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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

Darrien Hunt: The Police Shooting of a Black Mormon

     Darrien Hunt lived in Saratoga Springs, Utah, a tight knit mountain community in the Provo-Orem metropolitan area in the north-central part of the state. The biracial 22-year-old and his white mother were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Darrien, an outdoorsman, enjoyed mountain climbing, white water rafting, biking, and hiking. His only scrape with the law came in January 2014 when police officers arrested him in connection with a fight he had with a sibling. The Utah County prosecutor charged Hunt with assault and public intoxication. The prosecutor offered Hunt a deal: if he pleaded guilty, the arrest would be dropped from his record.

     On Wednesday morning, September 10, 2014, someone called 911 to report a "suspicious man" carrying a samurai-type sword outside the closed Panda Express restaurant situated in an outdoor Saratoga Springs shopping mall.

     Corporal Matthew Schauerhamer and rookie officer Nicholas Judson confronted Darrien Hunt outside of the restaurant. According to the police department's account of what happened that morning, Hunt brandished his three-foot sword and lunged toward them. The officers reacted by shooting the charging man several times, killing him on the spot.

     The chief of police placed the Saratoga Springs officers on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation by the Utah county attorney's office. A forensic pathologist with the state medical examiner's office performed the autopsy.

     When the medical examiner refused to make the autopsy results available to Randall Edwards, the Hunt family attorney, the lawyer arranged to have an independent forensic pathologist perform an autopsy on Mr. Hunt's remains. (Attorney Edwards has not revealed the identify of this forensic pathologist.)

     Shortly after the second autopsy, attorney Edwards announced that the officers had shot Darrien Hunt six times in the back. According to the lawyer, the autopsy findings confirmed the accounts of eyewitnesses who reported that when he was shot, Mr. Hunt was running away from the officers.

     Saratoga Springs Chief of Police Andrew Burton, on the department's Facebook page, wrote this about the Darrien Hunt shooting death: "There is more to this story than meets the eye. Many of the details cannot be shared due to the ongoing investigation."

     On September 20, 2014, at a news conference, attorney Randall Edwards said that when the officers shot Darrien Hunt, the young man was wearing a Japanese character anime costume (a Japanese film production featuring animated characters) and carrying a fake samurai sword he had purchased at an Asian gift shop. The attorney said Hunt was role-playing and that the sword was a fake.

     According to Edwards, officers Schauerhamer and Judson were not interviewed by investigators with the Utah County attorney's office until more than a week after the shooting. The attorney called for an FBI investigation of this police-involved shooting. 

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.


Writing Quote: Putting Suspense in True Crime

True crime books should be suspenseful. It's easier to create complete suspense in fiction, but it's still possible to hold back the denouement of a real case for a few hundred pages. It's always a temptation for new writers to give the whole thing away in the first chapter, leaning very heavily on verbatim on police files. If you do that, your book will sound stilted and will go downhill rather than building tension.

Ann Rule in Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton, editor, 2002 

Writing Quote: Plots Need Emotion and Action

There's a difference between an emotional plot and an action plot. If you write stories with emotional plots, it's really hard to get the other. But you've got to have both. The reader gets attached to all the characters, so there's emotional growth and inner turmoil. But it's triggered by something with such great dramatic possibilities. You have to have that outer tension of some kind. It doesn't have to be something cliche, like a car chase. But you need something on the outside. You can't just have inner tension.

Patricia Henley in Novel Ideas, Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love Denman, editors, 2001 

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

The Victor White Case: Suicide or Fatal Police Shooting?

     Victor White III grew up as part of a large family (8 siblings) in Alexandria, Louisiana. He played the drums and sang in the choir of the local Baptist Church where his father served as pastor. In late 2013 White moved two hours south of Alexandria to New Iberia where the 22-year-old had a job at a Waffle House restaurant. According to his girlfriend he was saving money so he could afford an apartment for himself, her, and their one-year-old son.

