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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Lisa McPherson Scientology Case: A Medical Examiner's Meltdown

NOTE: On March 29, 2015, HBO aired its documentary about the Church of Scientology called "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief." The expose is based on Lawrence Wright's book of the same title. The Church of Scientology consists of 11,000 churches, missions and affiliated groups around the world. While the HBO documentary did not give me an understanding of the religious doctrine of the church (I'm not sure it's meant to be understood) the film did confirm my belief regarding the cause and manner of Lisa McPherson's death.
 

 For a criminal justice system to work, its major law enforcement players--the police, prosecutors, and forensic scientists--have to be hardworking, competent, and honest. In Florida's Pinellas and Pasco Counties between 1997 and 2000, the medical examiner's office was not up to par, and the effect on local criminal justice was disastrous. Dr. Joan E. Wood, the head of the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office, was the principal source of the problem.

     A graduate of the University of South Florida Medical School, Dr. Wood began her career as a forensic pathologist in 1975 as an associate in the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office. She became the chief medical examiner in 1982, and for six years was the chairperson of Florida's Medical Examiners Commission, the body that regulates the state's forensic pathologists. Her career seemed to be on track until the mid-1990s when she became involved in a high-profile and controversial homicide case. This case, the 1995 death of a 36-year-old Scientologist named Lisa McPherson, marked the beginning of the end of Dr. Wood's career.

     As revealed in court documents and reported in the St. Petersburg Times, the sequence of events began at 5:50 in the evening of November 18, 1995 when paramedics responded to a minor traffic accident in downtown Clearwater involving McPherson's sports utility van. She was not injured but took off her clothes and walked down the middle of the street telling paramedics, "I need help. I need to talk to someone." The distraught woman said she had been doing things that were wrong but didn't know what they were.

     The paramedics transported McPherson to the Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Following her examination, a group of Scientologists from her church came to the emergency room and escorted her away, promising that she would be cared for by the church, a decision grounded in their distrust of psychiatric medicine. The disturbed woman was taken to the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater where troubled Scientologists were taken for rest and relaxation.

     On December 5, 1995, Lisa's caretakers at the hotel rushed her to a hospital in New Port Richey, a 45-minute drive, to see an emergency room physician who was a Scientologist. McPherson had been at the Fort Harrison Hotel 17 days and when she arrived in New Port Richey the five-foot-nine-inch patient weighed 108 pounds and was covered in bruises. McPherson was also unkempt in appearance and pale. She was either dead on arrival at the hospital or pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

     At eleven o'clock the next morning, Dr. Robert Davis, a forensic pathologist in the Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner's Office, performed the autopsy with Dr. Joan Wood looking on. According to Dr. Davis, Lisa McPherson's death had been caused by an embolism of the left pulmonary artery which had partially obstructed the blood flow that carried oxygen from her heart to her left lung. She had therefore died of asphyxia. A thrombus (blood clot) located behind her left knee had traveled from her leg to her heart and into the lung. At the time of her death, Lisa was severely dehydrated, a factor that contributed to her demise. In Dr. Davis's opinion, her dehydration was so pronounced she would have been unresponsive for more than 24 hours before her death. The forensic pathologist believed that the blood clot behind her left leg was caused by a combination of dehydration and bed-ridden immobility. Dr. Wood, instead of ruling McPherson's manner of death natural or accidental, labeled it undetermined, a manner of death that did not preclude a later finding of criminal homicide.

     Because of the condition of Lisa McPherson's body following her 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel, the Clearwater police quietly began looking into the case. Detectives determined that Lisa had been a Scientologist for 18 years, and during the past two years, had spent about $70,000 on church-related counseling. Before the traffic accident she had spent relaxation time at the Fort Harrison Hotel. McPherson had worked for a Dallas publishing company that mostly employed Scientologists. She had moved to Clearwater when the company relocated there about a year earlier. McPherson had weighted between 140 and 150 pounds when taken to the Fort Harrison Hotel following the traffic accident.

     Curious about just what kind of medical care one received at the Scientologist owned hotel, investigators learned that a few of Lisa's caretakers had medical training, including one person who had been an anesthesiologist. That caregiver, however, had lost her license because of a drug problem. As far as detectives could determine, no one at the hotel had been a licensed physician. The police also discovered that during her stay, Lisa had been physically restrained. She had been tied to her bed and given injections of muscle relaxants and other chemicals.

     When word got out that the authorities were looking into Lisa McPherson's death, church officials accused the Clearwater police of religious harassment. In January 1997, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office joined the investigation. The following month, Lisa McPherson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the church.

     Looking for a second opinion regarding the cause and manner of Lisa McPherson's death, Wayne Andrews of the Clearwater Police Department and Agent A. L. Sroope of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in November 1997, traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to consult with Dr. George Podgorny, the Forsythe County medical examiner. Dr. Podgorny had reviewed medical records from from the Morton Plant and New Port Richey hospitals; pharmacy records of drugs that had been administered to McPherson; and the Pinellas-Pasco autopsy report that chief medical examiner Joan Wood had approved.

