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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." 

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. 

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.

     

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Disturbing Campus Sexual Assault Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 4, 2015

The David H. Petraeus Affair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Ebony Wilkerson Attempted Murder Case

     In 2014, Ebony Wilkerson and her three children, ages 10, 9, and 3, lived with her husband, the children's father, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The 32-year old mother, pregnant with her fourth child, was losing her mind.

     On Sunday, March 2, 2014, Ebony called 911 and said she had been physically assaulted by her husband of 14 years. To officers with the North Charleston Police Department, she claimed that her husband had abused her in a Myrtle Beach hotel room.

     Following treatment at a local hospital, Ebony put her three children into her black Honda Odyssey and left the state en route to her sister's apartment in Dayton Beach, Florida.

     The distraught mother's sister, Jessica Harrell, saw signs that Ebony was in the midst of a mental and emotional breakdown. On Monday, March 3, at Jessica's urging, Ebony Wilkerson checked herself into a nearby hospital for psychiatric treatment. But the next morning she checked herself out of the health facility.

     That day, as Ebony ranted incoherently about demons, the Devil, disembodied voices, and various hallucinations, Jessica called 911 about having her committed involuntarily into a mental facility. Before Jessica got off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Ebony put her children in her minivan and drove off.

     A short time later, a Daytona Beach patrol officer pulled Ebony over. Although the officer recognized that the woman driving the Honda carrying the kids seemed to be mentally disturbed, the police officer let her go. The patrolman didn't think he had enough evidence to take Ebony into custody pursuant to a Florida law that allows manifestly mentally ill people to be detained for their own wellbeing and the safety of others. The officer found nothing specific that indicated that this woman was dangerous, or about to go off the deep end.

     Two hours after the police officer stopped Wilkerson, Tim Tesseneer, driving with his wife on the sands of Daytona Beach, noticed a black minivan moving slowing through the surf in shallow water. As he ran toward the vehicle Tesseneer heard screams and saw two children waving frantically for help. "Please help us," one of the youngsters yelled. One of the kids was trying to wrestle control of the steering wheel from the driver. When Ebony became aware of Tesseneer's presence, she calmly said, "We're okay. We're okay." Obviously she and her children were not okay.

     Stacy Robinson, another man who had seen the car in the Atlantic Ocean, opened a back door and pulled out the 9 and 10-year-old. The 3-year-old child remained strapped in her car seat. A lifeguard who had joined the rescue effort dived through a front widow and unbuckled the toddler's seatbelt. As the van drifted into deeper water, he handed the terrified 3-year-old to a second lifeguard who removed the child from the bobbing vehicle. One of the other men pulled Ebony out of the Honda.

     Ebony and the children were taken to the Halifax Health Medical Center for evaluation. In speaking to a police officer at the hospital, one of the Wilkerson children said, "Mom tried to kill us. Mom is crazy." According to the child, his mother told them to "close their eyes and go to sleep." She had locked the doors and rolled up the windows and said they were all going to a better place.

     On Friday, March 7, 2014, when a doctor released Ebony Wilkerson from the hospital, police officers booked her into the Volusia County Jail on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     In October 2014, Wilkerson's attorney announced that his client would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Shortly after that, the Volusia County prosecutor dropped the criminal charges in lieu of an insanity hearing to determine if Wilkerson should be committed involuntarily to a mental institution or remain free on the condition she seek out patient therapy.

     The insanity hearing got underway on December 17, 2014. Dr. Antonia Canaan, testifying on Wilkerson's behalf, said that in 2005 Wilkerson suffered from post-partum psychosis after giving birth. According to the doctor, pregnancy psychosis can occur near delivery time or emerge four weeks after delivery as post-partum depression.

     Wilkerson took the stand and testified that she hadn't been aware that her children locked in the minivan were in danger as she drove into the sea. "All that mattered," she said, "was that God was with me. I didn't realize the seriousness of it. I understand now that there were no angels, no demons. I understand now. I didn't hear voices in my head. I now know right from wrong." (This line suggests heavy coaching from her attorneys.)

     At the conclusion of the hearing before Volusia County Circuit Court Judge Leah R. Case, Wilkerson's attorneys announced that their client, to avoid involuntary mental institute commitment, would immediately undergo tubal ligation that would remove the possibility of post-partum psychosis.

     On December 23, 2014, Judge Case, before committing Wilkerson to mental incarceration for up to six months, said, "the court is convinced that the defendant should be committed. She minimizes her health issues; she lacks insight into her mental health problems."
   

     

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Did Veteran Affairs Police Kill Dialysis Patient Jonathan Montano?

     On May 25, 2011, 65-year-old military veteran Jonathan Montano sat in a chair with an IV shunt in his arm waiting for his dialysis treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Loma Linda, California. Norma Montano, Jonathan's wife of 44 years, waited with him in the federal medical facility located in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles. After waiting four hours for his dialysis treatment, Mr. Montano informed a nurse that, tired of waiting, he had decided to seek dialysis at the VA hospital in Long Beach. Jonathan sent Norma to fetch the car.

     A VA nurse informed the patient that he was not authorized to leave the hospital. When it became obvious that Mr. Montano disagreed with that policy, and began to leave, the nurse called for muscle in the form of armed, uniformed officers with the Department of Veteran Affairs Police. (That's right, they have their own police force. The VA police exist to deter and prevent crime, and investigate criminal incidents within the VA system.)

     As the feeble veteran made his way to the hospital door, two VA police officers tackled him to the ground. The stunned patient's head bounced off the floor, and he ended up being pinned down with an officer's knee in his back, and the other officer's boot on his neck. The brute force caused the dissection of the veteran's carotid artery, and this led a blood clot that caused a stroke.

     Jonathan Montano had come to the VA hospital in Loma Linda for dialysis, and ended up being manhandled by in-house police. Apparently in the VA system, patients who express their disapproval of the poor service are punished. Mr. Montano would have been better off if he had been simply ignored, or at least to be allowed to find care elsewhere.

     As the VA cops were brutalizing her husband, Norma sat in the car waiting for him to walk out of the hospital. She had no idea that his walking days were over. When he didn't appear at the door, she re-entered the hospital to find him. Perhaps medical personnel were finally hooking him up to a dialysis machine.

     According to the VA doctor who spoke to Norma about her husband, the patent had fallen and suffered a stroke. This of course, was a lie, apparently standard procedure at VA hospitals. Norma learned of the doctor's lie when a nurse pulled her aside and informed her of really happened to Mr. Montano. (Thank God for government whistleblowers.)

     Jonathan Montano, on June 11, 2011, two and a-half weeks after being slammed to the hospital floor and pinned with a VA boot on his neck, died. Hospital authorities listed stroke as the cause, and natural as the manner of his death. As a result of this fabrication, no one in an official position called for a criminal investigation.

     In May 2014, Norma Montana and her two adult children filed a civil suit in federal court against the  Loma Linda VA hospital. The plaintiffs sought punitive, compensatory, and emotional stress damages for Mr. Montano's wrongful death at the hands of the VA police officers. The government stood accused, in connection with this veteran's violent death, of committing the torts of negligence and false imprisonment. There was also, and this shouldn't surprise anyone, a bureaucratic cover-up.

