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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Miami Spots Club Shooting Spree Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Novels That Inspired Real-Life Murders

     At his sentencing hearing in 1981, after he was convicted of John Lennon's murder, Mark David Chapman read aloud from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye: I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over…I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all."

     The Catcher in the Rye was the book Chapman had been reading at the crime scene when he was arrested. It was the book that held, as he claimed, his message for the world. He was standing at the cliff; he was just doing his work.

     A few years later, the serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng embarked on what they called "Operation Miranda," a violent spree of torture, rape and murder named for the woman abducted by a deranged butterfly collector in John Fowles' novel The Collector, which they cited as their inspiration.

Leslie Jamison, The New York Times Book Review, September 14, 2014 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Alton Nolen: A Workplace Killing or Terroristic Beheading?

     The 911 call came in at four-thirty in the afternoon on Thursday September 25, 2014 from an employee of the Vaughn Foods distribution warehouse in Moore, Oklahoma ten miles south of Oklahoma City. The emergency caller, not speaking to the dispatcher, said, "Shut the doors!" Then to the dispatcher said, "We have someone attacking someone in the building. Can you hear this in the background? That's a gunshot."

     When they entered the Vaughn Foods building officers with the Moore Police Department encountered a bloody scene of horrific violence. Coleen Hufford, a 54-year-old employee, had been repeatedly stabbed then beheaded. Traci Johnson, a fellow employee, had been stabbed as well but was still alive. Alton Nolen, the 30-year-old man wielding the knife, had been shot once. He was alive but unconscious.

     Earlier that afternoon, after being fired from the food processing and distribution plant, Alton Nolen left the building in a huff, climbed into his car, and drove erratically around the company parking lot. With a knife in hand, he re-entered the facility through the main entrance. Nolen walked through the front office into the shipping area then into the customer service office. There he encountered Colleen Hufford and Traci Johnson, employees who he had no reason to hate or punish.

     Mark Vaughn, the corporation's chief operating officer, rushed to the scene armed with a rifle. He arrived too late to save Colleen Hufford and almost didn't get there in time for Traci Johnson. Before Nolen had the chance to behead his second victim, Mr. Vaughn shot and wounded him.

     Alton Nolen was not a stranger to the local law enforcement community. In the evening of October 1, 2010, while accompanied by his 29-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old son, he was driving his white Chevrolet Impala on Oklahoma Highway 33. State Trooper Betsy Randolph pulled him over after she noticed that Nolen's paper license plate looked like a fake. The officer received confirmation of this after she radioed-in the plate number.

     Nolen, when asked by Trooper Randolph to produce his driver's license, said he didn't have it with him. "Do you have a valid driver's license," she asked.

     "No," he replied.

     Seated next to the trooper in the patrol car parked along the curb on a residential street, Nolen said that he didn't want to go back to jail and denied having outstanding warrants for his arrest. When the officer entered his name and date of birth into her computer, she knew he had lied. There were several outstanding warrants for Nolen's arrest including one for failing to appear in court on a cocaine charge. The trooper had no choice but to place Nolen under arrest.

     Trooper Randolph, after cuffing Nolen's right hand, ran into resistance as he tried to call his girlfriend on his cellphone. As the officer reached for her expandable baton, Nolen pushed her away from him and jumped out of the police vehicle. The trooper chased Nolen on foot but lost him amid a group of houses in the neighborhood. (Years later, a few days after the beheading at the food plant, Trooper Randolph told a reporter that she was sorry she hadn't killed Nolen when she had the chance.)

     Following a 12-hour manhunt that included a helicopter, police dogs, and officers from four law enforcement agencies, the police took Alton Nolen into custody. A local prosecutor charged him with assault and battery on a police officer and escape from detention.

     Early in 2011, following a plea deal, the judge sentenced Nolen to six years on the cocaine offense, two years for escaping police custody, and two years for assaulting Trooper Randolph. Although he faced up to ten years behind bars, he only served 18 months in prison and six months in a halfway  house.

     While in prison Nolen converted to Islam. In April 2013, a month after leaving the halfway house, he began posting messages on Facebook under the name Jah Keem Yisrael. His postings were clearly anti-American. He ran  photographs of Osama bin Laden and the burning trade towers. He also had several Muslim Facebook friends from the U.S., England, and the Middle East.

