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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Private Security

Although America inherited the historic English tradition of citizens individually and collectively protecting self and neighborhood, this concept slowly moved to the background in the nineteenth century with the formation of public police departments. But when crime rates were rising in America during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, citizens and commerce tried once again to develop their own ways to feel safer and protect their assets. Institutions created internal security measures or hired outside personnel and consultants. Individuals, organizations, and business proprietors spent money on a wide variety of security products and services. [In the retail sector, reducing employee theft and shoplifting is called loss prevention.]

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

Writing Quote: Creating Ghosts, Vampires and Werewolves

     Suppose you have a strong desire to use a ghost, vampire or werewolf as your central horror novel menace. Is it still possible to utilize such conventional monsters? Will editors buy yet another vampire novel when so many have already been written?

     The answer is yes: Editors are always receptive to novels and stories containing supernatural monsters, but they must be freshly presented; your stories must offer new insights and a fresh approach.

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tim Lambesis Sentenced in Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, 19-year-old guitarist Tim Lambesis, a graduate of a San Diego area Christian high school, formed a heavy mental band called "As I Lay Dying" (the title of a William Faulkner novel). The group's sixth album came out in the fall of 2012 prior to a tour of Asia. The band was scheduled to kick-off a U.S. tour from Oklahoma City on May 30, 2013. Many of the band's songs included Christian themes of forgiveness and struggle.

     In 2011, Lambesis and his wife Meggan separated. According to divorce papers, she accused him of becoming emotionally distant from her and the three children they adopted from Ethiopia. She complained that he had become obsessed with bodybuilding and touring. Meggan also accused her estranged husband of having a "string of women."

     In April 2013, the 32-year-old rock star, on two occasions, confided to a man who worked out at his gym that he wanted to have his wife killed. Lambesis told this man his wife made it difficut for him to visit his children. The man in the gym Lambesis reached out to reported Lambesis' homicidal wishes to the San Diego County Sheriff's Office. Shortly thereafter, Lambesis met with an undercover police officer posing as a hit man named "Red".

     In the recorded murder-for-hire meeting, the heavy metal rocker handed Red an envelope containing $1,000 in cash, a photograph of his wife, the security gate code to the Encinitas, California estate, and a list of dates in which Lambesis would have an alibi. According to court documents, the murder-for-hire mastermind also gave the undercover sheriff's department officer instructions on how to kill Meggan Lambesis.

    At two in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 7, 2013, San Diego sheriff's deputies arrested Lambesis as he shopped at a mall in Oceanside. The officers booked him into the Vista Jail on the charge of solicitation of murder.

     The day after his arrest, at his arraignment, Lambeis pleaded not guilty to the murder solicitation charge. The judge set his bail at $3 million. Forty-eight days later Lambesis posted his bond. The judge required him to wear a GPS device.

     The murder-for-hire suspect's attorney told reporters that his client had been set up by the man in the gym. If convicted as charged Lambesis faced up to nine years in prison. His fans and people who know the entertainer expressed shock over the murder-for-hire accusation.

     On September 16, 2013, the Superior Court Judge, after hearing preliminary hearing testimony from the undercover officer and other prosecution witnesses, bound the murder-for-hire case over for trial.

     In February 2014, Lambesis pleaded guilty in a Vista, California courtroom of soliciting an undercover officer to murder his wife. At his sentencing hearing on May 16, 2014, the former rock star's attorney said his client suffered brain damage as a result of using steroids. The deputy district attorney dismissed the claim. She called it a flimsy, illogical excuse for what in reality was a calculated plan to have a person murdered.

     The judge sentenced Lambesis to six years in prison.  

Criminal Justice Quote: The Diminishing Death Penalty

The death penalty in America currently affects a tiny percentage of all persons convicted of crime, and is used frequently in only one region of the country. In the peak year of 1999, a total of ninety-eight persons were executed in the United States. Seventy-four of the ninety-eight were put to death in southern states, half in Texas and Virginia alone. Even among all persons found guilty of murder, the numbers who reach execution make up less than one-half of 1 percent. In the big statistical picture of criminal punishment, the death penalty is barely visible.

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

Writing Quote: What is Setting?

Many novelists avoid laying out the setting because they fear boring their readers, but the lack of vivid setting may in turn cause boredom. Without a strong sense of place, it's hard to achieve suspense and excitement--which depend on the reader's sensation of being right there, where the action takes place. When descriptions of places drag, the problem usually lies not in the setting, but in presenting the setting too slowly. Make your descriptions dynamic and quick; give bits of setting concurrently with character and action.

Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer's Workshop, 1995

Writing Quote: Writing About Animals

I write about animals because I really like animals. I'm also interested in the animalistic side of human nature, and when and why humans cross over into doing very violent things. [When animals become gratuitously violent they are acting like humans. In other words, violent human behavior is more humanistic than animalistic.] Writing about animals is a way of getting at readers' emotions. People sometimes open up their emotions to animals more easily than they do other people. You see that with the way people get so obsessed with their pets. A big thing you see in New York is a person walking their dog with a diamond-stud collar, right past a homeless person. [Unlike people, dogs do not become paranoid schizophrenics.] That interests me as well. My stories are about people, but I use animals as vehicles to get at the people.

Carole Burns, Off the Page, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shawn Ryan Thomas: The Would-Be Rapist Killer

     On June 12, 2014, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Officers arrested 29-year-old Shawn Ryan Thomas on charges of premeditated attempted homicide, attempted sexual assault, and ten counts of possession of child pornography. According to a confidential informant, Thomas planned to lure two parents and a juvenile female to a vacant house in Orlando under the charade of producing a television show. Investigators believed that Thomas intended to murder the parents with a knife then rape and kill the girl. He also planned to film the rape for a DVD he could sell.

     Police officers reported that Thomas lured a father, grandfather and child to a vacant house on June 7, 2014 but the family became suspicious and left.

     At the time of his arrest, Thomas possessed a bag containing a knife, sexual lubricant, a camera and tripod, and plastic sheets. The judge denied Thomas bail.

     

Writing Quote: Horror Fiction: When to Introduce Your Monster

     In a story or novel, when should your monster be introduced? Should you have him, her, or it attack your  protagonist in the beginning, perhaps on the opening page?

     There is no set rule as to how soon you should bring your monster center-stage front, but in nearly all of the best horror fiction, an aura of menace and potential danger is established right away; the monster is not introduced until much later, allowing you to provide tension and suspense for your readers as they nervously await meeting your menace at full force. The actions of the monster can and should be dramatized early; a murder, or a scene during which the effect of the monster is shown without a full revelation of the creature itself.

William F. Nolan, How to Writ e Horror Fiction, 1990

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Football Player Cold-Cocked His Girlfriend and Got Away With It

     In 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice lived in Reistertown, Maryland with his fiancee, Janay Palmer. At three in the morning on Saturday, February 15, 2014, while Rice and Palmer were staying at the Revel Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he punched her unconscious in a hotel elevator.

     According to the police report, in the midst of an argument, Palmer slapped the football player in the face. He responded with a punch that knocked her out. When she came to on the carpet near the elevator door, she refused to receive medical attention. She and Rice checked out of the hotel and went home.

     Jim McClain, an Atlantic County prosecutor, decided not to charge the 27-year-old Rice with assault.

     On February 19, 2014, TMZ Sports aired a videotape that showed Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator. She was seen lying facedown on the hotel floor.

     Officials with the National Football League (NFL) reviewed the incident pursuant to the league's personal conduct policy. Under that clause, the NFL had the authority to suspend Rice for the season or banishing him from the league. On July 24, 2014, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the three-time Pro Bowler from playing in the first two games of the upcoming season.

     Reporters covering the case for ESPN, USA Today, and other media outlets criticized Goodell and the NFL for not taking domestic abuse in the league seriously.

     After being knocked cold in the hotel elevator, Janay Palmer married the man who dropped her to the floor with one punch.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Hit And Run Murders in Philadelphia

     Three children helping their mother operate a fruit stand were killed on Friday, July 25, 2014 when a stolen SUV plowed into a small crowd on a Philadelphia street corner. Killed were 10-year-old Tomas Reed, 7-year-old Terrence Moore and 15-year-old Keiearra Williams. Their mother, 34-year-old  Keisha Williams remained in critical condition at Temple University Hospital…

     Two men, one black, one Hispanic, carjacked a real estate agent showing a house. They pushed the victim into the backseat of her Toyota SUV. The men drove around Philadelphia at high speeds while holding the real estate agent at gunpoint…When the SUV rounded a corner it slammed into the family raising money for their church. Another person at the fruit stand was injured by the carjacked vehicle.  Shortly thereafter the stolen car crashed in a wooded area. The two carjackers fled the scene and have not been apprehended.