     The Jonathan Montano wrongful death action should trigger a criminal investigation by the FBI, but  that is unlikely. Bureaucrats are mainly concerned about people who commit crimes against the government. The government, however, doesn't commit crimes against the people. For example, IRS agents can do whatever they want. But if you don't pay your taxes, you are in big trouble. Apparently, veterans who try to leave dysfunctional VA hospitals for better care are also in big trouble. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Cypress, Texas Rape Case: Why No Arrest?

     Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, February 5, 2013, movie-goers leaving a theater in Cypress, Texas, a Houston bedroom community in northwest Harris County, saw a teenage girl walking aimlessly about the Cinemark Cypress parking lot. The nude, unnamed 16-year-old was drenched in blood from a severe head wound. The theater security guard called 911 while several of the theater patrons attended to the dazed girl. Paramedics transported the Cypress Woods High School student by helicopter to a Houston hospital where she remained in critical but stable condition.

     According to the victim, she had left her home around eleven that night after an argument with a family member. While walking along Spring Cypress Road not far from the high school, a man knocked her to the ground with a hatchet. He dragged her into the woods where he raped her while she played dead. She described the man who ambushed her as a white male in his early twenties who was thin, muscular and between five-foot-seven and five-foot-ten inches tall. He work dark-colored clothing. After the assault, the victim walked a half mile to the theater parking lot.

     K-9 officers with the Harris County Sheriff's Office searched the rape site for the suspect. If the deputies came across physical evidence pertaining to the rape or the attacker, they did not reveal this information to the media.

     A woman told the police she had seen a suspicious man that night at a grocery store. The witnesses said that this man's knuckles were bloody. "Not overly bloody," she said, "but you could tell he'd been in a scuffle." Presumably, detectives followed up on this lead.

     A second witness reported seeing a sweaty man in the area that night. Described as thin and wearing a gray shirt, he walked with his head down. The witness, before she learned of the rape, assumed this man had come out of a nearby 24-hour fitness center.

     A third witnesses claimed to have seen a man in bloody clothes enter a gas station restroom. According to this witness, when the man came out of the restroom he was wearing a clean set of clothing. It is not known if detectives were able to identify this man.

     On February 10, 2013, the Harris County Sheriff's Office released a composite sketch of the rapist. This was not good news because it indicated that the police, five days into the investigation, did not have a suspect.

     Two and a half years have passed since the movie-goers saw the bloody teen walking about in the parking lot. There has been no arrest in the case, or a sign that detectives have a suspect. Moreover, there has been nothing in the papers or on television about the status of the investigation. This apparent lack of police progress and media silence has created frustration and fear in the community. Could there be a serial rapist on the loose?

     The lack of information in the Cypress rape case has also fueled speculation about a possible cover-up, and rumors that the rapist was a football player who is enrolled at Cypress Woods or Cypress Ranch High School.

     Residents of the Cypress community, in the absence of an arrest, would at least like to know if investigators have recovered the hatchet. Did they find the girl's bloody clothing in the woods where she said she had been raped? Did the rapist leave behind trace evidence to confirm sexual intercourse, evidence that would link him to the assault through DNA? Did the police employ a rape kit? Is there any chance the victim knew the person who assaulted her? And finally, with whom did she have the argument that night, and what was it about?

     The lack of information and apparent progress in this case could mean several things, all of them bad. If the few pieces of information known about this crime are true, the rapist should have been caught by now. The rapist must have been covered in physical evidence that would link him to the victim. Someone would have noticed this, and notified the authorities. DNA analysis would then confirm or not confirm the suspect's guilt.

     Let's hope the Cypress case hasn't been bungled. If it hasn't been mishandled, there is a possibility investigators have problems with the victim's story. The fact the media isn't demanding answers in the case makes you wonder about the status of journalism in the Houston area.


     

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Police Sergeant Scott Biumi Blows Top and Pulls Gun at McDonald's Drive-Thru

     A frustrated cop with a short fuse and a gun can be dangerous. Being threatened at gun-point by an out-of-control police officer isn't any less frightening than being mugged by an armed robber. It may even be worse because if you're killed by a cop, people will assume you were doing something wrong. If you're not killed, and complain, who's going to take your word over a police officers? That's when it's helpful to have credible witnesses, and better yet, surveillance camera footage.

     Eighteen-year-old Ryan Mash, on April 9, 2013, was in his pickup truck with two friends at a McDonald's in Forsyth County, Georgia. As he waited at the take-out window for his order, Scott Biumi, a sergeant with the Dekalb County  Police Department, got out of the vehicle idling behind the pickup. Biumi approached the truck and stationed himself between Mash and the McDonald's service window. The young men in the truck noticed a police badge attached to the belt of the angry McDonald's customer yelling at Mash.

     "Stop holding up the drive-thru," the officer screamed. As the stunned young men tried to comprehend what was happening, a berserk Biumi continued to chew-out Mash. At one point in the tirade, he said, "You never know who you're dealing with."

     "No sir, I don't," Mash replied.

     "Keep you're mouth shut!" Buimi warned.

     "I'm sorry for the inconvenience," Mash replied.

     The 48-year-old officer returned to his vehicle, but before the McDonald's food came out of the window, Buimi came steaming back to the driver's side of the pickup. (Mash must have felt like he was in a horror movie.) This time the officer pulled his gun and pointed it at the terrified driver. "You don't want to mess with me!" Biumi shouted. After dishing out another thirty seconds of verbal abuse, the gun-wielding cop returned to his vehicle.

     Before pulling out of McDonald's (on this day not a happy place), one of Mash's passengers jotted down the license number to the gunman's car. The entire confrontation was also recorded by a McDonald's surveillance camera.

     Later in the day of the McDonald's drive-thru blowup, deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office took officer Biumi into custody on the charge of aggravated assault. The following day, the Dekalb County police officer was released from jail on a $22,000 bond.

     Sergeant Biumi was placed on administrative leave with pay. The incident, in addition to an investigation by the Dekalb County Internal Affairs Office, was looked into by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

     The  Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council suspended Biumi's law enforcement certification which denied him employment as a police officer in the state. In December 2013, after Biumi's guilty plea, a judge sentenced the ex-cop to ten years probation.

     In March 2014, a year after officer Biumi's meltdown in the McDonald's drive-through, an Atlanta television station aired an update on the case. According to the piece, officer Biumi had struggled with mental illness, serious depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety for 25 years while he was on the force. During this time he also had suicidal tendencies.

     Buimi's McDonald's incident victim, Ryan Mash, told the TV reporter that, "I was terrified. The second I saw the gun I blacked out. If it had been me that pulled a gun on somebody, I would be in jail right now.

     To the reporter, Mark Bullman, Mash's attorney, sarcastically asked, "Someone who disassociates himself from reality is a person you give a gun to and expect to enforce the law? I believe the county bears a significant responsibility."

    

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Gilberto Valle Cannibal Cop Case

     Gilberto Valle, a 6-year New York City police officer assigned to the 26th Precinct in Harlem, lived with his wife and child in the Forest Hills section of Queens. On an online dating site called OKCupid, the 28-year-old police officer described himself as a "very calm individual" with "an endless supply of hilarious short stories from work that can't be made up. I'll try anything," he wrote, "and I'm not picky at all." According to his online profile, Valle had attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens and the University of Maryland, College Park.

