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Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Jon Lang Murder Case

     After a party on the night of June 18, 1993, 35-year-old Jon Lang's wife Debbie died in the couple's swimming pool. The drowning took place in Patterson Township not far from the western Pennsylvania town of Industry. The Beaver County coroner ruled the death accidental.

     Nineteen years after Debbie Lang's drowning, a coroner's jury sitting in Beaver, Pennsylvania ruled that Debbie Lang's death had been caused by a criminal act. In November 2012, a Beaver County prosecutor charged Jon Lang, now 54, with the murder of his wife.

     Whenever a suspect is charged with murder decades after the questioned death, the newly discovered evidence is usually a crime scene fingerprint identification or DNA evidence that links the defendant to the victim or the site of the murder. It's forensic science that usually saves the day in cold-case murder investigations.

     In the Lang case, however, the evidence supporting the long delayed murder charge lacked the incriminating value of physical evidence. The incriminating evidence was in the form of the most unreliable evidence of all--eyewitness testimony.

     The new testimony in the Lang murder consisted of an event the witness had seen nineteen years ago when he was 16-years-old. Jamie Darlington told a panel of Beaver County coroner's jurors that on June 18, 1993, he was a guest at the Long residence. That night, when Darlington looked out a second-story window, he saw Jon Lang push his wife into the swimming pool. According to the witness, Mr. Lang kept his struggling wife submerged by holding her down with a long-handled pool skimmer.

     According to the 35-year-old's coroner's jury testimony, Mr. Lang became aware that he had been seen murdering his wife. When Lang entered the house after the drowning, he threatened the boy. "You didn't hear anything," he said. "And you didn't see nothing." Darlington said he didn't report the homicide out of fear for his own life.

     William Difenderfer, Jon Lang's attorney, called Jamie Darlington's testimony "preposterous." The attorney asserted that Darlington was telling this story now because he was himself in trouble with the law. (In this regard, Darlington was not unlike a jailhouse snitch, the absolute bottom of the evidentiary totem pole.)

     In speaking to a local television reporter after the coroner's jury verdict, Gloria Caler, a Lang neighbor in 1993, said, "I just never believed it was an accident because the lady couldn't swim and the pool was green and it was like, who would want to go swimming in a pool like that? At the time I never thought it was an accident, but nothing came about it."

     On December 9, 2013, the first day of Jon Lang's murder trial, the defendant pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, a lesser homicide offense. While the no-contest plea is not legally an acknowledgement of criminal culpability, it could nevertheless be interpreted as an admission of guilt. Why else would Jon Lang allow himself to be convicted on such flimsy evidence?

     The Beaver County Judge sentenced Jon Lang to three to six years in prison, a light sentence if he murdered his wife in cold blood. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Annybelkis Terrero Murder-For-Hire Case

     Neil Logan, a 57-year-old aircraft mechanic from Boynton Beach, Florida made the mistake of his life when in June 2013, following a brief courtship and a spur of the moment decision, he married Annybelkis Terrero in Las Vegas.

     Not long after Mr. Logan and the 38-year-old Terrero took up residence in his Boynton Beach home, she regularly got drunk, used illegal drugs, and entertained strange men in the house. She also disappeared for days at a time.

     On August 31, 2013, just three months after marrying this woman, Neil Logan filed for divorce. The next day Annybelkis called the Boynton Police Department with the accusation that her husband had committed domestic abuse. Police officers came to the house and hauled Mr. Logan off to jail. Pursuant to a protective order filed against him, the owner of the house could not return to his home.

     In the fall of 2013 Terrero's Boynton Beach neighbors began complaining about suspected drug activity and prostitution occurring in Mr. Logan's former residence. After narcotics officers investigated the complaints and threatened to arrest Terrero on drug and prostitution charges, she agreed to stay out of jail by working as a drug informant.

     On October 16, 2013, Terrero and two narcotics cops wearing bulletproof vests were en route in a police vehicle to a suspected drug dealer's house. Along the way the snitch mentioned that she hated her husband and wanted him dead. Could the officers put her in touch with a hit man?

     The narcotics officers said they knew a men who could do the job. At that point Terrero handed one of the officers two stolen credit cards with instructions to use them soon because they were "hot." She said the cards were meant as compensation for the officers' role in her murder-for-hire plan.

     The next day in the Sunshine Square Shopping Center parking lot, Terrero met with a Boynton Beach undercover officer posing as a professional hit man. As is standard operating procedure in such cases, the murder-for-hire conversation was recorded.

