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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." 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Richard De Wit Murder Case

     Sarah Groves, a 24-year-old fitness instructor from the English Channel Island of Guernsey, was visiting her boyfriend in India's northwestern region of Kashmir. The boyfriend, Saeed Shoda, had arranged a room for Groves on his father's houseboat "New Beauty" on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir's capital.

     At two in the morning of April 6, 2013, 43-year-old Richard DeWit, an unemployed Dutch man with a room on the houseboat, broke into Grove's suite and allegedly stabbed her 45 times. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoda was spending the weekend with his friends. Miss Groves had remained with Shoda's parents who told reporters she had been like a daughter to them.

     Leaving everything behind on the "New Beauty" except for his passport and $2,500 inside his underwear, the barefoot, 7-foot-tall DeWit fled the houseboat in a stolen rowboat that capsized before he reached the shore. Once on land DeWit boarded a taxi.

     Shortly after members of the houseboat staff found Sarah Groves dead in a pool of blood, Kashmir police arrested DeWit on the National Highway 50 miles away in the town of Qazgund.

     Later that day, the murder suspect confessed to the police. He admitted having "violent tendencies" and said he had been under the influence of drugs during the 15-minute knife attack. DeWit explained that he had been overtaken by the devil. "The Devil took over my body," he allegedly said.

     DeWit's 31-year-old wife, Uma Rupanya, informed the authorities that DeWit had left her and their two daughters in November 2012. She said he had become "increasingly paranoid and irrational." According to the murder suspect's wife, "He believed the government was out to get him, that spies were following him, that his house was bugged."

      A prosecutor in Srinagar has charged DeWit with first-degree murder. (At seven foot tall, people in India must have seen DeWit as some kind of giant. I wouldn't want to be the police official responsible for organizing a line-up in this case.)

     At some point after his arrest, Richard De Wit took back his confession and pleaded not guilty.

     In February 2015, the De Wit murder trial got underway in Srinagar, India. In October 2015, following 29 trial delays, the defendant fired his attorney.

     At this point in the case, Sarah Grove's parents were publicly expressing concerns that the authorities, in going after Mr. De Wit, had targeted the wrong man. They characterized the De Wit trial as a farce, and indicated that they suspected the victim's boyfriend, Saeed Shoda. According to the victim's parents, the police had badly mishandled the murder investigation.

     As of December 2015, the De Wit trial is once again on hold. 

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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Matthew Hinson Murder Case

     William C. Pettry lived with his wife and three children 50 miles from Chicago in Lake Villa, Illinois. On Friday, October 7, 2012, the 42-year-old self-employed contractor and his best friend, Nick Viverito, flew to Jacksonville, Florida from Milwaukee to attend a Sunday Bears-Jaguar pro football game.

     On Saturday, the night before the game, Pettry and his 42-year-old friend were eating and having drinks at an upscale Irish restaurant called Fionn MacCools located near their hotel. Around midnight, Pettry and Viverito were sitting at a table on an outside patio visiting with other Chicago Bears fans. Matthew Hinson, his wife, and another woman, people who lived in the area, were nearby waiting for inside seating. The two men from Illinois exchanged smalltalk with the 28-year-old Hinson and the two women with him.

     Shortly after Matthew Hinson, his wife, and the other woman walked inside the restaurant to their table, William Pettry walked into the bar to get more drinks. When he didn't return to the patio after twenty minutes, his friend began to wonder where he was. About this time a waitress approached Viverito and said, "Hey, your friend, he's not breathing at the bar. He's full of blood." Viverito ran into the restaurant where he found Pettry on the floor bleeding profusely from his neck. Nurses who happened to be dining at the restaurant were trying to stop the bleeding and resuscitate the seriously wounded man. William Pettry bled to death on the floor of the bar.

     According to witnesses, Hinson, using a small pocketknife, had slit Pettry's throat, then walked out of the restaurant. The two men had been sitting on a bench when Hinson stood up, pulled out his knife, and ran the blade across Pettry's neck. As he left the place, Hinson made a cutting motion across his throat with his finger. Jacksonville police officers stopped his car as he was pulling out of the parking lot. Following a brief scuffle, they took Hinson into custody.