     Based upon an investigation conducted by the FBI over several months, officer Valle was not calm, or funny. And what he was willing to try was more than a little disturbing. 
     According to court documents related to the federal investigation, Gilberto Valle, and several unnamed co-conspirators, had used the Internet to acquire potential female victims to kidnap, rape, torture, murder, cook, and eat. In his search for targets, Valle had used federal and state law enforcement crime-victim databases. The suspect corresponded with his like-minded co-conspirators through online dating forums.

     In addition to his use of the Internet to identify and lure women, Valle conducted physical surveillances of their homes and workplaces. He used this data to draw up and revise detailed kidnap/murder "operation plans." 
     In February 2012, Valle, in an online communication with a co-conspirator who had expressed a desire to rape a woman, offered to kidnap a victim for this man for a fee of $5,000. Pursuant to his offer, Valle wrote: "It is going to be hard to contain myself when I knock her out, but I am aspiring to be a professional kidnapper, and that's business." Later in the conversation, Valle wrote: "She will be alive. I think I would rather not get involve in the rape. You paid for her. She is all yours, and I don't want to be tempted the next time I abduct a girl." 
     On July 2, 2012, Valle and a co-conspirator conducted a disturbing online conversation in which Valle wrote: "I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus. Cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible."
     "How big is your oven," asked the co-conspirator. 
     "Big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs...the abduction will have to be flawless...I know all of them."
     In another Internet exchange regarding a specific woman, Valle wrote: "I can just show up at her home unannounced, it will not alert her, and I can knock her out, wait until dark and kidnap her right out of her home."
     Valle's co-conspirator offered Valle some kidnap advice: "You really would be better to grab a stranger. The first thing the police force will do is check out [the victim's] friends [as suspects]."
     "Her family is out of state."    
     "I have anesthetic gasses," replied the helpful co-conspirator.
     "I can make chloroform here," Valle replied. 
     In another July 2012 conversation, one of Gilberto Valle's co-sickies asked, "How was your meal?"
     "I am meeting her on Sunday," came the reply. 
     FBI agents, on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, arrested Gilberto Valle at his home on charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and intentionally and knowingly accessing a computer without authorization. (The bureau moved in because Valle had recently had lunch with a woman the FBI feared he would abduct.) From Valle's home in Queens, agents seized a computer that contained personal data--names, addresses, physical descriptions, and photographs--of 100 women. Valle's computer also held hundreds of incriminating emails and instant message chats between the suspect and his co-conspirators. 
          In March 2013, a jury in Manhattan found the defendant guilty as charged. In July 2014, however, a federal judge, except for the count of illegally using the federal databank to target victims, overturned Valle's conviction. Instead of facing up to life in prison Valle walked out of the jail having already served enough time to satisfy the punishment for the lesser offense.

     This judge did not believe Valle's writings and behavior rose above the expression of his bizarre fantasies. In America people are punished for criminal actions, not thoughts. This was a close and controversial decision. 
     

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Shelia Von Wiese-Mack Murder Case

     In 2006, 76-year-old James L. Mack, a well-known composer of jazz and classical music died at his home in Chicago. The black musician left behind his white, 53-year-old wife Shelia Von Wiese-Mack and their 10-year-old daughter Heather Mack. Mr. Mack also left, for his daughter, a $1.5 million trust fund managed by her mother.

     A few years before his death, James Mack, while on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his wife, cut his foot in the swimming pool area of the ship. He sued the cruise line for negligence in not keeping the ship safe and for improper onboard medical care. In 2011, his widow received a $800,000 settlement from the company.

     On August 4, 2014, Shelia, now 62, and her 19-year-old daughter, checked into the 5-star St. Regis Bali Resort in Bali, Indonesia. Heather Mack and her mother hadn't been getting along for years. More recently, they had fought over Heather's relationship with her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer. Shelia, while having been married to a black man, didn't approve of her daughter's relationship with the black 21-year-old. (This was according to Schaefer. It's possible the mother's objections had nothing to do with race.)

     On August 12, 2014, eight days after Heather and her mother arrived in Bali, Tommy Schaefer checked into the same hotel. Later that afternoon, he and Heather were outside the hotel with a large suitcase a cab driver helped them place into the trunk of his taxi. As the couple headed back into the hotel lobby, they told the cab driver to wait while they checked out. They did not return.

     A few hours after the big suitcase had been abandoned by Heather and her boyfriend, police officers opened it up to find the body of Shelia Von Wiese-Mack. She had been bludgeoned to death by a hard object.

     Detectives, after viewing hotel surveillance camera footage, saw that in the hours surrounding the victim's murder, Heather and her boyfriend were the only people who had entered and left the victim's room, the scene of the murder.

     Homicide investigators determined that the victim had been struck several times in the head with the iron grip to a hotel fruit bowl from Schaefer's room. Surveillance footage showed Schaefer leaving his room just before the bludgeoning carrying the murder weapon partially hidden inside his shirt. Moreover, a jacket that he owned bore traces of Von Wiese-Mack's blood.

     Detectives arrested the couple the following day. Schaefer admitted killing the victim but claimed self defense. According to the suspect, when he informed Shelia that Heather was two-months pregnant with his child, she flew into a rage and tried to strangle him. Detectives didn't buy his story. A local prosecutor charged Schaefer with premeditated murder.

     Heather Mack told investigators that beyond helping her boyfriend get her mother's body out of the hotel, she had nothing to do with the murder. Detectives didn't buy that story either. The prosecutor charged her as a accomplice to criminal homicide.

     On January 14, 2015, the murder defendants went on trial in the Denpasar District courthouse in Bali. Heather Mack's defense was paid for out of her father's trust fund. A judge had denied Schaefer access to this money. If convicted as charged, both defendants faced the maximum sentence of death by firing squad.

     Following the prosecution's case, Schaefer's attorney put him on the stand to testify on his own behalf. The defendant presented his story of self defense to a jury that was obviously skeptical.

     On April 21, 2015, the jury found Schaefer and Heather Mack guilty as charged. Judge Made Suweda sentenced Tommy Schaefer to just 18 years in prison. In justifying this lenient sentence for premeditated murder, the judge noted that the defendant had expressed remorse for the killing. (Remorse? He tried to sell the jury a bogus self defense story.)

     Judge Suweda, ignoring the prosecutor's request that Heather Mack be sentenced to 15 years, sentenced her to 10. The judge said he wanted to go easy on her because she had recently given birth to her baby. "In my decision," the judge said, "I have made a special judgment because Heather has a baby who needs a mother." (I'm not sure any baby needs a mother who helped her boyfriend murder her mother for the money.)

     After the verdicts and sentencing, Tommy Schaefer, in talking to reporters said, "Although I do take full responsibility for my actions, I am not a murderer." 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

FBI Acknowledges Massive Crime Lab Scandal

     As reported in The New York Times, a FBI spokesperson on April 20, 2015 publicly acknowledged that for decades bureau crime lab hair identification experts gave bogus scientific testimony that adversely affected more than 250 state and federal criminal cases. In my 2008 book Forensics Under Fire I wrote about several cases involving FBI crime lab pseudo-science. Below are two blogs published on this site about the problem. It's amazing how long it took the FBI to publicly admit to flaws in its operation that have for years been known to forensic scientists, attorneys, judges, and criminal justice scholars. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Teacher Joyce Quiller: Hero or Victim?