     Prior to losing his job at the Moore, Oklahoma food processing plant Nolen tried to covert fellow employees to Islam.

     On Saturday September 27, 2014, detectives questioned Nolen who had regained consciousness. He will be charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault. Until investigators determine the principal motive for the beheading--anger at being fired or striking a terroristic blow against America--the attacks on these innocent women will be handled as a criminal matter. For many, the fact that Nolen is a militant Muslim who beheaded a woman is enough to justify classifying the murder as an act of terrorism.

Writing Quote: Prolonging the Suspense in Fiction

     Good writers know how to create suspense; better writers know how to prolong it. Creating effective suspense is not that easy, and the best writers know they shouldn't let it go once it exists…

     Nearly all suspenseful elements can be prolonged. You can prolong danger in endless ways, even when you think you can't: a character can survive a dangerous operation only to develop a dangerous infection, or a character can get through one dangerous obstacle only to be faced with another.

Noah Lukeman, The Plot Thickens, 2002  

Criminal Justice Quote: Another Mass Youth Detention Center Breakout

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

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

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

"Thirteen Escape Detention, Most Recaptured," seattlepi.com, September 27, 2014 

Writing Quotes: Novels Set in the Past Versus The Present

     Setting your story or novel in a particular historical time frame allows you to intertwine your story with concurrent events. The Great Depression, the Roaring Twenties, World War II--virtually any time period can provide a rich historical context with real individuals and events you can use as part of your story…

     Set your story in the present and you can include current events. The downside is that current events can make your story seem dated. Remember, even for published writers cranking out a book a year, it usually takes two years between when a book is started and when it's published. In addition, most of us lack perspective on current events. What seems like a major news story when you're writing your novel may be a big yawn a year later. So only include current events that matter to your story.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Crime and Criminal Justice Problems in the United States: A Short List

1. There are too many pedophiles in our schools, churches, and government.

2. The police are shooting too many people who do not pose serious threats.

3. There are too many SWAT teams conducting forced entry, low-risk drug raids.

4. Crime lab understaffing has produced unacceptable backlogs and unreliable results.

5. We are experiencing an epidemic of mass murder and mass murder-suicides.

6. The country is becoming increasingly drug-addled, drunk, and mentally ill.

7. We have a serious shortage of competent, well-trained criminal investigators.

8. Law enforcement in general has become too militarized and zero-toleerent.

9. There are too many unnecessary, redundant federal crimes.

10. We are giving guns to school teachers unprepared to make life and death decisions.

11. The police have become Taser-happy.

12. Teachers are using police officers to criminalize classroom disciplinary problems.

13. It takes too long to execute death row prisoners.

14. Our courtrooms are contaminated with junk science and phony experts.

15. Light, plea bargained sentences for violent criminals do not fit their crimes.

16. There is a serious shortage of highly trained forensic pathologists.

17. Prosecutors continue to rely too heavily on eyewitnesses and jailhouse informants.

18. The American media is awash in violence and pornography.

19. Criminals and terrorists are entering the U.S. through Mexico.

20. Criminal hackers pose a threat to our financial systems and national security.

21. Due to the threat of terrorism, citizens have been losing their privacy through massive governmental data collection and spying.

22. Unsupervised pedophiles and rapists on parole are reoffending at alarming rates.

23. There are too many untreated, violent paranoid schizophrenics on our streets.

24. The U.S. is in the midst of a spree-shooting epidemic.

25. Police in many cities are overwhelmed by hit-and-run cases.
      

Criminal Justice Quote: Police Kill Fellow Officer in Domestic Standoff

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Stabs Four Children in China

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Inserting Clues in Crime Fiction

     Investigation is the meat and potatoes of mystery fiction. The sleuth talks to people, does research, snoops around, and makes observations. Facts emerge. Maybe an eyewitness gives an account of what he saw. A wife has unexplained bruises on her face. The brother of a victim avoids eye contact with his questioner. A will leaves a millionaire's estate to an obscure charity. A bloody knife is found in a laundry bin. A love letter is discovered tucked into last week's newspaper.