     According to police and court documents, after reviewing this material, Dr. Podgorny opined that the blood clot that had killed Lisa McPherson had been caused by her extreme dehydration and immobility. The forensic pathologist told the investigators that if McPherson had received proper medical treatment and had been taken to a hospital when she first became ill, she might not have died. What this patient needed and did not get was water, salt, vitamins, and extra oxygen. Moreover, her blood-cell count and kidney function should have been closely monitored. When asked if the blood clot in her leg could have been caused by the traffic accident, Dr. Podgorny responded emphatically that such an occurrence would be extremely rare, especially in a 36-year-old woman. He pointed out that people bruise their legs all the time without getting blood clots. In the pathologist's opinion, the manner of Lisa McPherson's death boiled down to improper medical care following the traffic accident.

     A Pinellas County grand jury, on November 13, 1998, returned a two-count indictment charging the Church of Scientology with practicing medicine without a license and abusing or neglecting an adult. In response to these charges, the church asserted that the Lisa McPherson case was being exploited by forces out to destroy the institution. Accustomed to fighting for its survival, the church hit back hard. One of those on the receiving end of the attack was Dr. Joan Wood, the forensic pathologist who had opened the door to the grand jury indictment with her ruling of an undetermined manner of death.

     In the months that followed the indictment, defense attorneys representing the church deluged Dr. Wood with subpoenas that demanded all sorts of information. These lawyers wanted her to change the manner of death ruling to "accidental" on the theory the blood clot that had killed Lisa McPherson was the result of her traffic mishap. The church also denied practicing medicine at the Fort Harrison Hotel and insisted that Lisa had been properly cared for at the Scientology retreat.

     In February 2000, more than four years after the autopsy in the McPherson case, Dr. Wood, while insisting that she had not broken under pressure from the Church of Scientology, changed the McPherson manner of death to accidental. Her decision outraged the county prosecutor and the police agencies involved in the case. As far as the prosecutor was concerned Dr. Wood had folded under pressure. Some of the journalists following the case speculated that pressure and stress had caused the forensic pathologist to come emotionally unglued. Whether she had been bullied into her reversal or not, her new manner of death ruling destroyed her relationship with the local law enforcement community. The prosecutor had no choice but to drop the case against the Church of Scientology. Dr. Wood resigned her position in September 2000.

     After leaving the medical examiner's office, Dr. Wood disappeared for two years, eventually showing up at a conference of state medical examiners in Gainesville, Florida. A reporter with the St. Petersburg Times asked her if her disappearance had anything to do with the McPherson case and if she planned to get back into forensic science. Dr. Wood denied that her reversal in the McPherson case had anything to do with pressure from the Church of Scientology, but she did admit that after 25 years as a forensic pathologist, the stress of the job had finally caught up with her. She said she still had panic attacks when she walked into a courtroom.

     Lisa McPherson's estate, in May 2004, settled the wrongful death suit for an undisclosed amount. In July 2005, Dr. Wood voluntarily relinquished her medical license following a state health department declaration that in the McPherson case she had become "an advocate for the Church of Scientology." After that, she lived in obscurity, hardly ever leaving her townhouse in Tampa. On July 8, 2011, she had a stroke, and eight days later, died in the hospital. At the time of her death the former medical examiner was 67.
    

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.



 


 

Infanticide: Postulant Sosefina Amoa's Secret

     Sosefina Amoa came to the United States from the Pacific nation of Samoa to become a Catholic nun. The 26-year-old postulant sought admission to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order that operates nursing homes and assisted living residences for impoverished old people in the United States and around the world.

     On October 15, 2013, Sofefina, following a 7,000 mile journey, arrived at the Little Sisters of the Poor Elderly Center, a 100-unit complex in Washington, D. C. located across the street from Catholic University. Five days later, while alone in her convent room, Amoa gave birth to a six pound, two ounce boy she named Joseph.

     To muffle the infant's cries, Sosefina covered his nose and mouth with a wool garment. Unable to breathe, the baby died.

     The day after she suffocated her child, Sosefina told one of the nuns she had found the dead infant on the sidewalk outside the convent. She and the nun carried the little corpse in a satchel to a nearby hospital.

     When questioned at the hospital by detectives, Sosefina admitted the baby was hers. Not knowing she was pregnant, the stillborn infant had been a complete shock. Police officers, skeptical of her story, searched Amoa's room at the convent.

     A few days later, while being interrogated at the police station, Sosefina Amoa admitted that in trying to silence the infant with the garment, she had killed him. She said she had considered throwing the body into the trash but decided instead to alert one of the nuns.

     Following the autopsy, the medical examiner's office announced that Baby Joseph had been asphyxiated. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

     On October 15, 2013, a District of Columbia prosecutor charged Sosefina Amoa with first-degree murder. If convicted of this charge, she would spend no less than thirty years in prison. Held without bond, jail authorities put the murder suspect on suicide watch.

     At a preliminary hearing on October 24, 2013, the prosecutor offered Amoa a plea deal. If she pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, thirty years in prison would be the maximum rather than the minimum sentence. Her public defender attorney said he and his client would consider the offer.

    In February 2014, Sofefina Amoa pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. At her sentencing hearing on May 23, 2014, defense attorney Judith Pipe asked federal judge Robert Morin to sentence Amoa to time served after which she would be sent back to her family in Samoa. "Of course this is a case that deserves punishment," said attorney Pipe. "But she will be punished by it every day of her life."

     Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright pointed out that Amoa had been "plagued by fear" of being thrown out of the convent and made a "conscious decision" to end her baby's life. The prosecutor argued that Amoa chose to have the baby herself in her room then lied about the dead infant.

     Judge Morin sentenced Sofefina Amoa to four years in prison and five years of supervised release. Upon completion of her sentence she will face deportation back to Samoa.

     This sentence, in view of the facts of the case, was unbelievably lenient. Four years in prison for the intentional killing of an infant is outrageous. In the plea deal the prosecutor gave away the store. 

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. 

The Brinda Sue McCoy Case: The Police Chief's Wife

     Brinda Sue McCoy, a 48-year-old registered nurse, lived with her husband Frank and their 5 children in Cypress, California, a suburban town of 47,000 in Orange County. Frank McCoy, a former Cypress Councilman and commander with the Long Beach Police Department, was chief of police in Oceanside, a southern California city of 174,000. Frank McCoy had been chief of the 260-member department since 2006. His wife Brinda worked at Hoag Hospital in the Orange county town of Newport.

     At seven in the evening of December 16, 2010, Brinda, while alone in her house and feeling "overwhelmed and distraught," called friends and relatives to inform them of what songs to play at her funeral. Earlier in the day she had argued with her husband and her son.

     Under the influence of prescription medicine to calm her down, and a few martinis, Brinda called 911 for "police assistance." She had recently read a news account about police in another town killing a man wielding a garden hose nozzle. She thought she might be able to get the local police to kill her. Since this would end her suffering, she thought her death would be a relief to friends and family.

     When members of the Cypress Police Department responded to the call, Brinda refused to come out of the house. During the standoff, the distraught woman appeared at a window with a pistol in her hand. She pointed the gun at her head, at the ceiling, then at the police outside. After being warned that if she discharged the gun police officers could get hurt, Brinda fired a shot out the window in the direction of police officers positioned behind a parked pickup truck. The police did not respond in kind. Twenty minutes later, she fired again.

     About an hour after the shootings, the police talked Brinda out of her house. As she crawled out the front door, members of a SWAT team subdued her with a beanbag gun.

     Following 72 hours of observation at a local hospital, police took Brinda McCoy into custody. She posted her $250,000 bail and was released.

     Charged with 5 counts of police assault with a firearm, felonies that could send her to prison for 30 years, McCoy went on trial in an Orange County court on May 24, 2012. Twenty-five days later, after the defendant testified on her own behalf for two days, the jury, after deliberating 5 hours, found Brinda McCoy guilty on all counts. She would await her September 10 sentencing under house arrest.

     In 2011, the police in the United States shot 50 women, killing about half of them. Most of these women were armed with knives, and had histories of mental illness. Most of them, like Brinda McCoy, did not have criminal records. Many of these police involved shootings were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Had Brinda McCoy been a mental case or a drug addict in Philadelphia, Chicago, or Miami, she would have been shot. But in Orange County, California, where the officers knew they were dealing with the disturbed wife of a police chief, they were patient and used nonlethal force.

     Four days after she was released on bail to await her sentencing, police officers found Brinda bleeding in her back yard following an attempted suicide. Judge Francisco Briseno ordered the police to take the suicidal woman into custody for her own protection.

     Prior to Brinda McCoy's sentencing date, Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivier, in a rare legal action, agreed to retroactively modify the charges against the defendant by removing the firearm discharge count, the conviction of which carried a mandatory 20-year sentence. In return, defense attorney Lew Rosenblum withdrew his motion for a new trial.

     On September 7, 2012, Judge Briseno sentenced Brinda McCoy to fifteen years in prison. Had the charges against her not been modified after the fact, she would have been sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

     As deputy sheriffs escorted McCoy out of the courtroom in handcuffs, she spoke to her husband, relatives and others there to support her. "Thank you guys," she said. "Everyone, I love you."

     Justice was not done in this case. Fifteen years in prison for a mentally ill woman who tried to use the police to commit suicide was way too harsh.

   
     

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.
       

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Melinda Muniz Murder Case

     In 2013, Mitch Ford, his 25-year-old fiancee Melinda Muniz, and his 3-year-old daughter Grace from a previous marriage, lived in Plano, Texas, the sprawling suburban community north of Dallas. Ford and his ex-wife Emily Ward were engaged in a custody battle over Grace Ford, their daughter.

     Mitch and Melinda's relationship ran into trouble in late December 2013 when she revealed that she had been cheating on him.

     Early in the morning of January 9, 2014, before he left for work, Mitch told Melinda that within the next few days she would have to move out of the apartment. The engagement was over. Melinda did not take this news very well.

     Later that day, Mitch Ford, concerned about how Melinda was reacting to the break-up, called the the Plano Police Department and asked that officers check on Melinda and his daughter. At one-forty that afternoon, when officers showed up for the welfare call, they didn't get a response when they knocked on the door. They called Mr. Ford who came to the complex to let them into the apartment.

     In the master bedroom, officers found Melinda with her pants down with duct-tape over her mouth. In the toddler's room, they found Grace Ford unconscious in her crib. Someone had placed tape across her mouth as well.