     In January 2014, students and parents filed complaints against a veteran math teacher at Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Florida. The teacher, 51-year-old Joyce Quiller, taught tenth and eleventh graders enrolled in Bridge to Success, a program created to help students two or more years older than normal for their class levels. In other words, most of Quiller's students were not the best nor the brightest. The 21-year classroom veteran had the difficult and unrewarding job of trying to teach math to mostly unmotivated and undisciplined teenagers.

     In the context of today's lax public school education standards, Joyce Quiller had the reputation of being a strict, demanding teacher who didn't dumb-down and didn't suffer fools. She expected her students to show up for class with pen, paper, and completed homework assignments. When students didn't live up to her academic expectations, they failed the course. In fact, she gave 77 percent of her students Fs with all but a few of the rest receiving Ds. It seemed this teacher had imposed a toll on the so-called Bridge to Success, and most of her students didn't want to pay it. It's easy to see why this woman was not a popular teacher among students, their parents, and school administrators.

     The six or so complainants accused Quiller of being foul-mouthed and insulting in the classroom. In speaking to a student who showed up for class without pen or paper, she allegedly said, "What's the point of coming to this motherf--ing class if you don't bring materials?" Moreover, according to her accusers, she told another kid to "shut the f---up."

     Joyce Qullier also faced the allegation that she called her students "stupid" and "ignorant," and once used the n-word. (The complainants in this case are black and so is the accused.)

     This was not the first time Joyce Quiller had been called on the carpet for using inappropriate classroom language. In 2001 and again in 2013 the school superintendent reprimanded her for telling a student to "get out of my f--ing class." She also supposedly instructed a kid to pull up his pants. (Wow, the kid must have been devastated.)

     In response to the accusations of unprofessional (but hardly abusive) classroom demeanor, Quiller submitted a written statement that she was "appalled and disturbed" at the allegations against her. She denied using profanity in class and accused the complainants of having a vendetta against her.

     In March 2014, following an internal inquiry and a hearing, the superintendent of the Duval County School District sent Joyce Quiller a letter of termination. She appealed her firing to an administrative law judge.

     Administrative law judge Bruce McKibben, in August 2014, ruled that the school district had violated the terms of Quiller's employment contract by skipping step three of a three-step system of punishment. According to the judge's interpretation of the case, the school superintendent should have suspended Quiller without pay. The judge ordered the school system to reinstate Joyce Quiller.

     In his 21-page decision, Judge McKibben found that a preponderance of the evidence (a standard of proof less demanding than proof beyond a reasonable doubt) supported the claims she used profanity in class. He did note, however, that one of Quiller's B students testified that she had never heard the teacher swear.

      Regarding Quller's work environment at Ribault High School, Judge McKibben wrote: "Quiller was placed in an almost untenable situation. She did not have all the tools needed to work with students, and her classes were too large. Nevertheless, she was expected to maintain her composure and professionalism."

     The judge, perhaps out of political correctness, did not point out the obvious fact that many of Quiller's students were probably idiots. More school supplies would not have solved that problem.

     On September 8, 2014, after Joyce Quiller answered questions and pleaded her case before the Duval County School Board, board members ignored the administrative judge's reinstatement ruling by voting again to fire the former math teacher. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Dynel Lane Attempted Murder Case

     On Wednesday March 18, 2015, 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins, in response to a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes for sale, showed up at the seller's house in Longmont, Colorado. Michelle was seven months pregnant. The woman who had placed the online ad, 34-year-old Dynel Catrece Lane, had told her husband and her relatives that she was pregnant. She was not.

     Shortly after Michelle Wilkins entered the Craigslist seller's house, she was attacked and brutally beaten by Dynel Lane. Following the assault, Lane cut the fetus out of the victim's body.

     That afternoon, Mr. Lane came home from work early to accompany his wife to a prenatal appointment. He found her covered in blood. He also discovered, in the bathtub, a baby. Michelle Wilkins was nowhere in sight. Dynel told her husband she had just had a miscarriage.

     Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced the Wilkins baby dead.

     Two and a half hours after having her baby cut out of her belly, Michelle Wilkins, from the basement of the Lane house, managed to call 911. When Longmont police officers and emergency personnel arrived at the dwelling they heard a woman calling for help.

     Michelle Wilkins, as she was rushed to the same hospital, told the officers what had happened to her and her baby girl. (The victim underwent emergency surgery and a week later was discharged from the hospital.)

     Police officers arrested Dynel Lane and booked her into the Boulder County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and child abuse resulting in death.

     On March 27, 2015, the Boulder County Coroner announced that the Wilkins baby did not take a breath outside her mother's body. This meant the infant had been killed as a fetus. Because Colorado was one of twelve states that did not consider the intentional killing of a fetus murder, the district attorney had no choice but to charge Dynel Lane with a series of lesser offenses.

     Dynel Lane, in February 2016, was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, and unlawful termination of a pregnancy. If convicted of all counts, Land faced up to 118 years in prison.

     On May 2, 2016, Chief District Judge Maria Berkenkotter, after noting that the convicted woman never expressed remorse for her crimes, sentenced her to 100 years behind bars.



 


 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Nolan M. Burch: Another Fraternity House Death

     West Virginia University in Morgantown is well-known for being a party school where excessive drinking is part of the student culture. As anyone familiar with campus life knows, ground zero for the drinking/party scene are fraternities that are essentially drinking clubs. WVU, of course, is just one of many universities and colleges where students can take bone-head courses and party more than they study.

     On October 15, 2014, the national chapter of Kappa Sigma suspended the WVU charter of the organization for breaking the fraternity's code of conduct. Notwithstanding this action, the Morgantown chapter did not curtail its pledging or social activities.

     On November 6, 2014, 19 members of WVU's Sigma Chi fraternity were arrested following a booze-fueled disturbance on the street near the frat house. All of the students involved had been drinking and under the legal age for the public consumption of alcohol. Four days later, the national chapter of Sigma Chi withdrew the Morgantown charter.

     Just before midnight on Wednesday November 12, 2014, Morgantown police officers, in response to a 911 medical emergency call, arrived at the off-campus Kappa Sigma fraternity house. At the scene, police and emergency medical personnel found someone performing CPR on a WVU student.

     The first responders found no signs of traumatic injury on the body of 18-year-old Nolan M. Burch. Paramedics rushed the freshman to Morgantown's Ruby Memorial Hospital where he was placed on life support.

     Nolan Burch, from Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, graduated in 2014 from Canisius High School where he played hockey and lacrosse. At WVU he majored in pre-sports management. In Williamsville Burch had worked at a car wash.

     On Friday November 14, 2014, after he was taken off of life support, doctors pronounced Nolan Burch dead. The university placed an immediate moratorium on all Greek activities that meant no parties or pledging activity.

     A spokesperson for the Morgantown Police Department, on November 15, 2014, confirmed what everyone suspected: Nolan Burch's death was alcohol related.