"Carjackers Run Over, Kill 3 Siblings in Philadelphia," CNN, July 26, 2014


      

Criminal Justice Quote: Criminal Defendants Are The Stars of Their Trials

It is a fact of life that victims get lost in murder trials as the focus of attention shifts to the defendant in the courtroom. It is also a fact that the defendant becomes a sympathetic figure in many people's eyes. The charismatic star O. J. Simpson dominated the proceedings the moment he made his entrance into the courtroom each morning, totally aware of the effect his presence made. His cadre of lawyers, as well as one of the deputies assigned to guard him, were deferential to him. His every reaction, from his frequent exasperation to his occasional laughter, captivated the attention of the room. When photographs of the slashed victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, lying in grotesque positions in gallons of blood, were flashed on the large screen in the courtroom, observers no longer recoiled in horror. They had become used to them.

Dominick Dunne, Justice, 2001

Writing Quote: Dialogue in a Memoir

     A fellow memoirist and reviewer writes: "I'm reading a memoir now where the author has written four chapters full of dialogue for events that occurred when she was four years old. Over half the book occurs before she is ten and it's all about what people said and felt. I don't see how much of this could be possibly true."

     My friend's got this right: Nothing makes a reader question memoir more indignantly than the things set aside by quotation marks…

     Unless you walked around your entire life with a tape recorder in your pocket, dialogue will become one of the greatest moral and storytelling conundrums you will face when writing a memoir. You may feel that you need some of it, a smattering at least, to round-out characters, change the pace, dissect the rub between what was thought and what was actually said. You may need dialogue because in life people talk to one another and readers want to know what they said. They want to know the sound of the relationships.

     Dialogue isn't, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary in a memoir…But when it's done right, it feels essential. It seems to bring one closer to the story's heart.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013

Sunday, July 27, 2014

CJ Quote: The Counterfeiter

The most difficult, intricate crime involves counterfeiting money. Wait, let me rephrase that. The most difficult, intricate crime is successful counterfeiting. Unsuccessful counterfeiters are everywhere, particularly in prison, having failed to live up to their expectations.

Chuck Sheppard, America's Lest Successful Criminals, 1993

Writing Quote: The Book Tour

You're lucky to go on tour. You're lucky to meet readers who prize your work and who seem as though they might be honored to meet you. You're lucky to eat the pretzels in the minibar. You're lucky to see cities you have never seen. These things are indisputable. Anyone will tell you.

Rick Moody in Mortification, Robin Robertson, editor, 2004 

Criminal Justice Quote: Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     It's not true that the only reason criminals return to the scene of the crime is to make sure they didn't leave any evidence. Mostly, they return to the scene of the crime because they're stupid.

     Thomas Lancaster, twenty-one, came back to the doughnut shop he had just robbed a few minutes earlier at knifepoint in Oxnard, California. He wandered in, sat down, and tried to order a cup of coffee. The clerk merely beckoned to the police officer who was taking down all the information for the robbery report, and he made the arrest.

Chuck Shepherd, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993

Spider-Man Punched NYC Cop

     Junior Bishop, dressed as Spider-Man, told a woman who took his photograph on July 27, 2014 in Times Square that he only accepted $5, $10 or $20 bills. As the two argued, a New York City Police officer intervened. The 25-year-old Spider-Man impersonator cursed at the police officer then punched the cop when the officer tried to take him into custody. This was, of course, very unSpider-Man-like conduct. 

     After assaulting the police officer, Spider-Man fled the scene on foot. Had he been the real thing, his escape would have been more dramatic, and successful. A group of police officers, a few blocks away, took Bishop into custody.

     A Manhattan prosecutor charged Bishop with assault, resisting arrest, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Writing Quote: Flawed Characters

I'm fascinated by characters who are completely flawed personalities, driven by anguish and doubt, and are psychologically suspect. Wait a minute--basically that's everybody, isn't it, in life and on the page? As a writer, I'm drawn to characters who, for one reason or another, seem to find themselves desperately out of joint, alienated but not wanting to be, and ever yearning to understand the rules of the game.

Chang-rae Lee, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The SWAT War on Family Dogs Continues

     Instead of leaving with drugs and weapons they were sent to find, a Minnesota SWAT team executing a no-knock drug raid left with the bodies of a family's two dead dogs. "The first thing I heard was "boom," Larry Lee Arman told a reporter in recalling the raid in St. Paul at seven in the morning, July 9, 2014…

     Armed with a warrant for drugs and weapons, the SWAT unit barged into the house while Arman slept on a mattress with his two children. The officers shot Mello and Laylo, the family's two pit bulls. "One was running for her life, and they murdered her right here," Arman said. His sneakers were still stained with his dogs' blood. "I was laying right here and I thought I was being murdered."

     Camille Perry, Arman's girlfriend and the mother of the two children, was in the bathroom when the SWAT team broke down the front door. She expressed anger that the children could have been injured.  "The only thing I was thinking was my kids were going to get hit by bullets," she said…

     After the shooting and a search of the house, the SWAT unit failed to find any weapons. They recovered marijuana residue, some clothing, and a bong…Neighbors were not pleased by the incident. "All of a sudden, we see the dogs thrown out like pieces of meat, like they were nothing," said a neighbor. "We teared up because those dogs were real good dogs."

Chuck Ross, "SWAT Unit Kills Two Dogs," The Daily Caller, July 9, 2014 

Writing Quote: Writing Class

When Katherine Anne Porter taught creative writing at the University of Virginia, her method was to sit the student writer down and read his story to him aloud. That's all there was to it, or so I've heard tell. I've also heard tell that one student, before his story was half read, broke down and ran out of class. [I would have been right behind him, all the way to the registrar's office to get my tuition back.]

John Casey in The Writing Life, 1995 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Prison Violence in Georgia

     Thirty-three prisoners and one officer have been killed in Georgia since 2010, according to a report released on July 2, 2014 by the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta…"People are supposed to be running our prisons have lost control," said Sarah Geraghty, senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights. "It appears they either cannot or will not  take appropriate steps to address the level of violence."…

     In January 2014, a prisoner at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia, suffered third-degree burns after another inmate poured boiling water on his face and genitals. The attacker also poured bleach into the victim's eyes. In February 2014, a prisoner had three fingers severed by a man with a 19-inch knife. The assault occurred at the Wilcox State Prison in Abbeville, Georgia. And in June 2014, an inmate at Augusta State Medical Prison in  Grovetown, Georgia died after being stabbed…

     The report highlighted three Georgia prisons as particularly dangerous: Baldwin State Prison, Hays State Prison and Smith State Prison. Twenty-one percent of the 33 homicides of Georgia prisoners since 2010 took place at Smith State Prison located in  Glennville, Georgia…

Dana Ford, "Scathing Report Shines Spotlight on Violent Attacks in Georgia Prisons," CNN, July 2, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Eyewitness

Before a witness can recall a complex incident, the incident must be accurately perceived at the onset; it must be stored in memory. Before it can be stored, it must be within a witness's perceptual range, which means that it must be loud enough and close enough so the the ordinary senses pick it up. If visual details are to be perceived, the situation must be reasonably well illuminated. Before some information can be recalled, a witness must have paid attention to it. But even though an event is bright enough, loud enough, and close enough, and even though attention is being paid, we can still find significant errors in a witness's recollection of the event, and it is common for two witnesses to the same event to recall it very differently.

Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, 1979

Writing Quote: Want to be Humiliated? Agree to Book Readings and Signings

     Writers can only moan to each other about all this, really: the humiliating reading to an audience of two, the book signing where nobody turns up, the talk where the only question is "Where did you buy your nail varnish?" Nobody is really going to care, are they, if we sit alone and unloved beside our pile of books, approached only once in the two hours by a woman who tried to flog her manuscript…

     Humiliation, though one of a writer's specialties, is not an entirely unknown sensation to everybody else. We do expose ourselves, of course, by offering up our work to the world's critical stare, or, worse, its indifference. It's what we sign up for: that people give up their money and  their precious time to read about characters who have never existed. And there's a price to pay for this chutzpah.

Deborah Moggach in Mortification edited by Robin Robertson, 2004 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Victimized by Crooks and Cops

     David Sturdivant, a 64-year-old ex-Marine (Purple Heart/Vietnam) was doing okay in Atlanta, Georgia. He lived alone in a two-story house, and worked in his own engine repair shop attached to his dwelling. Mr. Sturdivant had recently been the victim of neighborhood burglars who had broken into his shop and swiped his HAM radio, various electronic items, a couple of riding mowers, and his tools. Things had gotten worse when thieves stole his two antique Thunderbirds.

     After awakening from a nap at one oclock in the afternoon on April 8, 2011, Mr. Sturdivant looked out his second-story window and saw a pickup owned by Dennis Alexander, its tailgate open, parked near a riding mower in the shop for repair. To Mr. Sturdivant, it looked like Mr. Alexander, a man with a criminal history of burglary and theft, was about to steal the mower. David Sturdivant stepped out onto his balcony and yelled, "Get off my property and stop stealing my stuff!" When Alexander mocked the property owner, Sturdivant entered his house and returned with a commercial grade M-14 rifle. From the balcony he fired one bullet into the ground to frighten Alexander off the property.

