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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Who Murdered Jessica Chambers?

      Jessica Chambers, an attractive, blond 19-year-old, lived with her family in Courtland, Mississippi, a village of 460 people 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. The recent high school graduate, a former cheerleader and softball player, hoped to start college soon. She had just started working at Goody's Department Store in nearby Batesville.

     At six in the evening of Saturday December 10, 2014, Jessica drove to a gas station and convenience store on Highway 51 not far from her home where she pumped $14 worth of gasoline into her car. Inside the store, a cashier asked Chambers why she had bought more than her usual $5 in gas. Chambers said she was going somewhere and needed the fuel. About that time she called her mother to inform her she was on her way to Batesville to clean her car.

     Before walking out of the convenience store, Chambers purchased a pack of cigarettes and received a call on her cellphone. A few minutes later, just before six-thirty, she climbed into her vehicle and drove off. Surveillance camera footage revealed that she wore a dark sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweats.

     At eight o'clock that night, local firefighters responded to a call regarding a burning vehicle along Herron Road in a remote part of Panola County not far from the gas station. The emergency responders came upon a person walking down the road near the car. Jessica Chambers had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

     Chambers was airlifted to a hospital in Memphis where, a short time later, she died from burns on 98 percent of her body. Only the bottoms of her feet were not charred.

     At a law enforcement press conference the next day, the local district attorney labeled Chamber's death a criminal homicide. The Panola County sheriff told reporters that before she died, Chambers had spoken to firefighters. "She told them who had done it," he said.

     According to some media reports, the murder victim had also been bludgeoned on the top of her head with a hard object. There were also reports that the killer had squirted lighter fluid down her throat, a detail not confirmed by the authorities.

     While the victim's older sister informed reporters that she didn't know of anyone who had a grudge against Jessica, friends of the murdered girl posted online messages about a former, abusive boyfriend. (Whoever committed this atrocious crime did it out of an uncontrollable rage. This does not look like a murder committed by a stranger.)

     At the press conference, law enforcement authorities said they had questioned several people but didn't have a suspect in the murder.

     The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Chamber's killer. The local Crime Stoppers group posted a separate reward of $1,000.

     As of December 2015, the Chambers case remained unsolved. Investigation had revealed, however, that the victim had been hanging out with a rough crowd that included local drug dealers. Her latest boyfriend, Travis Sanford, had been in jail on a burglary charge at the time of her murder. In the weeks before she died, Jessica Chambers told her father, a mechanic with the sheriff's office, that "Everybody thinks I'm snitching because you work for the police." 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Amish-Mennonite Pastor Kenneth Miller and His Underground Railroad

     Lisa Miller, as a teenager and young woman in Virginia, struggled with an addiction to pills and alcohol. She also participated in self-mutilation. After a failed marriage, and a suicide attempt, Lisa began dating women.

     In 1997, Lise met Janet Jenkins at an alcoholics anonymous meeting in Falls Church, Virginia. They became a couple, and in 2000, traveled to Vermont, the first state to offer homosexuals civil unions, to get married. The pair, after being civilly united by a judge, adopted the surname Miller-Jenkins, and in 2002, moved to Vermont where they bought a two-story house in a small southern Vermont town called Fair Haven.

     On April 16, 2002, after getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization, Lisa, at age 34, gave birth to Isabella. But in September 2003, when Isabella was 17-months-old, Lisa and Janet split-up. After the break in the relationship, a family court judge in Vermont granted Janet regular child visitation rights.

     In 2008, after trying but failing to end her former partner's visitation rights, Lisa Miller moved to Lynchburg, Virginia where a Christian anti-gay marriage activist named Janet Stasulli befriended her. Lisa, under Stasulli's guidance and influence, became a born-again Christian, and pursuant to her new religious beliefs, denounced homosexuality as a sin. In October 2009, the family court judge in Vermont granted Janet Jenkins primary custody of Isabella.

     Kenneth Miller (no relation to Lisa), a 43-year-old Beachy Amish-Mennonite pastor from Stuarts Draft, Virginia, a town of 9,000 30 miles north of Lynchburg, conceived of a plan to get Lisa and Isabella out of the country to keep the 7-year-old out of the custody of a lesbian parent. On September 21, 2009, Philip Zodhiates, an evangelical leader, and owner of a Lynchburg Christian direct-mail company, drove Lisa and her daughter to Buffalo, New York. Shortly after midnight, mother and daughter crossed the boarder into Canada in a taxi cab. They were met on the other side by a Canadian evangelical pastor named Ervin Horst who drove Lisa and Isabella, disguised in long skirts and head scarves of the type worn by the Amish-Mennonites, to the Toronto airport. Later that day, the fleeing mother and daughter flew to Managua, Nicaragua. (Currently at large, Lisa and Isabella are wanted by the FBI and Interpol. Lisa, now 46, and Isabella 12, have moved from barrio to barrio in Nicaragua to avoid apprehension.)

     Pastor Kenneth Miller, indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in Burlington, Vermont for the offense of abetting an international parental kidnapping, went on trial on August 8, 2012. If convicted, the Amish-Mennonite leader faced up to three years in prison.

     Fifty Amish-Mennonite supporters looked on as the Assistant United States Attorney, Eugenia Cowles, and defense attorney Joshua M. Autry, made their opening remarks to the jury. According to the defense version of the case, Pastor Miller did not know that by leaving the country, Lisa Miller was violating a lawful child visitation order. Defense attorney Autry argued that his client, therefore, did not possess the requisite criminal intent to obstruct the court order giving Janet Jenkins primary custody of the child.

     Federal prosecutor Cowles told the jurors that Pastor Miller had selected Nicaragua as the point of destination because that country and the United States did not have an extradition treaty. Moreover, the preacher made sure to book a flight from Canada to Mexico that didn't touch down in America.

     Philip Zodhiates, Janet Stasulli, and Ervin Horst, the evangelists the defendant had called upon to execute his anti-homosexual underground escape, took the stand as reluctant prosecution witnesses. Isabella's custody parent, Janet Jenkins, testified that she hadn't seen the girl since January 2009, eight months before the evangelists snuck her out of the country. The government rested its case on August 12. 2012.

     Defense attorney Joshua Autry put on a pair of character witnesses, then rested his case without bringing Pastor Miller to the stand to testify on his own behalf. On August 14, 2012, the jury, after deliberating four hours, found the defendant guilty of abetting international parental kidnapping. Outside the federal building, a group of 100 Amish-Mennonite supporters stood around singing gospel hymns. Pastor Miller remained free on bail until his sentencing.

     Just hours after the verdict, Janet Jenkins filed a civil lawsuit against Philip Zodhiates, Ervin Horst, and Janet Stasulli, the people who had helped Pastor Miller kidnap her custody child.

     On March 14, 2013, the federal district judge sentenced Pastor Miller to 27 months in prison. The Paster would not, however, begin his sentence until a federal appeals court reviewed and ruled on the case, a process that could take up to three years.

     On October 8, 2014, federal prosecutors charged Philip Zodhiates with conspiracy and international parental kidnapping for his role in the abduction. Zodhiates pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Shrien Dewani Murder-For-Hire Case

     On November 13, 2010, 30-year-old Shrien Dewani and Anni, his 28-year-old wife of two weeks, were on their honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa. The couple, of Indian decent (she was born in Sweden), resided in the southwestern English town of Bristol where he was a businessman.

     Shortly after midnight on November 13, 2010, Shrien Dewani reported to police authorities that a gunman had commandeered the taxi he and his wife were riding in near the Cape Town suburb of Guguiethu. The kidnapper ordered the cab driver and Shrien out of the taxi in the town of Harare then drove off with Anni.

     Later that night, police officers found Anni's dead body in the abandoned taxi in the town of Lingelethu West. She had injuries to her head and chest, and had been shot in the back of the neck at short range. Officers with the Western Cape Town Police Department launched a manhunt for the killer.

     Shrien Dewani returned to England where he was treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

     On November 14, 2010, Western Cape Town officers arrested 26-year-old Xolile Mngeni, the suspected gunman, on the charge of murder. Two days later, police officers arrested a suspected accomplice in the murder named Mziwamadoda Qwabe.

     Detectives arrested the cab driver, Zola Tongo, on November 20, 2010. According to the suspect, Shrien Dewani had offered him 1,400 pounds to find a hit man willing to kill his wife Anni. Tongo reached out to his friend Qwabe who brought Mngeni, the trigger man, into the murder-for-hire scheme.

     On December 8, 2010, at the request of the South African government, police in England arrested Dewani for conspiring to have his wife murdered. Two days after being taken into custody, Dewani posted his bail and was confined to house arrest. He denied any involvement in his wife's murder.

     Zola Tongo, the cab driver, pleaded guilty to his role in the murder-for-hire plot in January 2011. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison. A month later, Mziwamadoda Qwabe decided to cooperate with the police. He said that after the kidnapper let Dewani and Tongo out of the taxi that night, Mngeni drove off with the victim. Qwabe admitted that for his role in the murder, he received the victim's jewelry.

     In February 2011, back in England, Dewani swallowed a cocktail of 26 pills that included the drug diazepam that had been prescribed to him for anxiety. Following a period of hospitalization, he returned home to house arrest.

     In November 2011, a TV station in England aired a documentary about the case called, "Murder On Honeymoon." The producers of the segment presented evidence pertaining to Dewani's alleged motive for having his new wife murdered. According to the documentary, investigators were working on the theory that Dewani had been living a secret double life as a gay man. Witnesses stated that he had been a regular visitor to a south London gay fetish sex club. When Anni found out he was gay, she threatened to end the marriage and expose him.

     On March 30, 2012, judges sitting on London's High Court ruled that it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite Dewani to South Africa until he overcame his problem with mental illness. The authorities in South Africa were convinced he was faking mental illness to avoid extradition.

     Miziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty in August 2012 and was sentenced in South Africa to 25 years in prison. Three months later a jury found Xolile Mngeni, the hit man, guilty of premeditated murder. The judge sentenced Mngeni to life behind bars.

     The fourth South African involved in the case, a hotel clerk named Monde Mbolombo, had avoided prosecution by testifying against Qwabe and Mngeni.

     The BBC, in September 2012, aired another documentary about the Dewani case called "The Honeymoon Murder: Who Killed Anni?" Featuring forensic experts and others who had reviewed the evidence, the show cast doubt on Shrien Dewani's guilt.

     The widely viewed BBC documentary portrayed Monde Mbolombo, the hotel clerk who was granted immunity for his prosecution testimony, as the true mastermind behind the murder. According to the documentary, Mbolombo put the cab driver in touch with Mngeni, the trigger man. The motive was theft.

     About the time the BBC broadcast the documentary, the English tabloid Daily Mail published text messages the victim had sent to family members shortly before her big wedding. "I'm going to be unhappy for the rest of my life," she had written. "I hate him. I want to cry myself to death."

     On January 2014, a panel of three judges sitting on England's Supreme Court ruled that Shrien Dewani could be extradited to South Africa to be tried for his wife's murder. The extradition, however, was conditioned on the promise that if the defendant were adjudicated mentally unfit for trial, South African authorities would send him back to England. Dewani was expected to arrive in Cape Town in April 2014.

     South African Judge Jeanette Traverso, on December 8, 2014, dismissed the case against Dewni on the ground that no court would convict him unless he took the stand and incriminated himself. The judge noted that the prosecution witnesses against the accused murder-for-hire mastermind were not credible because they had been involved in the killing themselves. The judge's decision ended the case against Dewani because prosecutors in South Africa can only appeal a case when the judge had made a mistake in applying the law. This case, however, was dismissed based upon what this judge considered the crown's lack of evidence to support a conviction. The decision meant that Shrien Dewani was a free man and could not be charged again.

     A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, in response to the dismissal, told reporters that the judge misunderstood the case.

     In the United States, many murder-for-hire cases are predicated upon the prosecution testimony of the hit man and various accomplices. Getting a conviction pursuant to this South African judge's standards would be, in the United States, almost impossible.

    

Friday, December 4, 2015

Savannah Dietrich Outed the Two Juveniles Who Raped Her

     In August 2011, in Louisville, Kentucky, 16-year-old Savannah Dietrich, while drinking with two teenage boys she knew, passed out drunk. The boys took advantage of her condition by having sex with her. This, in most states, including Kentucky, is rape. If that wasn't bad enough, the rapists photographed each other committing the crime, and put the photographs on the Internet.

     When Dietrich learned of the humiliating photographs, and the fact they had been published, she and her parents reported the crime to the Louisville Metro Police Department. The two minors were then charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony. Since the juveniles had photographed each other in the act, they had no choice to plead guilty. But for some reason, the prosecutor, in return for the pleas, promised a lenient sentence.

     Following the defendant's June 26, 2012 plea hearing before Jefferson County District Judge Dee McDonald, Savannah Dietrich posted several tweets on her Twitter account in which she named the two boys who had pleaded guilty to her sexual assaults. By doing this, she had violated the judges's order not to reveal information about the case, especially the identities of the assaulting juveniles.

     The attorneys representing the two minors, asked Judge McDonald to hold Dietrich in contempt of court. If found in contempt, Dietrich could face up to 180 days in jail, and a $500 fine. (Much more time behind bars than the boys who had assaulted her would spend.)

     Dietrich, in speaking to a Louisville reporter with The Courier-Journal, said, "So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys. I'm at the the point that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it. If they really feel it's necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me--then I don't understand justice."

     On Monday, July 23, 2012, the lawyers representing the juveniles awaiting their sentences, withdrew their motion to have Dietrich held in contempt of court. In a single day, an online petition on change.org had brought 62,000 signatures in support of Dietrich's decision to publicize the identities of her assaulters. It was obvious that members of the public believed these boys, so afraid of being publicly embarrassed and humiliated by their cruelty and criminality, deserved to be exposed by their victim.

     In September 2012, a judge ruled that documents pertaining to the Dietrich case had to be released to the public. According to the publication of this material, a prosecutor told the victim to "Get over it and see a therapist." The documents also revealed that the victim's 16-year-old attackers had committed the assault because they believed it would be "funny."

     The sex offenders, in October 2012, were sentenced to 50 hours of community service. The boys also were ordered to undergo sex-offender counseling. When these boys reached the age of 19, they could file motions to have their guilty pleas withdrawn and the case dismissed. If granted that request, their criminal records would be expunged. As for the victim, where could she go to have her memory of the crime expunged?

   

     

Friday, November 27, 2015

Pastor-Involved Shooting in a Detroit Church

     Detroit is a violent and dangerous place. Law abiding citizens who can afford to, leave the city for the suburbs. Nowhere is safe, and no one in this dysfunctional city is immune from crime and violence. Even pastors in their churches are vulnerable. It's been this way for quite some time and there's no indication that change is in the air.

     In 2012, criminals attached Pastor Marvin Williams at a downtown Detroit intersection. At gunpoint they took his wallet and stole his car. In July 2014, a man wielding an ax attacked and killed an off-duty police officer working as a church security guard. The fact that churches in the city employ security guards says it all.

     In july 2015, following a wave of general shootings in Detroit, several leaders in the religious community issued a public plea for citizens to take action to stop gun violence. (The only way to control gun violence is through aggressive law enforcement, ambitions prosecutors, and hanging judges. Citizens, for the most part, are helpless.)

     On October 18, 2015, a 36-year-old Detroit pastor named Keon Allison shot and killed 26-year-old Deante Smith during religious services at the City of God nondenominational church on Grand River Avenue on the city's north side. Pastor Allison shot Deante Smith, a member of his congregation, several times with his Glock pistol. Smith was shot when he charged the preacher wielding a brick and a hammer.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Smith to the Botsford Hospital where he died of his gunshot wounds. Pastor Allison, after being questioned at a nearby police station, was released without being charged with a crime.

     Deante Smith had worked for a manufacturing company in Troy, Michigan. In 2012, he got married, and for a period of time he and his wife lived with Pastor Allison, a man Smith considered a mentor and father figure. The relationship went sour when Smith, a player for the semi-professional Michigan Lightening football team, suspected that his minister was sleeping with his wife. In addition to that suspicion, Smith came to believe that the baby his wife had given birth to was the pastor's child.

     Deante Smith's employer in Troy had placed him on suspension after he and Pastor Allison had a loud argument outside the manufacturing facility. The company offered Smith anger management classes.

     In the days leading up to the church shooting, Smith posted several messages on his Facebook page that foreshadowed the deadly Sunday confrontation. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Luka Magnotta Cannibal Killer Case

     Tenants in a working-class Montreal, Canada neighborhood complained of a bad smell coming from a pile of garbage behind their apartment building. At ten in the morning on May 29, 2012, when the janitor opened a suitcase at the site of the odor, he discovered a man's bloody torso.

     At 11:15 that morning, in Ottawa, at the Conservative Party headquarters, Jenni Bryne, a top political advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, opened a box that had been mailed to that address. As she opened the package, Bryne was hit by a terrible odor and recoiled at the sight of dried blood. She immediately called 911 which brought the Ottawa police, a hazmat unit, and officers with the Emergency Special Operations Section. The box contained a human foot and a note indicating that six other human body parts were in the mail.

     At 9:30 that night, the Ottawa police announced they had found a second severed body part mailed from Montreal. It was a hand found inside a piece of mail intercepted at the Ottawa Postal Terminal.

     On Wednesday morning, May 30, crime scene investigators and hazardous materials officers entered an apartment in the building where the janitor had found the suitcase containing the blood splattered torso. The masked searchers were interested in a second-story studio apartment rented by a 29-year-old tenant named Luka Rocco Magnotta.

     Luka Magnotta, a stripper, model, and bisexual actor in low-budget adult films who used the names Eric Clinton Newman (his born name) and Vladimir Romanov, had lived in the apartment about four months. Originally from Toronto, Magnotta had an Internet presence that included uploaded videos of animal cruelty. Two years earlier, a video appeared on the Web featuring Magnotta placing a pair of kittens inside an airtight bag then using a vacuum cleaner to suck out the air. He also had a blog under his name called "Necrophilia Serial Killer Luka Magnotta" that featured the following quote: "It's not cool to the world being a necrophiliac. It's bloody lonely. But I don't care." Magnotta was also the author of an Internet article titled, "How to Completely Disappear and Never be Found" in which he laid out a six-step program for changing one's identify.

     On May 25, four days before the gruesome discovery at the Montreal apartment, an uploaded 11-minute Internet video on an Alberta-based website called "Best Gore," showed a man being stabbed, his throat slashed, and his head cut off by an unidentified killer in a dark hoodie. The man in the video also severed the victim's limbs, then committed sexual and cannibalistic acts on the corpse. A dog in the dimly lit room ate part of the body. The snuff video was called, "1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick." The Canadian authorities believed the torso found behind Magnotta's apartment building, as well as the mailed body parts, belong to the man seen murdered online. Investigators also theorized that Luka Magnotta was the killer/cannibal in the video.

     In Apartment 208, crime scene investigators believed they were at the site of the videoed murder/dismemberment. Detectives also thought the torso found behind the building came from this apartment. The walls and floor were splattered in dried blood and in the bedroom they found a blood-soaked mattress.

     A forensic pathologist examined the torso and the two mailed body parts and found that the remains belonged to the same person.

     Luka Magnotta, the subject of a massive international manhunt, was described as a slightly built man who was five-foot-eight with short black hair and blue eyes. The authorities searching for the fugitive believed he was hiding out in Europe under a false identity.

     The man believed to have been killed in the snuff film was identified as a student from China named Jun Lin. The 33-year-old had been attending Concordia University in Montreal. He had been going out with Magnotta and was last seen on May 24, 2012. Lin was an undergraduate in the engineering and computer science department.