     The child was taken by ambulance to the Children's Medical Center in Dallas where doctors pronounced her brain-dead. Physicians put the 3-year-old on life support until her organs could be harvested.

     Melinda Muniz told detectives that an intruder had forced his way into the apartment and raped her. The rapist had covered her mouth, and the child's, with the tape. She described the intruder as a total stranger.

     Melinda's story quickly unraveled. A medical examination revealed that she had not been sexually assaulted. Moreover, a surveillance camera at a nearby store showed Melinda buying duct-tape, zip ties, cotton balls, and a pair of scissors. When confronted with this evidence and inconsistencies in her story, Melinda Muniz stuck to the intruder story.

     The Dallas County Medical Examiner ruled Grace Ford's death criminal homicide by asphyxiation.

     Police officers, on January 28, 2014, booked Melinda Muniz into the Collins County Jail on the charge of capital murder. She pleaded not guilty and the judge set her bond at $1 million. If convicted as charged, she faced life in prison without parole.

     The Muniz trial got underway on January 27, 2015 at the Collins County Courthouse, district judge Mark Rusch presiding. Co-prosecutor Lisa King, in her opening remarks, told the jury that the evidence showed the defendant had carefully planned the little girl's murder. Defense attorney Robbie McClung argued that the state's case was full of holes.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy testified that the victim had been suffocated to death. As for the defendant, she had not been sexually assaulted as she had claimed. The prosecution also played surveillance camera footage showing the defendant, shortly before the murder, purchasing the duck-tape and the other items. Detectives took the stand and testified that the defendant had staged the home invasion/rape to cover-up her murder.

     When it came time for the defense to put on its case, the defendant, on the advise of her attorney, did not take the stand on her own behalf. Before the opposing attorneys presented their closing arguments to the jury, attorney McClung asked Judge Rusch to allow the jurors to consider the lesser charge of felony-murder. The judge denied the motion.

     In his closing argument, defense attorney McClung emphasized the fact the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial. Moreover, the state had failed to prove a motive in the case. Prosecutor Zeke Fortenberry, when he stood before the jury, said that the state does not have a duty to prove motive in order to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, however, the motive was anger and revenge.

     On February 2, 2015, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Judge Rusch, at a later sentencing hearing involving victim impact testimony, imposed the automatic sentence of life without the chance of parole. 

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.

    

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jason Hendrix: Police Kill Teen Who Shot At Them After Murdering His Family

     Kevin Hendrix and his wife Sarah lived in a middle class neighborhood in Corbin, Kentucky with their 16-year-old son Jason and 12-year-old daughter Grace. Mr. Hendrix, a beekeeper, sold honey at a farmer's market in the small, southeastern Kentucky town. His wife, Dr. Sarah Hendrix, worked as a professor at Union College in nearby Barbourville.

     In December 2014, Jason was baptized at the Forward Community Church where he and his family were active members. The church, founded in 2012, held its services in a local movie theater. Besides being involved in church activities, Jason Hendrix participated in his high school ROTC program.

     Late Wednesday afternoon February 11, 2015, two days after Jason's parents disciplined their son by taking away his computer privileges, the boy, in a most cold-blooded way, murdered his family.

     The 16-year-old shot his father twice in the head the moment he came home from work. The young killer ambushed his mother with two bullets to the face when she entered the kitchen after parking her car in the garage following her day at work. His 12-year-old sister Grace lay dead in the house from two shots to her head. She had also been shot in the arm. In the close-range shootings, Jason fired through pillows to muffle the sound and shield himself from the victim's blood spatter.

     A few hours after executing his parents and his sister, Jason met up with some friends at his church. There was nothing in his demeanor that suggested what he had just massacred his family.

     The day after the triple murder, Jason, armed with four handguns and a backpack full of ammunition, drove out of town in one of the family cars, a green Honda Pilot.

     Late Saturday morning February 14, 2015, a Maryland state trooper tried to pull Jason Hendrix over for speeding in Harford County 500 miles from the still undiscovered bodies in his house back in Kentucky. Jason, having no intention of being pulled over by a cop, led the officer and others on a car chase that took them into Baltimore County where police officers in that jurisdiction joined in the pursuit.

     The high-speed chase came to an abrupt end when the teenager crashed his SUV into another vehicle. When six officers with the Baltimore County Police Department approached the green Honda, Jason Hendrix shot at the officers, striking one of them. All six of the officers returned his fire, killing the boy at the scene.

     The wounded officer received treatment at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The next morning doctors discharged him from the hospital. All of the officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

     That Saturday, a Baltimore County detective called the authorities in Corbin, Kentucky and requested a check of the address to which the green Honda was registered. If the occupants of the house were related to the boy, they needed to be informed of his death.

     At five o'clock that afternoon, officers with the Corbin Police Department entered the Hendrix house on Forest Circle. Inside they found the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Hendrix and their daughter. Following a cursory investigation, the authorities in Corbin concluded that the boy killed by the police in Maryland had murdered his family.

     Friends and relatives of the family as well as residents of the community were stunned by the news of these violent deaths. As is often the case in "good boy" murder cases, no one saw the bloodshed coming.


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. 