     Some facts will turn out to be clues that lead to the killer's true identity. Some will turn out to be red herrings--evidence that leads in a false direction. On top of that, a lot of the information your sleuth notes will turn out to be nothing more than the irrelevant minutiae of everyday life inserted into scenes to give a sense of realism and camouflage the clues.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005 

Writing Quote: The Difficulty of Writing True Crime

Every genre has its own peculiar demands and drawbacks. True crime has more than most. Successful true crime writers have to be self-starters. Many times a week, fledgling authors ask me how they can be crime writers. I tell them as gently as possible that the very nature of the genre requires writers who will find a way themselves. We must not only be writers--but detectives. In researching a crime, we must figure out how to elicit information that seems impossible to get. We have to ask people about pain and horror they would rather forget. We must ask detectives and prosecutors to share their investigations and their findings with us. And it isn't easy.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Corpse Wars: Coroners Versus Organ Harvesters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Mass Murder on the Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Woman Eats Police Car

     A northern Idaho woman has been charged with a felony after police say she chewed up the upholstery of a patrol seat…Staci Anne Spence, 42, was changed with felony malicious injury to property and misdemeanors including resisting arrest and battery on an officer…

     Prosecutors say Spence was arrested on Thursday September 18, 2014 after deputies came to her home to investigate a battery report…When they arrived at the Bonner County Jail, they found that Spence had chewed through the patrol vehicle's upholstery and into the foam cushioning. [That's the good part.]

"Woman Charged Over Chewed Seat," Associated Press, September 24, 2014 

Writing Quote: Before Writing a Memoir, Read a Good One

     It had occurred to a friend of mine to write a memoir, and so she called asking for help. It should be fun, she said. I set to work creating a list of the memoirs my friend might read, for she hadn't read even so much as a single memoir yet, and I thought reading might be helpful. I sent the list and that was that--the end of the memoir, and of the friendship.

     I don't mean to be insulting when I suggest that memoir writers should read memoirs…The good memoirs aren't just good stories…They are--they must be--works of art…You have to know what art is before you set out to write it. You have to have a dictionary of working terms, a means by which you can deliver up a verdict on your own sentences and their arrangements.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Writing Quote: The Difference Between The Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

     What does it mean to say that science fiction tries to make its speculations plausible while fantasy does not? Basically, fantasy writers don't expect you to believe that the things they're describing could actually happen, but only to pretend that they could for the duration of a story. Fantasy readers understand that and willingly play along. Science fiction writers, on the other hand, try to create worlds and futures (and aliens) that really could exist and do the things they describe. Their readers expect that of them, and write critical letters to editors and authors when they find holes in the logic (or the assumptions) that would make a science fiction story impossible…

     Often the same basic story material can be treated as either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how the writer approaches it. For example, the old fable of "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs" is fantasy because real geese don't lay golden eggs and the story makes no attempt to convince you they could. It merely asks you to consider what might happen if one did. Isaac Asimov's short story "Pate de Foie Gras" takes this basic idea and turns it into science fiction by postulating a biochemical mechanism so that readers can judge for themselves whether it might actually work…

     Fantasy is fun; but for some readers there's something extra special about a story that not only stretches the imagination, but just might be a real possibility.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995


Friday, September 26, 2014

Darrien Hunt: The Police Shooting of a Black Mormon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Choose Your Words Carefully

In writing, diction relates to the choice of words and phrasing. In nonfiction, precision and clarity are the goals to aim for. In fiction, the writer's capacity to choose words carefully for their effect as well as their accuracy is a measure of the writer's literary ability. The opposite of careful diction is "top-of-the-head" writing , words put down as fast as they come to mind, without revision for accuracy and effect. It is found most often in hurried popular writing in which communication of content or story dominates the precise and fresh use of words and expressions.

Sol Stein, Sol Stein's Reference Book For Writers, 2010

Criminal Justice Quote: Retrial in Florida Loud Music Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Writing the Legal Thriller

     Perhaps you have made a decision to write a legal thriller because you have been a participant in a dramatic courtroom battle--as a defense attorney whose skill exonerated an innocent client, as the beneficiary of family heirlooms in a hard-fought will contest, or as a juror who second-guessed the tactics of the litigators throughout a protracted trial. Maybe your fascination with this category of crime novels is that you have practiced law on the civil side but have fantasized about delivering the stirring summation in a high-profile murder trial. Or maybe you simply enjoy the prospect of entering this world because you like lawyers.