     Montreal Police Commander Ian Lafreniere believed that Magnotta was hiding in France. The fugitive was immediately placed on Interpol's equivalent of the FBI's most wanted list. A Toronto transsexual who had a sexual relationship with Magnotta, informed the police that the porn actor used drugs and possessed a bad temper.

     In 2010, after Luka Magnotta posted the disgusting video involving the kittens, a London reporter with The Sun newspaper questioned him for an article. In an email to The Sun, Magnotta warned that his next uploaded snuff video would not involve cats. "Once you kill, and taste blood, it's impossible to stop," he wrote. After the animal cruelty video was published, animal rights activists in Canada tried to get the authorities to intervene.

     On Monday, June 4, 2012, seven  police officers in Berlin, Germany, acting on a tip from a person who recognized Magnotta, arrested him in an internet cafe. At first Magnotta gave the officers a false name, then said, "You got me." Magnotta was in the cafe reading about himself on the Internet.

     On the day following his arrest, as Magnotta appeared before a German judge on the matter of his extradition back to Canada, staff members at two private boy's school in Vancouver, British Columbia, each received a package that had been mailed from Montreal. The package to the False Creek Elementary school contained a human foot. The parcel opened at St. George's contained a hand. The body parts belonged to Jun Lin. The authorities were still searching for the victim's head.

     Several months following his extradition back to Canada, Magnotta acquired an attorney named Luc   Leclain who argued that his client should be tried for the lesser homicide offense of second-degree murder because the Crown could not prove premeditation in Jun Lin's killing. In May 2013, following a week-long preliminary hearing involving thirty witnesses for the Crown, the Court of Quebec judge ruled that the prosecution had enough evidence to justify trying Magnotta for first degree-murder.

     In addition to first-degree murder, Luka Magnotta stood charged with the lesser offenses of causing indignity to Jun Lin's body (in the U. S. it's called abuse of corpse), broadcasting obscene material, using the postal service to send obscene material, and the harassment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament. The Quebec judge scheduled Magnotta's first-degree murder trial for September 14, 2014.

     Luka Magnotta's murder trial got underway on Monday December 15, 2014 before Justice Guy Cournoyer of the Quebec Superior Court. His attorney, Luc Leclair, tried to convince the jury that the defendant, a schizophrenic, committed the murder is a psychotic state that had rendered him legally insane and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity.

     The Magnotta jury did not buy the insanity defense and found the defendant, on December 23, 2014, guilty of first-degree murder. The jurors also found him guilty of the lesser offenses. Judge Cournoyer sentenced Magnotta to life in prison for first-degree murder and gave him 19 years behind bars for the other offenses.

     

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Diana Costarakis Murder-For-Hire Case: The Mother-in-Law From Hell

     Diana Reaves Costarakis lived on Buggy Whip Drive in Middleburg, an unincorporated community in northern Florida thirty miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville. The 70-year-old grandmother, in September 2013, asked an unidentified intermediary for advice on how to find a hit man to murder her daughter-in-law, Angela Costarakis. The person the elderly murder-for-hire mastermind reached out to took the request seriously enough to report Costarakis to the Duval County Sheriff's Office in Jacksonville.

     As the standard investigative protocol in murder solicitation cases, murder mastermind Costarakis received a call from an undercover officer who offered to do the job. But first, they would have to meet in person in order for the first installment of the hit money to exchange hands. If the suspect agreed to a face-to-face meeting with the phony contract killer, a videotaped event that normally took place in a box store parking lot, the case would proceed.

     Diana Costarakis told the man on the phone that she would like to meet with him. She agreed to bring with her $500 in cash, the first downpayment for the hit. (It's amazing that almost every murder-for-hire mastermind falls for this trap. These people are so desperate to have someone killed they lose the ability to think straight.)

     Diana Costarakis, on Wednesday, October 9, 2013, met with the undercover cop in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in Jacksonville. With this meeting, she believed she was moving forward in her scheme to have Angela Costarakis murdered. She handed the phony hit man $500 in cash, and promised a second downpayment of $1,000 the next time they met. Upon completion of the job, Costarakis said she would  come up with an additional $3,500. Having someone killed, while a fairly simple, straightforward task, didn't come cheap.

     As a further incentive for the contract killer, the mastermind informed him that the murder target usually wore expensive jewelry, untraceable diamonds that could be fenced without risk. To facilitate the successful completion of the hit man's assignment, Costarakis provided the undercover cop with a photograph of her daughter-in-law, a description of her car, and her home address.

     The next day, in the same Home Depot parking lot, the homicidal grandmother handed the undercover cop the $1,000 in cash. In response to the question of why she wanted Angela Costarakis taken out, the mastermind described her daughter-in-law as a drunk who drove around intoxicated with her 6-year-old daughter in the car. Not only that, the murder-for-hire target, who was in the process of divorcing the mastermind's son, was moving to Denver with her boyfriend. According to the suspect, the couple planned to take the little girl with them. (Most real hit men don't care why the mastermind wants the target murdered.)

     When asked if she was sure she wanted to go ahead with the murder plot, Costarakis replied, "If you don't kill her, I will."

     Having acquired all the evidence he needed, the undercover cop flashed his badge and arrested the suspect on the spot. After reading Costarakis her Miranda rights, she asked to consult with an attorney before speaking to the police. As a result, there was no interrogation and forthcoming confession.

     Charged with criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy, Diana Costarakis was placed in the Duval County jail where she was incarcerated without bond. She was arraigned on October 31, 2013.

     The day following the murder-for-hire arrest, Angela Costarakis, the target of her mother-in-law's wrath, told a local television reporter that "I am beyond sad and it breaks my heart because it messes up the family. I have compassion. I don't want to see anyone spend the rest of their life in jail. However, I am still just not dealing with it. I just found out. I have not wrapped my head around it." The murder target said she did not have plans to move to Denver with her daughter.

     On August 27, 2014, Diana Costarakis pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit a capital felony. In October 2014 the judge sentenced the 71-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to seven years in prison

     

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Steven L. Robbins: The Convicted Murderer Who Walked Out of the Cook County Jail

     On May 12, 2002, 34-year-old Steven L. Robbins got into a fight at a party in Indianapolis with a man from Kentucky. During the altercation, Robbins shot 24-year-old Richard Melton to death. Eighteen months later, the Gary, Indiana native was found guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to sixty years in prison. (Robbins wasn't eligible for parole until 2029.)

     On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, Robbins, now 44, was transported from the state prison in Michigan City, an Indiana town 50 miles east of Chicago, to the Cook County Jail. Robbins had a court hearing the next day pertaining to a 1992 Illinois felony charge.

     On Wednesday, after the judge informed Robbins that the old charge against him had been dismissed in 2007 (why did they summon him to Illinois to tell him that?), the prisoner was returned to the Cook County Jail.

     Corrections officers responsible for hauling Robbins back to Indiana, on Thursday, January 31, called the Cook County Jail to alert officials that they would pick up Robbins for his trip back to prison. That's when the Indiana authorities learned that Robbins had been released from custody the previous evening at seven o'clock. Because no one at the Cook County Jail knew that Robbins was serving a sentence in Indiana for murder, he simply walked out of the massive lock-up through the main door.

     The fact that Steven Robbins had been transported to Chicago to face charges that were dismissed five years ago, suggested there was something profoundly wrong with the corrections bureaucracy in both states. It went without saying that some major corrections SNAFU led to Robbins' easy escape from the Cook County Jail.

     On February 1, 2013, police in the southern Illinois town of Kankakee arrested Robbins at the home of a friend. He was watching TV. The Cook County Sheriff, in an unusual move, took responsibility for the foul-up. "We let people down, no mistake about it." Fortunately, while loose, Robbins did not commit any serious crimes.  For Robbins, the easy part was getting out of the Cook County Jail. Staying out proved more difficult. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rashad Owens Murder Case

     At midnight on March 13, 2014, a patrol officer in Austin, Texas tried to pull over a vehicle without its headlights on that made an illegal left turn onto an I-35 frontage road. The driver of the car, a 21-year-old rapper from Killeen, Texas named Rashad Owens, refused to stop for the officer. A short time later, in the process of avoiding arrest, Owens drove through a barricade on Red River Street. The street had been blocked off for the South by Southwest film, media, and music festival.

     An intoxicated Owens, at a top speed of 55 miles per hour, plowed his car into thirty festival goers, killing four of them and injuring the others. After driving into the crowd with his headlights off, Owens led police officers on a chase that culminated in his arrested after he fled his vehicle on foot.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Owens with two counts of capital murder (in some jurisdictions called first-degree murder) and 24 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was held in the Travis County Jail without bond.

     The Owens murder trial got underway in Austin on November 2, 2015. In her opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Amy Meredith told the jury that because the defendant knew his action put the people on Red River Street in mortal danger, the charges of capital murder in this case were appropriate. The prosecutor argued that Owens had acted with intent and malice, key elements in the offense of capital murder. While the prosecution was not seeking the death penalty, if convicted, Owens would be sent to prison for life without the chance of parole.

     Rick Jones, Owens' attorney, argued that capital murder was not an appropriate charge in the case because his client, while intending to flee the police, did not intend to kill anyone. The defense attorney pointed out that the defendant did not know Red River Street had been closed to traffic. (What did he think the barricade was for?)

     The prosecution began its case with a police dash cam video showing Owens failing to stop for the patrol officer.

     The case went to the jury of seven women and five men on November 6, 2015. The defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. After just three hours of deliberation, the jurors found Rashad Owens guilty as charged.