     Close by, Atlanta police officers working with a television crew filming a segment for the reality TV show "Bait Car," heard the shot. In less than two minutes they were on the scene shouting at Sturdivant to drop his rifle. Without taking the time to fully comprehend the situation, three officers fired fourteen shots at Mr. Sturdivant. One of the bullets tore into his stomach. Mr. Sturdivant had not shot at the officers, and had not pointed his rifle at them.

     A week after the shooting, hospital personnel discharged Mr. Sturdivant. He rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair less one a kidney and missing several inches of his colon. Police officers immediately took him into custody and hauled him off to the Fulton County Jail in his wheelchair. The district attorney charged Sturdivant with four counts of aggravated assault for pointing his gun at the police officers. He also stood accused of aggravated assault for shooting at the suspected thief, and for possession of a weapon in the commission of a crime. If convicted of all charges, and given the maximum sentence, Mr. Sturdivant faced 105 years in prison.

     While Mr. Sturdivant recovered from his bullet wound in the jail's hospital ward, looters cleaned out his house and business then burned the dwelling and shop to the ground.

     At a preliminary hearing on October 27, 2011, the suspect turned down the district attorney's offer of a probated sentence in return for a misdemeanor plea. Claiming total innocence, Mr. Sturdivant rejected the plea bargain.

     On November 11, 2011, a judge tossed out the prosecutor's case against Mr. Sturdivant. After serving seven months in the county slammer, Mr. Sturdivant was free. But he had nowhere to go except to the local VA hospital. Mr. Sturdivant lost his house, his business, his household belongings, his antique cars, his tools, his kidney, and a piece of his colon. The man had no family, poor health, and no future.

     Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Witnessing a Serious Event

When a witness sees a serious event such as a crime or traffic accident and then must recall it later, three major stages can be identified: the acquisition state, the retention stage, and the retrieval stage. In the acquisition stage, there are numerous factors that will affect the accuracy of the initial perception. Some of these factors, such as the amount of time the witness had to look at whatever is going to be remembered, are inherent in the situation itself. Other factors, such as the amount of stress a witness is experiencing, are inherent in the witness. Both event factors and witness factors can dramatically affect a witness's ability to perceive accurately.

Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, 1979 

Criminal Justice Quote: Teens Murder Homeless Men

     In July 2014, Albuquerque police were investigating whether three teenagers suspected of beating two homeless men to death with cinderblocks, bricks and a metal fence pole were responsible for dozens of other attacks on transients during the past few months. Alex Rios, 18, and two boys, ages 16 and 15, were held in Bernalillo County detention facilities a day after allegedly killing two sleeping men in a open field in an attack so violent it left the victims unrecognizable…A third man said he was able to escape.

     The teens said they wanted to look for someone to beat up and possibly rob. One teen told the authorities the other was "very angry" over a breakup with his longtime girlfriend. [Longtime?] A criminal complaint said one of the teens told police they had attacked more than 50 people in recent months…

     Officers responded Saturday, July 19, 2014 around eight in the morning to a 911 call reporting two bodies in a field. Officers found one victim lying on a mattress and another on the ground. Jerome Eskeets, a third victim, who said he was able to flee, was hospitalized for his injuries.

     Eskeets told police that he recognized one of the "kids" hitting and kicking him as someone who lived in a house nearby. Police found the trio of suspects in that house. The homeowner said the 15 and 16-year-old were his sons and Rios was a friend who had spent the night…

     A local prosecutor charged Rios with two counts of murder. The younger boys will be charged with murder as adults…Rios told investigators he acted as a lookout while the other boys attacked both men with bricks, sticks, and a mental fence pole. The younger suspects, however, told police that Rios also took part in the attacks. All three had covered their faces with black T-shirts before approaching the victims. According to the 15-year-old, they all took turns picking up cinderblocks and repeatedly smashing them into the men's faces.

     The suspects said that after the attacks, they took one of the victim's driver's license and debit card. Police found the driver's license in the teen's home…

"Police: Teens in Homeless Beating Deaths May Have Attacked 50 Others in Recent Months," Associated Press, July 21, 2014  

Writing Quote: Learning From Others

     If you want to be a writer you must read a lot. There's no way around this that I'm aware of, no shortcut.

     I'm a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don't read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It's what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don't read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Father Beats Up His Son's Abuser

     In Daytona Beach, Florida, a father punched and kicked an 18-year-old man unconscious after finding him sexually abusing his 11-year-old son early Friday, July 18, 2014. The father called 911 at one in the morning after he walked in on the abuse. When the officers arrived, they found Raymond Frolander motionless on the living room floor. He had several knots on his face and was bleeding from the mouth.

     "He is nice and knocked out on the floor for you," the father told the 911 dispatcher. "I drug him out  to the living room."… When asked if any weapons were in involved, the father said, "my foot and my fist."

     Daytona Beach Chief of Police Mike Chitwood, in speaking to reporters said, "Dad was acting like a dad. I don't see anything we should charge him with. You have an 18-year-old who had clearly picked his target, groomed his target and had sex with the victim multiple times."

     Frolander was charged with sexual battery on a child under 12. He was being held without bail. According to the arrest affidavit, Frolander admitted the abuse.

Associated Press, July 21, 2014


Criminal Justice Quote: Rounding up Pedophiles in the United Kingdom

     Police in the United Kingdom arrested 660 alleged pedophiles following a six-month investigation. The suspects included doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers, and former police officers. On July 16, 2014, the United Kingdom's Crime Agency reported that the operation occurred across the UK and included 45 police forces…

     The operation, kept secret until the arrests, involved targeting those accessing online images of pedophilia. Thirty-nine of those arrested were registered sex offenders. The rest of the suspects had been unknown to the police. The charges ranged from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual abuse…

     These arrests followed a series of pedophilia scandals that have dogged the UK. In July 2014, the authorities revealed that in the 1980s, politicians in the UK routinely abused vulnerable children….

Mirren Gidda, "UK Police Arrest 660 Suspected Pedophiles," time.com, July 17, 2014

     

Writing Quote: Promoting One's Book

     Authors have to promote their books, and they have to be flashy about it. Especially these days. You can't imagine anything less frivolous, and more painted in grim necessity, than an average mid-list bookstore signing in 2014. The audience is hushed and minuscule, the shattered-looking author can't believe he's there--the whole thing has the last-ditch solemnity of a persecuted religious rite. Oh sure, there have been good reviews; there have been polite acclaim. Fellow authors have kicked in with the blurbs and the boosts. A prize might have been won. But as regards this book, and this writer, the great sleep of the culture is unbroken

     So: You find new formats, new ways to perforate the oblivious disregard in which America holds you, the dark night of your unfamousness. The problem of course is that it's all so, you know, unliterary. Anti-literary, really. In the promotional moment, what has hitherto been an inward enterprise (the writing of the book) is turned outward overnight; the author is all of a sudden on display.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

John Valluzzo Shot to Death by Police Officer on Domestic Disturbance Call

     John Valluzzo, a wealthy, 75-year-old entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist, lived in a 9,000-square foot mansion in the historic town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. In 1995, the Army veteran funded and helped finance the Military Museum of Southern New England located in Danbury, Connecticut. Valluzzo made his fortune in manufacturing and real estate. He owned a world-class rare book collection as well as a home in Palm Springs, Florida.

     On Friday, May 24, 2013, Valluzzo's 53-year-old girlfriend, Anna Parille, had come to the estate to pick up some clothing for a wedding she planned to attend. Although Parille owned a house in Danbury, she occasionally resided with Valluzzzo in Ridgefield. Parille also owned an award-winning video production company called Inside Look, TV. Before becoming a successful real estate agent, she had operated, for 18 years, a nursery school called Kenosia Kids. Parille hosted a television show, and had published a children's book.

     According to reportage in The New York Times, at five-thirty that Friday evening, Anna Parille phoned a friend in Florida. During that call, Parille reported that she and Valluzzo were fighting and that he was drunk and was brandishing a gun. The friend, on her own without Parille's knowledge, called the Ridgefield Police Department and reported a domestic disturbance at the Valluzo estate.

     When officers rolled up to the mansion they were greeted by Valluzzo who stood in his yard armed with a handgun. Officer Jorge Romero, a seven-year veteran of the force with the Bridgeport Police Department, ordered Valluzzo to drop the weapon. Instead of complying with that command, Valluzzo raised his gun. Officer Romero responded by shooting the armed man several times. Valluzzo died later that night at a hospital in Danbury.

     The New York Times, relying on information provided by a friend of Anna Parille's who witnessed the incident, published a narrative at odds with the police version of the shooting. The New York Times version involved the police entering the Valluzzo house through a back portico off the kitchen. One of the officers yelled, "Freeze! Freeze!" before he shot Mr. Valluzzo as he stood in his kitchen. Immediately after the shooting, Officer Romero reportedly said, "What did I do?" as other officers tried to console him.

     By all accounts, Jorge Romero, a good-natured, low-key man, had been an excellent police officer. In April 2013, he received a commendation for his May 2012 investigation of 26 car burglaries. The Ridgefield chief of police placed Romero on desk duty pending the investigation of the shooting by the New York State Police.

