrillers--stories engrossing enough to appeal to younger kids as well as older ones. The older young adult novels deal with more complex subjects.

     What distinguishes a young adult novel from an adult novel is often nothing more than subject matter. These books are complicated, sophisticated and challenging. They are not limited in what issues can be discussed, nor are they in any way "kids' books." By this age level, there is a high tolerance for ambivalence in both character and plot, as well as a general acceptance of complex and painful subjects. 

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001 

Criminal Justice Quote: Narcotics Agent Arrested After His Gun Discharged in Drunken Fight

     Victor Zambrano, a New York state narcotics agent, was arrested on Friday September 12, 2014 after allegedly shooting two of his friends…The incident occurred when Zambrano was off duty and out drinking on New York City's upper west side with Nichola Davidson and her boyfriend Sydney Bernard-Whitehead.

     At some point in the evening, when the three friends were walking down Amsterdam Avenue, Davidson decided that Zambrano was too intoxicated to safely carry his weapon, a .40-caliber Glock. When Davidson asked for the weapon, Zambrano refused, leading to an argument and a struggle over the weapon. The gun went off, sending a bullet ricocheting off the sidewalk. The bullet hit Davidson and Bernard-Whitehead.

     Neither victim was seriously injured in the incident. Davidson was hit in the left foot, while Bernard-Whitehead was hit in the right calf. Both were taken to a nearby hospital and quickly treated for their injuries and released.

     Police officers tackled Zambrano to the ground after his gun discharged. He was taken into custody on charges of assault, reckless endangerment, illegal possession of a weapon, and resisting arrest.

"Off-Duty Narcotics Agent Got Drunk and Shot Some Friends," Daily Digest News, September 14, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Paragraph

     The length of your paragraph has a big influence on voice. As with sentences, you want to vary the length of your paragraphs to prevent a sense of stagnation or predictability. But beyond that, you can manipulate the feel of your voice by leaning toward long, winding paragraphs or short, snappy ones or somewhere in between.

     Generally a new paragraph signals a shift in thought, either major or minor, or a jump in time or space. But there is a lot of room for interpretation on when you want to make these paragraph shifts. Some writers may cram a bunch of thought shifts into a single paragraph while other writers may separate each thought in a new paragraph. Similarly, you could move freely through time and space in a single paragraph or use a new one for each shift.

Hardy Griffin in Writing Fiction, Alexander Steele, editor, 2003 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: University of Virginia Student Missing

     Virginia police focused their search Tuesday September 16, 2014 for a missing University of Virginia student. Investigators are interested in a text message she sent to friends saying that she'd gotten lost walking home early Sunday morning from a party.

     Hannah Elizabeth Graham, 18, a second-year student, was reportedly last seen inside an off-campus apartment complex in Charlottesville, just before midnight. About an hour after she left the party, she sent the message…She was not heard from again.

     Graham's friends alerted police Sunday September 14 after they realized the northern Virginia native did not return home. She is described as 5 feet, 11 inches tall with a trim build. She was last seen wearing a black crop top…

     Police released surveillance photographs of Graham in the hallway to her apartment building on the night she vanished.

"University of Virginia Student Vanishes Walking Home From Party," Fox News, September 16, 2014 

Writing Quote: Humanizing a Despicable Fictional Protagonist

The 1955 novel Lolita stirred a lot of controversy when it was published and Vladimir Nabokov spent quite a bit of time insisting that his own knowledge of nymphets was purely scholarly, unlike the fictional Humbert Humbert, who molested young girls. In Lolita, Nabokov committed one of the toughest acts of the fiction writer: staying true to the humanness of a reprehensible character. Humbert Humbert is as disgusting and deplorable as a character as any ever written and it would be easy to cast him in a light that shows him as only horrid. Yet Nabokov allows him some appealing traits: decided charm, dazzling intelligence, a sense of shame for his weakness, and, ultimately, a genuine love for Lolita.

Brandi Reissenweber, Writing Fiction, Alexander Steele, editor, 2003 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writing Quote: Literary Talent

     You've got to start with a certain amount of talent, the sine qua non. Very occasionally, a literary gift shows up that is vast, awe-inspiring, as it was in Tolstoy, Proust, or Dickens, compared to whom even big talents seem small. Yet many fine, even famous, careers have been built on making the most of relatively ordinary gifts. Be it modest or magnificent, you got to have some talent. It may be latent; it may be undeveloped; it may be neglected. But it must be there.

     What is literary talent? A nimble fluency. A way with words. An imagination that's easily aroused, quick to see, to hear, and to feel. An ear for the music of the language and a tendency to become absorbed in the mysterious movements of its significance and sound. A sense of audience. Skill at organizing verbal concepts solidly, effectively, and  fairly swiftly. An aptitude for catching the elusive forms and figures of a vivid imagination and a knack for pinning them down on the page.

Stephen Koch, Writers Workshop, 2003 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John Crawford: Police Kill Wal-Mart Shopper Holding Air Rifle

     After graduating from high school in 2008, 18-year-old John Crawford III joined the U.S. Marines. He was discharged shortly after he signed up when military doctors discovered that he suffered from a heart condition.

     In 2014, Crawford resided in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburban community outside of Dayton in the western part of the state. On Tuesday evening August 5, 2014, the 23-year-old, his girlfriend Tasha Thomas, and his two children from a previous relationship, were shopping at the local Wal-Mart to purchase, among other things, the ingredients to make S'mores for an upcoming family cookout.