     This case will be appealed, and one of the legal points will probably include the issue of criminal intent, or lack thereof, to commit capital murder. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Chinese Sex Dungeon Murder Case

     In August 2009, 33-year-old Li Hoa and his wife lived in a apartment complex in Luoyang City, a municipality in central China's Henan Province. Li, a former firefighter, worked in the city's Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau. (I have no idea what he did for the city.) That August, Li Hoa finished building, beneath his apartment building's basement, a three-level living space complex that consisted of a flight of stairs that led down to a tunnel/crawl space that dropped to a pair of adjacent rooms four meters beneath the basement floor. (The tunnel dropped a few feet then made a right angle turn into the living quarters.)

     Li Hoa furnished the rooms, each the size of a small jail cell, with a bed, a chair, a toilet, and a hot plate for heating food. He also wired these underground boxes for electricity, and supposedly did all of this work in a clandestine fashion. (According to Li, his wife thought he had an extra job working as a night watchman.)

     Between August 2009 and September 2011, Li Hoa kidnaped six women in their twenties from area nightclubs, karaoke bars, and salons, and held them captive in his underground rooms. Li raped his prisoners, forced them to perform in pornographic web videos that viewers could upload for a fee, and escorted the women into the city where they worked for him as prostitutes.

     In 2010, Li forced three of his sex slaves to help him beat one of their fellow captives to death. He did this to instill fear and discipline into his sex slaves. He buried the victim's body beneath one of the cells. Less that a year later, Li and three of his women murdered a second prisoner. They buried her body near the first murder victim.

     Li Hoa's sex dungeon operation came to an end in September 2011. One of his unsupervised prostitutes, instead of returning to the underground prison with his money, went to the police. When the captive didn't return to her subterranean quarters as scheduled, Li realized that she had escaped and that his days as a sex slave master were over. He borrowed 1,000 yuan from his sister to help finance his flee from the police, but got caught before leaving the city. (The sister later pleaded guilty to harboring a criminal in return for a probated sentence.)

     Li Hoa faced charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, running a prostitution enterprise, and the distribution of pornography for profit. The three women he had coerced into helping him commit the two murders were convicted of criminal homicide. The judge sentenced two of these defendants to probation, and the third to three years in prison.

     On November 3, 2012, a judge in Luoyang City sentenced Li Hoa to death. Unlike in America where death row inmates often live decades beyond their convictions, Li Hoa died by firing squad on January 21, 2013.

     Although there is much I don't know about this case, I find it hard to believe that Li Hoa's wife didn't know what he was doing beneath the apartment building. Moreover, it's hard to believe that Li built his  underground dungeon in secret. The case reeks of official corruption. I also suspect that in the cases of the missing bar girls, the police were not working that hard to find them.      

Monday, November 2, 2015

Police Sexual Misconduct: The Adam Skweres Case

     Let's say two women, in separate cases, accused a police officer of sexual misconduct. Should that cop, while these allegations are being investigated, remain on duty, or be placed on administrative leave? According to Ocean City (Maryland) Police Chief Bernadette Di Pino, a member of the executive committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), there are no national guidelines or policies dealing with this question. In Maryland, an uncharged officer can be taken off the street if the allegations seem credible. In most jurisdictions, however, accused officers stay on the job until they are charged with a crime. That's how cases like this are handled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

     Adam Skweres, after graduating from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, joined the U.S. Army Reserves and served a tour of duty in Iraq. In 2005, after taking a few college courses, the 29-year-old applied for a job with the Pittsburgh Police Department. As part of the hiring process, city psychologist Dr. Irvin P. R. Guyett, in determining if Skweres was psychologically fit for police duty, reviewed the results of the candidate's background investigation. Based on polygraph test results, what neighbors and others said about the applicant, his financial history, and the psychologist's interview of the candidate, Dr. Guyett concluded that Skweres was "not psychologically fit for police work." (Dr. Guyett had been evaluating police candidates for 20 years.)

     Unwilling to take no for an answer, Skweres appealed Dr. Guyett's findings and the rejection of his application to the civil service commission. In 2006, the city appointed another psychologist, Dr. Alexander Levy, to re-evaluate the candidate. Dr. Levy, after presumably looking at the same data available to Dr. Guyett, found Skweres "psychologically suited for police work." Based on this second expert opinion, the city allowed Skweres to join the next available police academy class. Upon graduation from the police academy the new officer was assigned to the Zone 3 station on Pittsburgh's south side.

     In June 2008, a woman filed a sexual misconduct complaint against Officer Skweres. After this woman had testified as a victim in one of his cases, Skweres, as he escorted her out of the courtroom, asked to speak to her privately. Skweres said he knew that this woman and her husband were dealing with the county office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). If she agreed to give him oral sex, Skweres would write the CYF a positive letter on their behalf. If she refused, he would write the agency a negative letter. He allegedly said that he just needed 30 minutes of her time. The woman refused, and filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Police Department.

     Two weeks later, Officer Skweres told a woman who had been in a minor traffic accident that he was writing her up, but the ticket would disappear if she gave him oral sex. According to this woman's complaint, Skweres looked at his sidearm and told her that if she told anyone about his proposal, he'd make sure she never spoke to anyone again.

     Although presented with two credible citizen complaints of coercion and sexual misconduct against one of its officers, supervisors at the Pittsburgh Police Department, because they didn't have sufficient cause, did not remove Officer Skweres from active duty. Pursuant to regulations enforced by the local Fraternal Order of the Police, this officer, until charged with a crime, would stay on the job.

     In December 2011, Officer Skweres entered a home in the Belthoover section of the city where the girlfriend of a man he had recently arrested lived. After asking her how much she loved the arrestee, Skweres allegedly offered to help the boyfriend if she stripped and performed oral sex on him. In making the proposal, which was more of a demand, he unclipped his holster to intimidate her. This woman filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Officer Skweres remained on duty.

     Officer Skweres, on February 11, 2012, showed up at the home of a girlfriend of another man he had arrested. Indicating that he knew he was being surveilled, and didn't want to be recorded, Skweres communicated with the woman by writing messages on a notepad. He instructed her not to talk, and told her to lift her skirt to show she wasn't wearing a wire. (He was not being watched.) When Skweres did speak, he did so in the kitchen where he had water running in the sink to cover his voice.

     After offering to help this woman's incarcerated boyfriend, Skweres allegedly forced the victim to give him oral sex. He cleaned himself off with a towel, put it into his pocket, and left the house. This victim reported the crime to the FBI.

     Five days later, at 5:15 P.M., officers with the Pittsburgh Police Department arrested Officer Skweres at his home. Charged with official oppression, indecent assault, rape, and criminal coercion, Skweres was placed into the Allegheny County Jail where for his protection he was isolated from the other inmates. A judge set his bond at $300,000. The department suspended Skweres without pay.

     On February 21, 2012, detectives searching Officer Adam Skweres's house and SUV found marijuana and crack cocaine. His lawyer told reporters that his client would be pleading not guilty to the sexual misconduct and criminal coercion charges.

     In defending the police department's decision not to remove Officer Skweres from active duty after the 2008 complaints, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it wasn't until the fourth alleged victim filed her complaint with the FBI that the department had the "hard evidence" they needed to make the arrest and take this officer off the street. The head of the police union told the same reporter that officers can't be taken off duty simply because a civilian makes a complaint. "If we remove someone every time an accusation was thrown at an officer, we wouldn't have any officers on the street who are hardworking and aggressive." (Really? Are there that many citizen complaints?)

     Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska, a nationally known author and scholar on the subject of policing, said the following to a reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Common sense would say if you have suspicions about this person's conduct, you take [him] off the street, period. If there were two [complaints] back in 2008, that raises the significance of it even further. There should have been something done."

     On March 11, 2013, Adam Skeweres pleaded guilty to 26 counts of sexually assaulting five women he encountered while on duty. The judge sentenced him to three to eight years in prison followed by ten years of probation. The judge also ordered the former police officer to register as a sex offender.

     

Friday, October 30, 2015

David Kwiatkowski: The Hospital Worker Who Infected Patients With Hepatitis C

     David Kwiatkowski traveled around the country working as a hospital temp in cardiac catheterization labs as a radiology technician. From January 2007 to September of that year, the 29-year-old worked at the Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan, his home state. From November 2007 to March 2010, Kwiatowski was employed in six hospitals in Poughkeepsie, New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore and Clinton, Maryland.

     On April 1, 2010, the itinerate lab technician landed a job in Phoenix at the Arizona Heart Hospital. Eleven days later, a fellow employee found him out cold in the men's locker room. After testing positive for cocaine and marijuana, the hospital fired him. Less than a week later, Kwiakowski was in Philadelphia working at Temple University Hospital. That job lasted less than a month. That May the roving temp was employed at a hospital in Hays, Kansas. A month after taking the job in Kansas, Kwiatkowski's drug usage caught up with him. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C. After a month or so at the Hays Hospital, the infected temp was in Warner Robins, Georgia at the Houston Medical Center. (There must be a shortage of radiology technicians. Wasn't anyone keeping track of this guy?)

     Two years after Kwiatkowski was fired from the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix, he began work in the cardiac catheterization unit at the Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire. On May 12, 2012, six weeks after the temp started work at Exeter, the hospital experienced a hepatitis C breakout involving 32 patients and former patients.

     Because the infected patients had all received cardiac catheterization procedures at Exeter, David Kwiatkowski came under suspicion. Investigators began looking into his bizarre work history, and learned he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C in June 2010. Fellow hospital employees, based on the temp's erratic behavior, and the fresh needle tracks on his arms, suspected he was a drug addict. (Why didn't any of these people speak up? What kind of zombies do we have working in our hospitals?) Kwiatkowski's roommate told investigators that he had found needles in their apartment. When confronted by his roommate, Kwiatkowski said he had cancer. The hospital fired the radiology temp on May 24, 2012.

     Following a month-long investigation, FBI agents determined that Kwiatkowski had injected himself with syringes meant for patients. These syringes were filled with Fentanyl, a painkiller more potent than morphine. Patients were then infected with syringes Kwiatkowski had refilled with a saline solution. Patients had not only been denied relief from pain, the temp had given them hepatitis C.