     It didn't matter where Mr. Valluzzo stood when Officer Romero shot him as long as Mr. Valluzzo possessed a handgun and raised it in a manner that threatened the officer. Simply because Officer Romero expressed remorse over the shooting did not necessarily render the lethal force unjustified.

     In July 2014, State Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky announced that under Connecticut law, officer Romero had been justified in shooting Mr. Valluzzo.
     

Criminal Justice Quote: Robbers Have Bad Days, Too

Police arrested Michael Smith in 1990 for a street corner robbery in Rochester, New York. The 29-year-old robber held up a couple getting out of their car. His weapon of choice was a realistic toy gun. However, the female victim reached into the glove compartment and pulled out her own realistic toy gun, leading Smith to drop his realistic toy gun. As Smith fled the scene, the couple alerted a neighbor who caught Smith and leveled him with a baseball bat. Smith managed to escape further beating but the police arrested him after following his trail of blood.

Chuck Shephard, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Silicon Valley Sex Trade

     The arrest in July 2014 of alleged prostitute Alix Tichelman in connection with the death of Google executive Forrest Timothy Hayes has prostitutes worried about the impact on business [The authorities in Santa Cruz, California charged Tichelman with manslaughter in connection with Hayes' heroin overdose death on his luxury boat in November 2013.] "I do worry that people are going to think that this is something that's normal and happens, but it really doesn't," said Maxine Holloway, a high-end prostitute working in Silicon Valley. Other sex workers expressed worry as well--though none said they had experienced cancellations...

     A second issue affecting business was the shut down of MyRedbook, a website that allowed escorts to advertise their services and negotiate with clients. Women in the industry relied heavily on MyRedbook to do background checks on their clients. Sex workers would post about instances of violence or  circumstances in which they felt unsafe. Without MrRedbook, prostitutes were having a difficult time vetting their clients…

     Male clients also used the site to review and discuss their experiences…Call girls say that the further underground sex work goes, the more dangerous it is for everyone involved…

     Another prostitute said she has a roster of regular clients from major tech companies. She is a high-end prostitute and estimates she's made nearly $ million over the ten years she's been working in the area. She says that her clients [I guess they don't call them Johns in the high-end prostitution prostitution  business.] are increasingly worried about their own security, which is one of the reasons they come back to her. They know what they are getting.

Laurie Segall and Erica Fink, "Sex Valley: Tech's Booming Prostitution Trade," CNN, July 11, 2014

Writing Quote: Creating Miserable Characters With a Sense of Humor

I like to read stores where people suffer a lot. If there's no suffering, I kind of tune out…I do have a weakness for funny characters who can't shut up to save their lives…

Gary Shteyngart, The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Kills California's Death Penalty

     Since 1979, 900 inmates in California have been sentenced to death. But only thirteen have been executed. One of those unexecuted death row prisoners, Ernest Dewayne Jones, murdered and raped his girlfriend's mother in 1993. In 2011, Jones filed a petition with the federal court for the abolishment of the death penalty in the state. The lawyers filing the motion petitioned the judge to replace executions with life without parole sentences.

     In 2006, another federal judge in California placed the state's death penalty on hold until corrections officials overhauled their lethal injections procedures and protocol. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in an effort to comply with this judge's mandate, built a new execution chamber on the grounds of San Quentin in northern California.

     On July 16, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney declared California's death penalty unconstitutional. The judge wrote that "arbitrary factors" such as the manner in which corrections bureaucrats determined who would be executed and who wouldn't, made the process unfair and unpredictable. Moreover, the state's lethal injection procedures, according to the judge, created a risk an inmate might suffer pain during the execution.

     In concluding that California's execution law and procedures violated the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, Judge Carney wrote: "As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they have languished so long on death row that their executions serve no retributive or deterrent purpose." [No retributive purpose? Tell that the the families of the people these cold-blooded killers had murdered without regard for the pain and suffering of their victims.]

     Since most of California's death row inmates die of old age before their dates with the executioner, the federal judge's ruling will have little practical affect on the state's criminal justice system.

     The improvement of the state's execution facility in response to the 2006 federal ruling turned out to be another example of California tax money poured down the drain. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Constables Shoot Unarmed Man Over Parking Tickets

     Things turned ugly on July 17, 2014 when two Pennsylvania state constables attempted to serve a man with a warrant because he had accumulated 31 unpaid parking tickets. The two officers approached Kevin McCullers in the garage at his residence in a suburb of Allentown at 7:30 in the morning. McCuller's girlfriend, Hafeezah Muhammad said McCullers was in the car about to leave for Dunkin' Donuts.

     The constables positioned themselves on both sides of McCullers' car. One of them told him to turn off the car, and he did. There was a short conversation. Then, according to Lehigh County district attorney James Martin, one of the constables opened the driver's side door of the vehicle.

     McCullers responded by restarting the car. He began backing out of his garage with the car door ajar. That's when the constables drew their guns and fired. One constable shot the 38-year-old in the back. The other officer shot out the vehicle's left front tire.

     One of the constables told the district attorney he and his partner pulled their guns and fired because they felt threatened while standing in the garage as McCullers tried to back out. McCullers was unarmed.

     McCullers' girlfriend said the constables could have walked up to the front door of their house to serve the warrant. "They never knocked on the door! No nothing," she told a local TV reporter. "I just heard the gunshots. He pulled the car out of the garage and all I heard were gunshots."…

     Muhammad said McCullers may never walk again. "For parking tickets," she said. "It's insane."

     The district attorney expressed concern about the fact a constable--an elected state official--shot a man and possibly left him paralyzed over unpaid parking tickets…The prosecutor said the office of constable--a Pennsylvania oddity--is troubling because people who hold the job are poorly prepared and largely unaccountable. "Although they receive training, they really operate under no one's direct supervision," he said. The district attorney said the shooting would have been avoided had McCullers entered into a payment plan to pay the money he owed.

     [For years law enforcement leaders and lawmakers in Pennsylvania have tried to abolish the position of constable. This is not the first incident of excessive force on the part of one of these officers. And it won't be the last.] 

Writing Quote: Is Promoting Your Book an Exercise in Futility?

     Writers are prone to take themselves very seriously, which is fine, except it also means they sometimes find the self-promotional aspects of their craft distasteful, if not downright excruciating. Writing is about the journey, not the destination, right? And book selling is such an inexact science, it would be near impossible to prove that more publicity necessarily translates into more sales.

     Except it often does. Sure, there are veteran authors who have to do nothing than hit "send" on a manuscript before the Time magazine cover gets scheduled and the royalty checks start pouring in; others, thanks to whatever particular combination of timing and talent, seem to skyrocket into the public consciousness out of nowhere. But they are the exception, not the rule

     Then there are the rest of us. As the editor of two well-publiczed but by no means best-selling books, it would make sense for me to deem aspects of book promotion frivolous--sales of my first book were proof that multiple appearances on high-profile public radio and morning news shows don't always move the needle--but I do believe promotion is a necessary, if often exhausting endeavor.

     [Hillary Clinton's dishonest and boring memoir, Hard Choices, 2014, provides a excellent example of a book failing despite an extreme amount of publicity. In the end, all the promotion in the world won't help a truly dreadful book.]

Anna Holmes, The New York Times Review of Books, May 25, 2014

Writing Quote: Should Novelists Have Children?

I think it has to be faced: There's something in writing, in being a writer, that is inimical to family life. Or vice versa. P. G. Wodehouse made the point with his usual levity and grace by dedicating The Heart of a Goof  to "my daughter Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time." A priest friend of mine pointed out to me that all the great works of mysticism were written by celibates: "If they'd had kids, they'd all have been too tired to pray." The writer is a solitary person, immersed in moods. The defect, the brain splinter that makes a person a writer is anti-domestic. He or she waits, yearning, for the moment when the imagination goes rogue and love and duty go out the window. Writers are not easy to live with. Children need, require, and deserve attention. So what's the answer? If you happen to find out, do me a favor and let me know.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, June 15, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Writing Quote: You Want to be a Writer?

You can't envy writers who were persecuted, imprisoned or put to death for their writing. You can't envy writers whose greatness went unacknowledged in their lifetimes. The careers of alcoholic writers and writers who ended up committing suicide are also hard to covet in any wholehearted way. Even the steadiest-seeming, most successful writers tend, on close examination, to have suffered significant and distinctly unenviable episodes of professional misery at some point in their careers. Self-doubt and self-loathing are occupational hazards of a writing life, and no writer--with the exception of the awesomely sanguine John Updike--ever escapes them altogether.

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Corpse on Wheels

     There is nothing more unsettling while driving than seeing a corpse strapped to a gurney rolling down a busy highway. That is exactly what happened when a Buck's County coroner's van in Festerville, Pennsylvania lost control of the body when the rear doors flew open.

     Bystander Jerry Bradley saw the corpse and the gurney rolling along with traffic. He took control of the stretcher and wheeled it off the road…"Just when I thought I'd seen everything," he said.