     Matthew Hinson admitted to the arresting officers that he had killed the man in the bar with his pocketknife. Angry words had not been exchanged between the two men. The attack had been entirely by surprise, and unprovoked. While Hinson didn't tell the police why he had murdered a total stranger, witnesses informed the officers that he had attacked Pettry out of jealously and rage. He didn't like the fact the victim had spoken to his wife. The murder had nothing to do with sports rivalry.

     Matthew Hinson, charged with criminal homicide, was held in the Jacksonville County Jail without bond. In speaking to reporters, county police Lieutenant Rob Schoonover said, "Hinson calmly and in cold blood cut the victim's throat and walked out of the restaurant." In 2006, Hinson had pleaded no contest in Florida's Clay County to driving under the influence. Beyond that, he had no criminal record that anyone could find.

     On Saturday, October 13, 2012, current and former Chicago Bears team members held a fundraiser for the Pettry family. The proceeds came from the auctioning of Bear-related sports memorabilia.

     In crime fiction, because murder is such a deviant and evil act, murderers are either motivated by extreme hatred, greed, or lust. But in real-life, so-called spontaneous murders--killings without corresponding motivations--are common. They are committed by time-bombs like Matthew Hinson who walk among us unnoticed until they lash out.

     On May 21, 2013, two months before his trial date, Hinson pleaded guilty to second degree-murder. At his sentencing hearing on July 18, 3013, Hinson's attorney, public defender Kate Bedell, told Circuit Judge Suzanne Bass that Henson sufferrd from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse. The judge sentenced Hinson to life in prison.


     

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ethan Couch and the "Affluenza" Defense Mass Manslaughter Case

     On the night of June 15, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas, 16-year-old Ethan Couch and seven of  his friends stole two cases of beer from a local Walmart store. A few hours later, Couch, behind the wheel of his wealthy family's F-350 pickup, sped down a poorly lit rural road. With his blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit and seven passengers in the cab--two in the back of the truck--he lost control of the vehicle.

     Couch's truck plowed into vehicles parked along the side of the road. The two boys in the bed of the truck were flung out of the pickup and severely injured. Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down was off the road, was killed. Brian Jennings, Shelby Boyles, and Hollie Boyles, people who had pulled off the road to help Breanna, also died in the crash.

     Ethan Couch, on the advise of his attorneys, pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter. This meant the only issue left to be resolved in the case involved his punishment. Was he a troubled kid who needed psychological treatment, or a spoiled brat who required incarceration? If punishment was appropriate in this case, how severe? Did it matter that he was only sixteen? These were questions that would have to be resolved by juvenile court judge Jean Boyd.

     At Ethan Couch's sentence hearing held in Fort Worth on December 10, 2013, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert proposed that the defendant be incarcerated for twenty years. In addressing Judge Boyd, Alpert said, "If the boy, who is from an affluent family, is cushioned by the family's wealth, there can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the leniency he received here." The prosecutor pointed out that inmates in Texas who needed it received drug and alcohol treatment.

     One of the defendant's attorneys, Scott Brown, argued that his client required rehabilitation more than he needed treatment. (Perhaps, but the families of the victims needed for him to be punished. Sentencing should be more than just about what's good for the defendant.)

     Couch's attorney recommended a two-year treatment program at a $1,200-a-day rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, California followed by a period of probation. The $450,000-a-year program in southern California featured equine sports, yoga, and messages. (It also probably featured rubbing shoulders with a lot of drug-addled Hollywood celebrities.) According to attorney Brown, the boy's parents were willing to pick up the California rehabilitation tab.

     Dr. Dick Miller, a clinical psychologist from Bedford, Texas testified at the sentencing hearing on the defendant's behalf. According to Dr. Miller, Ethan Couch suffered from what he called "affluenza," a syndrome caused by rich parents who didn't set limits and discipline their children. As a result of being spoiled rotten, Ethan didn't know how to behave appropriately. (Dr. Miller's notion of social insanity as a mitigating factor in sentencing is patently absurd.)