     On July 13, police in Marlborough, Massachusetts responded to a call from a Holiday Inn regarding a guest who had overdosed on drugs. Officers found David Kwiatkowski in a stupor amid pills scattered about the hotel room. He had also written a suicide note. Medics transported him to a nearby hospital.

     A federal grand jury sitting in New Hampshire, on July 19, 2012 indicted Kwiatkowski for acquiring controlled substances by fraud, and for tampering with a consumer product (the hospital syringes). If convicted of these offenses, he faced up to 24 years in prison. On the day of his indictment, FBI agents arrested Kwiatkowski at the Marlborough hospital where he was recovering from his drug and alcohol overdose.

     When interrogated by the FBI, Kwiatkowski denied stealing the syringes and switching out their contents. Moreover, he said he didn't use drugs. When asked how the 32 patients at the Exeter Hospital had contracted hepatitis C, the suspect said, "You know, I'm more concerned about myself, my own well-being. I've learned here to just worry about myself. And that's all I care about now." Spoken like a true sociopath.

     David Kwiatkowski was held in the Strafford County Jail in New Hampshire. In that state alone, he came into contact with more than 3,000 patients, people who had yet to be tested for hepatitis C.

     In August 2013, Kwiatkowski, pursuant to a plea agreement, admitted that he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people." After pleading guilty to fourteen federal drug theft and tampering charges, a judge sentenced him to 39 years in prison.

     

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Police Officer's Strange and Unlawful Requests

     In 2014, 27-year-old Patrick Quinn worked as a uniformed patrol officer for the Cypress-Fairbanks School District in suburban Houston, Texas. On August 11 of that year, while driving his patrol vehicle, officer Quinn pulled over a motorist in northwest Harris County. Following the stop, the officer examined the female driver's insurance card and found that her car insurance had expired. Quinn also informed the driver that he detected the odor of marijuana in the vehicle.

     Officer Quinn, after he secured the stopped driver's permission to search her car, placed the suspect in the backseat of his patrol vehicle. A search of the motorist's car resulted in the discovery of a marijuana grinder. Officer Quinn advised the detainee that he could arrest her for possession of drug paraphernalia. At that point the patrol officer stunned the woman with the revelation that he had a foot fetish. If she allowed him to sniff and lick her bare feet, he wouldn't take her into custody.

     Not wanting to be arrested, the motorist removed her boots and socks. But instead of availing himself of the woman's feet, officer Quinn asked her to remove and give him her underwear. Before the woman could comply with that request, the patrol officer changed his mind and let her go.

     The day following her harrowing encounter with the disturbed cop, the woman reported the bizarre and frightening incident to the authorities. Detectives with the Harris County District Attorney's Office launched an investigation.

     Police officers arrested Patrick Quinn after detectives identified him through his latent fingerprints on the victim's insurance card.

     The Cypress-Fairbanks School District fired Mr. Quinn after a Harris County prosecutor charged him with two counts of official oppression. In the course of the investigation leading up to the arrest, detectives had found three other women who had been victims of the officer's deviant propositions.

     On October 22, 2015, in a Houston Courtroom, Patrick Quinn pleaded guilty to one count of official oppression. The judge sentenced him to a year in the Harris County Jail.

     

Monday, October 26, 2015

Getting Physical Over Chicken Wings

     Anyone familiar with crime knows that people commit serious criminal acts over extremely trivial matters. Criminologists label this phenomenon simplicity of motive. I call it stupidity.

     At nine-thirty Thursday night September 17, 2015, in Aliquippa, a small western Pennsylvania town north of Pittsburgh, Kim L. Adamson got into an argument with another female patron of Warwos Bar and Lounge. The dust-up started when Adamson ate the other woman's chicken wings.

     Immediately following the chicken wing flap, the two women separated and continued drinking apart from each other. But the argument flared up again with more angry words passing between the combatants. This time the conflict culminated with the 50-year-old chicken wing eater smashing a beer bottle into her adversary's head. The blow caused contusions and cuts to the victim's head and face.

     The attack, caught on a surveillance camera in the bar, led to charges of aggravated assault and related lesser offenses.

     Because bars are inhabited by people consuming alcohol, they can be dangerous places, especially when chicken wings are involved. In all probability, this case will be resolved with a guilty plea to simple assault. Unless Adamson was on parole or has a significant criminal record, the judge will sentence her to a couple years probation.   

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Tamir E. Rice Police-Involved Shooting Case

     On Saturday November 22, 2014, a 911 dispatcher in Cleveland, Ohio received a call from a person at the Cudell Recreation Center on the city's west side. According to the emergency caller, a boy on a swing set was scaring people by pulling a handgun out of waistband and pointing it at other people at the playground. The 911 caller added that the gun was probably a fake.

     Two Cleveland police officers responded to the call. When the officers arrived at the playground they saw what looked like a semi-automatic handgun lying on a bench. The boy in question, 12-year-old Tamir E. Rice, walked over to the bench, picked up the gun and stuck it into his waistband.

     The police officers pulled their weapons and ordered the boy to raise his hands. Instead of complying with the command, Tamir Rice reached for the gun. One of the officers fired two shots. A bullet pierced the boy's abdomen.

     Paramedics rushed Tamir Rice to MetroHealth Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. The next day, he died.

     As it turned out, the pistol in the boy's possession was a pellet gun that did not have the orange safety tip attached to the muzzle to distinguish it from its real counterpart. The Airsoft replica gun fired plastic pellets.

     The two police officers, one a first-year rookie and the other a ten-year veteran, were placed on administrative leave. In advance of a full internal investigation, it appeared that the boy had not pointed the gun at the officers and had not threatened them verbally. Investigators gathered surveillance video footage and interviewed witnesses. The detectives who looked into the shooting determined that the rookie officer had fired the fatal shot.

     The results of the internal investigation were submitted to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.

     The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association told reporters that the officers had not been told that the gun was probably a replica.

     On October 11, 2015, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office released a pair of reports on the Tamir Rice shooting by retired FBI agent Kimberley Crawford and Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Lamar Sims. The use of force experts commissioned by Cuyahoga County concluded that the rookie patrolman who shot Rice had exercised a reasonable use of force because the officer had reason to perceive Tamir Rice as a serious threat. The 911 dispatcher had described the boy as a man waving and pointing a gun.

     Member of the Rice family voiced their disapproval of the independent police-involved shooting report. A Cuyahoga County grand jury will determine if criminal charges against the officer are appropriate. In light of the independent police shooting report, an indictment in this case seems unlikely. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Chinese Mom Sued For Having an Ugly Baby

     In China, the old gag that goes, "At birth I was so ugly, the doctor slapped my mother," may be more reality than humor.

     Jian Feng married a beautiful woman who didn't tell him that she had been made attractive by a plastic surgeon in South Korea. Mr. Jian's bride had spent $100,000 for cosmetic surgery on her eyes, nose, and lips. Prior to the work done on her face, Mrs. Jian had been physically ordinary, and at best, plain. She would not have landed the superficial Mr. Jian without the surgery, and had he known that her beauty was not genetic, he wouldn't have married her. Mr. Jian assumed that his wife's beauty had been a gift of nature, and not the work of a gifted surgeon.

     On 2011, Mrs. Jian gave birth to a baby girl. The father, expecting the infant to reflect his own good looks and his wife's radiant beauty, was handed a child he considered downright ugly. He found the baby so unattractive, Mr. Jian was certain he couldn't have been the father. He not only accused his wife of having extramarital sex with another man, he accused her of having illicit sex with an ugly man. There was no way Mr. Jian was going to raise and support someone else's homely child. The infuriated husband demanded a DNA paternity test.

     Mrs. Jian found herself in a lose-lose situation. She could falsely confess to having sex with an unattractive lover, or tell her husband about the cosmetic surgery. The hapless, but faithful wife came clean about her past facial enhancement.

     Mr. Jian's spirits were not lifted by the fact his wife had not cheated on him, and that the baby in question was his own flesh and blood. He not only divorced his wife, he filed a civil suit against her on the grounds that their marriage had been based on false pretense. (She should have counter-sued on grounds that she had married him under the pretense he was a decent person.) In November 2012, the judge (presumably a man), by essentially declaring the baby a defective product purchased as a result of false advertising, awarded Mr. Jian the U.S. equivalent of $120,000 in damages.

     

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Say Goodbye to Kelly Gissendancer

     Since only a handful of states actually execute cold-blooded murderers, death by lethal injection has become a relatively unusual event. Rarer still are the executions of women. Even in the heyday of capital punishment few women died at the end of a robe or in the electric chair. While women are no less capable of unspeakable evil than men, killing a woman, at least since the dawn of the 20th century, hasn't seemed quite appropriate.

     In Georgia, where executions are still carried out, the authorities hadn't executed a woman in 70 years. That made the September 30, 2015 execution of Kelly Renee Gissendancer so newsworthy, and to many, barbaric.

     The 47-year-old death row inmate of 18 years received her lethal injection shortly after midnight soon after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to intercede on her behalf.

     In 1998, a jury found Gissendancer guilty of arranging to have her boyfriend kidnap and stab to death her husband Douglas. A jury found the hit man, Gregory Owen, guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mr. Owen to life in prison. Prosecutors, with the help of Owen as a key witness, secured Gissendancer's first-degree murder conviction.

     Over the years Gissendancer's death house attorneys based their appeals for clemency on the fact she was not present when her boyfriend committed the murder on her behalf. Moreover, the defense lawyers argued that their client had found religion and had been a model prisoner. They said she felt bad about ordering the hit. Apparently the governor of the state and a majority of the Supreme Court justices, officials who could have saved her life, were unmoved by those arguments.

     Gissendancer was the 16th women executed in the United States since the U. S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. She is survived by three adult children.