     As detectives gathered information regarding the events leading up to this student's death, they learned that at ten o'clock on the night of November 12, 2014, a blindfolded Burch and 19 other pledges walked from the Kappa Sigma fraternity house to a nearby building. It was there each pledge was handed a bottle of liquor by a big brother. Burch drank an extreme amount of liquor in a short period of time. It raised his blood-alcohol content to 0.49 percent, six times the legal limit for driving.

     A member of the Morgantown police officer said he had never seen such a blood-alcohol content so high. It suggested that the student had gulped down the liquor the way someone would chug a beer or a bottle of soda.

     Following the liquor drinking initiation, Burch was taken back to the fraternity house where fraternity members laid the passed-out young man on a table. At 11:50 PM, a fraternity brother noticed that the pledge's face had turned blue. Unable to revive him, the student began CPR and called 911.

     On February 10, 2015, after a Monongalia County prosecutor charged him with the offenses of conspiracy and hazing, 20-year-old Richard Schwartz turned himself in at the Morgantown Police Department. According to a police spokesperson, these charges could be brought either as misdemeanors or felonies. The judge set the suspect's bail at $10,000.

     Richard Schwartz stood accused of providing the victim with alcohol that night. With the help of another fraternity brother, the suspect allegedly carried the passed-out Burch back to the fraternity house. No trial date has been set in this case. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Joyce Garrard Murder Case: Running A Child To Death


     On Friday, February 17, 2012, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin scolded her 9-year-old step-daughter for lying to her grandmother about eating a candy bar. As punishment, Savannah Hardin was told to run, and keep running while carrying a load of firewood. At four that afternoon, a neighbor saw the third grader running laps around the family's doublewide on a dirt road in rural northeast Alabama. At six-forty-five that evening the stepmother called 911 after Savannah started having seizures. Finding the girl unresponsive, emergency medical personnel rushed her to the Gadsden Regional Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

     On Monday, February 20, the 9-year-old died. According to the state forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, she had been severely dehydrated with a dangerously low sodium level. Before she collapsed, Savannah had been running for three hours.

     Deputies with the Etowah County Sheriff's Office took the stepmother and the victim's 46-year-old grandmother, Joyce Garrard, into custody. The grandmother was charged with capital murder. If convicted, she faced either life without parole or the death penalty.  The pair were booked into the Etowah County jail, each under a $500,000 cash bond. The stepmother, Jessica Hardin, faced the charge of felony-murder,.

     According to the step-mother's estranged husband (apparently not the girl's father), the suspect suffered from bi-polar disorder and was a heavy drinker. Both women denied any wrongdoing in the child's death.

     In January 2013, after a judge reduced Jessica Hardin's bond to $150,000, the stepmother posted bail and walked out of the Etowah County lockup. The authorities continued to hold the grandmother without bond.

     On August 26, 2014, Etowah County Circuit Judge William Ogletree moved the grandmother's murder trial from September 2014 to February 2015. The judge cited "discovery and procedural issues" as reasons for the delay.

     The Joyce Garrard murder trial got under way in the Etowah County Courthouse on March 9, 2015. Following the selection of jury made up of ten men and six women, four serving as alternates, Chief Deputy District Attorney Marcus Reid made his opening statement. According to the prosecutor, the defendant acted like a "drill sergeant who ran her granddaughter to death.

     Defense attorney Dani Bone told the jurors that her client had meant no harm to her granddaughter. The girl wanted to run and to get faster after she had finished second in a race at school. As for the cause of her death, the girl had recovered at the hospital before dying from prior health complications.

     Prosecutor Reid put Dr. Emily Ward on the stand, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Savannah Hardin. The expert witness testified that the victim had died from her seizures linked to abnormally low sodium levels caused by "prolonged physical exertion and heat exhaustion." According to Dr. Ward, the victim's left arm had three bruises caused by carrying the firewood as she ran.

     Heather Elgin Gibson, a nurse who was on duty at the Gadsden Regional Medical Center when the girl was brought in, said the victim was unconscious and unresponsive. The witness said she mistakingly "clicked a wrong button" on an electronic chart that made it appear the patient was alert at one point. She was not.

     On March 16, 2015, defense attorney Bone, after the prosecution rested, asked Judge Ogletree to direct a verdict of acquittal on the grounds that the state had not proven its case. Attorney Bone said that if the defendant had wanted to punish the child for a lie, there was no reason for her to force the girl to run until she died. "Discipline means teaching a lesson," he said. "How is the defendant going to teach a lesson if she kills her?"

     Prosecutor Reid, in arguing that the state had presented enough evidence to require a defense, pointed out that the defendant had kept yelling at the child to run even after she was on the ground vomiting and begging to stop. "You judge a person's state of mind by what they do," he said.

     The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution which meant that the defense would have to put on its case.

     Donna Johnson, Savannah Hardin's principal at Carlisle Elementary School, testified that the defendant had shown concern for her granddaughter. (This countered the testimony given by a physician who had treated the victim. The doctor had described the defendant as uncaring.)

     Dr. Deborah Smith, a physician with Quality of Life Health Services took the stand for the defense. Dr. Smith said she had treated Savannah Hardin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Under cross-examination, the witness admitted telling investigators that she was concerned that the patient did not have a normal relationship with the defendant and her stepmother, Jessica Hardin.

     On March 18, 2015, Joyce Garrard took the stand on her own behalf. She testified two hours during which time she became tearful as well as defiant. According to the defendant, she had punished her granddaughter that day by making her pick up sticks in the yard for 30 to 45 minutes. As the witness relayed her version of the case, she drank freely from a water bottle at her side on the witness stand.

     When asked about the running, Garrard described it as "more of a jog, not a full run." The witness said, "You can't make Savannah run. She runs when she wants."

     "Did you ever intend to hurt Savannah?" asked the defense attorney. "Absolutely not," came the reply. "I would rather die than harm Savannah."

     The defendant denied that Savannah was ever down on all fours vomiting. When pressed about this on cross-examination, Garrard admitted that the girl had vomited once then continued with her activities.

     Late in the day on Saturday March 21, 2015, the Etowah County jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder. As the jury foreman read the verdict, Garrard lowered her head and cried. Others in the courtroom expressed their approval of the jury's decision.

     The penalty phase of the trial began on Monday March 23, 2015. Three days later, the jury recommended life in prison for the convicted grandmother. Five of the Etowah County jurors had voted for her death.

     On May 11, 2015, Judge Ogletree sentenced Garrard to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Justin Bieber And The Great Calabasas Egging Caper

     What do you get when you mix youth, wealth, fame, and a dose of sociopathy? You get a kid like Justin Bieber, the baby-faced singer with the big hair, tattooed arms, and oversized Jacqueline Onasis sunglasses. You get a bored, narcissistic jerk who doesn't have a clue how to deal with his vacuous life.

     If you're a rich person who is not young, stupid or famous, having a celebrity like Bieber move into the mansion next to you is not a good thing. It's not a good thing for the entire neighborhood. But what can you do? There is no such thing as zoning ordinances that keep entertainment celebrities out of communities.

     When the 19-year-old singer moved into the sprawling house on Prado del Grandioso Drive in Calabasas, California, neighbor Jeffrey Schwartz's nightmare began. With Bieber came the loud music and the all-night parties. Moreover, the celebrity himself became a huge pain-in-the-butt. In one confrontation with Schwartz, Bieber allegedly spit on him.