     The trouble began as Crawford stood in the sporting section of the store examining a Crossman MK-77 BB/pellet air rifle. A couple of Wal-Mart shoppers saw Crawford holding the air gun in his left hand and called 911. One of the callers, Ronald Ritchie, reported that a man in the store had pointed the gun at two children and was trying to load the weapon.

     When approached by two Beavercreek police officers at 8:26 PM Crawford stood in an aisle away from the sporting section. He was accompanied by his children and on his cellphone talking to their mother, LeeCee Johnson. LeeCee heard Crawford inform the officers that the gun was not real.

     The police officers ordered Crawford to release the weapon and drop to the floor. As he turned toward them they shot him twice. His children looked on in horror as their father sank to the floor with two bullets in his body.

     A few hours later, John Crawford died at a nearby hospital.

     In the panic and confusion immediately following the in-store shooting, Angela Williams, a 37-year-old nursery home worker with a heart condition, collapsed as she scrambled from the violence. Later that night she went into cardiac arrest and died.

     A few days after the fatal police-involved shooting, Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers told reporters that the officers fired their guns when Crawford failed to obey their command to drop the air rifle.

     The Wal-Mart shopper had been shot by officer Sean Williams and Sergeant David Darkow. Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave.

     While the authorities refused to release surveillance camera footage of the shooting to the media, members of the Crawford family and their attorney Michael Wright viewed the video. According to the attorney, the Wal-Mart video revealed that the police officers did not give John Crawford the chance to comply with their orders before shooting him.

     In 2010, one of the Crawford shooters, office Sean Williams, shot and killed Scott Brogli, a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force. According to officer Williams and his partner, Broglie had charged them with with a knife while the officers were investigating the 45-year-old's drunken beating of his wife. A local grand jury reviewed the case and decided not to bring charges against Williams.

     Two weeks after the Crawford shooting, Sergeant David Darkow went back on duty. Office Williams remained on leave.

     On September 7, 2014, The Guardian newspaper published a long article about the John Crawford shooting case. In that piece the reporter included quotes from 911 caller Ronald Ritchie who had changed a crucial component of his initial account of of the incident. "At no point," Ritchie said, "did he [Crawford] shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody." Instead, Ritchie said Crawford had merely waved the gun around.

     In his 911 call, Ritchie told the dispatcher that the man with the gun was trying to load it. The emergency dispatcher, in relaying this information to the responding officers, reported that the Wal-Mart man "just put bullets inside the gun." According to The Guardian, the air rifle was not loaded.

     The dead man's father, John Crawford II, having viewed the Wal-Mart surveillance footage, said this to The Guardian reporter: "You can clearly see people in the store walk past him, and they didn't think anything about it. Everybody was just kind of minding their own business. He wasn't acting in any type of way that would have been considered menacing. It was an execution, no doubt about it. It was flat-out murder. And when you see the surveillance camera footage, it will illustrate that."

     Attorney Wright, in discussing the autopsy report with The Guardian reporter, revealed that Dr. Robert Shott, the Montgomery County Deputy Coroner, told him that John Crawford had been hit in the back of his left arm just above the elbow. The second bullet entered the side of his torso left of his belly button. According to the attorney, the ballistics evidence supported the theory that when first shot, Mr. Crawford was not facing the officers.

     The police-involved shooting case is currently under investigation by the Ohio Attorney General's Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Boyfriend From Hell

     Police in Redding, California call the relationship "toxic." If the details of the police report are accurate, folks won't need much convincing. Bear, the Pomeranian, disappeared in early August 2014 after the dog's owner and her then boyfriend Ryan Eddy Watenpaugh had an argument. The woman fled her apartment after she was physically assaulted by Watenpaugh. She called the police. When she returned to the apartment her pet dog Bear was gone.

     The couple, which police say had a tumultuous dating relationship that included the woman being held against her will, briefly reconciled the first week in September. Watenpaugh, 35, cooked her a meal that included meat. Then the text messages began. He wrote: "How's your dog taste? I thought it was better with BBQ and those Hawaiian buns. I guess you could bury what you didn't eat. The smile on my face when you read this--priceless."

     Then early Tuesday, September 9, 2014, Watenpaugh showed up at the victims house and left a small bag by her front door. Inside was a note and two dog paws. "Burn in hell," the note said. "I hate you so much it hurts. Stay away from me. I want nothing to do with you." At the bottom of the note: a smiley face.

     Redding police officers arrested Watenpaugh two days later. They say he's admitted to sending the text messages and placing the dog paws at the victim's residence. He has denied killing or cooking Bear.

     A local prosecutor has charged Watenpaugh with domestic violence, false imprisonment, stalking, and animal cruelty. He's being held on $250,000 bond in the Shasta County Jail.

Writing Quote: The Illness Memoir

     It is a mistake to dismiss illness memoirs out of hand. The worst of them are showy and whiny. The best of them are tussling with the great human themes in an utterly contemporary context…

     Disease is everywhere. How anyone could ever write about themselves or their fictional characters as not diseased is a bit beyond me. We live in a world that is spinning out more and more medicines that correspond to more and more diseases at an alarming pace…

     The illness memoir is so many things: a kindly attempt to keep company; a product of our culture's love of pathology, or of our sometimes whorish selves; a story of human suffering and the attempts to make meaning within it; and finally, a reflection on this awful and absurd and somehow very funny truth, that we are rotting, rotting, even as we write. [This is why I don't read illness memoirs.]

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hellementary Education Quote: Teacher Asks Students to Compare George W. Bush to Adolph Hitler

     A public school teacher in Washington, D.C. who instructed sixth-graders to compare former President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler has learned her lesson, according to school district officials. Critics wonder why she still has a job. [That's easy--the teacher's union.]