Teaching While Intoxicated: Two Cases

Case 1: Ankeny, Iowa
   
      Jennifer Lynn Rich began teaching in 2001 at the East Elementary School in Ankeny, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines. On Friday February 13, 2015, the 40-year-old teacher and the mother of one of her students were overseeing a St. Valentine's Day party for Rich's kindergarten class. At two that afternoon the parent-helper called the local police department and reported the presence of a can of beer in Rich's classroom.

     A police officer showed up at the school and entered the kindergarten teacher's classroom. (I presume the kids had been dismissed by now.) Inside a leather bag the officer found six cans of Busch Light beer. Two of the beers had been recently consumed. Jennifer Rich's eyes were bloodshot and she had alcohol on her breath.

     Suspecting that the teacher was intoxicated, the police officer administered an on-site breath test that confirmed that she had recently consumed an alcoholic beverage. (A blood analysis later revealed a blood-alcohol percentage double the legal limit for driving in the state.)

     A local prosecutor charged the kindergarten teacher with one count of public intoxication and one count of child endangerment. School officials placed Rich on paid administrative leave. Not long after her arrest she resigned from the East Elementary School.

Case 2: Marshallville, Iowa

     Carissa Bryant taught sixth grade at the Lenihan Intermediate school in Marshalltown, Iowa, a small town 60 miles northeast of Des Moines. On March 4, 2015, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Steve Hoffman was at the elementary school presenting a substance abuse program. When he encountered the 33-year-old teacher he smelled alcohol on her breath and noticed that her eyes were red and that she was slurring her words.

     Deputy Hoffman took Carissa Bryant into custody and booked her into the Marshall County Jail on the misdemeanor charge of public intoxication. A blood-alcohol test placed her alcoholic content at .190 percent. In Iowa .08 percent is the threshold limit for driving under the influence.

     The elementary school teacher posted her $300 bail and was released from custody. The school principal placed Bryant on paid administrative leave.

A National Problem?

     These two teachers were caught drinking on the job because outsiders just happened to be in the schools at the right time. Because there is no national databank on how many public school teachers are fired every year for this kind of behavior, there is no way to know if this is a serious problem. One thing we do know, however, is that misbehaving teachers are rarely fired.

     Only one in 1,000 public school teachers are dismissed for performance related reasons. In the legal profession that number is one in 97 and in medicine, one in 57.

     Under these circumstances it is reasonable to suspect that classroom drinking is a problem made worse by the fact public school teachers are protected against dismissal by tenure and teacher unions.


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. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Patron Who Sued Applebee's Over Hot Fajitas Didn't Have a Prayer

     America has become a litigious society overrun by personal injury lawyers in search of deep-pocket defendants (once called ambulance chasers) and greedy, bogus plaintiffs looking for a big payday at the expense of the rest of us. You can't escape these hungry, aggressive lawyers who advertise on billboards and around the clock on television. This is why it is so gratifying to witness the demise of a frivolous personal injury suit.

     Hiram Jimenez and his brother, in March 2010, were sitting in a booth at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Westampton, New Jersey. When the waitress placed a sizzling hot skillet in front of Jimenez, he said to his brother, "Let's have a prayer."

     When Mr. Jimenez bowed his head in prayer over the hot fajitas dish, he heard what he described as a "loud sizzling noise and a pop sound" followed by a burning sensation on his face. He tried to push the food off the table but it landed on his lap.

     Claiming "serious and permanent" injuries because the waitress failed to warn him of the dangerous and hazardous fajitas grease she had exposed him to, Mr. Jimenez filed a personal injury suit against the California-based chain of 1,900 restaurants. The plaintiff sought an undisclosed amount of money--damages--as a result of the waitress' negligence.

     A New Jersey trial judge dismissed the burning fajitas case stating that a restaurant does not have a legal duty to warn patrons about food dangers that are open and obvious. Mr. Jimenez appealed this ruling.

     In February 2015, a two-judge appellate court panel affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Applebee's suit noting that the sizzling hot fajitas platter constituted a "self-evident" hazard.

     This case is reminiscent of an episode on "Seinfeld" involving Kramer burning himself with hot coffee he tried to sneak into a theater. That case didn't come out well for Kramer's attorney either. 

Where Is Relisha Rudd?

     In 2014, eight-year-old Relisha Tanau Rudd resided in the D.C. General homeless shelter in Washington with her 27-year old mother, Shamika Young, her stepfather, and her three brothers. The family had lived in the shelter a year when Relisha's mother, on March 1, 2014, arranged to have 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum and his wife Andrea take the girl in and care for her. Kahlil Tatum worked at the homeless shelter as a janitor where he had a reputation of paying a lot of attention to the young girls who lived there.

     On March 19, 2014, after Relisha missed several days of school, the authorities launched a missing persons investigation. Mr. Tatum had also vanished. The janitor and the girl were caught on a D. C. area Holiday Inn Express surveillance camera walking down a hallway on February 26, 2014, a few days before the girl's mother gave her  up.

     Detectives learned that Tatum, on March 2, 2014, had purchased a carton of black, 42 gallon, self-tie contractor trash bags.