     On a more serious level, Mr. Schwartz and the other non-celebrities in the community accused the teen singer of endangering children by driving recklessly around the neighborhood in his luxury vehicles.

     Late Thursday night, January 9, 2014, Mr. Schwartz called the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office to report acts of vandalism against his home. According to the complainant, while standing on his second-floor balcony, he saw Justin Bieber throw at least twenty raw eggs at his house. The eggs permanently stained custom wood and venetian plaster that will cost Mr. Schwartz an estimated $20,000 to restore. The extent of the damage qualified the crime as felony vandalism. Detectives launched an investigation into the allegation, but did not take suspect Bieber into custody.

     At eight in the morning of Tuesday, January 14, 2014, pursuant to the egg assault case, twelve deputies out of the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station showed up at Bieber's mansion armed with a battering ram and a search warrant. As it turned out, the officers gained entry without using the battering ram. Eight people, including Bieber, were in the house when the police showed up at the door.

     Soon after entering the dwelling, deputies saw, in plain view, what they thought was a quantity of cocaine or the drug Ecstasy. In connection with the drugs, deputies arrested a 20-year-old rapper who calls himself Lil Za. Za was not only Bieber's friend, he had been living in the singer's house for several months.

     Deputies hauled Lil Za, real name Xavier Smith, to the Lost Hills Station lockup in Agoura. Later that day, after posting his $20,000 bond, Smith was about to be released when officers discovered he had destroyed the wall phone in the holding cell. Charged with felony vandalism, the judge raised the rapper's bail to $70,000. After posting the upped bond, Smith tweeted to his fans that he was doing just fine. What a relief.

     Crime lab personnel identified the substance seized in the Bieber house search as MDMA--a form of Ecstasy commonly known as "molly." In California, Ecstasy possession brings a maximum sentence of one year in jail. (Cocaine possession carries a maximum sentence of three years.)

     Bieber's egg throwing caper opened a can of worms for his drug possessing friend. However, while these alleged offenses provide rich material for the entertainment media, they are small potatoes crime-wise. When all is said and done, few celebrities ever go to jail. Look what it took to put O. J. Simpson and Phil Spector behind bars--and they committed murder.  Lindsay Lohan, another celebrity jerk, spent a few hours in jail and you'd think the world had come to an end.

     On Thursday, January 23, 2014 at four in the morning, police in Miami Beach, Florida arrested the bad-boy cutie for drag racing and driving under the influence of alcohol. He was racing his Lamborghini. He posted his bond, was released from custody, and later paid a fine.

     Regarding the great egging case, Bieber pleaded no contest to vandalism in return for two years on probation. Under the terms of his probation he was prohibited from possessing a concealed egg. Just kidding.

     At some point after the house-egging caper, the pop singer paid his neighbor $80,000 to cover the cost of the damage to the house. (They must have been really big eggs.) Mr. Schwartz, however, was not satisfied. The egging victim gave Bieber an ultimatum--fork over $1million or face a lawsuit.

     In response to the lawsuit threat, Bieber's people told Mr. Schwartz to suck an egg. As a result, in March 2015, Schwartz filed suit claiming the egg incident destroyed his reputation as an online auto leader. According to the plaintiff, he was known around the world as the guy Justin Bieber had egged and spit on. Exactly how that destroyed his business reputation was unclear. One would think that if anyone's reputation took a hit in the egging case, it was Bieber's.
       

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Tiffany Stevens Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2009, Eric Stevens and his 34-year-old wife Tiffany, a wealthy couple living in Simsbury, Connecticut with their 4-year-old daughter, agreed to get divorced. Following the granting of the divorce in 2011, Tiffany gained primary custody of their daughter. This did not sit well with Eric Stevens who contested the family court ruling on the grounds his ex-wife was a drug addict and an unfit parent. Moreover, Tiffany had refused to let him visit the girl.

     In July 2012, John McDaid, a handyman who had worked for the couple when they were married, went to Eric Stevens with some disturbing news. In April of that year, Tiffany had given him $5,000 to have him--Mr. Stevens--killed. The would-be hit man said he had spent the money and never intended to carry out the murder assignment.

     Eric Stevens reported the murder-for-hire plot to the Simsbury police who in turn questioned John McDaid. McDaid said that he and Tiffany Stevens, over a period of several months, engaged in many conversations in which she pleaded with him to do the job she had paid him to do. He had secretly audio-taped one of those conversations. According to McDaid, Tiffany wanted to make sure she maintained control of a $50 million trust fund set aside for the care of her daughter. If she lost custody of the child, she'd lose control of that money.

     On July 13, 2012, detectives took Tiffany Stevens into custody on the charge of inciting injury to a person. The judge set her bail at $1 million which she quickly posted. The accused murder-for-hire mastermind, now living in Bloomfield, Connecticut, pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     Following his ex-wife's arrest, Eric Stevens petition the court for custody of his daughter. Hartford Family Court Judge Leslie Olear denied that request.

     At a pretrial hearing on November 18, 2013, Tiffany Stevens' attorney, Herbert Santos, was prepared to plead his client guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutor Anthony Bochicchio, a deal that guaranteed no prison time. At the last minute, however, the prosecutor backed out of the deal. The case would go to trial on the charge of attempted murder.

     On December 2, 2014, the murder-for-hire trial got underway before Hartford Superior Court Judge Edward J. Mullarkey. Defense attorney Santos, in his opening statement to the jury, said that the defendant, at the time of her conversations with John McDaid, had been so drug-addled that she had been incapable of forming the requisite specific intent to solicit her ex-husband's murder.

     The prosecution's star witness, John McDaid, the handyman from Granville, Massachusetts, took the stand and testified that in April 2012 the defendant slapped an envelope containing $5,000 across his chest and said, "Get it done." According to the witness, she wanted Mr. Stevens "taken out." McDaid said he used the hit money to buy clothing for his children, a washer and dryer, and other things. The witness said that the defendant tried to motivate him by claiming that her ex-husband had abused her.

     Against the objections of the defense, prosecutor Bochicchio played the audio recording of a conversation between McDaid and the defendant in which she implored him to get the job done. "Find somebody. I want him killed," she said.

     On cross-examination, attorney Santos brought out that Mr. McDaid had a long criminal history that included 22 felony convictions. The witness also admitted saying, with regard to his murder plot conversations with the defendant, that he "almost didn't think it was real."

     On December 7, 2014, after the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Santos put Dr. Seth Feurstein on the stand. The professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine had analyzed the audio-taped conversation and said, "She seemed like she might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

     The last witness for the defense, Edward Khalily, the defendant's father, a prominent Long Island businessman, provided the jury with an extended history of his daughter's drug addiction. According to the witness, Eric Stevens had his problems as well that included a gambling habit that involved losses between $8 and $11 million. According to Mr. Khalily, Mr. Stevens' gambling addiction resulted in outbursts of temper that caused Tiffany to lock their daughter in a bedroom.

       Mr. Khalily, still under attorney Santos' direct-examination, said that immediately after Tiffany's arrest, Eric Stevens sought out tabloid media attention regarding the $50 million trust fund, stating that whoever got custody of the child would have access to that money. (When attorney Santos had Eric Stevens on the stand, he had asked him if the trust fund actually existed. "Not to my knowledge," came the response.)