     D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson responded to the controversy Wednesday September 10, 2014 on Twitter, saying no curriculum intended to make the comparison "in any way" and that the district and unidentified teacher are "deeply apologetic" about the matter. Henderson said the teacher has been ordered to apologize to the class. [They had to order her do to this? If Hitler had been head of the school district, what would he have done to this teacher?]

     Marc Thiessen, who worked for years as Bush's speechwriter, said the teacher should be terminated immediately. "A person who can't tell the difference between George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler shouldn't be teaching children," he said. "This isn't even political bias, this is utter incompetence."

     The McKinley Middle School teacher sent students home instructing them to compare and contrast Bush and Hitler as part of a unit on "War and Peace." It was left to the students to determine how Bush, the 43rd U.S. president who was elected to two terms, stacked up against Hitler, whose Nazi Germany perpetrated a Holocaust that killed more than 6 million Jews….

Joshua Rhett Miller, "DC Teacher Has Sixth-Graders Compare George Bush to Adolf Hitler," Fox News, September 11, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Narrative Nonfiction Ending

The simplest ending to a nonfiction story is the climax. This is the scene that concludes a crisis, resolves a conflict, or marks a turning point in which the outcome becomes clear. An ending of this type should be considered in every narrative story. Obviously, it can be used only in a story that embraces some degree of narration, even if only a sequence of anecdotes. One approach to stories that consist of such a sequence is to break apart the principal anecdote, beginning with it, interrupting it at the point of greatest narrative suspense, then returning to it only at the end. More frequently, however, the climax is used as an ending in purely narrative stories, in which the overriding question from the outset is simply "What happened?"

James B. Steward, Follow the Story, 1998 

Writing Quote: Writing the Thriller

A thriller is always about people in danger. The key is to make the reader share the hero's anxiety. In all popular fiction, the author's aim must be to get the reader to feel the emotions of the characters. That's what makes the reader turn the pages.

Ken Follett, The New York Times, September 4, 2014 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: 15-Year-Old Girl to be Tried as an Adult in Vicious Assault

     A 15-year-old Philadelphia girl will stand trial as an adult for her alleged role in the March 2014 beating with a brick of a Temple University student…Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said in his ruling that Zaria Estes' alleged use of a brick to bash the victim's mouth and face was "determined" and "vicious."

     Two other girls involved in the attack, Najee Bilaal, 15, and Kanesha Gainey, 16, will plead guilty to several charges in Family Court, and will be placed in a juvenile treatment facility. But judge Lerner said Estes' charges are too serious.

     "As horrible, as disgraceful, as disgusting was the conduct of those other girls, when you pick up a deadly weapon, when you add that element," Lerner said referring to the brick, "that's a whole different ballgame in my view than what those other girls were doing."

     The trio of defendants allegedly set out to attack random victims on March 21 when they came across victim Abbey Luffey and her boyfriend, Andrew Mazer. Judge Lerner said photographs of Luffey's teeth and face made it clear "how hard, how determined and how vicious this assault was."

     Luffey told the court she had emergency surgery to repair her face and teeth, and fear of walking around campus led her to move back home. "One act by a group of strangers has consumed my life," she said.

"Teen to be Tried as Adult in Brick Attack on Temple Student,", September 10, 2014 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Three Mothers Murdered Five Children Before Killing Themselves: The Murder-Suicde Epidemic

Jennifer Berman

     Until her divorce in 2013, Jennifer Berman, 50, lived with her husband Richard and their two teenage children in a nice home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sixteen-year-old Alexander Berman and his sister Jacqueline, 15, were accomplished musicians who attended the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts.

     Following the contentious breakup from the prominent realtor, Jennifer sank into depression. She also faced serious financial problems.

     On Monday morning, January 13, 2014, Richard Berman made a horrific discovery when he stopped by the house to see his daughter and son. He found the children and his ex-wife shot to death. The medical examiner  ruled Alexander and Jacqueline Berman's deaths homicide and their mother's death as suicide.

Kyler Ramsdell-Oliva

    In 2013, police officers in Syracuse, Utah, a town of 25,000 in Davis County 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, responded to several domestic disturbance calls made from a house occupied by 32-year-old Kyler Ramsdell-Oliva, her live-in boyfriend Michael Johnson, and their two daughters, 7-year-old Isabella and Kenadee who was thirteen.

     The police were back at the house at four in the afternoon of January 13, 2014 to keep the peace while Michael loaded a U-Haul truck with his belongings. The breakup of the family and Michael's moving out did not sit well with the distraught Kyler. She reportedly told police officers that she owned a gun and would use it to kill her children and herself. (I don't know if the officers took the threat seriously enough to notify a child services agency. They obviously didn't perceive an immediate threat to the children because they did not remove them from the house that day.)

     The next day, January 14, 2014, Michael, worried abut his daughters, asked his brother and Kyler's sister to go to the house and check on the family. They entered the dwelling and found that Kyler had murdered the girls before killing herself. She had shot the children in the chest and herself in the head.

Carla Gilliland

     On July 3, 2014, police in Ellettsville, Indiana, a town of 6,000 in the south central part of the state near Bloomington, responded to a call from 15-year-old Parker Gilliland-Wampler. According to the boy, since his father had moved out of the house his mother had been behaving in such a way that caused him concern for his safety. Specifically, Carla had threatened to kill herself and take him with her.

     The police must not have taken the boy's concerns seriously because they did not immediately intercede in the matter.