     On his day off, March 2, 2014, White and his friend Isaiah Lewis walked to the Hop-In gas station and convenience store to buy cigarillos. While they were in the store a fight broke out in the parking lot. Someone called 911.

     A deputy with the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office, in responding to the 911 public disturbance call, spotted White and Lewis walking along the street about six blocks from the scene of the fight, a melee  involving young black men. Since Victor White and his friend were black, the deputy sheriff pulled over and confronted them.

     The officer, pursuant to the street inquiry, patted down White to determine if he were armed. In so doing, the deputy felt a bag in White's pocket that contained marijuana. At this point the officer placed White under arrest, handcuffed him behind his back, and issued him his Miranda rights. A more thorough body search incident to the arrest produced, on White's person, a container of cocaine. The officer placed the arrested man into the back of the police car and drove to the sheriff's office.

     At the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office, according to the police version of what happened, Victor White refused to exit the vehicle. The deputy summoned help. A short time later the officers heard a gun go off from inside the patrol car. Deputies found White slumped over in the back seat.

     Shortly after being rushed to a nearby hospital Victor White died from the single bullet wound. Following this shooting death of a handcuffed man in police custody, the Iberia County sheriff called in the Louisiana State Police to conduct an investigation of the incident.

     According to early news accounts of the case, Victor White had committed suicide by shooting himself in the back with a gun the deputy sheriff had missed in his stop and frisk and in his full body search.

     In August 2014, Iberia County Coroner Carl Ditch provided the White family with a copy of the autopsy report. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy determined that the fatal bullet had entered the right side of White's chest, perforated his lung and heart, then exited near his left armpit.

     According to the autopsy report, the entrance wound was not surrounded by gunpowder stains usually found in cases of close range shots associated with self-inflicted shootings. The forensic pathologist noted abrasions around White's left eye. According to the toxicology report, the dead man had alcohol and marijuana in his system.

     In a news release Coroner Carl Ditch announced the manner of Victor White's death as suicide. The coroner said he had reached this conclusion after "every other manner of death in the case was ruled out." Obviously aware that questions would be raised regarding how, under the circumstances of this case, White could have shot himself in the chest, the coroner noted that because of the dead man's physique, he would have been able to manipulate the gun to a position consistent with the entrance wound. The forensic pathology did not explain what it was about Victor White's body that allowed him to pull off that feat.

     In early September 2014, a spokesperson with the Louisiana State Police said the results of that agency's investigation had been turned over to the Iberia Parish District Attorney's Office. When reporters asked District Attorney Phil Haney if he had determined not to charge anyone in connection with White's death, the prosecutor replied that he would withhold making that decision until the FBI completed its inquiry into the shooting.

     The White family is not satisfied with the coroner's manner of death ruling. Moreover, there is deep distrust of the state police investigation. The family has added attorney Benjamin Crump of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown fame to the family's legal team. 

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 

Writing Quote: Are Successful Writers Jerks?

Like many, I've often been disappointed when meeting a writer whose work I admire, only to find that person off-putting. Some are downright obnoxious. How could such an unpleasant human being write with such sensitivity, such insight and candor? Or are the two connected? Perhaps rudeness and the courage to put your work on public display are symbiotic. An ability to reveal unattractive parts of yourself on the page and in person dips from the same well. That's why it's not necessarily a bad thing for a writer to lack social grace.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Writing Quote: Spare Versus Thin Fiction

     Fiction writers tend to fall into two broad camps: those who overwrite and those who underwrite. And, while a novelist may be able to get away with writing a spare story, a thin story will never ignite the reader's imagination. A spare story is one in which the writer deliberately chooses to pare down every element, using a small cast of characters, only one or two subplots, and little exposition and description. A well-crafted, yet spare story can work when every word counts and there is enough information to take the reader on a fictional journey. Ernest Hemingway usually wrote spare stories, but readers still feel immersed in his stories and understand the ramifications of the plot on the lives of his characters.