     

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Paul Johnson Kidnap/Rape/Fugitive Case

     In June 1990, Paul Johnson and his half-brother Vance Roberts kidnapped 17-year-old Andrea Hood off the street in Portland, Oregon. After the victim climbed into Roberts' pickup truck, the two men drove her to Roberts' house in the city where, over a period of 36 hours, they repeatedly raped her in a bedroom converted into a soundproof torture chamber. They locked Hood in a closet and at times chained her to a bed.

     On the second day of her captivity Hood managed to free herself, smash a bedroom window, and escape.

     Police officers, when they searched Vance Roberts' house, found chains and other items of torture and restraint.

     After Paul Johnson and Vance Roberts pleaded not guilty at their arraignments, a Washington County prosecutor took the case to a grand jury which indicted the half-brothers on charges of kidnapping and rape. Both men maintained their innocence.

     In February 1991, as Johnson and Roberts awaited trial, their mother bailed them out of jail. Both men immediately fled and remained at large until Vance Roberts surrendered to the authorities in 2006.

     In 2007, a jury found Vance Roberts guilty as charged. The key evidence against him involved the testimony of Andrea Hood and Michaelle Dierich, a woman kidnapped and raped by the half-brothers in 1988. The judge sentenced Roberts to 108 years in prison. He continued to insist that he was innocent.

     In September 2015, the Portland kidnap/rape case and its fugitive Paul Johnson were featured on the CNN TV show "The Hunt With John Walsh." Shortly after the episode aired, a tip came in regarding Johnson's whereabouts.

     On Monday September 29, 2015, U. S. Marshals in Guadalajara, Mexico arrested Paul Johnson as he walked to an electronics store. The fugitive of 24 years had been living in that country under the name Paul Bennett Hamilton. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

German Police Find Presumed Dead Woman Missing 30 Years

     In 1984, when 24-year-old Petra Pazsitka, a computer science student attending college in Braunschweig, Germany, failed to show up at her brother's birthday party, her parents reported her missing. The police in this northern German city launched a massive hunt.

     About a year after the student's disappearance, the missing persons case was featured on a popular German television crime show. The public exposure did not create any tips that led to Pazsitka's recovery.

     Not long after the airing of the TV segment, a man named Gunter confessed to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl from the neighborhood where Pazsitka had disappeared. This man also confessed to kidnapping and murdering the missing college student. But after Gunter was unable to lead homicide investigators to Pazsitka's body, the suspect took back his confession and that case was closed.

     In 1989, five years after Pazsitka's disappearance, she was officially declared dead even though her body had not been recovered.

     In September 2015, police in Dusseldorf, Germany were called to an apartment to investigate a burglary. At the scene they spoke to the victim tenant, a 54-year-old woman who identified herself as Mrs. Schneider. Investigators, when they learned that Mrs. Schneider didn't possess a driver's license, social security card, passport, or bank account, or any other form of personal identification, turned their attention on her.

     As it turned out, Mrs. Schneider was Petra Pazsitka. After staging her disappearance 30 years ago, Pazsitka lived in several German cities under numerous assumed names. She paid all of her bills with cash and didn't drive a car.

     When detectives asked Pazsitka the obvious question of why she had voluntarily disappeared, causing a massive police hunt as well as pain and suffering for her family, she said she had wanted to start a new life. She offered no explanation beyond that. Her father had since died. When asked if she wanted to reunite with her mother and brother, she said she did not.

      

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Disturbing Campus Sexual Assault Study

     On September 15, 2015, the Association of American Universities (AAU) published the results of their massive campus sexual offense survey of 150,000 students at 27 of the nation's top universities. The AAU findings were shocking. In the student bodies surveyed, between 20 to 28 percent of responding female undergraduates reported that during the past year they were victims of sexual offenses that included rape. Between 20 and 35 percent of the respondents said that sexual assault constituted a serious problem at their schools.

     Roughly half of the complaints involved the crime of rape. Other forms of sexual misconduct included sexual harassment and non-consensual sexual contact.

     The survey response rate fell between 18 and 53 percent, depending on the university.

     The published survey results came from the following 18 schools: Brown, Case Western Reserve, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Iowa State, Ohio State, University of Florida, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oregon, University of Texas at Austin, University of Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale.

     In addition to the above universities, nine other schools participated in the survey. The data from those studies will be published later.

     The crime of rape and other sexual offenses is especially intense on campuses due to the concentration of young men and women and the high use of alcohol and drugs. Making things worse is the fact that universities and collages are known for sweeping sex offense complaints under the rug in order to protect their enrollment numbers. Some schools, such as Columbia University, have been accused of fostering a culture of rape. Notwithstanding a federal law against college administrators not reporting campus sexual offenses, the problem persists. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Judge G. Todd Baugh Blamed 14-Year-Old Rape Victim

     Police in Billings Montana in 2008 arrested 49-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, a teacher at the local high school. Rambold stood accused of having a sexual relationship with Cherice Morales, a 14-year-old student. A Yellowstone County prosecutor charged Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. (By law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex with an adult. In some states the crime is called statutory rape.)

     In 2004, administrators at Billings Senior High School had warned Rambold against touching or being alone with female students.

     Cherice Morales, just before her 17th birthday in 2010, committed suicide. At the time of this troubled girl's death, the criminal case against her former teacher was pending. The girl's mother, Auliea Halon, sued the the school district for wrongful death. The case was quickly settled for $91,000.

     The Yellowstone County prosecutor, as a result of Morales' suicide, offered Stacey Rambold a deal. If he confessed to one count of sexual intercourse without consent, and promised to enter a sex offender treatment program, the charges would be dropped. Rambold accepted the offer.

     In August 2012, Rambold began skipping meetings with his counselors, and didn't tell them about unsupervised visits he was having with girls. In November, the head of the sex treatment facility kicked him out of the program. When Deputy Chief Yellowstone County prosecutor Rod Souza learned that Rambold had violated the terms of their agreement, he refiled the original charges against the former teacher.

     Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, told reporters that the girls Rambold had visited without supervision were members of his family. Moreover, his client had enrolled in another sex treatment program.

     On August 26, 2013, the Rambold case came before 66-year-old District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh. Before being elected to the bench in 1985, Baugh had served as a federal magistrate. Prior to that, he practiced law in Billings. The judge was currently running, unopposed, for his fifth term on the bench.

     In September 2011, Judge Baugh had sentenced a 26-year-old defendant to 50 years in prison for the rape on an 11-year-old girl. A year later he sent a man to prison for 25 years for possessing child pornography. Judge Baugh did not have a reputation for going easy on sex offenders.

     At the Rambold hearing, Judge Baugh dismissed the refiled charges against the defendant. The judge said that Rambold's being kicked out of the sex program did not justify the refiling of the 2008 sexual intercourse without consent charges. The remaining issue before the judge involved Rambold's sentence based upon his 2010 admission of guilt on the single count of sexual intercourse without consent.

     Yellowstone County Chief Deputy prosecutor Rod Souza proposed a 20 year sentence with 10 years suspended. Defense attorney Jay Lansing suggested that because Rambold had lost his job, his license to teach, his house and his wife, he had been punished enough. Attorney Lansing asked Judge Baugh to suspend all but 30 days of a 15-year sentence. The attorney pointed out that Mr. Rambold had continued his sex rehabilitation program with another treatment facility.

     Judge Baugh said that he had reviewed the videotaped police interviews of Cherice Morales. From this he had concluded that even though the victim was 35 years younger than her teacher, she was "as much in control of the situation" as the defendant. Judge Baugh said that the 14-year-old was "older than her chronological age." The judge considered this a major mitigating factor in the case.

     Judge Baugh suspended all but 30 days of Rambold's 15-year sentence. After spending a month in jail, the former teacher would be on probation for 15 years. He would also have to register as a sex offender.

     Upon hearing this sentence, the dead girl's mother, Auilea Hanlon, stormed out of the courtroom. When she spoke to reporters after the hearing, Hanlon said, " I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you can blame the victim, even if she was only fourteen."

     In a matter of  hours following the sentence, local citizens were signing an online petition that called for Judge Baugh to resign. Marion Bradley, the director of the Montana National Organization for Women, told reporters that "Rape is rape. She was 14-years-old, and she was not an age where she could give consent, and he groomed her like any pedophile. Unless we show our outrage, none of our children are safe."

     On the day following his controversial and extremely unpopular sentencing of the former high school teacher, Judge Baugh, in speaking to reporters, stood by his ruling. "Obviously," he said, "a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape. I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it that way, it's crazy. No wonder people are upset. I'd be upset, too, if that happened."

     The next day, Judge Baugh conceded that he deserved to be criticized for his "chronological age" comment. He apologized for that but it was too late for apologies.

     Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, in responding to Judge Baugh's sentence, said, "I have no legal authority whatsoever to appeal a sentence handed down by a judge."

     As of August 29, 2013, the day hundreds of anti-Baugh demonstrators gathered in Billings to protest the sentence, the online petition calling for the judges' resignation had collected 26,350 signatures.

     Stacey Rambold was released from jail in September 2013. He would be on probation until August 2028.

     In July 2014, the Montana Supreme Court censured Judge Baugh for the remarks he made about the 14-year-old rape victim.

     Having decided not to run for a fifth term, Baugh, at the end of his term in December 2014, retired from the bench. He told a skeptical media that his retirement had nothing to do with the Rambold sentence and the state supreme court censure.

     In April 2015, the former judge's critics, and there were many, were stunned to learn that the Yellowstone Area Bar Association had awarded G. Todd Baugh a lifetime achievement award.
     

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Tracy Ingle SWAT Raid

     A narcotics officer with the North Little Rock (Arkansas) Police Department received information on December 20, 2007 that a woman known only as Kate was selling methamphetamine out of the house at 400 East 21st Street. The confidential informant who said he'd purchased meth there, didn't know who owned the dwelling, if other people lived there, how much drug activity was going on at that location, or anything about Kate other than she usually carried a gun. A judge, relying entirely on this sketchy report from a confidential informant, issued a nighttime no-knock warrant to search the house.