     Police officers, on March 20, 2014, found Andrea Denise Tatum's body in a motel room at an Oxon Hill, Maryland Red Roof Inn. She had been killed by a gunshot to the head. Her husband and Relisha Rudd were nowhere to be found. Homicide detectives uncovered evidence linking the dead woman's husband, Kahlil Tatum, to the homicide.

     A Prince George's County prosecutor charged Kahlil Tatum with first-degree murder. On March 26, 2014, the FBI added the fugitive homicide suspect to its "Most Wanted List" and offered a $70,000 reward for information regarding his whereabouts. The Prince George's County Police Department posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

     On March 27, 2014, shortly after a witness reported having seen a man meeting Tatum's description with a girl in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in northeast D.C., a party of more than 100 officers searched the 700-acre park. Four days later, a searcher came across Mr. Tatum's body. He had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with the gun used in the murder his wife. Searchers found no signs of Relisha Rudd. On April 3, 2014, the park search was called off.

     The D.C. City Council Committee of Human Services, in the course of reviewing the hiring policy at D.C. General, found that Kahlil Tatum possessed an extensive criminal record. He had been convicted in 1983, 1986, 1987, 1991, and 1993 of various crimes including breaking and entering and grand larceny. He was last convicted of a crime in 2004. In those days he went under his birth name, Karl Lee Tatum.

     According to the administrator in charge of hiring at the D.C. homeless shelter, Tatum, because his last conviction was ten years old, was eligible for employment at the facility. Had any of his offenses involved children, he would have been automatically excluded regardless of the date of the conviction.

     Social service authorities, following Relisha Rudd's disappearance, took away Shamika Young's three boys and placed them into foster care. The mother, who herself had grown up in the Virginia foster care system, had been shuttled between foster homes, group homes and mental health facilities. Diagnosed in middle school as "mildly retarded," Shamika reported hearing voices telling her to kill her foster family and herself. She also suffered from depression and a variety of other emotional problems.

     After Shamika Young signed herself out of foster care at age 18, she gave birth to four children from two men. She had no training on how to be a good mother and no way to make a living. Prosecutors over the past few years, on three occasions, have charged Young with child abuse and neglect. The cases were all dismissed.

     Since Relisha's disappearance, Shamika Young has been fighting to get her three sons out of foster care. This has created a heated debate among child protection advocates and Young's extended family, some of whom blame her for Relisha's disappearance.

     Relisha Rudd's whereabouts remain unknown. Detectives presume she was murdered by Tatum who disposed of her body.

     

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Police Kill David Hooks in Bogus Drug Raid

     David Hooks, a respected and successful businessman lived with Teresa, his wife of 25 years, in an upper-middle class neighborhood in East Dublin, Georgia. Hooks' construction company did a lot of work on area military bases such as Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart. This meant that Hooks had passed background investigations conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the ATF.

     On September 22, 2014, a meth-addled burglar named Rodney Garrett, after he broke into Mr. Hooks' pickup truck, stole the family's Lincoln Aviator SUV. The next day, Garrett surrendered to deputies with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office.

     Perhaps to curry favor with the police, Garrett told deputies that in Mr. Hooks' pickup he came across a bag that he opened hoping to find cash. Instead he found 20 grams of methamphetamine and a digital scale. Before searching Mr. Hooks' house, officers knew they would need more than the word of a meth-addicted burglar and car thief to get a judge to sign off on a warrant. In an effort to bolster this  unreliable evidence, a deputy sheriff told the issuing magistrate that in 2009 another snitch said he had supplied Mr. Hooks with meth and that the businessman had resold it.

     The local magistrate, based on the word of a meth-using thief in trouble with the law and the six-year-old word of another snitch in another case that had gone nowhere, issued a warrant to search the Hooks residence for methamphetamine. By no stretch of the imagination was this warrant based upon sufficient probable cause.

     To execute the Hooks drug warrant, the sheriff, in typical drug enforcement overkill, deployed eight members of a SRT (Special Response Team) to raid the target dwelling with officers armed with assault weapons and dressed in SWAT-like combat boots, helmets, and flack-jackets.

     At eleven in the morning of September 24, 2014, just two days after Rodney Garrett broke into the Hooks pickup truck and stole their SUV, Teresa Hooks, while on the second-floor of her house, heard vehicles coming up the driveway. She looked out the window and saw several masked men with rifles advancing on the residence.

     Teresa Hooks ran downstairs into a first-floor bedroom where her husband was sleeping. She shook him up and screamed, "the burglars are back!" Mr. Hooks jumped out of bed, grabbed his shotgun and walked out of the bedroom as members of the raiding party broke down the back door and stormed into the house. In the course of the home intrusion, officers fired eighteen shots. Mr. Hooks did not discharge his weapon. At some point in the drug raid he was shot twice and died on the spot.

     According to the official police version of the fatal shooting of a man in his own home, Mr. Hooks came to the door armed with a shotgun. Officers broke into the dwelling after knocking and announcing their presence. When Mr. Hooks refused to lower his weapon, the officers had no choice but to shoot him dead. That was the story.

     A 44-hour search of the Hooks residence by deputy sheriffs and officers with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation failed to produce drugs or any other evidence of crime.