     Defense attorney Santos did not put the defendant on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In summing up his case for the jury, he attacked John McDaid's credibility and suggested that the audio recording, because of several gaps, had been tampered with. Moreover, he said there was no record proving that the defendant had withdrawn $5,000 from a bank.

     After portraying his client as a vulnerable, impaired drug-addled woman, Attorney Santos argued that the prosecution had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     On December 8, 2014, Judge Mullarkey handed the case to the jury. Four days later, the jury foreman announced that the panel was hopelessly deadlocked on the question of the defendant's guilt. Judge Mullarkey had no choice but to declare a mistrial. This left the prosecutor with the decision of whether to recharge Tiffany Stevens with attempted murder, offer her a plea deal on a lesser charge, or drop the case.

     

William McCollom: Georgia Police Chief Shoots His Wife

     William McCollom lived with his wife Margaret in a modest house in Peachtree, Georgia, a upscale town of 35,000 southwest of Atlanta. In October 2014, the major appointed the 58-year-old law enforcement officer to the position of chief of police.

     On Thursday January 1, 2015, at four-fifteen in the morning, Chief McCollom called 911 to report the shooting of his wife at their home. "Gunshot wound," he said. "Accidental, need medical ASAP!"

     The 911 dispatcher asked, "Who shot her?"

     "Me," he replied.

     "How did you shoot her?"

     "The gun (a 9mm Glock) was in the bed, I went to move it, put it to the side. It went off."

     "Is she awake?"

     "No, everybody was sleeping."

     "No," the dispatcher said, "is she awake now?" (A woman could be heard moaning in the background.)

     "Yes," the chief said. Then to his wife he asked, "Are you having trouble breathing, dear?" To the dispatcher he said, "Come on guys, get here. Oh my God, how did this happen?"

     "Is that her crying?" asked the dispatcher.

     "Yes, she's having trouble breathing."

     "Were you asleep also when this happened?"

     "Yes." At this point, about two minutes into the 911 call, Chief McCollom identified himself. "I'm the chief of police," he said.

     "Where is the gun?"

     "The gun is on the dresser."

     "You're the chief of police in Peachtree?"

     "Yeah, unfortunately, yes," he replied.

     Emergency medical personnel flew the 57-year-old shooting victim to the Atlanta Medical Center. According to doctors there, Margaret McCollom was in critical condition. The mayor of Peachtree placed the chief on administrative leave and asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to take over the case.

     The district attorney of Fayette County told reporters that he would decide if criminal charges were appropriate after the GBI completed its investigation of the shooting. Friends and neighbors questioned by reporters all insisted that the chief and his wife were not experiencing marital problems or any form of domestic discord.

     On Monday January 12, 2015, doctors released Margaret McCollom from the  hospital. The shooting had left her paralyzed from the waist down. She told GBI detectives that she was asleep when shot and that she believed it was an accident. Before submitting a report to the district attorney's office, investigators were awaiting the results of crime lab tests on the gun as well as the chief's blood-alcohol analysis.

     On March 11, 2015, McCollom resigned from the police department. On the city's website he wrote the following: "I have had two families in Peachtree--my police family and my personal family. I need to continue to focus my time and efforts there."

     According to District Attorney Scott Ballard, McCollom had accidentally shot his sleeping wife after he had consumed alcohol and sleep medication. The prosecutor said he will ask a grand jury to indict the former chief of police on the misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct.

    

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Bad, The Bizarre, and the Ugly: Welcome to Police Work

     If you want to encounter strange people and bizarre situations first-hand, join the police force. Cops function in a parallel world where normal behavior is the exception and deviant behavior is the rule. It's easy to understand why many police officers become cynical, wary, and downright disgusted with the human condition.

Soccer Player Kills Referee

     On June 29, 2014 on a soccer field in Livonia, Michigan, adult league referee John Bieniewcz issued Baseel Adul-Amir Saad a red card that meant the 36-year-old player had been ejected from the game. Saad responded to the penalty by punching the 44-year-old referee in the face. The husband and father of two collapsed to the ground unconscious. To spectators who voiced their disapproval of the sucker punch, Saad gave them the finger.

     As paramedics rushed Mr. Bieniewcz to a hospital in Detroit in critical condition, police took the Dearborn automobile mechanic into custody on the charge of aggravated assault.

     On July 1, 2014, after John Bieniewcz died from the effects of the punch, a prosecutor upgraded the charge against Mr. Saad to involuntary manslaughter.

     Judge Thomas S. Cameron, on March 13, 2015 following Mr. Saad's guilty plea to the involuntary manslaughter charge, sentenced him to eight to fifteen years in prison. The judge also ordered the convicted man to pay $9,000, the cost of his victim's funeral.

     When deputy sheriffs escorted the handcuffed Saad out of the courtroom en route to his cell, the victim's wife Kris raised a red card signifying his ejection from civilized society.


Being Nude Down At The Donut Shop

     On March 1, 2015 in Greenacres, Florida not far from Palm Beach, 32-yar-old Shakara Monik sat down at a table outside a Dunkin' Donuts shop and started talking to a man enjoying a donut and a cup of coffee. Not only didn't Monik not know this man, she was stark naked.

     A Dunkin' Donuts employee, concerned that the nude woman was freaking out customers and driving donut lovers away, called the police. In the meantime, donut patrons, figuring this woman was nuts, offered her pieces of clothing to cover her body. She refused their offers.

     When police officers arrived, Monik turned apologetic and explained that her nudeness involved a dare she had to complete before she could join a sorority dance troop. (Thirty-two seems a bit old for sorority membership.)

     The officers booked the West Palm Beach woman into the county jail on the charge of indecent exposure. The judge released Monik on her own recognizance and ordered her to stay clear of the donut place.


Stinking Drunk

     On March 1, 2015, police officers in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania encountered Maurice Franklin who appeared under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The 45-year-old was on foot darting in and out of traffic. When questioned by officers, Franklin, who slurred his words, claimed he had been walking erratically to avoid stepping in dog poop.

     Before the officers could handcuff Franklin and haul him off to jail for public drunkenness, he dropped to the sidewalk and rolled in a pile of dog feces.

     Perhaps Mr. Franklin thought he could avoid arrest by making himself so disgusting the officers wouldn't put him in the patrol car. He was wrong. For these officers it was just another day in paradise. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

John McCarthy: Professor of Math or Meth?

     In high school, I had a French teacher who came unglued in front of her students. She had been acting strangely for weeks, but nobody had reported her. School officials eventually had to haul the disturbed teacher out of the classroom. We never saw her again. I found this quite tragic because she had been an easy-grader. Her replacement was a monster who flunked half the class.

     During my college years I encountered a couple of oddball professors, but witnessed nothing that compares to what Michigan State University students experienced on October 1, 2012 when math professor John McCarthy went off the deep end.

     Professor McCarthy, described by his students as an eccentric who smoked meth, taught in MSU's Engineering Building. Just before one o'clock on the day his students will never forget, he started shouting in class. The professor pressed his hands and his face against a window, and stated to scream at the top of his lungs. (I was a college professor for thirty years, and while I occasionally lost my temper, I never had the urge to scream into window glass.) The out of control professor walked out of the classroom and continued to make a lot of noise as he paced up and down the hallway. At this point someone called 911.