     A thin story, on the other hand, is not based on deliberate choices, but rather on inexperience. In a thin story, the writer does not supply enough sensory data, creating a story line that can't be followed with confidence because of a lack of needed information. Spare stories spark the reader's imagination, but thin stories do not have enough data to do so, leaving the reader confused. In these anemic offerings, the reader is often adrift, longing for detail to place him in the scene, a hint about the themes or deeper meanings, or any doorway into the writer's intentions. 

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

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. 

Writing Quote: The Fictitious Memoir

Truly the modern memoir has become so debased--or liberated--as a genre that there is little difference between the memoir and what used to be called "the autobiographical novel."

Lewis Nordan in Novel Ideas, Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love Denman, editors, 2001 

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 

Writing Quote: Satire in Fiction

     Satire is the opposite of truth telling. Satire is a big lie mobilized to get a comic effect. Sometimes the lie is mere exaggeration, sometimes it is a complete invention. Either way, satire is an attack weapon. It inflates the faults and foibles of powerful people or conventional ideas, with the intention of making them look ridiculous. "Humor belongs to the losers," said Garrison Keillor, and that's what satire is about. It's a kind of revenge, often very sweet and always triggered with anger.

     Jonathan Swift was the father of modern satire. In scathing books like A Tale of a Tub, The Battle of the Books, and Gulliver's Travels, Swift mocked the pretensions and prejudices of his own time. His technique was quite simple and works as well today as it did in the 1700s. He picked his target, imagined a fantastic metaphor and exaggerated everything. For example, in Gulliver, he created a deadly satire on prejudice with the story of the "Big Endians" and the "Little Endians," two groups locked in eternal battle over which end to open a boiled egg.

     Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller crafted marvelous satires on the Second World War, using Swift's tools of exaggeration, fantasy and aggressive ridicule. But contemporary satire is harder. Politics and popular culture have moved almost beyond the reach of ridicule. It's difficult to come up with something so bizarre that it won't actually happen before your piece appears in print. So satire can be risky for a fiction writer, who always risks being upstaged by reality.

David Bouchier in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Writing Quote: Learning The Lessons of LIfe Through Writing

I've heard it said that everything you need to know about life can be learned from watching baseball. I'm not what you'd call a sports fan, so I don't know if it is true. I do believe in a similar philosophy, which is everything you need to know abut life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Writing Quote: Lean Versus Flabby Writing

     I don't subscribe to the view that good editing requires the ruthless elimination of every single word that is not logically essential to a sentence. Sometimes idiom or the natural cadence of English favors phrases that aren't stripped to the bone. There's nothing wring with "hurry-up" even though "hurry" means the same thing.

     But in many cases, extraneous words really do gum up our prose; many padded expressions are weak, flabby and ineffective.

Phillip B. Corbitt, The New York Times, September 16, 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: The Horror Genre and the Thrill of Fictitious Fear

Fear is fun. Being frightened is delicious. We tend to giggle when we're really scared--partly to expel the tension, partly because we're having such a good time. I'm not talking real fear. No one enjoys encountering a knife at the throat, or facing a loaded gun, or fighting the horrors of cancer. But a book or movie or a TV show can't physically hurt us. Instead, they provide an escape hatch, a way for us to deal with the fact that death is as natural as birth and that no one gets out of life alive. Manufactured horror on a page, in a theater, or on a television screen, allows us to transcend our own mortality--at least for the duration of the story. It's a way to surmount the horrors of the real world. And, as I say, it's a lot of fun. That's why we allow ourselves to be frightened over and over. By tapping into our primal fears, bringing the things of darkness into the light, we achieve an act of personal triumph. We feel brave; we've faced the monster and survived. We emerge with a grin and a giggle, we've put Old Mr. Death in his place.