     On October 2, 2014, the Hooks family attorney, Mitch Shook, told reporters that the police had forced their way into the house without knocking or announcing themselves to execute a search warrant based upon bogus informant information. The attorney said Mr. David Hooks had been a respected businessman who had never used or sold drugs. The police, according to Mr. Shook, had no business raiding this house and killing this decent man.

     Attorney Shook, on December 11, 2014, made a startling announcement: When the police shot Mr. Hooks in the back and in the back of the head, he was lying face-down on the floor. Mr. Shook said he has asked the FBI to launch an investigation into the case.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Wesleyan University Mass Molly Overdose Scandal

     Wesleyan University, an expensive 3,200-student liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, is known for its culture of drugs. (The school referred 154 students for disciplinary action for drug violations in 2011. That number jumped to 281 in 2012. In 2013, 240 Wesleyan students got in trouble for drug use.) The latest campus drug scandal involved the abuse of the synthetic drug Molly, known by chemists and crime lab personnel as MDMA.

     The main ingredient in Molly, contraband smuggled into the United States from China, is the psychoactive stimulant Ecstasy commonly present at music festivals and on the club party circuit. While Molly dealers claim they sell it in its purest form, most of the drug is laced with dangerous additives such as epheorine (a stimulant), dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant), cocaine, methamphetamine, and in some cases bath salts.

    Molly users experience euphoria, mild hallucinations, and the urge to physically touch other people. The drug, in its various forms, boosts three chemicals in the body that can cause blood vessels in the heart and brain to constrict. That in turn could lead to heart attacks and strokes. Molly also causes the body to overheat resulting in fatal brain swelling and dehydration.

     Early Sunday morning February 22, 2015, following a Saturday night party at Wesleyan University, paramedics rushed twelve partygoers to the Hartford Hospital. The ten students and two campus guests exhibited symptoms of Molly overdose.

     While two of the sick partygoers were listed in critical condition and fighting for their lives, all of the Molly users were expected to survive.

     On Tuesday night February 24, 2015, officers with the Middletown Police Department arrested four Wesleyan students on charges related to the overdoses. Two of the students, 21-year-old Eric Lonergan from Rio de Janeiro and Andrew Olson from Atascadero, California, were charged with several counts of drug dealing. The judge set their bonds at $100,000 and $175,000 respectively.

     A local prosecutor charged 21-year-old Zachary Kramer from Bethesda, Maryland and Rama Agha Al Nakib, 20 of Lutherville, Maryland with possession type offenses. The judge set their bonds at $75,000 and $100,000 respectively.

     The four Wesleyan students arrested in the Molly overdose scandal have been suspended from the school. They posted bail and were released from custody. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The School Bus Driver From Hell

     A Baltimore bus driver with a criminal record was arrested for DUI on Friday February 27, 2015 as she was headed to pick up a group of students for a field trip. Pamela L. Willie, 52, was pulled over after several motorists notified Maryland State Police that a school bus was moving erratically on Interstate 695 and running vehicles off the road.

     During the stop, police officers observed that Willie was impaired and found four containers of beer and liquor--varying from full to partially full to empty--on the bus.

     A prosecutor charged Willie with 23 criminal charges including driving under the influence, operating a commercial vehicle in possession of alcohol, consuming alcohol in the passenger area of a vehicle, driving a commercial vehicle without an appropriate medical certificate, negligent and reckless driving, and driving off the highway. [If the FBI had a ten most wanted list for traffic offenders, Willie would be on that poster]…

     Records show that in August 2009, Willie was arrested on a string of charges including consumption of an alcoholic beverage while driving on the highway, failure to control a vehicle on the highway to avoid a collision, reckless driving, failure to remain at the scene of an accident, assault in the first-degree, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

     In July 2009, Willie was charged on several accounts, including assault in the first-degree, assault in the second-degree, possession of drug paraphernalia, violation of a protective order, and the malicious destruction of property…In February 2003, Willie was sentenced to one year in jail on charges of assault in the first-degree and resisting arrest. She took a plea deal and avoided jail time.

Chuck Ross, "Bus Driver With Criminal Record Arrested For DUI," The Daily Caller, February 28, 2015

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Should Bank Guards Be Armed?

Bank crimes data from the FBI show that when bank guards are armed with guns, bank robberies are three times as likely to become violent. [It would be better not to have bank guards at all then have guards that are unarmed. Unarmed guards would be pointless and unnecessarily dangerous for the officer.]

" Armed Guards and Bank Robbery," Center For Investigative Reporting, December 2014 

Writing Quote: Are Unpublished Novelists Real Writers?

If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a novelist and you never will be.

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990 

Writing Quote: Charles Bukowski On Being A Professional Writer

I have to drink and gamble to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick. I really don't want to be a professional writer, I wanna write what I wanna write. Else, it's all been wasted…So did Hemingway, until he started talking about "discipline"; Pound also talked about doing one's "work".  But I've been luckier than both of them because I've worked the factories and slaughterhouses and I know that work and discipline are dirty words. I know what they meant, but for me, it has to be a different game.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Criminal Justice Quote: Rare Gun Violence In South Korea

     Four people, including a policeman, were killed on February 27, 2015 in the second shooting incident in two days in South Korea where gun crime is extremely rare. A 75-year-old man armed with a hunting rifle shot dead his brother, the brother's wife and a police officer who responded to an emergency call. The gunman then turned the weapon on himself.