     Terrero informed the undercover officer that she would pay him $30,000 from her husband's life insurance payout after the assassin did his job. She said she also wanted the hit man to murder another 57-year-old person named William Straub. The Lake Worth, Florida resident was a friend who had tried to help Terrero beat her alcohol and drug addictions. (Why she wanted this man dead is a mystery. Perhaps she had confided in him regarding her plans to have her husband killed and the proposed hit simply involved the intent to take out an incriminating witness. But if she were worried about that kind of exposure, why did she reach out to a pair of narcotic cops?)

     Shortly after the murder-for-hire mastermind handed the undercover officer a loaded Remington shotgun as a downpayment for the double-hit, the officer arrested Terrero. A Palm Beach county prosecutor charged Terrero  with two counts of murder solicitation and two counts of bribery. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     This was not the first time Terrero had seen the inside of a jailhouse. Police arrested her in 1998 for burglary and aggravated battery and in 2011 for assaulting a police officer .

     In speaking to a reporter following Terrero's arrest, William Straub, one of the murder-for-hire targets, described her as "brilliant" when she was sober and not so bright when drunk. (Terrero must have been very intoxicated when she proposed murder-for-hire to a pair of men she knew to be cops. That has to be one of the stupidest moves in the history of crime.)

     According to Terrero's 61-year-old mother Seneida Holden, her daughter has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse since her teenage years. At one time she claimed to have kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. (Since Bruno Richard Hauptmann kidnapped and murdered the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh in March 1932, Terrero is off the hook for that crime.)

     On November 14, 2013, the Palm Beach County Prosecutor's Office announced that the charges against Annybelkis Terrero had been dropped. The spokesperson said the case was dismissed due to "significant legal issues." (It's possible these "significant legal issues" had to do with the fact Terrero had been working as a drug snitch.) She walked out of the county jail a free woman.

    

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Father Jerold Lindner: Is Assaulting the Priest Who Molested You a Crime?

     More than 16,000 Americans have been known to have been sexually molested by Catholic clerics. These victims represent the tip of the iceberg of pedophilia in the Catholic Church. According to a study conducted by researchers at John Jay College in New York City, between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse. What follows is the story of just one of the sexual predators protected by the church, and just one of his victims who took extreme measures to get revenge.

     Jerold Lindner, accepted into Jesuit training in June 1964, was, at 24, sent to the Sacred Heart novitiate in Los Gatos, California for two years of study. Six years later he was in San Francisco teaching English at St. Ignatius High School. In 1973, after sexually assaulting a number of boys at St. Ignatius, Lindner enrolled at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

     In the summer of 1975, while still at the Berkeley theology school, Lindner, as a "spiritual advisor" for the lay organization Christian Family Movement, accompanied a group of young boys on a church-sponsored camping trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains. During that weekend Lindner shared a tent with 7-year-old William Lynch and his 4-year-old brother Buddy. The spiritual advisor sodomized both boys, forced them to give him oral sex, then threatened to kill their sister if they told anyone what he had done to them. Lindner also promised the boys an eternity in hell if they squealed.

     By 1976, the year the 36-year-old was ordained as a Jesuit priest, Father Jerry, as he was called, had molested dozens of boys. That year Father Jerry returned to St. Ignatius High School where he continued his career as an English teacher and a practicing pedophile. In 1982, the Catholic Church transferred Father Lindner to Loyola High School, a private prep school near downtown Los Angeles. Ten years later, while teaching at Loyola and molesting more of his students, Lindner's mother, aware that her son was a pedophile, spoke to Father Jerry's supervisor at his order--the Society of Jesus--and told him that Lindner had been a child molester long before he entered Jesuit training in 1964. Mrs. Lindner informed the supervising priest that her son had molested several members of his family, including a younger sibling.

     In response to accusations of child molestation by the priest's own mother, the Jesuits took Father Lindner out of the classroom and sent him to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. Whatever the results of that psychiatric analysis, the Jesuit brass declared that Mrs. Lindner's allegations were not credible, and sent their pedophile teacher back into the classroom where he could continue preying on vulnerable victims. (This would not be the first time the Jesuits would have Father Jerry psychiatrically tested, then declared suitable for classroom work.)