     Judge Boyd stunned the prosecutor and friends and families of the four victims when she sentenced the teenager to ten years of probation. The judge said she would find a treatment program for the boy in the state of Texas. If he violated the terms of his probation, he could be sent to a juvenile detection facility.

     Eric Boyles had lost his wife Hollie and his daughter Shelby in Couch's drunken crash. In speaking to a CNN correspondent, he said, "There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day….Money always seems to keep you out of trouble. Ultimately today, I feel that money did prevail.

     In responding to Judge Boyd's decision, prosecutor Alpert told a reporter that "We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but we have no power under the law to change or overturn it."

     In horrific homicides like this, when there is no retribution, the public loses confidence in the criminal justice system. While rich people do not always get their way in criminal court, the public perception is that they do.

     The so-called "affluenza" case jumped back in the news in December 2015 after a video appeared online featuring Ethan Couch and several other youngsters playing beer pong. This was a clear violation of the terms of Couch's probation. When the kid's probation officer lost touch with him, the authorities in Tarrant County issued a warrant for his arrest. Also missing was Tonya Couch, the boy's mother with whom he had been living.

     Because the local authorities believed the boy and his mother might have fled the country to avoid the possibility of Ethan's incarceration, FBI agents and U. S. Marshal's office investigators were involved in the hunt for the mother and her son.

     On December 29, 2015, Ethan Couch and his mother were arrested in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

        

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.

     

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Paul Tarver and The Unknown Hitman

     In September 2001, when Keisha Lewis of Canton, Ohio informed her former boyfriend, Paul Tarver, that she was three months pregnant with his baby, he was not happy. He made it clear that he did not want to be a father. Tarver told Keisha to get an abortion, and if she didn't, he would not support the kid. Keisha said she had no intention of aborting the pregnancy, and would have the child with or without his support.

     Two months later, Keisha and Paul were still fighting over whether she should get an abortion. When Tarver realized she was not going to changer her mind, he threatened to kill her if she didn't end the pregnancy. Keisha said she was reporting him to the police, but didn't follow through on her threat. Perhaps he was just bluffing. After the arguing and threats, Paul Tarver suddenly stopped coming around. Keisha figured he had moved out of her life for good.

     On March 7, 2002, a week before the baby was due, Paul Tarver popped back into Keisha's life, and seemed to be a different man. He apologized for the fighting and the threats, and offered to make amends. He said he wanted to remain friends--for the baby's sake--and in the spirit of good will, he offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby's father was no longer an enemy, she accepted his invitation.

     A few days later, Paul and Keisha, in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton's Country Kitchen restaurant. Although Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Paul parked the truck in a remote section of the lot far from the restaurant. Keisha had just opened the passenger's door and was about to alight from the vehicle when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze into the truck.

     The armed kidnapper ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant where the gunman ordered him to hand over his ring, watch, and wallet. The kidnapper shot Keisha in the abdomen, Tarver in the foot, then jumped out of the truck and ran into the nearby woods. Using his cellphone, Tarver called 911.

     Surgeons, although able to save Keisha's life, could not save the fetus. Doctors treated Tarver's wound which was minor. Keisha suffered major nerve damage that would leave her with a permanent limp.

     Detectives with the Canton Police Department trying to identify the kidnapper didn't have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant, and Tarver wasn't much help either. Investigators did recover the three shell cases from the shooting scene. A forensic firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a .380 Carpati pistol recovered from the site of another Canton shooting. In tracing the history of the gun, police learned that one of the owners was a man who had once worked with Paul Tarver. Detectives also questioned a man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. During the interrogation, the Pittsburgh man broke down and cried, then terminated the questioning.

     In October 2002, a Stark County prosecutor at Paul Tarver's murder-for-hire trial presented a weak, circumstantial case against him. The police had still not identified the triggerman. The defendant's attorney did not put his client on the stand in own defense. If he had done so, the jury would have learned about Tarver's long history of drug trafficking and robbery. Perhaps because the defendant did not take the stand to deny that he had paid someone to end his girlfriend's pregnancy, the jury found him guilty.