"Corpse Rolls Out of Coroner's Van," Associated Press, July 14, 2014

Writing Quote: Contemporary American Fiction

If I am to be honest, I must admit that most books disappoint me. Contemporary American fiction in particular. What so many writers seem to have forgotten, or never to have learned in the first place, is that reading should not be a torture. I will also admit that I find whimsy fatiguing.

David Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Writing Quote: The Impostor Syndrome

Feeling like a fraud or con artist can be a hazard of the writing profession; there's a fine line, Balzac wrote, between the artist and the criminal.

Adam Langer, The New York Times Book Review, January 19, 2014

Writing Quote: The Shared Interests of Truman Capote and John O'Hara

It would be hard to think of two novelists less alike--stylistically and, for that matter, personally--than Truman Capote and John O'Hara, yet they shared many preoccupations. Both were fascinated by society high and low, by how people climbed or toppled from one rank to the other, and by how sex and money underpinned the entire system.

Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Power of Journalism

News carries with it a promise of transparency, a light that can be shined into previously dark corners. It is far from a coincidence that the rise of the popular press spelled eventual doom for monarchs of all types. Once the news becomes democratized, governance is sure to follow. [It's no secret that in America, modern bureaucrats and politicians loath the idea of a free press and free speech. Those in power do not like transparency. Government is all about dark corners, and secrets. Some in America believe that members of the so-called mainstream media are nothing more than propagandists for people in power. Instead of journalistic watchdogs they have become establishment lapdogs.]

David Carr, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Citizen Solves His Own Hit and Run Case

     When a hit and run driver in Smyrna, Georgia struck Jacob Rogers, a 39-year-old riding his bicycle to work, police told the victim it would be difficult to find the suspect. That's when he decided to conduct his own investigation. He had stopped that morning on July 17, 2014 at an entrance to an apartment complex. What happened next caught him by surprise. "I didn't see anything so I proceeded, and that's when I got hit," he said.

     A female driver of a silver Volkswagen pulled out of the apartment complex and ran into Rogers. "So I'm still on my bike," he said, "and she forced her way through me." The Volkswagen pushed him aside and took off.

     Rogers said that although he wasn't hurt seriously, he suffered pain in the foot that was on the bike pedal struck by vehicle. Part of the pedal broke off, and Rogers couldn't find the piece at the hit and run site.

     The next day, Rogers went back to the apartment complex to look for a silver Volkswagen."The first car that I saw was a silver Volkswagen," he said. I took a picture of the rear license plate and checked the front for damage." In front grill he found the missing piece from his left bike pedal lodged in the vehicle.

     A police officer resident of the apartment complex ran the license plate. Shortly thereafter Smyrna police officers arrested the car's owner. They took 20-year-old Pablynne Silva into custody. A local prosecutor charged her with misdemeanor hit and run, an offense punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

     Pablynne told officers she had driven off after hitting the man on the bike out of fear of getting into trouble with the law.

  

Friday, July 18, 2014

CJ Quote: The Professional Plaintiff

     A Brooklyn jury awarded more than $500,000 to a man who sued the city for a broken ankle he suffered during an arrest for shoplifting. The jury awarded Kevin Jarman the damages on July 16, 2014. The 50-year-old Jarman filed the suit after pleading guilty to shoplifting at a Queens, New York Pathmark in 2011…

     The New York Post reported that Jarman had received other payouts from the city. In 2005, he sued the New York Police Department for false arrest after a drug sale charge was dropped. The city settled for $15,000. In June 2014, the city settled for $20,000 after Jarman sued the police for false arrest in another drug case.

"NYC Shoplifter Awarded $510,000 From Jury For Broken Ankle," Associated Press, July 17, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Author as Celebrity

     I remember when looks started to matter in publishing. I began writing in the late 1960s--just as publishing was turning into an industry. The cult of personality had arrived, and writers could no longer be private people as my grandfather, my mother and my uncle, all professional novelists, had been. The notion of having author photographs on book jackets appalled them: They believed they could write freely only if they felt anonymous.

     My generation had no such qualms. We poured out our indignations, our quirky personalities, made ourselves vulnerable. I was young when my first book was published and had quick success; I roared round the world on the Concorde, from one international convention to the next. I like to think it was because I wrote good novels, not because I fluttered my eyelashes, but really, who can say? With age things calm down. Publicity photographs give up trying to make you look sexy and try to make you look intelligent.

Fay Weldon, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Decline of the Author/Literary Biography

Disagreement over the merits of literary biography will likely subside by default, as the form begins to extinguish itself. Even among those who like it, demand is bound to slacken: Novelists' lives are considerably less interesting than they used to be. Longer, yes, but much drier in every sense; less full of rivalrous brawling, less harrowed by the unemployment that was so ofter their lot before creative writing programs started offering them day jobs. For another thing, literary biography will be crippled by the absence of many of its old tools. Writers' drafts, those manuscripts that show, line by line, how writers came to do what they did, now disappear with the deleting drag of the mouse; and for all the supposed permanence of tweets and Facebook posts, the deliberate letters that writers used to save and bundle have largely been replaced by emails and texts they don't bother to archive.

Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Serial Rapist on the Loose in Tulsa

     He breaks into homes from the back, either through a window or door. He tends to be covered, and attacks when it's dark. Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma know that much about the man they say could be behind a string of recent sexual assaults…They have no name and no photograph of the rapist. Victims have provided diverse descriptions of the rapist, ranging from a light-skinned black or Hispanic man to a tan white man…

     According to police, there have been eight connected cases of sexual assault in the city in June 2014. Investigators have linked these cases because of specific actions and statements the rapist made during the attacks. The victims were between 56 to 78-years-old. One of the victims was 29…

Dana Ford, "Facts are Short, Fear is Long in Tulsa as Cops Search for Serial Sex Attacker," CNN, July 1, 2014

Writing Quote: Setting the Mood

     The beginning mood in a piece of writing could be compared with the background music you hear at the start of a movie. That music--whether ominous, offbeat, or cheerful--gives you a pretty accurate idea of what kind of movie you'll be watching.

     Many books begin with a description of a place that sets the mood for what is to follow. A lead like this can be a sly way of introducing one of the themes in a book. [Truman Capote opens In Cold Blood by describing rural Kansas, the site of the Clutter family murders.]

Ralph Fletcher, Live Writing, 1999

Writing Quote: Writer Humiliations

     Experience has taught me that hardly anyone in or out of a book store will know who I am, or care. I have learned to live fairly comfortably with my writer's humiliation, and have worn it like a second skin over my original thinner one. After all, humiliations are suffered by most writers most of the time. And--to express a thought about life in the real world, for once--a writer's humiliations are chicken feed as compared with those endured by people who work for a living, and are grateful simply to make it home at night. Writers are already home.

     Naturally, some stinging recollections rise out of the past from time to time, such as that evening at a book fair in Providence, Rhode Island, when I stood beneath a golden banner with my name in red lettering, misspelled. It would have bothered me less had the banner not been provided by my publisher. And that evening in Washington, D. C., when I was seated at a table bearing a tall stack of my latest book while a dozen non-buyers ambled past, paused, picked a book from the stack, opened it, read a clause or two, and returned it to the stack. (Truth be told, there have been several such incidents.) And that afternoon in Miami, when I appeared for an interview specifically requested by a local radio station, and the interviewer began, "Who are you?"

Roger Rosenblatt, The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 2014 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The O.J. Simpson Jury

The makeup of the Simpson jury kept changing. Three jurors were gone, replaced by alternates. A sixty-three-year old white woman was replaced by a fifty-four-year-old black man after she allegedly became involved in a shoving match with another juror, and accused several black jurors of being pro-O.J. Despite subsequent denials by the court and the white juror concerning the event, the daily admonishment of Judge Ito to the jury not to discuss the case among themselves seemed not to be very effective. The resulting jury consisted of nine blacks, one white, one Hispanic, and one person of mixed race. [As they say, the rest is history.]

Dominick Dunne, Justice, 2001

Criminal Justice Quote: What Kind of Community Pays Tribute to a Cop Killer?

     The "cop killer memorial" that disgusted the nation has been torn down. The candles lit to memorialize Lawrence Campbell, the accused killer of officer Melvin Santiago, as well as the empty bottles of liquor, the balloons, and the t-shirts inscribed with messages of love to Campbell, are gone…
   
    The shrine went up on Sunday, July 13 in Jersey City, New Jersey at Orient Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive. It appeared on the side of a red brick building that houses a mini-mart, a bar and residential housing. Lawrence Campbell ambushed the police officer that morning at the Walgreens drug store killing Santiago before officers shot him dead. Campbell lived in the neighborhood.

     News of the shrine caused a furor when The New Jersey Journal first reported it…Mayor Steve Fulop called the memorial "disgusting."…In a statement released by his spokeswoman, Mayor Fulop took credit for having the memorial torn down…"I am not going to let a few residents pretend like they express the views of a great city like Jersey city," he said.

     But residents who live near the shrine defended it. "There's two lives lost," said one man inside the Columbia Tavern. Another said it "bothered" him that the police took away the shrine. "Even though it was the wrong thing to do, there were two lives lost," he said.