     At 7:40 PM, 17 days after the judge issued the warrant, Tracy Ingle, a 40-year-old former stonemason with a bad back, was asleep in his first floor bedroom in the back of the house at 400 East 21st Street. Mr. Ingle awoke with a start at the sound of a SWAT battering ram breaking down his front door. He instinctively reached for his pistol, the unloaded and broken handgun he kept at his bedside to scare off intruders. This would not be the first time burglars had broken into his home. Suddenly, a flashbang grenade came though the window near his bed, filling the room with blinding light. The SWAT officer who climbed into the bedroom through the broken window yelled, "He's got a gun!" That's when the shooting started. The first bullet, fired from a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle, tore into Ingle's left leg just above the knee. As he dropped to the floor, SWAT officers outside the window fired 20 more shots, hitting Ingle in the arm, calf, hip, and chest. Moments later, several officers were in the room. One of the officers kept referring to Ingle as Michael or Mike. Before being rushed to the Baptist Health Hospital, Ingle said, "My name is not Mike."

     The police did not find methamphetamine or any other illegal drug at Tracy Ingle's house. They didn't find Kate, whoever she was, or any incriminating evidence in Ingle's car. They did seize a digital scale and a few baggies, common household items they designated as drug paraphernalia. Ingle's sister, a surgical nurse who made jewelry as a hobby, told the police the scale and baggies belonged to her.

     Because the police had broken into Ingle's house and shot him five times, then failed to find the drugs they had raided the house for, they had to charge him with something. And they did: two counts of aggravated assault for picking up the handgun in self defense, and felony possession of drug paraphernalia. The North Little Rock police, in a botched drug raid, had almost killed a citizen who had never been convicted of a felony. Instead of apologizing for their shoddy, reckless work, and overaggressive tactics, they wanted to send Tracy Ingle to prison.

     Ten days after the shooting, the hospital discharged Ingle from the intensive care unit. Police officers immediately picked him up and drove him to the police station. For the next six hours, detectives grilled Ingle without an attorney present. From the interrogation room, they hauled him to the Pulaski County Jail, where they booked him, still in his hospital-issued clothing. When they released Ingle four days later (he had sold his car to make bail), his wounds had become infected because he had been unable to change his bandages every six hours.

     The internal affairs investigation of the shooting cleared the two SWAT officers who had shot Ingle of wrongdoing. Seeing the gun in Ingle's hand, they had responded appropriately. Responsibility for this drug enforcement fiasco rested on the shoulders of the case detective and the judge who has signed the no-knock search warrant. Ingle, who couldn't afford to hire a lawyer, finally caught a break in May when John Wesley Hall, a well-known Arkansas defense attorney, agreed to represent him.

     In an April 2008 interview conducted by a reporter with the Arkansas Times, North Little Rock Chief of Police Danny Bradley spoke about the department's SWAT team, officer safety, and police militarism. Because North Little Rock is a small city of 50,000, the SWAT team was made up of 12 to 15 regular-duty patrolmen and detectives assigned to the squad part time. These officers trained for the position twice a month. The chief said he deployed the unit only in high-risk situations. "If we have any doubts about detectives and uniformed officers being able to execute the warrant safely we're going to use the SWAT team. I would rather spend the extra money that it takes to get the SWAT team together than risk someone getting injured."

     Chief Bradley, regarding nighttime no-knock home invasions such as the one that got Tracy Ingle shot and almost killed, said, "How do you weigh a situation where executing a warrant safely means exploiting the element of surprise, versus the natural reaction of a person when someone is intruding into his house? It's a dangerous business." The chief allowed that he didn't like the phrase "war on drugs" because he didn't want his officers thinking they were soldiers, and drug suspects their enemy. In that regard, he had worked to eliminate some of the militaristic trappings of the force. For example, he had switched his regular patrol officers out of their "fatigue-looking" uniforms.

     Tracy Ingle's attorney, on September 8, 2008, filed a motion to suppress the evidence against his client. John Wesley Hall argued that owing to the vagueness of the informant's report, the warrant authorizing the raid lacked sufficient probable cause, which rendered the evidence against Ingle inadmissible. Moreover, had there been sufficient probable cause in the first place, it had been severely attenuated by the 17-day delay in the warrant's execution. In other words, the evidence had grown stale. (Under Arkansas law, search warrants must be served within a reasonable time, but not more than 60 days after issue.)

     The judge denied attorney Hall's motion, and in March 2009, a jury found Tracy Ingle guilty of maintaining a drug house, and of felony assault. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison, and fined him $18,000. Tracy Ingle took his case to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which, on May 12, 2010, affirmed his conviction.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lonnie Kocontes And The Cruise Ship Murder of His Ex-Wife Micki Kanesaki

     In 1991, Orange County, California attorney Lonnie Kocentes and Micki Kanesaki, a paralegal working in the same law firm, met and began dating. They married in 1995, and in 2002, were divorced. After the break-up, they continued to live together in their jointly owned Mission Viejo house.

     On May 21, 2006, the couple, in an effort to rekindle their relationship, boarded the cruise ship Island Escape in Spain bound for Italy. Five days later, Kocontes reported his ex-wife missing. He said he had awakened on the morning of May 26 to find his ex-spouse gone from the cabin.

     The next day, Kanesaki's body washed up on the Mediterranean shore near the town of Calabria in southwest Italy. The Italian police boarded the Island Escape to question Kocontes and members of the crew. According to the dead woman's ex-husband, the 52-year-old had left their cabin at one in the morning on May 26 for a cup of tea. She never returned. Kocontes told the officers that Kanesaki had been threatening to commit suicide.

     Not long after Kanesaki's death at sea, Kocontes, in speaking to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, said, "I was committed to this woman. I loved her with all my heart. I wish I never had gone on the cruise."

     Micki Kanesaki's death was not investigated until Kocontes, in 2008, began transferring more than $1 million from the dead woman's bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife. FBI agents and Orange County detectives came to believe that the lawyer had strangled Kanesaki to death on the ship, then threw her body into the Mediterranean. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered somewhere between Sicily and Naples. The authorities also suspected that Kocontes had planned the murder in Orange County, California before the cruise, and was motivated by money.

     On February 15, 2013, Federal Marshals arrested Lonnie Kocontes at his home in Safety Harbor, Florida. He stood charged in Orange County, California with one count of special circumstances murder for financial gain. The suspect awaited his extradition in the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. The minimum sentence the 55-year-old could face was life without the possibility of parole. Because he was accused of murdering someone for money, Kocontes was eligible for the death sentence.

     Shortly after Kocontes was extradited back to California, his third wife provided information to Orange County investigators that incriminated him in Kanesaki's death. In May 2015, two of Kocontes' fellow inmates at the Orange County Jail told his lawyer that Kocontes had asked them to murder his third wife. Before killing the murder-for-hire target, the hit men were supposed to make her sign a letter that accused the police of forcing her to lie about his involvement in Kanesaki's death. The defense attorney turned this information over to the local authorities who charged Kocontes with solicitation of murder and several lesser offenses. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sarai Sierra: American Tourist Murdered in Istanbul, Turkey

     Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old Staten Island, New York wife and mother of two, on January 7, 2013, flew to Istanbul, Turkey. Sierra, an amateur photographer and student at the College of Staten Island, had planned to travel to Turkey with Magdalena Rodriguez who canceled at the last minute. As a result, the part time chiropractor's office employee landed alone in Istanbul, a sprawling city of 14 million.

     During her two-week adventure in Turkey in which she resided in a basement apartment in one of Istanbul's seediest neighborhoods, Sierra remained in touch with her husband Steven, her children, and friends through her iPhone and iPad. On January 15, Sierra flew to Amsterdam where she remained three days. On January 18, on her way back to Turkey, she spend a few hours in Munich, Germany.

      When Sierra's homeward bouind plane landed in New York City on January 21, she was not onboard. That is when Steven Sierra reported her missing to the Istanbul police, and made plans to travel to Turkey to search for his wife.

     Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, compared to other major metropolitan concentrations in the region, is relatively safe from violent crime. Because tourism is a big business in the city, local authorities were eager to find the missing American tourist. Members of the special investigative unit formed to find Sarai Sierra reviewed thousands of hours of downtown surveillance camera footage for a glimpse of the missing woman and clues to her whereabouts. They came up empty-handed.

     On February 2, 2013, residents who lived near the remnants of Istanbul's ancient city walls not far from the Galata Bridge that spanned the Golden Horn waterway, discovered the body of a woman. Police made a tentative identification of the corpse through a driver's license found on the body of the fully-dressed woman. The fact that Sarai Sierra was still wearing her earrings, a bracelet, a gold ring, and a necklace, ruled out robbery as a motive for her murder. Her iPhone and iPad were missing.

     Sarai Sierra had been killed by several blows to the head. The presence of a blanket near the body suggested she had been murdered elsewhere and dumped at the site not far from the busy highway.

     Not long after the discovery of the American tourist's murdered remains, a local woman came forward with information that on January 29, 2013 she had seen a man removing "something" at the presumed dump site from a white car. The witness said she saw a woman's hand protruding from the blanketed bundle taken out of vehicle by the man.

     In the course of their murder investigation, the Istanbul police detained fifteen people for questioning. Because the case had attracted so much media attention in Turkey, the local authorities were eager to bring Sierra's killer or killers to justice.

     On February 4, 2013, prosecutors in Istanbul were granted a court order allowing the acquisition of DNA samples from suspects who have been questioned in the case. DNA samples from Sierra's body and the dump site blanket--hair follicles and scrapings from beneath the victim's fingernails--were sent to a crime lab for analysis. Also, the FBI entered the case.