     Professor McCarthy returned to the classroom, and with his terrified students looking on, took off his clothes except for his socks. (Not a good look under any circumstances.) He then ran naked about the room screaming, "There is no f-ing God," and ranting about computers, Steve Jobs, and that everything in life was just an act. (Except, of course, his breakdown.) Traumatized students were fleeing the classroom.

     Fifteen minutes after the 911 call, a period of time that seemed to the students like an eternity, police officers entered the classroom, placed the screaming, naked man into handcuffs, and hauled him off to a local hospital for observation. His students, for the remainder of the semester, were reassigned to other math classes.

     In an email to his former students, Professor McCarthy, after being discharged from the hospital, wrote: "The incident that occurred Monday was unfortunate." (What ever happened to: "I made a fool of myself, scared the hell out of you, and I'm sorry?") "Although I do not remember what happened, I have been told that I may have caused distress among my students in Monday's class. For that I am sorry." (May have caused distress?)

     Professor John McCarthy was not charged with a crime. While he was probably tenured, the professor must have had a hard time justifying his meth-indiced antics as an exercise in academic freedom. Still, in academia, bizarre behavior is tolerated that anywhere else would be frowned upon and cause for dismissal. If the professor lost his job over this incident, there is no mention of it on the Internet. Assuming he kept his position at MSU, how did he muster the nerve to show his face on campus after that? 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Peek-A-Boo Child Pornography Case

     In 2011, after passing a background check, 27-year-old Elliot Gornall began teaching second and third grade at the R. F. McMullen Elementary school in the central Ohio town of Loudonville. In the fall of 2014, Gornall, well-liked by his students, their parents, and his fellow teachers, bean teaching a class of 25 kindergarten kids.

     Gornall's reputation and teaching career took a major hit on November 18, 2014 when local drug officers raided his home in Loudonville. The drug cops found a quantity of marijuana, illicit prescription drugs, and several pairs of children's underwear. The searchers left Gornall's dwelling that day in possession of his personal computer.

     Not long after the drug raid, an Ashland County grand jury indicted the kindergarten teacher on several counts of prescription drug abuse, marijuana possession, and theft related to the underwear. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, posted bail, and was released from custody.

     Following the indictments that shocked everyone in the community, school district officials placed the 32-year-old teacher on administrative leave. On December 8, 2014, Gornall tendered his resignation from the R. F. McMullen Elementary School. He moved out of his place in Loudonville and took up residence in Lorain, Ohio.

     The big shock in the case came on March 6, 2015 when police officers arrested Gornall and booked him into the Ashland County Jail on 23 counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. If convicted as charged, he faced up to 184 years in prison.

     A couple of months after the drug and theft indictments, detectives with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation discovered child pornography and videotaped images of R. F. McMullen Elementary school kids using the kindergarten bathroom. Investigators searched the restroom and found, hidden in a white plastic hook stuck to the wall, a pinhole video camera. Detectives believed Gornall had installed the secret camera in August 2014.

     At his March 9, 2015 arraignment, Gornall pleaded not guilty to the charges related to the spy camera in the kids' restroom. Ashland County prosecutor Chris Turnell informed the judge that detectives had found 63 videos of 25 kindergarten students plus more than 100 downloaded images of child pornography on the ex-teacher's computer. Judge Ronald Forsthoefel set Gornall's bail at $500,000. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rurik Jutting: The British Banker Hong Kong Prostitute Murder Case

     Rurik George Caton Jutting grew up wealthy in Cobham Surrey, England. He attended the Winchester College Independent Boarding School and, in 2007, graduated with a degree in history from the University of Cambridge.

     In 2010, after working a couple of years for the banking firm Barclays, Jutting joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London where he worked in structured equity finance and trading. (I don't have a clue what that is.)

     In 2012, the British woman Jutting planned to marry left London for a job in New York City. Shortly after leaving England she had an affair with an American and broke off the engagement. Jutting took the rejection hard. The two of them  tried to reconcile but it didn't work out.

     People who knew Jutting considered him a highly competent employee who was preoccupied with money and power. He once told an acquaintance that he had spent thousands of pounds on an ornamental horse's skull that he had purchased from a specialty shop. It seemed he enjoyed spending every penny he made on food, entertainment, and nonessential luxury items.

     In 2013, the Bank of America transferred Jutting to its branch operation in Hong Kong. After moving to the Chinese city of 7.2 million, Jutting moved into an apartment on the 31st floor of the J. Residence Building in the Wan Chai district of the city. Located in Hong Kong's southern quarter, Wan Chia is known for its high number of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and strip joints. Apartments in the 381-unit complex rented out at between $3,000 and $5,000 a month.

     Hong Kong's red light district, located adjacent to Wan Chai to the north, features prostitutes from southeast Asia and Africa. Hong Kong, however, with the world's lowest homicide rate, is a safe place to live. During the first six months of 2014 there have only been 14 murders in the city. (In New York City during that period, there were 120 criminal homicides. In Chicago there have been many more killings than that.)

     At three-forty in the morning of Saturday November 1, 2014, the 29-year-old Jutting called the Hong Kong police to his flat. Upon entering the luxury apartment, police officers were immediately struck with the sight of recently spilled blood splashed on the floor and walls of the dwelling. They also were confronted by the stench of a decaying body.

     Police officers at the scene encountered the nude body of an Indonesian prostitute named Jesse Lorena. Among other lacerations, the 30-year-old's throat had been slashed. Investigators would later learn that she also worked as a part-time disc jockey at a Hong Kong pub.

     Officers in Jutting's apartment came upon a black suitcase on the dwelling's balcony. When they opened it they found, wrapped in a carpet, the decaying body of a young woman who had almost been decapitated. This was 25-year-old Sumarti Nighshih, a sex worker from Cilacap, Indonesia who in October had traveled to Hong Kong on a tourist's visa.

     Investigators believed that Nighshih, her hands and feet bound with rope, had been murdered on October 27, 2014. Lacerations covered her naked and decomposing body.

     Police officers placed Jutting under arrest on suspicion of double murder and escorted him out of the building.

     Crime scene investigators found, on Jutting's Smartphone, 2,000 photographs of the dead prostitutes, shots that had been taken after he had murdered them. Many of the images included close-ups of the victims' knife wounds.

     Security camera footage revealed that Jutting and Jesse Lorena had entered his apartment at midnight, shortly before he murdered her then notified the authorities. Officers also recovered a small quantity of cocaine from the flat.

     A resident of the building told police officers that he and several others who lived there had recently detected the smell of death coming from the vicinity of Jutting's 31st floor apartment.

     On Monday, November 3, 2014, Jutting, accompanied by his attorney, Martyn Richmond, appeared before a judge in Hong Kong's Eastern Magistrate's Court. Attorney Richmond informed the magistrate that his client had been co-operating fully with the police. Moreover, Mr. Jutting had expressed a willingness to re-enact the murders on video, a common practice in Hong Kong, China.

     On November 24, 2014, Judge Bina Chainral, following psychiatric evaluations of the accused, ruled that he was mentally competent. The judge scheduled the murder trial for July 6, 2015.