"Jersey City Tears Down 'Cop Killer' Shrine," Associated Press, July 15, 2014

Writing Quote: Writing in the Active Voice

     Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive tense

     The timid fellow writes, "The meeting will be held at seven o'clock" because that somehow says to him, "Put it this way and people will believe you really know." Purge this thought! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put the meeting in charge! Write, "The meeting's at seven." There, by God! Don't you feel better?

     I won't say there's no place for the passive tense. Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa is a fair way to put this, although "was carried" and "was placed" still irk me. I accept them but I don't embrace them. What I would embrace is, "Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa." Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It's dead…

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fascinating Murder Cases: Twenty-Five Types

     Most crimes, even serious ones, make the nightly news or the local newspaper once or twice then slip into media oblivion. A few attract local or regional public interest for a period of time. Only a handful of cases become national news stories, and even fewer rise to what could be called celebrity crime status. Celebrated crimes of the twentieth century would include the Lindbergh kidnapping, the O. J. Simpson murder, and the John F. Kennedy assassination. I don't think the twenty-first century has seen its first truly celebrated crime. But there have been quite a few fascinating murder cases over the past fourteen years.

Twenty-five types of murders that can become, if not celebrated, at least highly newsworthy:

* Murder cases featuring strong suspects with no eyewitnesses or physical clues.
* Serial murders with plenty of physical clues but no suspects.
* Dismemberment cases involving innocent and unlikely victims.
* Carefully planned murders by physicians, priests, university professors, and other unlikely suspects.
* Black widow poisoning cases involving several dead husbands.
*Angel of death hospital poisoning cases involving several patients.
* Murder investigations that feature either brilliant or bungled police work.
* Murder-for-hire cases involving unlikely masterminds.
* Murders featuring professional athletes.
* Sudden and suspicious death cases involving dueling cause and manner of death testimony.
* Murders involving dueling blood spatter, ballistic, and human bite mark evidence.
* Murder trials involving obvious suspects but missing bodies. (So-called no-body cases.)
* Murders involving evil kids from upper-middle class families.
* Love triangle murder cases involving prominent people and plenty of sex.
* Murders involving TV and Movie actors.
* Major mafia hits.
* Domestic bombing cases involving many victims.
* Mass school shootings.
* Murders with unusual motives.
* Murders involving unusual murder weapons.
* Murderous armored truck heists.
* Murder trials involving the acquittal of obviously guilty defendants.
* Murder cases featuring the conviction of innocent defendants.
* Cold case murders solved by modern forensic science.

     

Writing Quote: Movies, TV, and the Novel

     Movies have always seemed to me a much tighter form of storytelling than novels, requiring greater compression, and in that sense falling somewhere between the short story and the novel in scale. To watch a feature film is to be immersed in its world for an hour and a half, or maybe two, or exceptionally three. A novel that takes only three hours to read would be a short novel indeed, and novels that last five times as long are commonplace.

     Television is more capacious. Episode after episode, and season after season, a serial drama can uncoil for dozens of hours before reaching its end. Along the way, its characters and plot have room to develop, to change course, to congeal. In its near limitlessness, TV rivals the novel…

Mohsin Hamid, The New York Times Book Review, March 2, 2014

Writing Quote: Book Clubs

I love book clubs. I love reading for them, I love talking to them, and if I had my choice I'd probably do nothing but visit them to promote my books. Where else do you find people who have already made a commitment to read your book, and to read it closely enough to discuss it in a knowledgeable fashion with their friends? The best insights I've ever been offered about my work have come from book club members. In a world full of readings attended by the inevitable, random 5 to10 bookstore browsers and 20-year-old assistant night managers who consistently mangle the title of your book, book clubs are an oasis of intelligent thought and discussion.

Kevin Baker, The New York Times Book Review, January 12, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Historic FBI Burglary at Media, Pennsylvania

     On a March evening in 1971, eight antiwar protesters burglarized an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, with astonishing ease. A few weeks of elementary surveillance had shown the vulnerability of the target: There were no cameras to elude, no alarms to disconnect. Because the building contained residential apartments, the group choose the night of the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali heavyweight championship fight, an ideal distraction. [Frazier came from Philadelphia and was the hometown favorite.]

     It turned out that the Pennsylvania office [a branch resident agency within the Philadelphia field division], like so many others across the country, had almost no physical protection. Security was largely symbolic, resting on the bureau's carefully buffed reputation for efficiency in tracking down America's "most wanted" criminals, from bank robbers to atomic spies. Put simply, no one messed with J. Edgar Hoover's FBI…

     The stolen material included the secret case histories of thousands of Americans. Much of it was malicious gossip about things like sexual deviance and race-mixing, two of Hoover's favorite subjects. Had this been all, the FBI very likely would have weathered the storm. Its pubic relations machine was enormous, and the officials charged with overseeing its operations were themselves wary of what lay in the files. Hoover had served for almost 50 years, under eight presidents, because nobody dared fire a man who, in Richard Nixon's words, could "pull down the temple with him, including me." [Hoover died less than a year after the burglary.]

     But there was more…the most important stolen document was a routine routing slip containing the word "Cointelpro." The term meant nothing to the burglars, for good reason. Cointelpro was among the FBI's most carefully guarded secrets, a huge program of dirty tricks and illegal activities designed to "expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize" groups deemed subversive by the director…

David Oshinsky, "Breaking In," The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Deputy Kills 13-Year-Old Boy Carrying Replica AK-47

     On the afternoon of Tuesday, October 22, 2013, in Santa Rosa, a city of 170,000 in California's wine country fifty miles northwest of San Francisco, 13-year-old Andy Lopez walked to his friend's house. The popular boy, dressed in a blue hooded sweatshirt, carried a brown plastic pellet gun with a black banana magazine that looked like an AK-47 assault rifle. The replica weapon did not come equipped with the required orange-tipped barrel. Tucked into his waistband, the boy also carried a toy handgun that did feature the orange tip.

    At three in the afternoon that day, two Sonoma County sheriff's deputies in a marked patrol car spotted Andy Lopez walking in the field not far from his house. The officer behind the wheel, a sheriff's office trainee, pulled the cruiser to the curb, turned on the emergency lights, and chirped the siren. The other officer, deputy Erick Gelhaus, radioed in a suspicious person report.

     Positioned behind an open car door, deputy Gelhaus shouted to the boy faced away from him. Twice the officer yelled, "Drop the gun!" As the Andy Lopez turned, the barrel of his pellet gun rose up. That's when Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran of the force who had served with the Army in Iraq, fired eight shots. Seven of the bullets entered the boy who died on the spot.

     The shooting occurred just ten seconds after officer Gelhaus called in the suspicious person report. Sixteen seconds after the boy went down the trainee called for medical assistance.

     The next day, a hundred or so people marched on city hall in protest of the shooting of "an innocent boy."

     Across the country, over the past few years, more than a dozen people armed with BB, pellet, and replica guns have been shot by the police. In a few places realistic toy guns have been banned by law. In several jurisdictions laws of this nature is moving though the legislative pipeline.

     On Friday, October 25, 2013, the sheriff of Sonoma County announced that his office would probe  the shooting. The county district attorney said her office had opened an investigation of the incident. In the meantime, the sheriff placed the the two deputies on paid administrative leave. Deputy Gelhaus, a certified training officer, had been mentoring the other officer in the car.

     On October 30, 2013, Santa Rosa resident Jeffrey Westbrook told a local television correspondent that on August 21, at eight-thirty in the morning, deputy Gelhaus had stopped him on Highway 101 for failing to use his blinker. Westbrook pulled his black BMW onto a narrow shoulder above a steep hillside. As the deputy approached the car, Westbrook moved the vehicle toward a wider spot on the shoulder. Officer Gelhaus yelled, "Turn off the car!" then pulled his gun and pointed it the weapon Westbrook.
.
     Deputy Gelhaus, his gun still aimed at Westbrook, ordered the motorist out of the vehicle. The deputy asked the motorist if he possessed a weapon. Westbrook did not have a gun in the car. Deputy Gelhaus did not issue a ticket to the upset motorist. Mr. Westbook said he intended to file a formal complaint against the deputy.

     In defending the officer, a sheriff's office spokesperson pointed out that Westbrook's car matched the description of a vehicle that was on the "be on the lookout" sheet.

     In July 2014, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced that her officer would not file criminal charges against Deputy Gelhaus in connection with the Lopez shooting. A member of the community protesting this decision, in speaking to a local newspaper reporter, said, "The district attorney is giving permission to the deputies to kill our children. They get a paid vacation and there are no repercussions."  