     Istanbul police, in the spring of 2013, arrested a 47-year-old collector of scrap paper named Ziya Tasali. Tasali confessed to killing Sarai Sierra after she resisted his kiss in the Fatih district of the city. Tasali denied raping the victim. He said she "hit me with her phone between my two eyebrows, and I pushed her to the floor." She then picked up a rock and threw it at him. "I got very angry," he said. "I hit her with a stone I grabbed off the floor."

     The murder suspect said he was sniffing paint thinner at the time of the killing.

     On June 24, 2014, Tasali was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ibolya Ryan: Murdered in Abu Dhabi

     In October 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Gulf Arab nation of United Arab Emerates (UAE), alerted Americans in the country to a posting on a jihadist web forum that called for "lone wolf" attacks on American teachers working in international schools. Abu Dhabi, an international business and banking hub that featured huge skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls, had a low violent crime rate and was considered one of the safest big cities in the world.

     Ibolya Ryan, Hungarian-born and raised and educated in Romania as a kindergarten teacher, came to the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, while living with her husband in Denver, Colorado, she took a job as a special needs teacher and enrolled in a course on how to teach English as a foreign language. In 2001, she returned to Hungary then later accepted a teaching position in Austria.

     In 2014, Ryan was living in Abu Dhabi and teaching at a large international school 35 miles from the downtown section of the city. The 47-year-old mother of three had divorced her husband and was residing in the UAE with her twin 11-year-old sons.

     On Monday December 1, 2014, while shopping at a high-end mall on Reem Island, a newly developed area of the city that was home to thousands of Western expatriates, Ryan entered the ladies restroom. Mall surveillance camera footage showed a person fully covered in a black, full-length gown called an abaya and a headscarf or hijab, following Ryan into the public restroom. This person was later seen leaving the mall in a hurry.

     Officers with the Criminal Investigation Department of the Abu Dhabi Police, when they responded to the shopping mall restroom, found a large, bloody kitchen knife with a blue handle and a trail of blood leading to one of the stalls. That's where they found Ibolya Ryan, the victim of a vicious knifing.

     Shortly after being rushed to a nearby hospital, Ryan died from her many knife wounds. Her sons were placed in the care of Abu Dhabi officials until their father came from abroad to pick them up.

     On Thursday December 4, 2014, UAE police officers raided an apartment in Abu Dhabi and took an Emirati woman named Ala'a Badr Abdullah Al-Hashemi  into custody. The authorities believed this murder suspect had earlier planted a homemade bomb at the doorstep of an Egyptian-American physician. The doctor's son found the bomb and called the police. Bomb experts came to the scene and defused the device.

     The day following the suspect's arrest, a spokesperson for the Abu Dhabi police said investigators believed Ryan's cold-blooded killing was an act of terrorism committed by a self-radicalized terrorist who acted alone.

     Ibolya Ryan's murder destroyed the sense of security expatriates in Abu Dhabi once enjoyed.

     The U.A.E. authorities moved quickly to try Ms. Hashemi. The prosecutor described the killing as an "Islamic extremism terror attack." In June 2015, the defendant was convicted as charged and sentenced to death. On July 13, 2015, Hashemi was executed by firing squad in Dubai, U.A. E.

     Attorneys for the executed woman said she had suffered from chronic mental illness. Court-appointed doctors, however, had determined that she was fit to stand trial. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

The David H. Petraeus Affair

     In June 2012, Jill Kelley, a married mother of three living in Tampa, Florida, received six or so anonymous emails that disturbed her enough to ask a FBI agent she knew to look into the matter. The sender of the messages wanted the 37-year-old to stay away from her man, David H. Petraeus, the Director of the CIA. Kelley and her husband Scott, a Lakeland, Florida cancer surgeon, were on friendly terms with Petraeus and his wife Holly. While Jill Kelley, a Lebanese-American who grew up in Philadelphia was known for her lavish parties and social events, she and her husband were in serious financial trouble with credit card debt and home foreclosure threats. She functioned as an unpaid liason to the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

     Kelley's FBI contact, a Tampa field agent and terrorism expert named Frederick Humphries, opened a cyberstalking case which led to the identification of 40-year-old Paula Broadwell as the email sender. Broadwell, a mother of three, was married to a Charlotte, North Carolina radiologist. In the context of the FBI agent's inquiry, this subject was no ordinary woman warning a perceived rival to lay off her man. Broadwell was a West Point graduate, Ph.D. candidate, and U.S. Army Reserve Officer who had met General Petraeus in the spring of 2006 when he spoke at Harvard University. In the course of writing a dissertation on the general, Broadwell remained in touch with him through a series of email interviews. In 2010, when General Petraeus replaced General Stanley McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan, Broadwell spent months in that country interviewing him for a book a professional writer named Vernon Loeb was writing for her.

     In August 2011, General Petraeus retired from the U.S. Army, and the following month, was sworn in as Director of the CIA. Two months after Petraeus took over as the head of the CIA, he began having an affair with Paula Broadwell.

     Broadwell's ghost-written biography, All In: The Education of General David H. Petraeus, came out in January 2012. The sexual relationship came to an end, by mutual agreement, in the summer of 2012, about the time Broadwell sent the angry emails to Jill Kelley.

     As the story goes, FBI Agent Frederick Humphries became so infatuated with Jill Kelley, his cyberstalking complainant, the 47-year-old investigator allegedly started sending her, via the Internet, bare-chested photographs of himself. There were reports that Humphries was taken off the case and replaced by a team of field agents who were in consultation with the local United States Attorney's Office. As the FBI agents combed through Broadwell's emails, they found information regarding the movements and activities of high-level military personnel, including Petraeus. The investigation suddenly evolved into something potentially more serious than a cyberstalking case.

     Eric Holder, the United States Attorney General already up to his neck in the fast-and-furious gun running scandal, learned of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair from FBI Director Robert Mueller in September 2012. When pressed to comment on the matter, President Obama said that he had not been told of the scandal and potential security breach until November 7, the day after he had been elected to his second term in office.

     On September 13, 2012, two days after the terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya that led to the death of the ambassador and three others, CIA Director Petraeus told the American people that the attack had involved a flash-mob reaction to an anti-Muslim video. Following his resignation from the CIA on the day after Obama's reelection, Petraeus indicated that he no longer intended to testify on the Benghazi matter before members of Congress. A few days later, under pressure from Congress and a few media outlets, the former CIA Director said he would testify at the November 16, 2012 hearing.

     On November 13, 2012, the sex scandal, already disturbing and bizarre, became even more complex and shocking. The FBI announced that its cyberinvestigation of Broadwell had uncovered twenty to thirty thousand "inappropriate" Internet messages to Jill Kelley from Marine General John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. A government spokesperson had described the emails as "flirtatious" while others have characterized the material as the equivalent of phone sex. (Further investigation revealed that both Petraeus and Allen had taken time from their busy schedules to write letters on behalf of Jill Kelley's twin sister. The letters were sent to the judge presiding over a child custody battle.)

     There were two general schools of thought on the Petraeus/Broadwell/Kelley scandal. Democrats in Washington and the mainstream media, were treating the debacle as merely an embarrassing sex scandal. John F. Kennedy played around with mob women, Ike had a squeeze, and President Bill Clinton deposited his DNA on an intern's dress. No big deal.

     Republicans, on the other hand, based on the timeline of events, and David Petraeus' statements regarding the video as the source of the Benghazi attacks, smelled a White House Benghazi conspiracy involving political blackmail and election politics.

     Regardless of one's politics, there were many aspects of the scandal that raised serious concerns. It seemed that once the FBI learned of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair, a clear breach of national security, the President should have been notified and the CIA Director immediately removed from office. That the Attorney General of the United States did not alert President Obama of this threat to national security didn't ring true. It was simply hard to believe that the nation's top law enforcement officer sat on this information for two months. If the President knew of the affair, why did he wait until after his reelection to inform the American people? The answer to that question was obvious.  

     Two days after the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, why did CIA Director Petraeus blame the murders on the video? He obviously knew better. Did his backing of the initial White House version of the attack have something to do with the President's knowledge of the Broadwell affair? It's not unreasonable to suspect that Petraeus was toeing the political line to save his job. Had Paula Broadwell not emailed a woman who had a friend in the FBI, David Petraeus might not have lost his job.

     To believe that the CIA Director's affair did not compromise national security seemed naive. Who was Paula Broadwell? What did Petraeus tell her? Did she coax sensitive information out of him? Toward the end of October 2012, at a speech Broadwell gave at the University of Denver, she suggested that the real reason behind the terrorist attack in Benghazi involved Libyan prisoners being held at the U.S. compound for interrogation. If Broadwell did not acquire this information from the news media, where did she get it?

     During a press conference on November 14, 2012, President Obama said there was no evidence that as a result of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair, classified information has been compromised. However, the FBI search of Broadwell's home computer revealed that it contained a substantial amount of classified data. The FBI discovery was significant enough to warrant further investigation into the affair. Broadwell was stripped of her military clearance.

    Washington Post columnist and Fox News Contributor Charles Krauthammer believed that CIA Director Petraeus' Benghazi analysis, at variance with what the director had heard from the station chief in Tripoli, was given in order to save his job. In other words, the White House blackmailed him into lying to the American people. Krauthammer, on November 14, 2012 wrote "[Petraeus] understood that his job, his reputation, his legacy, his whole celebrated life was in the hands of the administration, and he expected they would protect him by keeping [the affair] quiet." Under this theory, David Petraeus was just another casualty of Chicago-style politics employed by the Obama administration.

     On January 9, 2015, The New York Times reported that FBI officials and Department of Justice prosecutors recommended bringing charges against Petraeus for providing classified information to his former mistress.

     On April 23, 2015, David Petraeus pleaded guilty to the federal crime of mishandling classified material. The judge, pursuant to the plea deal, sentenced the former general and CIA director to two years probation and a $100,000 fine. In speaking to reporters following his sentencing, Petraeus said, "Today marks the end of a two-and-a half-year ordeal. I now look forward to moving on with the next phase of my life."