     Once you have selected this sub-genre as your setting, I think there are critical issues to face before you start pounding out the pages. Whether you are writing a courtroom drama or using a legal eagle as an amateur sleuth, remember that you have chosen to portray a profession--like medicine--that requires an advanced degree and is governed by a lot of rules and procedures. Even if your characters are going to break those rules, you have to know what they are in order to heighten the tension of any ethical dilemma or criminal verdict…

     I prefer to read books written by experienced lawyers or by authors who have studied the practice seriously. They know the language and attitude of the courtroom, they move their characters about it with ease, they sit them at the proper counsel table, they craft their arguments to the judge with appropriate rhetoric, and they know when to make objections. Many other readers who have no reason to be familiar with legal procedure won't care about getting those details right, so you first need to figure out who your target audience might be.

Linda Fairstein in Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton, editor, 2002 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who Killed Brandon L. Woodard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        

Writing Quote: Putting Suspense in True Crime

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

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

Writing Quote: Plots Need Emotion and Action

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

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Writing Quotes: The Science in Science Fiction

There's a great deal of evidence that the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe. This fact enables us to make reasonable guesses about what sorts of things might exist in other parts of it. We would not expect, for example, to find civilizations growing in atmospheres consisting principally of hydrogen and oxygen. The laws of chemistry make such an atmosphere too unstable to exist, on Earth or anywhere else. Nor would we expect to find real counterparts of that hoary old cliche of monster movies, giant spiders exactly like Earthly tarantulas but a hundred times larger. A really determined science fiction writer could concoct plausible aliens that superficially looked somewhat like big spiders, but inside, they would have to be very different.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Criminal Justice Quote: Four California Escapees Captured

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Ironic Humor in Fiction

     Fiction without irony is like painting without perspective. Irony exposes the incongruities of everyday life--the half-truths, deceptions and self-deceptions that help us all get through the day. Things are never what they seem, and the essence of ironic humor is the lack of fit between life as it is and life as we imagine it should be. We think the world should make sense: It doesn't. We think life should be dignified: It never is. We think life should have a serious purpose…But of course the purpose always turns out to be very silly in the end. Irony is the writer's richest and most inexhaustible humor resource.

     The genre of the campus novel, from Kingsley Amis to Richard Russo, is a perfect example. Higher education is meant to be serious business; universities are meant to be serious places. So it's funny when, in Russo's Straight Man, the chair of the English department hides in the ceiling space over the faculty offices to eavesdrop on a meeting between colleagues…

     Another reason why irony is such a powerful source of humor is that, as Voltaire observed long ago, life is absurd, but we try to make sense of it. This doomed effort creates some of the best comedy….

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Plan to Trap Middle School Sex Predator Backfires

     On January 14, 2010, Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell, vice principals at Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, received a complaint that a male student had touched a girl inappropriately. The subject of the complaint was no stranger to this kind of allegation. He had been accused of predatory sexual advances fifteen times in the recent past. The latest complaint resulted in the boy being placed on "in-school suspension." (Whatever that is.)

     A couple of days later, teacher's aide June Simpson spoke to principal Ronnie Blair about the boy. According to Simpson, he had "repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boy's bathroom on the special needs students' corridor. The teacher's aide reported that the young predator had actually engaged in sex with one of the girls.

     Because the boy and the female special needs student denied having sex in the boy's restroom, the principal informed the teacher's aide that because the kids had not been caught in the act, his hands were tied. The concerned teacher's aide recommended that school officials keep a close eye on this boy.

     On January 22, 2010, a 14-year-old girl who wasn't physically or mentally handicapped but took special education classes, told teacher's aide Simpson that the alleged schoolboy sex fiend had been pestering her to have restroom sex with him. Simpson asked the girl if she'd be willing to act as bait in a plan to catch the sexual predator. The girl refused to participate in the sting, then changed her mind.

     The teacher's aide, accompanied by the girl, laid out her plan to vice principal Dunaway who didn't endorse or approve of it. The vice principal didn't forbid the execution of the scheme either. The plan was this: the girl would agree to have sex with the boy in the special needs bathroom where teachers would be hiding to confront the kid before things got out of hand.

     Shortly after leaving the vice principal's office, the girl encountered the young predator in the hallway. She agreed to have sex with him. But instead of getting together in the special needs restroom, he told her to meet him in the sixth-grade boy's bathroom in another part of the school. The girl did not  have time to alert the teacher's aide of the change in plans.

     In the sixth-grade boy's restroom, with no teachers hiding nearby to intervene, the girl rejected the boy's advances. Unable to fight him off, he raped her anally.