     On Thursday morning, July 10, 2014, neighbors heard gunshots coming from Carla Gilliland's house. Moments later the dwelling burst into flames. Later, in the debris, firefighters found the bodies of Carla and her son. They had both been shot in the head.

     The Monroe County Coroner, a few days after the house fire, determined that Carla had murdered her son, started the blaze, then killed herself. He classified the case a murder-suicide.

Writing Quote: How Do You Know If You're a Real Writer?

     Imagine if someone were to tell you "You're not a bicyclist until you've ridden at least five hundred miles," or "You can't consider yourself a real bather until you've spent at least a thousand hours in the tub." They'd sound pretty foolish.

     Yet some writers and writing teachers persist in trying to tell the world who qualifies to be a writer and who doesn't. "You only become a real writer after you've published three books." "After you've written your first million words, then you can call yourself a writer." "Oh, so you have a day job and write at night? You're really a hobbyist, not a writer."

     These sorts of pronouncements and judgments are all nonsense--and arrogant nonsense, at that.

     If you get on a bicycle and ride, you're a bicyclist. If you fill up the tub and climb in, you're a bather. And if you put words on paper, you're a writer. It's as simple--and obvious--as that.

Scott Edelstein, 100 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, 1999

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Fatally Shot in Tax Office

An Iowa man angry about his property taxes was fatally shot during a public meeting Tuesday September 9, 2014 after he pulled a gun from a briefcase and pointed it at the county tax assessor…Francis Glaser, 71, pulled the gun and fired at County Assessor Deb Lane but missed. As Jackson County supervisor Larry Koos struggled with Glaser the gun went off. Glaser was hit and died at the scene.

"Fatal Tax Anger," Associated Press, September 10, 2014  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Writing Quote: The Wrong Reasons to Write a Memoir

Nobody wants to hear that you're writing a memoir because you need some quick cash, or because you think it will make you famous, or because your boyfriend said there was a movie in this, or because you're just so mad and it's about time you get to tell your version.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: A Rapist On The Loose at the University of Florida

     The University of Florida has stepped up campus security and released surveillance video of a possible suspect after a fourth woman was assaulted in recent weeks. The latest incident was reported Sunday September 7, 2014 when a woman was tackled from behind near the campus library's parking lot. She managed to fight off the assailant and run away.

     Police say the string of assaults started at 9:30 PM August 30, when a 21-year-old woman told police she was beaten and almost raped by an unknown man on the Gainesville campus. A second was reported hours later, at 2 AM August 31, with a victim dragged into a wooded area. Witnesses to this assault chased the man away.

     A third woman was approached Friday September 5 by an unidentified man outside the school library…The woman in the third incident fought back. The assailant came up behind her and grabbed her. They had a brief conversation before she punched him in the face. The man fled the scene on foot…

     Police say the four victims all describe the man as white, in his late 20s or early 30s, about 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 and weighing 250 pounds.

"University of Florida Boosts Campus Security After String of Assaults," ABC News, September 8, 2014 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Touchy-Feely Psychiatrist

     A central Pennsylvania psychologist has been jailed on charges that the "touching therapy" he used on two female patients amounted to sexual abuse for which he fraudulently billed insurance companies more than $71,000.

     Police in State College, Pennsylvania arrested 53-year-old Richard Lenhart on August 11, 2014 on charges of insurance fraud and indecent assault. The charges by the state attorney general's office grew out of a misconduct investigation by the state Board of Psychology that had revoked Lenhart's license two years ago. The board fined him more than $68,000 for more than 100 counts of professional misconduct.

     According to prosecutors, Lenhart "treated" the two patients--who were both victims of previous sexual trauma--by caressing them and rubbing their genitals.

"Psychologist Jailed in "Touching Therapy" Case," Associated Press, August 22, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Literature Professor

I must say that of all the types and kinds and classes of people I've encountered over the years, literature  professors and rhetoricians are the sorriest of the lot. After six years of peripheral but daily contact I've found them to be morally timid, petulant, unimaginative, joyless, insincere, petty, ineffectual, self-righteous, emotionally shallow, and thoroughly uncharitable. In general, they comprise a kind of secular priesthood--monk-like creatures who lurk palely in academic cloisters, out of touch with the very life they're supposedly preparing their students to enter. Moreover, they read too many books.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Rene Lima-Marin: Back in Prison After His Inadvertent Early Parole

     In September 1998, 20-year-old Rene Lima-Marin and another man in Aurora, Colorado, a suburban city adjacent to Denver, robbed two video stores at gunpoint. Lima-Marin held a gun to the back of a store clerk's head and said, "This is where you're going to die." The robbery victim, while seriously traumatized, was not shot.

     Upon his conviction in 2000 of robbery, kidnapping and burglary, the judge sentenced Lima-Marin to two back-to-back prison terms that totaled 98 years. In other words, the convicted man would do separate time for each robbery. (To receive such heavy punishment for an offense that wasn't homicide, Lima-Marin must have come to court with a serious history of crime.)

     Following Lima-Marin's sentencing, a court clerk mistakingly wrote into the convicted man's file that the two sentences were to run at the same time. As a result of this clerical error, Lima-Marin was paroled in 2008, 90 years early. Although he knew of the error that freed him, he did not call it to the attention of prison authorities.

     After his release from the penitentiary, Lima-Marin married Jasmine, his former girlfriend. He helped her raise her son and they had a child of their own. He got a job and became active in a local church.

     In January 2014, Colorado prison authorities discovered the mistake in Lima-Marin's file. Police officers arrested the 35-year-old and returned him to prison. He had been free almost six years.