     The judge sentenced Paul Tarver to 31 years to life. Paul Tarver continued to maintain his innocence, and the triggerman was never identified. This was one of a handful of murder-for-hire cases in which the mastermind was convicted without the testimony or even the identify of the hitman.
      

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

     

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Driving While Stupid

     On October 13, 2015, 23-year-old Whitney Beall, while driving from one bar to another in her 2015 Toyota Corolla in Lakeland, Florida, recorded her alcohol intoxication by video on the social media app Periscope. "Let's have fun! Let's have fun!" she repeatedly exclaimed into the little camera. Also: "Hi everybody in different countries. I really hope you don't mind that I drive, because in the USA it is really important."

     Beall declared herself unfit to drive when she said, " I'm driving drunk and this is not cool. I haven't been arrested yet, and I really don't hope so." A few minutes later she announced this into the video camera: "I'm driving home drunk, let's see if I get a DUI."

     Several people watching the live-steamed video called 911 to report the drunken driver who was exhibiting her condition to the world.

     Lakeland patrol officer Mike Kellner spotted a 2015 Toyota Corolla being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulled the car over and encountered the social media sensation, Whitney Beall.

     Beall and her car reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. In addressing the officer, Beall made a series of slurred, rambling statements that included the claim she was lost and driving on a flat tire.

     After failing the field sobriety test, Officer Kellner took the suspect into custody. After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, officers booked Beall into the Polk County Jail on the charge of driving under the influence.

     The day following her DUI charge, Beall made bond and was released from custody. To a reporter she said, "It was a big mistake and I'm learning my lesson." Fortunately, this idiot's "big mistake" and learning experience didn't cost someone his or her life.

     

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.

     

Saturday, October 31, 2015

No Protection from Scottye Miller, the Stalker Who Murdered Tricia Patricelli

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, victims of stalking and assault do not get relief even when their offenders are in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must be frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. One of the knives was 8 inches long. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, buy themselves a gun and do the job themselves, or hire a contract killer. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

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.   

Monday, October 19, 2015

Marcel Melanson: High-Profile Firefighter, Arsonist and Thief

     In 1998, 22-year-old Marcel Melanson joined the fire department in Los Angeles County's Compton, California. While the ambitious and popular firefighter succeeded at his job, he wasn't good at managing his financial affairs. In 2005, the state of California filed a $29,000 tax lien against him. Two years later, the IRS hit him with a $80,240 tax lien.

     Melanson became a minor celebrity in 2009 as a regular participant in a BET Network reality TV series called "First In." A TV crew followed the fire battalion chief as he led a rescue team that came to the aid of victims of traffic accidents and street crime. About this time, Inked Magazine featured Melanson's elaborate tattoos on his back, arms and neck.

     The crime-ridden city of Compton, like its celebrity firefighter, had run into financial problems. The municipality, due to a revenue shortfall and bloated budgets, had disbanded its police department. In June 2010, members of the Compton City Council, in anticipation of bringing back the police force, authorized the purchase of $1.7 million in communications equipment from the Motorola Corporation. Melanson, an emergency communications expert, sat on a three-person technology committee that oversaw the purchase of this equipment.

     By 2011, the city of Compton was on the verge of insolvency. As a result, the police department was not coming back and the city was stuck with hundreds of radios that cost $2,500 a piece. The city stored the excess communications equipment at the Compton Fire Department.

     In December 2011, a fire broke out and quickly spread at the Compton Fire Department in the area housing the surplus radio equipment. Arson investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set and that Marcel Melanson was the only person in the station at the time of the fire. Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office discovered that prior to the blaze, someone had stolen thousands of dollars worth of the radios. Further investigation revealed that over the past several months the thief had been selling the stolen property, one radio at a time, on Internet sites like eBay. Theft detectives, by 2013, had recovered fifty of the stolen communication units.