     After the victim reported the crime to a teacher, police officers were summoned to the school. They took the girl to the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville where medical personnel used a rape kit to gather physical evidence. Hospital personnel also photographed signs of trauma consistent with the girl's rape allegation.

     The young suspect, when confronted with the accusation, claimed he had only kissed the girl.

     After the alleged rape victim refused to cooperate with detectives, the police department turned the case over to the Madison County District Attorney's Office. Without the victim's testimony, an eyewitness, or the boy's confession, prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

     Pursuant to an internal, administrative inquiry into the incident, vice principal Terrell testified that after seeing photographs of the girl's injuries, she didn't know whether or not the sex had been consensual. Vice Principal Dunaway testified that when the girl willingly entered the sixth-grade restroom with the boy, she was on her own.

     In the school's final disciplinary report on the matter, the incident in the school restroom was described as the "inappropriate touching of a female." The principal suspended the boy for five days. Following the suspension, the kid spent fifteen days at an alternative institution before returning to Sparkman Middle School.

     The 14-year-old girl withdrew from the Sparkman school. After extensive counseling, she ended up in North Carolina with her mother. Upon her mother's death shortly thereafter, the girl and her brother were placed in Child Protection Services.

     June Simpson, the Sparkman teacher's aide, resigned not long after the incident. Her attorney described her as a scapegoat in the case.

      In October 2010, the girl's father filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court against the boy, school administrators, the teacher's aide, and the Madison County School Board. Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending gender discrimination in public education.

     A few months after the filing of the lawsuit, a U.S. District Court Judge tossed out the claim against the boy because he was a minor. The judge also threw out the Title IX portion of the action. He did allow, however, the claim of negligence against the teacher's aide and the school administrators. Attorney Eric Artrip appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.

     On September 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education filed amicus briefs (friend of the court arguments) in support of attorney Artrip's appeal of the Title IX rejection. The case is pending. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Man Accused of Setting Massive California Wildfire

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

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

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

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

Whackademia Quote: Another Frat House Death

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Horror Fiction Characters Must Seem Real

     In a horror novel or short story, there is one primary rule: Make your characters as realistic as possible.

     Reality is your bridge into the fantastic. If readers empathize with your characters and truly believe in them as projections of real life, then they will follow them into whatever fantastic situations you provide. You will achieve what Coleridge termed "the willing suspension of disbelief." Your reader will want to believe your story, no matter how improbable it may be in objective reality.

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

Writing Quote: When You Sit Down to Write--Write

Here's a short list of what not to do when you sit down to write. Don't answer the phone. Don't look at e-mail. Don't go on the Internet for any reason, including checking the spelling of some obscure word, or for what you might think of as research but is really a fancy form of procrastination…Sit down and stay there…Get used to the discomfort. Make some kind of peace with it.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Victor White Case: Suicide or Fatal Police Shooting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Kevin Spacey's Stalker Sentenced

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Are Successful Writers Jerks?

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

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Writing Quote: Spare Versus Thin Fiction

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

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

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Memphis Head in the Bag Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: The Fictitious Memoir

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Lisa Coleman Executed in Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Satire in Fiction

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Miranda and Elytte Barbour: The Craigslist Killers

     Of all the motives behind premeditated murder, killing for the fun of watching someone die reflects a degree of evil that's inhuman. People who kill for the thrill of it are as dangerous as they are diabolical. Because these murderers are incapable of comprehending why normal people consider them monsters, they are beyond the reach of psychology, psychiatry, and anger management. To not execute these murderers constitutes, in itself, a crime against civilization. For born killers, there should be no mercy.

     Elytte Barbour and his 18-year-old wife Miranda resided in Selingsgrove, an eastern Pennsylvania town 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. On October 22, 2013, after moving to Pennsylvania from North Carolina, the couple got married. Through various Internet sites, Miranda offered her services to lonely men looking for female companionship. For fees that ranged from $50 to $850, she would make herself available for conversation over dinner or during a walk around a shopping mall. Sex was not part of the deal. (Her claim.)

     On November 11, 2013, Miranda, through one of her escort postings on Craigslist, offered to meet Troy LaFerrara at the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selingsgrove. That night, the 42-year-old from Port Trevorton parked his Chevy S-10 pickup in the mall lot and got into a 2001 Honda driven by Miranda Barbour. Unbeknownst to Mr. LaFerrara, Miranda's 22-year-old husband Elytte was hidden in the SUV behind the front seat.