     Through his attorney Patrick Megaro, Lima-Marin filed an appeal claiming that his re-incarceration amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The attorney, in speaking to reporters about his client's case, said, "To give a man this false sense of hope and allow him to create a family and have a child and believe he could live a normal life as a father and husband and then to snatch him away from that is extremely cruel." (Perhaps it is splitting hairs to note that the system did not intentionally grant Mr. Lima-Marin his freedom. It happened inadvertently.)

     Lima-Marin's wife Jasmine said this to reporters: "He's not the same person he was then. He's very supportive. He's just a great guy. I have full faith that my husband is going to be back home."

     It's probably true that this man is a rehabilitated person. He's older, wiser, and has a family. And no doubt getting a taste of freedom, then abruptly losing it, is tough, even cruel. But until a judge changes the sentence or the governor pardons him, this inmate isn't leaving prison. Unless the original sentence was too harsh, the state did not violate his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Dressing Courtroom Casual

     An attorney who habitually appears in court without socks faces sanctions including possible fines if he shows up without them again in one Indiana courtroom. Blackford Circuit Judge Dean Young issued an August 25, 2014 order directing attorney Todd Glickfield of Marion to wear appropriate business attire, including socks and a tie, in future proceedings in Young's Hartford City courtroom.

     Glickfield appeared without socks in Young's courtroom on August 22. The order says that during a break in proceedings, the judge advised Glickfield that he wasn't appropriately dressed as required by court rules. The order states Glickfield appeared in court without a tie and with an open-collared shirt. [This attorney is lucky he doesn't practice in England where barristers have to wear wigs.]

"Judge orders Attorney to Wear Socks in Courtroom," Associated Press, September 5, 2014 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Albuquerque Police Demilitarize--A Little

     In July 2014, the Albuquerque Police Department reported that it doesn't need the massive armored vehicle the city acquired as military surplus…Albuquerque was among numerous agencies across the country that obtained one of these mine-resistant and ambush-protected vehicles that the military procured for the Iraq and Afghan wars.

     A police spokesperson said the department took delivery of the 14-foot-tall, 22.5-ton vehicle in January 2014 but has not used it in the field. (I guess that's because Albuquerque has not been invaded by foreign combat troops.)

     The department has other armored vehicles it can use for SWAT deployments instead of the mine-resistant monster. The department will work with the state to find a new owner for the vehicle. (How about Ukraine?)

"Albuquerque Police to Get Rid of Military Armored Vehicle," Associated Press, July 30, 2014 

Writing Quote: Romance Novel Plot Cliches

     Because there have been thousands of romance novels published, it is inevitable that some of them have featured similar plots. Usually the fact that the characters in each book are different makes even the similar plots distinctive, too. But there are plot points that have been so overused that they've worn out and require an entirely new approach to make them unpredictable and exciting again.

     The only way to be aware of all these problem areas is to read a lot. Some of the standards that appear in far too many romance novels include the heroine running smack into the hero (usually feeling as if she's hit a solid wall when she collides with his impressive chest); the hero walking in on the heroine in her bath; the heroine walking in on the hero while he's clad only in a towel; the heroine falling, so the hero has to catch her; the heroine breaking the heel off her shoe; the hero and heroine feeling an electrical jolt on first touch; the heroine seeing fireworks with the first kiss.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Wedding Reception to Remember

     A groom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania fondled a pregnant waitress at his wedding reception held on the Gateway Clipper ship. He allegedly tried to pour alcohol down her throat as well. After getting into a fight with the waitress' boyfriend, he resisted arrest when the police showed up.

     On Monday September 1, 2014, Mark Williams, 33, of Crafton, Pennsylvania was charged with riot, harassment and resisting arrest. According to the criminal complaint, Williams touched the waitress several times. Just before the boat docked at one in the morning, she called her boyfriend and reported the abuse. The boyfriend was waiting when the boat came to shore.

     When officers with the Pittsburgh Police Department arrived at the scene, they were allegedly assaulted by the groom's 35-year-old brother, David Williams. The off-duty Pennsylvania State Police Trooper has been charged with riot, harassment, obstructing law enforcement and disorderly conduct. (That will look good on his record.)

     The state trooper is assigned to the Kiski Valley barracks about 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The state police have placed Trooper Williams on paid administrative leave.

     A third man at the wedding reception was charged with punching out the window of a parked car. What a nice bunch of guys. And what a way to start married life. The bride must be so proud.

     The waitress' boyfriend who fought with the groom has not been charged with a crime. 

Jeremy and Amanda Swann: The Red Neck Rape Case

     Twenty-nine-year-old Jeremy Swann and his wife Amanda, 28, resided in Jones, Alabama, an unincorporated, rural community 40 miles northeast of Montgomery in the central part of the state. Amanda's 17-year-old, mentally disabled sister resided with the couple. Jeremy's mother, 57-year-old Dianna Swann, lived in the house as well.

     In June 2014, Jeremy and Amanda petitioned the Alabama Department of Human Resources for full custody of Amanda's sister. According to the couple, the 17-year-old's mother had molested her.

     Pursuant to the inquiry into the molestation allegation, social workers questioned the teenager. The girl said she had been sexually assaulted, but not by her mother.

     According to the victim, Jeremy and Amanda, in July 2014, had come to her with a proposition. Jeremy wanted to get her pregnant then adopt the baby. When the 17-year-old rejected the plan, he forcibly raped her six times over a period of thirty days. During one of the assaults he gagged her to stifle her screams.

      The victim said she had been raped with the full knowledge of Amanda Swann and Jeremy's mother, Dianna.