Criminal Justice Quote: Target Shoppers: Leave Your Guns at Home

     Target is "respectfully" requesting that shoppers not bring guns into its store. [If you're a robber it's okay.] The retailer posted a notice on its website on July 2, 2014…"Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course we will continue to do so," the notice says. "But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests do not bring firearms to Target--even in communities where it is permitted by law. We've listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members. [When did they start calling store clerks "team members?" What team? Target may be creating an "inviting atmosphere" for robbers who can now enter the store knowing that no one in the place is armed.]…

     The Minneapolis-based retailer says guns in its stores are "at odds" with the family atmosphere it champions. Gun rights advocates made headlines in 2014 by openly bringing weapons into some Target stores, a demonstration of their rights to openly carry firearms in public. Chipotle restaurants made a similar decision in May 2014, days after gun rights advocates made national headlines by bringing assault-style weapons into a downtown Dallas restaurant. [A really stupid move by gun rights activists.] Chipotle said in its statement that "the display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers."

John Bacon, "Target 'Respectfully Requests' Shoppers Don't Pack Heat," USA Today, July 2, 2014



      

Criminal Justice Quote: The Boy in the Cage

     In Anaheim, California, on July 1, 2014 , police arrested the parents of a severely autistic boy after investigators determined that the 11-year-old had been kept in a large metal cage, possibly to control his violent outbursts…Police found the cage--one similar to an extra-large dog kennel--in the home with a mattress and other bedding inside. It was roughly 6 feet tall, 5 feet long, and 4 feet wide with room to stand. The police did not find the boy in the cage. Family members gave officers varying accounts of how long the parents incarcerated the boy. Some said hours, others indicated periods of days…

     After an anonymous tipster called Orange County Child Protective Services, officers went to the house, arrested the parents and booked them into jail on suspicion of felony child endangerment and false imprisonment. The child looked well-nourished and appeared otherwise healthy. His two siblings also looked in good shape. All of the children have been placed into protective custody…

     The parents speak limited English, and investigators were using translators to sort out details in the case. Other relatives lived in the house and one room was rented to another family with children…

Gillian Flaccus, "Police: Autistic Boy, 11, Kept in Cage," Associated Press, July 2, 2014




Writing Quote: The Slow Death of the Mainstream Novel

     In our time, the only type of fiction that shows definite signs of fading from our culture is the traditional, unclassifiable story variously identified as literary, academic, and mainstream. If your writing cannot conveniently be defined as suspense, romance, western, or science fiction, your chances of publishing under a major imprint are about as likely as being struck by lightening while being kidnapped by terrorists on your way to claim your million-dollar lottery check.

     As with all trends, this one is governed by the laws of commerce. General fiction is a hard sell.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004
      

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Cop Beats Up Homeless Woman in Los Angeles

     In Los Angeles on July 1, 2014, a video shot from a car showed California Highway Patrol officer chasing a woman on foot through traffic. In the video, the officer catches up to the woman, spins her around and takes her to the ground. The pair struggled, but the officer ends up on top. From that position he repeatedly punched the woman in the head.

     "He's beating her up," said the man filming the incident. "Oh my gosh, why?" a woman asks. As the officer punched the woman, another man rushed to the help the officer subdue the woman. The CHP officer then handcuffed her…

   Another witness told a TV reporter that the woman "did not look well, mentally." According to this witness, as the officer punched her, "she looked terrified. She just looked gone." The witness said the woman was not wearing shoes and carried several bags indicating that she was homeless.

     A CHP spokesperson said the agency was aware of the video and was investigating the incident…

Chuck Ross, "California Highway Patrol Beats Barefoot Bag Lady," The Daily Caller, July 4, 2014


Writing Quote: Writing Negative Reviews

     The publishing industry, we hear, is in trouble. So why would a sensible writer tell people not to buy a book? If the novel, as we also hear, is moribund or dead, why drive another nail into its sad little coffin? And lately there seems to be a cultural moratorium on saying something "bad" about anyone or anything, unless you're a politician, in which case that's your job...

     There was a time when I wrote negative reviews…I admit it provided a wicked sort of fun, especially when I was writing for an editor-friend who delighted in sending me books that weren't exactly "serious" but got under my skin. Sadly, it's easier to be witty when one is being unkind. Friends would say, "Oh, I just adored your hilarious essay on that celebrity's memoir about her fabulous face-lift." And what would they say when I praised a book? Nothing.

     Even so, I stopped. I began returning books I didn't like to editors. I thought, life is short, I'd rather spend my time urging people to read things I love. And writing a bad book didn't seem like a crime deserving punitive public humiliation…

     But in the last year or so I've found myself again writing negative reviews--as if quitting for three decades I'd suddenly resumed smoking, or something else I'd forsworn. Once more, it's a question of what gets under my skin, and of trying to understand why. I've begun to think, if something bothers me that much, life is too short not to say so

Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review, February 16, 2014 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Phoenix Priests Attacked in Church by Paroled Intruder

     Father Joseph Terra and his assistant pastor, Reverend Kenneth Walker, resided in the rectory of the Mercy Mission Catholic Church in a seedy neighborhood in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Father Walker, age 29 and from New York state, had been ordained in May 2012.

     Father Terra, at nine o'clock on the night of Wednesday, June 11, 2014, heard a noise coming from the church courtyard. Upon investigation, the 56-year-old priest came upon a man he did not know or recognize. The toothless, long-haired intruder, a man who looked like he lived on the streets, began attacking Father Terra with a blunt object made of iron. Under attack, the priest fled to the rectory where he grabbed a handgun kept in his bedroom. Because the long-haired assailant had bludgeoned the father's right hand, he was unable to fire the gun.

     The intruder wrestled the gun from the priest and ordered him to get down on his hands and knees. After demanding money, the unkempt attacker shot Father Terra with the rectory gun.

     Assistant pastor Walker heard the commotion and came to help his colleague. The intruder responded by shooting the reverend as well. With the pastors shot and bleeding in the church, the shooter ran out of the church, climbed into Father Walker's 2003 Mazda Tribute and drove off.

     Pastor Walker, thirty minutes after Father Terra encountered the burglar in the church courtyard, called 911 to report that he and the unresponsive pastor had been shot by a white, long-haired man in his fifties.

     As Father Walker waited for the police and ambulance crews, he administered last rites to his gravely wounded colleague.

     Later that night Father Joseph Terra died while being treated at a nearby hospital. Doctors listed Father Walker in critical condition. He was, however, expected to survive the attack.

     Shortly after the shootings, police officers came across Father Walker's Mazda parked four blocks from the church. A team of crime scene specialists processed the vehicle for physical evidence that could link the killer to the church murder.

     Homicide detectives caught a break when a woman called and told them a homeless man recently out of prison had given her a black bag containing a camera. That camera belonged to one of the priests at the Mercy Mission Catholic Church.

     At nine o'clock Sunday night, June 15, 2014, detectives arrested 54-year-old Gary Michael Moran for the murder of Father Terra and the attempted murder of  Reverend Walker. Moran denied shooting the priests, then later confessed to the crimes.

     At his arraignment on Monday, June 16, 2014, Moran pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder, attempted murder, and aggravated assault. The judge ruled that Moran be held in the county jail on a $1 million cash-only bond.

     So, who was this man who had snuck into a church and shot two priests? In 2005, Moran had entered a stranger's apartment, picked up a steak knife, and stabbed the male resident in the abdomen as he slept. Moran pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to ten years in an Arizona state prison. On April 24, 2014, after serving eight years of that sentence, corrections authorities paroled this violent man.

     On June 9, 2014, after meeting regularly with his parole officer, Moran failed to show up for an scheduled appointment. Besides the aggravated assault conviction, Moran had served time for car theft, burglary, and numerous drug related offenses. Since this life-long criminal's release from prison, he had been living on the streets of downtown Phoenix.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Burning Up in a Texas Prison

     Claiming that even the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is air conditioned, prisoners in Texas have filed a lawsuit over soaring temperatures in state prisons they say have killed at least 12 prisoners in the last three years. The suit, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights clinic on behalf of the prisoners, isn't seeking monetary damages. It seeks cooler temperatures for the prisoners. Eighty-eight degrees to be exact.

     The lawsuit, broadly concerned about the lack of air conditioning across state facilities, centers on a facility in Navasota, Texas known as the Wallace Park Unit. Located about 70 miles northwest of Houston, the facility houses about 1,400 men. As of January 2014, 114 men over the age of 70 were housed there. They have no air conditioning, and the windows that do not open provide little relief,  the suit claims, leading to temperatures inside that often exceed those outside. And outside it's hot.

     The suit  cites internal data from The Texas Department of Criminal Justice that found that over the past three years the mercury topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the complain,"Stainless steel tables in the inmate dormitories become so hot to the touch prisoners have to lay towels down on the table to rest their elbows while sitting."

     In addition to the older inmates, the complaint said a number of men have various underlying medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to heat stroke…The lawsuit alleges some 20 deaths since 1998 and details names, ages and internal body temperatures of victims, including cases where the body temperature recorded was well over 100 degrees. One man, 45-year-old Rodney Adams, died one day after his arrival. His internal temperature registered 109.9.