     Miranda drove from Selinsgrove toward the nearby town of Sunbury. At some point she pulled off the road and came to a stop. Elytte rose up from behind the seat and wrapped a cord around Mr. LaFerrara's neck. With her passenger choking and grasping for air, Miranda got back onto the road and continued driving toward Sunbury.

     In Sunbury, Miranda pulled to a stop and grabbed a knife from between the front seats. With Mr. LaFerrara still being strangled by Elytte, Miranda stabbed the dying man twenty times. After taking the dead man's wallet (but not his cellphone), the lethal couple dumped his corpse in a residential alley.

     From the dump site, the Barbours drove to a department store where they purchased cleaning supplies. Once they had removed the victim's blood from the Honda, Miranda and Elytte drove to a strip club in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where they celebrated his birthday.

     The day following the LaFerrara murder, November 12, 2013, the occupant of a house whose backyard reached out to the alley, discovered Troy LaFerrara's body. Investigators, from the victim's cellphone, acquired the lead that eventually led them to the married killers.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, police officers took the couple into custody for the LaFerrara murder. According to Miranda, she had stabbed her passenger after he groped her. She claimed that after she had stabbed LeFerrara four times she "blacked out." As a result, she had no memory of what took place in the immediate aftermath of the killing. (Psychopaths, because they lack insight and empathy, are lousy liars.)

     Elytte Barbour confessed fully to the cold-blooded murder of a complete stranger. He told his interrogators that he and Miranda had planned to "murder someone together."

     Dr. Rameen Starling-Romey performed the LaFerrara autopsy at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. According to the forensic pathologist, LaFerrara had died from multiple sharp force trauma.

     While the Barbours are in custody without bail, investigators are looking into the possibility that Mr. LaFerrara was not their first murder victim.

     In February 2014, Miranda Barbour, in an interview with a reporter with the Daily Item, a newspaper in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, claimed to have murdered at least 22 people in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina, and California over the past six years. That would mean she started killing when when she was thirteen. According to Barbour, the killing started when she joined a satanic cult in Alaska before moving to North Carolina.

     Sunbury police chief Steve Mazzeo told reporters that his detectives have been in contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the these states.

     A judge, in February, granted the defense attorney's request to have Barbour evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist. Her husband Elytte had already been examined by a court-appointed shrink. Investigators are skeptical regarding Miranda Barbour's claim to be a teenage serial killer. Why didn't she tell her police interrogators about these murders? If she's lying about this, she is either delusional or perhaps setting up her insanity defense. Where are the bodies?

     In a second, March 2014 interview with the reporter with The Daily Item, Miranda Barbour claimed that before the murder of Troy LaFerrara, two other targeted victims escaped death when they failed to respond to her offer of female companionship.

     In May 2014, Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor ruled that prosecutors can seek the death penalty in this case. Miranda Barbour's court appointed attorney, Ed Greco, had asked the judge to take the death penalty off the table.

     In August 2014, to avoid the death penalty, the Barbours pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the killing of Troy LaFerrara. In September Judge Saylor sentenced the couple to life in prison without parole.

     Holly LaFerrara, in her victim impact statement after the judge handed down the sentences, said, "If it was up to me you would each be strapped to a lethal injection gurney or seated in an electric chair. I say you both got off lucky today…You were bad enough to do the crime. Now let's see how you like doing the time. Lots and lots of time. There aren't many guarantees in life, but you can take this one to the bank. My family and I will make sure you stay in jail, right where you belong." 

Writing Quote: Learning The Lessons of LIfe Through Writing

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

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Writing Quote: Lean Versus Flabby Writing

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

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

Phillip B. Corbitt, The New York Times, September 16, 2014 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cannibal Killer Joseph Oberhansley: How the Criminal Justice System Failed Tammy Jo Blanton

     On Wednesday night September 10, 2014, Tammy Jo Blanton, following an argument with her boyfriend Joseph Oberhansley, threw him and his belongings out of her house. A few hours later Blanton's father changed the locks on her Jeffersonville, Indiana dwelling.

     The next day at three in the morning, Blanton called 911. Her 33-year-old ex-boyfriend had returned and was trying to break into her house by kicking in the back door. Police in the southern Indiana town confronted Oberhansley at the Locus Street residence.