     On August 18, 2014, Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson charged Jeremy Swann and his wife with first-degree rape. (Because the victim was his sister-in-law, Jeremy could also be charged with incest. Being a blood relative is not an element of incest.)

     The prosecutor charged Dianna Swann with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for knowing what was going on and failing to either intervene or report the crime.

     The judge set the Swann couple's bonds at $500,000. At a hearing in September the judge will appoint the suspects attorneys. 

Writing Quote: The Essence of Science Fiction

     Science fiction is that form of literature which deals with the effects of technological change in an imaged future, an alternative present or re-conceived history…

     Science fiction, at the center, holds that the encroachment of technological or social change will make the future different and that it will feel different to those within it. In a technologically altered culture, people will regard themselves and their lives in ways that we cannot apprehend. That is the base of the science fiction vision, but the more important part comes as corollary: the effects of a changed technology upon us will be more profound than change brought about by psychological or social pressure... It will be these changes--those imposed extrinsically by force--which really matter; that is what the science fiction writer is saying, and in their inevitability and power they trivialize the close psychological interactions in which most of us transact our lives.

Barry N. Malzberg, Breakfast in the Ruins, 2007  

Criminal Justice Quote: Small Town Officer Shot to Death Making Misdemeanor Arrest

     The police chief in a small Texas town just southwest of San Antonio was fatally shot Saturday August 23, 2014 while conducting a traffic stop…Elmendorf, Texas Police Chief Michael Pimentel was shot after pulling over Joshua Lopez, 24, to serve an active misdemeanor warrant for graffiti…Lopez shot Pimentel several times. The chief was airlifted to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

   Lopez was taken into custody without incident and will face a charge of capital murder for shooting a police officer.

     Elmendorf, located 25 miles southeast of San Antonio, has a population of 1,500. The town has two paid police officers and ten reserve officers…Pimentel is the fifth law enforcement officer to die in Texas this year. Three were killed by gunfire. In Texas, thirteen officers died in the line of duty last year.

"Texas Police Chief Fatally Shot During Traffic Stop," Fox News, August 24, 2014


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mississippi Kindergarten Girl Severely Beaten: Child Abuse or School Negligence?

     Lacey Harris' 5-year-old daughter AvaLynn attended Kindergarten at Arlington Elementary School in Pascagoula, Mississippi. On Thursday August 28, 2014, the mother filed a police report claiming that her daughter had sustained serious facial injuries inflicted by another student on the school's unsupervised playground. Specifically, another kid had kicked the girl repeatedly in the face.

     From published photographs of the Harris child, one can see that her injuries were indeed substantial. Both of her eyes were black and swollen. She had a contusion and considerable swelling on her upper lip. Looking at these photographs, it's hard to imagine that these injuries had been inflicted by another school kid. That doesn't mean, however, that another child couldn't have been responsible for the trauma. It just seems unlikely.

     The day after Lacey Harris filed the police report, an official with the school district released the following statement: "A student was injured while playing on the playground at Arlington Elementary School Tuesday afternoon. School officers responded to the situation. The parent was contacted and the student received medical treatment. No other children were involved in the incident. The Pascagoula School District remains committed to the safety of all its students."

     The above statement leaves a lot to the imagination and raises many questions. Exactly how did the girl hurt herself? What were the extent of her injuries? Did the school call for an ambulance? Did other students witness the mishap? Was the playground under adult supervision? Is there security camera footage of the event? And finally, immediately after the girl was hurt, what did she say to school personnel?

     In speaking to a reporter with The Mississippi Press, Lieutenant Jim Roe of the Pascagoula Police Department, said: "The mother alleges another child kicked her daughter on the side…There is no indication that something criminal took place [at the school]. I have spoken with school security and an assistant superintendent is investigating the matter."

     On August 29, 2014, three days after the alleged assault, Lacey Harris, or people on her behalf, started a community Facebook page called, "Justice for AvaLynn." According to the Facebook version of the incident, "AvaLynn informed Lacey that she was assaulted by another student: that she was kicked repeatedly in the face until she fell off the slide on the school's playground. The school informed Lacey there were no teachers present when the incident occurred, and because of that, no one could prove whether or not another student had harmed AvaLynn."

     Lacey Harris also launched, online, a GoFundMe site to raise money for her daughter's medical and travel expenses. "There is a need for repeat CT scans, specialist visits to an ENT, ophthalmologist and quite possible orthopedics for her little face." Within a few days the mother raised more than $6,000 through the site.

     Lacey Harris has made a serious allegation against the Arlington Elementary School. An unsupervised playground is one thing, having a 5-year-old severely injured on that unwatched playground is much worse. If the allegation is true, a large court settlement is in the works.

     On the other hand, if Lacey Harris' story turns out to be untrue, if her daughter's injuries were in fact relatively minor, the mother could be in serious trouble for filing a false police report, for operating an online fundraising scam, and for possible child abuse.

     Police detectives will have to sort this all out. The investigation should include interviews of Arlington teachers and school children. A detective should speak to AvaLynn. The inquiry should also include a thorough review of the child's medical history and a background check of her mother. At some point there might also be a need for an interrogation of Lacey Harris accompanied by an invitation to take a polygraph test.

     If the story turns out to be true, detectives will have to identify the person responsible for the assault and determine how such a serious crime had taken place on an elementary school playground. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Big Breakout at the Youth Detention Center

     More than 30 teens escaped from a Nashville, Tennessee youth detention center and 17 were still being sought early Tuesday September 2, 2014. Thirty-two teens--ages 14 to 19--escaped from Woodland Hills Youth Development Center around 11 PM on Monday September 1 by crawling under a weak spot in a fence that surrounds a yard there…(Hopefully they are better with development than they are detention at this facility.)