     In February 2013, Melanson, the prime suspect in the thefts and the arson, was fired. Deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, at eleven o'clock on the morning of May 15, 2013, arrested the 37-year-old at his home in Torrance, California. Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose charged the former celebrity firefighter with arson, grand theft, and embezzlement. If found guilty as charged, Melanson faced up to ten years in prison. A judge set his bail at $350,000.

     Investigators believed that Melanson set the fire to cover his radio equipment thefts. The suspect's attorney, Robert Rico, publicly insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, a Long Beach Fire Department arson investigator had initially reported that the Compton fire was not arson, then later changed his mind.

     While a firefighter committing arson is not that unusual, firefighters rarely torch a fire station. Due to the celebrity element in this particular case, Melanson's arrest attracted a lot of southern California media attention. People who knew him and worked with the former high-ranking firefighter had a hard time believing he was guilty as charged.

     In April 2014, Melason pleaded no contest to felony arson and embezzlement by a public official. In June, the judge sentenced him to three years and four months in prison and ordered him to pay $517,477 in restitution. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dereck Taylor Holt: The Home Invading Ex-Mennonite

     While ordinary crime in America has been on the decline, pathological, irrational offenses against persons seem to be on the rise. Crime has become largely inexplicable. Young men have shot up schools, shopping malls, theaters, and even hospitals. A man in New York City was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train, while in a small town in Pennsylvania, a music teacher shot his ex-wife to death as she played the organ in church. Every week there's a new murder-suicide case in the news. To write about crime today is to write about mental illness, personality disorder, and drug abuse.

     The changing nature of crime and criminal behavior in this country reflects a population of people who are losing the ability to cope with modern life. Politicians, desperate to appear honest, competent, and useful, fall all over themselves with ridiculous, feel-good laws that are irrelevant to the sources of these social problems. Instead of more cops, SWAT teams, and gun restrictions, the country needs more psychiatrists. America is mentally ill.

     At nine in the morning on Friday, December 14, 2012, two elderly Mennonite sisters invited a nice looking young man, who said he was an insurance salesman, into their house. Both in their late eighties, the sisters lived in a brick, ranch-style home on Indiantown Road in rural Lancaster County in the heart of southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. (Mennonites, devoted to the plain, simple life, are more modern that their old-order Amish counterparts. Unlike the Amish, they do not practice shunning.)

     Dereck Taylor Holt, the 22-year-old man who entered the Clay Township house that morning, was not an insurance salesman. The former Mennonite, with no fixed address, chided the frightened sisters for being members of the church, and railed angrily against the religion. He then repeatedly shocked the elderly women with a stun gun, and between periods in which he read Bible passages to his victims, slapped, kicked, and punched them. Holt used duct tape to bind his captives' hands and feet, then ransacked the house in search of cash and valuables.

     During the bizarre, sadistic home invasion, an elderly Mennonite friend of the sisters came to the house and knocked on the door. Holt pulled this woman into the home where he shocked and assaulted her before binding the visitor in duct tape. Following the two-hour ordeal, Holt used household cleaning substances he took from the house to remove his latent fingerprints from the scene. Before leaving the ransacked house and the terrified women, Holt destroyed their Bible.

     At 4:20 that afternoon, the three Mennonite victims were discovered by a relative of the sisters who called 911. The women were rushed by ambulance to Ephrata Hospital. One of the victims had an heart attack, the other a broken shoulder, and the third was treated for bleeding on the brain. (The victims would survive their ordeals.)

     The next day, officers with the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police arrested Dereck Taylor Holt. Officers booked him into the Lancaster County Jail on charges of burglary, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, theft, and a Pennsylvania hate crime called ethnic intimidation. The judge set Holt's bond at $1 million.

     In May 2013, Holt pleaded guilty to all of the charges except ethnic intimidation. At his August 2013 sentencing hearing before Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher, Holt, in a five-minute statement, said: "I'm not a heartless being. I'm not an empty carcass incapable of contributing to society. But I can't defend my actions. This was the culmination of a long, two-year addiction to substances. These actions wouldn't have happened without my alarming abuse of mind-altering prescription medication."

     Judge Madenspacher sentenced Holt to 12 to 40 years in prison where he would receive psychiatric treatment.

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.