     Instead of taking Oberhansley into custody for attempted burglary and threats, officers ordered him off the property and told him to stay away from his former girlfriend. Oberhansley, just before he drove off in his 2002 Chevrolet Blazer, complained to the officers that the police aways favored the woman in domestic disputes.

     From his 46-year-old ex-girlfriend's home, Oberhansley drove to his mother's place. He got her out of bed and complained about his mistreatment at the hands of Blanton and the police officers his ex-girlfriend had summoned. He left his mother's home at three-thirty that morning.

     The Jeffersonville police must have known that Joseph A. Oberhansley was an unstable and dangerous man. (I don't know how much Tammy Jo Blanton knew about him.) In 1998, outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, shortly after his 17-year-old girlfriend gave birth to their child, he shot her to death. He shot Sabrina Elder's mother in the back and in the arm when she tried to protect her daughter. The mother survived her wounds.

     After shooting his girlfriend and her mother, Oberhansley put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered his frontal lobe and damaged his brain. A year later he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison. He got out of prison in 2012 after spending eleven years behind bars.

     In March 2013, after putting a man into a chokehold then fighting the Jeffersonville police when they broke up the fight, a Clark County prosecutor charged him with assault and resisting arrest. He posted his bail and was released from the county jail.

     In July 2014, Oberhansley led Jeffersonville police officers on a vehicle chase that ended up with his arrest in Louisville, Kentucky. Due to a bureaucratic screwup, the judge set Oberhansley's bail at $500. Once again he walked out of jail a free man.

     On Friday September 11, 2014, when Tammy Jo Blanton did not show up for work, the police, at ten o'clock that morning, returned to her house. They were met at the door by Oberhansley who had a fresh cut across the knuckles of his right hand. Officers searching him incident to his arrest found a bloody folding knife in his back pocket.

     Officers discovered Tammy Jo Blanton's body beneath a vinyl camping tent draped over the bathtub. She had been stabbed numerous times in the chest and head. Her killer had also slashed her throat. Her torso had been cut open and several of her internal organs were missing.

     Officers at the murder scene found a piece of skull sitting on a bloody dinner plate. A kitchen skillet contained traces of blood as did the handle to a pair of tongs. Searchers found hunks of human flesh in the victim's garbage can.

     Confronted with this physical evidence of horrific violence, Oberhansley confessed that he had stabbed and slashed his ex-girlfriend. He cut out her heart, her lungs, and other internal organs that he said he had eaten. Some of the body parts he cooked, others he consumed raw.

      Charged with murder, abuse of corpse, and breaking and entering, Oberhansley appeared before Clark County Judge Vickie Carmichael on September 15, 2014. At the arraignment hearing, the defendant took back his confession. "Obviously you've got the wrong guy," he told the judge. He also claimed that he was not Joseph Oberhansley but a man named Zeus Brown. The suspect also claimed that he didn't know how old he was or if he were a U.S. citizen. The judge denied him bail.

     To reporters after the arraignment, Clark County prosecutor Jeremy Mull said, "There's a motive and a reason behind Oberhansley's denial of guilt. There's no doubt in my mind he is responsible for Tammy Jo Blanton's murder."

     

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

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

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

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: The Paragraph

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

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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: University of Virginia Student Missing

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: The Horror Genre and the Thrill of Fictitious Fear

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

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

Writing Quote: Humanizing a Despicable Fictional Protagonist

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

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writing Quote: Children's Literature Not Watered-Down Adult Literature

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

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Writing Quote: Literary Talent

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

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

Stephen Koch, Writers Workshop, 2003 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quotes: The Hunter and the Hunted in Thrillers and Suspense Novels

Many suspense novels and thrillers are based on the drama of the hunter and the hunted. Often a chase requires a one step forward, two steps backward approach. For example, after chasing down many false leads, a police detective finally discovers the suspect's hideout and hurries to secure a search warrant. The scene could end on his assistant rushing into the room with the warrant, and the detective grabbing his keys and heading for the car. Naturally the reader will be curious about where the villain lives and will keep reading. Or the scene might end with the detective arriving at the hideout to discover that the villain has vanished along with all traces of its illegal operation. The question is not only where he has gone, but who tipped him off.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Writing Quote: Fiction for Men

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

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Boyfriend From Hell

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: The Illness Memoir

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

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

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

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