     Two teens were captured right away and others were apprehended overnight…Local police and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are taking part in the search for the teens still at large. The prisoners being kept at the detection center have committed at least three felonies.

     The escape happened when a large group of teens at the center went out into the yard all at once shortly after a shift change…Corrections officials do not believe the breakout was planned but was rather an spontaneous event…A total of 78 teens were being held at the center at the time.

"More Than 30 Teens Escape From Detention Center," The New York Times, September 2, 2014


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Joseph Jennings Police Shooting Case

     Eighteen-year-old Joseph Jennings resided in Ottawa, Kansas, a town of 13,000 within the Kansas City metropolitan area adjacent to the Missouri state line. Joseph had plans to attend trade school and learn underwater welding. The young man had been struggling with mental health problems that interfered with his ambitions. His depression and anxiety were exacerbated by seizures that had become more frequent. Seeing no future for himself, Joseph Jennings had decided to take his own life.

     On Thursday, August 21, 2014, Joseph posted a suicide note on Facebook that read: "Tonight is the night. Goodbye to everyone!!! It was truly a good ride. I'm sorry for who I might have hurt and people that I may have offended. But I love all my family and hope you don't hold this against me."

     Ten minutes after posting the above message, Joseph swallowed 60 prescription pills. A member of his family discovered the unconscious teen and called 911. Two officers with the Ottawa Police Department rushed him to the hospital where doctors saved his life.

     Two days after Joseph tried to kill himself, hospital personnel discharged him from the psychiatric ward of Ransom Memorial Hospital. (They probably gave him more pills and told him to visit a psychiatrist. This is what passes for mental health care in America.)

     At eight o'clock on the night of Saturday, August 23, just three hours after leaving the hospital, Jennings, having made it known that he intended to commit suicide-by-cop, walked to a hardware store in town. Someone called the police and reported that a man with a gun was standing outside the store.

     Six police officers, including the two that a couple of days earlier had rushed Joseph to the hospital, rolled up to the scene. They confronted him on the store's parking lot and ordered him to drop to the ground and keep his hands where they could see them. Instead, Joseph made gestures that suggested he possessed a weapon.

     Brandy Smith, Joseph's aunt, lived near the hardware store. She witnessed the standoff, and didn't like how it was unfolding. She and her husband approached the officers. "That's Joseph Jennings! You know him," she said. "Don't shoot him. If he has a gun it's a BB gun. He is on a suicide mission!" As Brandy tried to reason with the officers, her husband said he would approach his suicidal nephew and tackle him for the officers. That plan didn't go down well with the cops who informed Mr. Smith that he wasn't careful and got in the way, he could be shot. They ordered him to stay put.

     Suddenly one of the officers yelled, "Bag him!" With that, another cop fired a nonlethal device that shoots beanbags instead of bullets. Shortly after that the bullets started flying--24 of them. Joseph was struck sixteen times and died that night at a nearby hospital. He did not possess a BB gun or any other kind of weapon. At no time were these officers threatened with a weapon they could see.

     On August 25, 2014, in speaking to local reporters (the national media had no interest in this case), Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler said, "They [the officers] reacted based upon training they've been given at the academy. [That's a frightening statement.] We were thankful that no officer was injured from protecting themselves (sic) from risk of great bodily harm."

     So there you have it: as long as the police officers avoided possible harm by gunning down an unarmed man, everything worked out fine. Officer safety, after all, is the priority. To hell with an 18-year-old suicidal teenager who may or may not have been armed with a BB gun. In Missouri cops don't shoot looters, in Ottawa, Kansas they gun down people like Joseph Jennings.

     In the wake of this highly questionable and unnecessary fatal police shooting, no one in Ottawa took to the streets to protest and loot.

     In November 2016, after the Franklin County Attorney ruled the Jennings' fatal shooting "lawful and justified," Joseph Jennings' brother Chris filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Ottawa. In the suit, the plaintiff alleged that the police had used excessive force and were "reckless and careless" in the lethal shooting.

     In May 2018, the city of Ottawa settled Chris Jennings lawsuit for $125,000 plus attorney fees and court costs totaling $63,968.

     While Joseph Jennings' shooting was, in my opinion, unjustified and outrageous, the public, nor the media, seemed very interested. 

Criminal Justice Quote: A Murder-Suicide in China

     A man armed with a knife killed three children and injured five others in a primary school in China on Monday September 1, 2014, the new school term after the summer holiday. The man was the parent of a former student, and he attacked the children because the school did not let his daughter register for the new term because she had not finished her summer homework…

     The man entered the school in the city of Shiyan, in Hubei Province, saying he had to register his daughter…After the attack, the man killed himself by jumping out a window.

     Violent crime is rare in China compared with many other countries, but there have been a series of attacks on schools and children in recent years.

"Three Children Stabbed to Death in Chinese School," The Sydney Morning Herald, September 1, 2014 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Oregon Family Drowns in Henry Hagg Lake

     On Monday August 25, 2014, 42-year-old Jova Ixtacua, her daughter Gabriela, 25, Jova's son Michael, 15, and Gabriela's 3-year-old son Jeremy Scholl, had gathered at Henry Hagg Lake for a picnic and some swimming. The reservoir is a popular recreational park 25 miles west of Portland, Oregon. The family had traveled to the lake from their home in nearby Hillsboro.