William E. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

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: Children's Literature Not Watered-Down Adult Literature

Most people think writing for children is easier than writing for adults. Just take a good story, simplify the plot, round the sharp edges, throw in a moral and use plain language. Thousands of writers turn out stories using this recipe. But these writers don't sell their stories to publishers. Children are sophisticated, savvy readers. They reject sermons. They avoid condescension. And they resent a dumbed-down attitude.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

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. 

Writing Quote: Fiction for Men

     Some authors appeal mainly to men: Tom Clancy, Len Deighton, Jack Higgins, Gavin Lyall, Frederick Forsyth, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Gerald Seymour. This is neither praise nor blame, it's just a fact. I don't think there's a school of writing that's classified as Bloke Lit, not yet. But it may be the next big thing.

     Points that come to mind about writing for men are: Men like information and excitement. Men like heroes and heroines who are lookers. Men like shorter books. [Most true crime readers are women. Women like their crime, and they like it real.]

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

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 

Writing Quote: Fiction is About People, Not Words

     I've had this conversation with many fiction writing students…Basically what's happening is this: The student is telling you that he has given up trying to write stories about people because he can't find anything to say about them, and wants your blessing as he launches a new student career of writing words about words.

     Give him nothing. This is a crucial moment in his life. If you let him go he's likely to end up with a doctoral degree in rhetoric and will spend the rest of his life teaching undergrads how to write words about words. The best thing to do is to put him up against the wall and threaten to shoot him if he doesn't shut up with that silly stuff.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

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 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Sleeping Burglar

     A Florida burglary suspect is facing charges after police found him asleep in the bedroom of a home he was trying to burglarize. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said they were responding to a burglary call Monday September 8, 2014 at a residence in Nokomis, Florida when they found Dion Davis, 29, asleep on a bed next to a bag of stolen jewelry. A cleaning lady made the call to authorities after discovering the passed out suspect…

     The sheriff's office posted a photograph of a sleeping Davis on their Facebook page, accusing the suspect of "falling asleep on the job." Davis didn't even wake up when deputies arrived and started taking pictures. Davis is facing charges of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling…

"Florida Burglary Suspect Caught Napping on the Job," CBS News, September 10, 2014 

Writing Quote: You Can't Learn Anything From Watching a Writer Write

     Sitting down to write isn't easy. A few years ago, a local high school asked me if a student who is interested in becoming a writer might come and observe me. Observe me! I had to decline. I couldn't imagine what that poor student would think, watching me sit, then stand, sit again, decide that I needed more coffee, go downstairs and make some coffee, come back up, sit again, get up, comb my hair, sit again, stare at the screen, check e-mail, stand up, pet the dog, sit again…[I'm glad I turned down the same request from my local high school because my writing routine is more boring than this writer's.]

    You get the picture.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Writing Quote: Humor: A Difficult and Risky Genre

There may be a certain risk with humor. Someone said it's not only ten times harder, it's fifty times harder to bring an audience to laughter than to bring it to tears. With humor, it's easier to bomb…You don't want to be corny. Corny is something that's not funny.

Gail Galloway Adams in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Young Wildfire Arsonist

     Arson-for-profit is generally an adult male crime while serial, pathological fire setting is often committed by teenage boys. The rare female arsonist is likely to be a 30 to 50-year-old woman who set the fire in her own dwelling to attract attention and sympathy. It's even rarer when a young girl intentionally sets a fire that causes extensive property damage. Because fires set by females are generally not motivated by financial gain, they are by definition pathological offenses. This doesn't necessarily mean that these fire setters are legally insane. In cases of  young female arsonists, the perpetrators set the fires because they are angry with their parents, their teachers, or the world in general. While these fire setters are rare, they are dangerous.

     On May 14, 2014, someone set a fire north of San Diego that raged for eight days and burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 buildings including homes in the towns of San Marcos and Escondido, California. The so-called Cocos Wildfire threatened several schools including California State University in San Marcos.