     The shooting in Hwaseong City 25 miles southwest of Seoul, appeared to have been motivated by a family dispute over money. The incident came two days after a man shot three people dead in a convenience store the killer then torched in a apparent revenge attack on the family of his former lover in the southern city of Sejong. In that case the gunman also committed suicide.

     South Korea's tough gun laws effectively outlaw ownership of firearms by most civilians. Rare exceptions are allowed for hunters but they must deposit their rifles at local police stations.

"4 Dead in Second Rare Shooting in South Korea," ndtv.com, February 27, 2015 

Criminal Justice Quote: Chief of Police Busted in Prostitution Sting

     A south Florida police chief is out of a job after being accused of soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover cop. Former Miami Gardens Police Chief Stephen Johnson was arrested in Dania Beach on February 27, 2015. After posting his bail, Johnson said, "I want to apologize to the community. Tonight was a very unfortunate situation for me dealing with an incident that occurred today. It just overwhelmed me. The stress overwhelmed me, and I made a very bad decision to deal with that moment that I have never experienced before." Johnson blamed his actions on stress at work.

     "When I saw two grieving families and the overwhelming issue to face them, it brought something that's totally out of character with me," he said. "And people know me. That is just not my character. Bad decisions on how to deal with that, but I've never dealt with that kind of feeling before, so I can't even explain it." [Huh?]

"Florida Police Chief Fired After Prostitution Arrest," CBS News, February 8, 2015 

Writing Quote: The Journalistic Legacy of Watergate

     Investigative reporting has taken on every aspect of American society--from government, politics, business and finance to education, social welfare, culture and sports--and has won the lion's share of each year's journalism prizes. No matter how unpopular the news media may sometimes be, there has been, ever since Watergate, an expectation that the press would hold accountable those with power and influence over the rest of us. As Jon Marshal wrote in 2011, Watergate "shaped the way investigative reporting is perceived and practiced and how political leaders and the public respond to journalists."

     Woodward and Bernstein's techniques were hardly original. But they became central to the ethos of investigative reporting: Become an expert on your subject. Knock on doors and talk to sources in person. Protect the confidentiality of sources when necessary. Never rely on a single source. Find documents. Follow the money. Pile one hard-won detail on top of another until a pattern becomes discernible.

Leonard Downie Jr., Washington Post, June 7, 2012 

Writing Quote: The Spy Novel

     At their core, spy novels are about secrets. Secrets create power. Power determines how we live. That's a formula for fiction that matters--matters to us in this world where making sense of what's really going on turns out to be a lifelong endeavor, one that fiction lets us do from the safety of own sheltered lives...

     Spy novels remind us of our past and reflect our future. Alan Furst's WW II era novels bring to life heroic struggles of the "greatest generation," while novels written long before 9/11 by Tom Harris and Tom Clancy foreshadowed dramatic hijacked aircraft terrorist attacks targeting American civilians…

     In spy novels we're guaranteed a fictional journey in which something happens. A secret will be stolen or protected, a spy will be caught or escape, the conspiracy will triumph or be crushed. A spy novel can be set anywhere with as much action as you want--sabers in the courtyard or switchblades in the alley, snipers, runaway carriages, strangers on a train, parachuting commandos, car chases, kung fu, high-tech weaponry and low-minded thugs…

     Right versus wrong, good versus evil, the essential nature of power and politics, all that and more unfold is a safe, fictional package for us to enjoy.

James Grady, Parade, March 1, 2015 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Criminal Justice Quote: Out In The Cold

     A 23-year-old Allentown, Pennsylvania woman left her sleeping 1-year-old in her minivan in freezing weather while taking another child for a haircut. Mirella Rodriguez was charged on February 24, 2015 with endangering the welfare of a child.

     Following her arrest, Rodriguez posted on Facebook that the allegations were blown out of proportion and that she was a great mother and would never purposely harm her child. Police say Rodriguez left the child behind without a blanket while she took her 3-year-old into a barbershop at two in the afternoon. A parking officer saw the child and alerted police.

     The temperature at the time was 20 degree, with wind chills of 9 degrees. The child was unharmed.

"Mon Left Sleeping Tot In Cold Van During Kid's Haircut," ABC News, February 25, 2015 

Criminal Justice Quote: Who Spiked My Sippy Cup?

     Police say a Massachusetts woman allowed her 2-year-old daughter to sip her margarita at a restaurant and poured some of it into the girl's sippy cup. Forty-one-year-old Sheldy Nelson of Lynn, Massachusetts pleaded not guilty on February 24, 2015 to child endangerment in a Salem district court. She was charged in connection with the August 2014 incident. The judge set her bond at $1,000.

     A witness told police that Nelson ignored two warnings from the restaurant staff to stop giving her daughter sips of the alcohol. Both the mother and her daughter appeared lethargic and were taken to a hospital where medical personnel found alcohol in the toddler's system. Police found the sippy cup in Nelson's bag. It smelled of alcohol. The girl was placed in state custody.

"Mom Let 2-Year-Old Sip Margarita," huffingtonpost.com, February 28, 2015