     At six-thirty that Monday evening, a passerby came upon the body of an unconscious or dead child lying on the beach at the water's edge. Emergency personnel tried in vain to revive 3-year-old Jeremy Scholl. The boy was not wearing a lifejacket. On the beach not far from his body lay a towel, a cooler, a purse, four pairs of shoes, and a small dog secured on a leash. Members of the boy's family, people associated with the items on the beach, were nowhere to be found.

     An hour after the discovery of Jeremy Scholl's body, police officers and others began searching the two square miles of Henry Hagg Lake. The next day, at ten-thirty at night, searchers found three bodies floating in eight feet of water 40 feet from the shore about 50 yards from where the 3-year-old's body had washed up. The two women and the teenage boy were identified as Jeremy's grandmother, mother, and uncle.

     Sergeant Bob Ray of the Washington County Sheriff's Office told reporters that, "We are considering the deaths a tragic accident." Investigators believed the 3-year-old had fallen over a steep drop-off into the lake near the spot where the four sets of shoes and other items had been found. According to this theory, the boy's mother, grandmother and uncle had jumped into the water to save him and drowned themselves.

     Following the autopsies, the Oregon State Medical Examiner reported that the four family members had died from asphyxia by drowning. The medical examiner ruled the manner of deaths accidental. That closed the door on any homicide investigation.

     Because of the steep drop-off into the channel of a former river than flows beneath the reservoir, Henry Hagg Lake, a recreational swimming venue that doesn't employ lifeguards, has been the site of several drownings and near drownings.

     Outside of boating tragedies, multiple accidental drownings are extremely rare. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The "AK-47 Bandit" Strikes Again

     Authorities are on the hunt for a bank robber after he struck again in August 2014 after a nearly two-year hiatus. The hold-up man is said to have robbed the First Nebraska Bank in Nebraska City, Nebraska on August 22, 2014. He is wanted in connection to a string of other bank robberies in Idaho, Washington and in California. In one of these 2012 robberies he shot a police officer…

     The suspect, dubbed the "AK-47 Bandit," stormed the bank in Nebraska with an assault style rifle and a black duffle bag…He emptied the front drawers before ordering all employees to the vault area. He told one employee to take money from the safe…

     The suspect has blue eyes, wears a black mask, a bullet-proof vest, and gloves. He's believed to be about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs somewhere between 175 and 200 pounds. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

"Suspected Serial Bank Robber Strikes Again," CNN, August  31, 2014


Monday, September 1, 2014

Three Guatemalan Roommates Involved in a Maryland Murder and Dismemberment Case

     Prince George's County Police officers, at nine-thirty on the morning of Sunday August 24, 2014, responded to a call from a resident of the Arden Pointe Apartments in Laurel, Maryland. The 911 caller had made a gruesome and shocking discovery. In two trash bags lying near an apartment complex garbage bin, the resident had come across human body parts.

     In the course of a thorough search of the area surrounding the revolting discovery, officers found, inside the nearby trash bin, two more bags containing the dismembered parts of a man. The remains belonged to a single person identified, through fingerprints, as 28-year-old Jacinto Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant.

     Investigators determined that the victim had resided at another apartment complex in the neighborhood called Finsbury Court. The dead man had shared an apartment with two other Guatemalans, 32-year-old Santos Leonel Mejia-Yanes and Bayron Cruz-Vargas, 34.

     On Thursday, August 28, 2014, officers arrested Santos Leonel Mejia-Yanes on suspicion of murder. When interrogated by detectives, Mejia-Yanes implicated himself and Bayron Cruz-Vargas in the murder and dismemberment of their roommate.

     According to Mejia-Yanes, he and Cruz-Vargas were arguing with the victim over money. The dispute took place in the apartment and became physical. Mejia-Yanes and Cruz-Vargas gave their roommate a good beating before strangling him to death.

     The two killers placed the corpse in the bathtub where they cut it into pieces. They placed the body parts into four trash bags they planned to dump in four different trash bins at other apartment complexes in the area. At Arden Pointe apartments the two human butchers panicked when they thought they had been observed. They tossed two of the bags into the trash bin and left the other two lying nearby.

     A Prince George's County prosecutor charged Mejia-Yanes with first and second-degree murder. The judge denied the suspect bail. The prosecutor charged Cruz-Vargas with the same homicide offenses.

     Cruz-Vargas was nowhere to be found. Officers believe the fugitive has fled the country.

     Following Mejia-Yanes' arrest, detectives searched the apartment for physical evidence of the dismemberment. The search included checking the plumbing in the bathroom.

     Killers who have the stomach to dismember their victims are either sexually perverted or extremely violent, angry and inhumanly cruel. Fortunately, at least in this country, there aren't many of them. 

Criminal Justice Quote: A Rare Murder Weapon

A man has been arrested on suspicion of killing his brother's friend with a bow and arrow during a dispute at his southern California home. Los Angeles County Sheriff's authorities say 23-year-old Garret Adams was taken into custody at his Lancaster home early Saturday August 23, 2014 after the victim was fatally struck in the upper torso. Investigators believe the victim was trying to break up an argument between Adams and his girlfriend when Adams shot him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital…Deputies booked Adams in the Los Angeles County Jail on suspicion of murder.

"Man Fatally Struck by Arrow in Southern California," Associated Press, August 23, 2014 

Writing Quote: Taking a College Fiction Workshop

It's quite true that fiction writing can't be taught; but the teacher can pass along a few shortcuts and get students interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones. By the end of the semester they'll have developed their critical skills to some extent, will respond more deeply to literature, will know a bit more about human nature than they did at the start. It may not be much, but how many other English courses achieve more?

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980