     The Cocos Wildfire cost $28 million to extinguish and destroyed $30 million worth of property. According to cause and origin investigators, the fire had been intentionally set.

     In July 2014 arson investigators identified an unnamed 13-year-old girl as the suspected Cocos fire starter. She resided near the point of origin with her parents who schooled her at home. She was also a top competitor in the San Diego area junior cycling program. (Investigators have not revealed how they solved the case.)

     Rather than being placed into a juvenile detention facility, the authorities released the suspected arsonist to the custody of her parents. Under the terms of this arrangement she is not allowed out of the house from six in the evening to six in the morning. The rest of the day she has to be accompanied by a parent when she leaves the house.

     Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered that the young defendant undergo psychological evaluation to determine if she is mentally competent to stand trial on the charges of felony arson. On August 20, 2014, following a three-week evaluation process, Juvenile Court Judge Rod Shelton found the suspect mentally competent to stand trial. She has, according to the psychologists, the capacity to understand the nature of the charges against her as well as the ability to help her attorney plan a defense.

     At the suspect's arraignment on the felony arson charges she pleaded not guilty. She will remain in the custody of her parents until her trial. 

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

Writing Quote: Manuscript Submission: The Good Old Days

     Legend has it that, when Margaret Mitchell contacted a publisher about Gone With the Wind, she hauled two stacks of manuscript pages as tall as she was into the publisher's hotel room and said, "Here it is." Part of the manuscript was typed, part was handwritten, some pages were drenched in spilled coffee, and some chapters were included in multiple versions.

     Today, she'd be asked to haul it all home, boil it down to a two-page query letter, and get an agent.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

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 

Writing Quote: Week Story--Bad Movie

Story is the strongest element in writing. Structure seems to be the great weakness in our current movie fare. I found at Universal when I worked there with relatively new or young writers that they were generally good with dialogue, character development, atmospherics, but weak in their storytelling.

William Link in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McLeer, editor, 2008 

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 

Writing Quote: Unnecessary Drama and False Emotion in the Documentary Film

     In the documentary film, you want to avoid creating unnecessary drama--turning a perfectly good story into a soap opera. There's no reason to pull in additional details, however sad or frightening, when they aren't relevant…

     False emotions--hyped-up music and sound effects and narration that warns of danger around every corner--is a common problem, especially on television. As in the story of the boy who cries wolf, at some point it all washes over the viewer like so much noise. If the danger is real, it will have the greatest storytelling impact if it emerges organically from the material.

Sheila Curran, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 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


Writing Quote: Employing Narrative in Nonfiction

The narrative is what we usually mean by the word "story." A narrative has a beginning, middle, and end. It is organized chronologically, though not necessarily strictly so. One of the most useful and simplest pieces of advice about writing I ever received was the time-honored adage "Show don't tell." The narrative shows readers what happened, often in vivid detail. Of all the forms of writing, it is the one that strives to re-create reality for the reader.

John B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998 

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: Galileo: The Patron Saint of the Hack Expert Witness

What is good science? How can we identify it? The trial lawyer and his acolytes will never tire of telling stories about how high priests of science have been proved badly wrong by "cranks" and "mavericks" in times past. Galileo, the patron saint of all heretics, figures often in such stories. Let's not ostracize the "mini Galileo," pleads a plaintiff's lawyer; the legal system must be "capable of advancing." Honor the expert at the edges of the bell curve," advises attorney Alan Levin, "as was Galileo and as are other people at t he frontiers of medicine and science."

     No doubt about it: the views of the establishment are sometimes wrong, in science and medicine as in the law. Galileo gained fame by challenging one orthodoxy but eventually became part of another; he refused to believe that the moon caused tides, or that planets moved in ellipses…

     But science has changed profoundly since the days of Galileo…This is most particularly true of medical science.

Peter W. Huber, Galileo's Revenge, 1991