     There is air conditioning in some parts of the facility. The law library, education building and visitation center all are equipped with air conditioning…but the inmates are rarely allowed in these areas. The complaint says that the warden's office and other administrative buildings have air conditioning…

Emma Lacy-Bordeaux, "Texas Inmates Sue Over Lack of Air Conditioning," CNN, June 20, 2014

Writing Quote: The Romantic Heroine

The romantic heroine emerged in the late eighteenth century as the archetypal female figure in modern European culture. Romantic writers like Rousseau and Coleridge made the female heroine's sexual powers both dangerous and unpredictable, mirroring the spontaneity of nature. But they also made her essentially passive, someone acted upon rather that her own agent. As an erotic being whose sensuality was very much of this world, and whose intellect was of minor importance, she stood in sharp contrast to the medieval and early modern woman spiritual figure, who sublimated her sexuality in the search for a closer union with God and was capable of learned comment on theology.

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998

Criminal Justice Quote: Homeowner in Wheelchair Kills Intruder

     A South Carolina homeowner would have been at a distinct disadvantage to a man who invaded his home early Thursday, July 5, 2014. Oriandous Brown, 33, suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. But the Easley, South Carolina man had a gun and used it to defend himself against 26-year-old Atlanta native Darin Lowe…

     Both exchanged gunfire in Brown's living room. The wheelchair-bound man prevailed, however, shooting Lowe several times, killing him. Brown was shot as well but suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Latisha Vernon, a friend of Brown's, and her 17-year-old daughter were in the house during the shootout and called police. Anderson County sheriff John Skipper said that Brown and Lowe knew each other…

Chuck Ross, "Wheelchair-Bound Man Kills Home Invader," The Daily Caller, July 5, 2014 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Writing Quote: The One-Off Novelist

     There will always be that flash in the pan, that one-off novel that strikes the fancy of publishers, sells a few million copies, and gets made into a successful--or unsuccessful--film before the person who wrote it fades into permanent obscurity, laughing, as they say, all the way to the bank. These types of writers have always existed.

     The creators of those largely forgettable and sometimes laughable pieces of prose bang them out, often with nothing more to recommend their work than a fairly decent idea badly realized, a fairly bad idea decently realized, or a schtick of some sort--author as former policewoman, forensic pathologist, weight lifter, beauty queen, seriously abused child, seriously abusive adult come to the Lord or an excellent publicity campaign that worked like a charm.

     What these creators of fiction have in common tends to be that they got lucky. They wrote their novels without an idea in the world what they were doing and the managed to pull it off. Problem was, though, they could not do it again.

Elizabeth George in Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks, 2005 

Criminal Justice Quote: Heavy-Handed Cop Gets Off Light

     A Lafayette, Indiana police officer who shoved a wheelchair-bound man so hard that he toppled over onto the road received a 30-day suspension, though many in his department and the town's mayor wanted to see him fired. Released video from the incident, that occurred in October 2013, showed Lafayette officer Tom Davidson giving a two-handed push to Nicholas Kincade, a 25-year-old man confined to a motorized wheelchair…The authorities released the video on July 1, 2014 in response to a public records request.

     The scene unfolded after Davidson and other police officers were called to a charter school after employees there claimed that Kincade told them he had a gun. Police searched Kincade, but only found a knife that the man said he carried for protection. Kincade left the premises after being told that he could be charged with trespassing…But as Kincade was leaving, he accidentally drove his wheelchair over Davidson's foot. Kincade later said he did not see the officer…

     The video shows Davidson giving an aggressive two-handed shove to an area between Kincade's upper shoulder and head. Trapped in his chair, Kincade simply tipped over and spilled into the road. Davidson moved toward Kincade seemingly unhampered from Kincade's chair driving over his foot. Two of the officers immediately handcuffed Kincade as he was on the ground saying, "now you're going to jail."

     Kincade suffered abrasions to his head and was charged with battery of a a law enforcement officer, though a prosecutor dropped the charge five months later.

     Some officers in the Lafayette Police Department felt that Davidson should have been terminated…Lafayette mayor Tony Roswarski said at a press conference that he agreed that Davidson should have been fired. [Firing a cop is like firing a public schoolteacher. It is almost impossible. Perhaps that's why there are so many bad cops and teachers.]

Chuck Ross, "Video Shows Police Officer Shoving Wheelchair-Bound Man," The Daily Caller, July 3, 2014      

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Death by Rough Sex or Murder?

     On June 5, 2014, a highway cutting high grass along a road in Geneva, Wisconsin, a town in Walworth County 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee, exposed a pair of large suitcases. The overpowering odor of rotting flesh caused the highway employee to notify the police.

     Each of the suitcases contained a badly decomposed body of a woman. Through dental records the authorities identified the women as 37-year-old Laura Simonson and 21-year-old Jenny Gamez. The forensic pathologist, due to the condition of the bodies, could not establish their causes of death. Neither woman, however, had been shot.

     One of Laura Simonson's relatives reported the mother of seven from Farmington, Wisconsin missing on November 22, 2013. While her cause of death was unknown, before she died someone had tied a rope around her neck. That person also stuffed a ball attached to a collar into her mouth. The gag collar looked like a device commonly used by sadomasochists in bondage/slave sexual activity. According to family members, Simonson had struggled with mental illness.

     No one had been looking for the younger woman, Jenny Gamez. According to her foster parents, Gamez had left their home in Cottage Grove, Oregon to start a new life. In 2008, as a fifteen-year-old, she had given birth to a son. The baby's father, in 2010, gained full custody of the child. In keeping with the sadomasochistic theme of the case, someone had tied Gamez's hands behind her back.

     On June 27, 2014, police officers arrested 52-year-old Steven M. Zelich at his home in West Allis, Wisconsin. Zelich had been seen with each woman on separate occasions in Wisconsin and Minnesota. A Wisconsin prosecutor charged Zelich with two counts of hiding a corpse.

     In 1989, the then 27-year-old Zelich started working in West Allis as a police officer. Three years later, following an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, the chief of police forced him to resign. Since 2007 Zelich had been an employee of a contract security guard company.

     Zelich's sexual tastes, in light of evidence of bondage associated with the bodies in the suitcases, led detectives to suspect he was the last person to see these women alive. On a bondage and sadomasochism website, Zelich solicited sexual partners with the following message: "Seeking no limit enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization [no clue] ideally in a farm/caged situation."

     Following his arrest, Zelich told detectives he met the 21-year-old Gamez through the sex website. In November of 2013, he spent several nights with her in a Kenosha County Hotel where they had sadomasochistic sex that included bondage. Upon her accidental death in the course of this activity, he stuffed her body into a suitcase and took the corpse home.

     After connecting with the 37-year-old Simonson through the sadomasochistic Internet site, they engaged in bondage sex at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Rochester, Minnesota. This took place on November 21, 2013. Simonson had checked into the motel under her own name but never checked out. After she died while having sex with him, Zelich placed her body into a suitcase that ended up in his house with the other corpse.

     In late May or early June 2014, Zelich dumped the suitcases along the road in Geneva, Wisconsin. According to Zelich's attorney the women, as willing participants in rough sex, died accidentally. By dumping the suitcases along the road, Zelich wanted the bodies to be discovered. The attorney did not believe that homicide charges in this case would be appropriate.

     This is a tough case. Why didn't Zelich immediately report the deaths to the authorities? Moreover, the fact that two woman died while having sex with him suggests foul play. Have other women died under similar circumstance? Perhaps a polygraph examiner could shed some light on the matter.

   

     

CJ Quote: Locked Up in America

     Life behind bars is invisible to most of us, but if one bothers to look, it's unremittingly grim. About one of every nine American prisoners are serving a life sentence, many of them without the chance of parole, some 10,000 of them for wholly nonviolent offenses.

     More than 50,000 prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement, even though the United Nations special rapporteur [a person assigned to prepare reports] on torture has determined that solitary confinement for longer than 15 days amounts to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." [That may be true, but there is usually good reason these extremely violent men are isolated from other inmates.]

     Prisons offer little in the way of rehabilitation or training for life after incarceration. And even after release, many ex-convicts are barred from public housing, food stamps, certain kinds of jobs and voting. [If I own a plumbing company, I'm not sending a convicted rapist or pedophile into your home to fix your sink.] Should we be surprised that the recidivism rate is 67.5 percent?

     Our proclivity for incarceration costs American taxpayers about $80 billion a year. And that doesn't count the vast indirect costs visited upon the incarcerated, their families and communities. In 2007, there were 1.7 million children in the United States with a parent in prison. [How many of these kids were better off with the parent behind bars? And what would the cost to society be if these criminals were out on the street committing crimes? This is not a simple problem.]

David Cole, "Punitive Damage," The New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2014


Writing Quote: Autobiography As Genre

Since the 1950s literary critics have written hundreds of volumes about autobiography as a genre. The questions they ask come from literary theory. Is autobiography just another form of fiction? A bastard form of the novel or of biography? What sort of story can anyone tell about her or his life when its end is as yet unknown? Is it possible to translate the chaotic ebb and flow of experience into a narrative form with a beginning, a middle and an end? When so much of our consciousness is visual, or  nonverbal, how much of it can we convey through the limited medium of words? Can anyone be both subject and object of the same sentences--the speaker and the subject spoken about? Why is this drive to engage in scrutiny of one's own life so characteristic of the West?

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998