     In 1995, twenty years after the weekend of sexual abuse in the spiritual advisor's tent on the Santa Cruz Mountain camping trip, William Lynch's younger brother, for the first time since their ordeal, revealed their secret. (He had been sworn to secret by William.) He told his parents what happened to them in Father Lindner's tent. Two years later, the Lynch brothers sued Lindner and the Society of Jesus. (Criminal prosecution, because of the statute of limitations, was no longer an option. The 6-year-stautue of limitations in California had protected Lindner from being criminally charged by dozens of his victims.) To avoid an embarrassing and revealing civil trial, the Jesuits settled the lawsuit for $625,000. (After legal costs, William and his brother ended up with $187,000 a piece.) Following the settlement, the Society of Jesus removed the 58-year-old priest from active ministry. But Lindner still had access to children, and the complaints kept rolling in.

     In September 2002, the Jesuits at the Society of Jesus sent Father Lindner to a Catholic retirement home and medical center for priests in Los Gatos called the Scared Heart Jesuit Center. Several of the priests in this place had been sent there because they were known pedophiles. Father Lindner was one of the residents placed on the institution's child molester register. However, he still had access to young people, and continued to offend.

     It was not surprising, that in a facility where pedophiles are housed, there was a sex scandal. In 2002, it came to light that two developmentally disabled men who lived at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center for 30 years had been regularly molested by priests they considered their friends. Two years after the scandal broke, a priest at the Los Gatos facility committed suicide after being raped by a gang of Jesuits. The order avoided an even bigger scandal by paying off several civil suit plaintiffs with million dollar settlement.

     William Lynch, the man Father Lindner had molested and traumatized as a 7-year-old in 1975, had not gotten over his ordeal. As a fourth grader in Los Altos, California, Lynch started smoking marijuana. By the seventh grade he was dealing in pot, and drinking heavily. At age 15, Lynch tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists, and as a adult, the victim of Father Lindner's sexual assault suffered severe depression. In his thirties, Lynch once again attempted suicide. Aware that the man who had ruined his life back in 1975 continued to abuse children under the protection of the church, Lynch could barely control his frustration and rage. By 2010, at age 42, Lynch decided to turn the tables on Father Jerry by becoming the predator.

     On May 10, 2010, William Lynch used a false name and the pretense of notifying Father Lindner of a death in the priest's family, to meet with him in the guest parlor at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos. When the two men came face-to-face after all of these years, Lynch told the 65-year-old to take off his glasses. As he punched the priest in the head and body, Lynch asked him, "Do you recognize me?" After the beating which included several attempts to kick Lindner in the groin, Lynch said, "Turn yourself in or I'll come back and kill you."

     After the attack, William Lynch made no attempt to conceal what he had done. The Santa Clara County prosecutor had no choice but to charge him with one count of assault, and one count of elder abuse. If convicted of both felonies, Lynch faced up to four years in prison.

     After turning down a plea bargain in which he would serve no more than a year in jail, Lynch told reporters that "I want to take responsibility for what I've done. I don't think I'm above the law like the church and Father Jerry." Lynch said he looked forward to a trial in which the pedophile priest would be publicly exposed for what he was.

     William Lynch's assault trial got under way on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose. Prosecutor Vicki Genetti, in her opening statement to the jury of 9 men and 3 women, said she was prosecuting this defendant under the assumption that Father Jerold Lindner, the victim in the assault case, had in fact sexually molested Lindner and his brother back in 1975. And in an even more unusual remark for a prosecutor to make about one of her own witnesses, Genetti warned jurors that Father Lindner, in denying the allegations, would be not be telling the truth. The prosecutor labeled the assault in this case a "revenge attack." Defendant Lynch, Genetti said, had acted like a "vigilante."

     On the first day of the trial, following the opening statements, Genetti put the prosecution's chief witness, Father Jerold Lindner, on the stand. As expected, the 67-year-old priest, overweight and wearing old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses, denied sexually molesting the defendant and his brother. The witness said he had done nothing in 1975 to justify his beating at the hands of Mr. Lynch.

     After the jurors were dismissed for the day, William Lynch's attorney, Pat Harris, said this to Judge David A. Cena: "He [Father Lindner] has chosen to perjure himself. He should be advised of his right to counsel." The judge said he would take the request under advisement.

     The next day, before the defense attorney's cross-examination of Lindner, the priest took the Fifth, and refused to testify further. At this point attorney Harris moved for a mistrial on the grounds he had been denied his right to question his client's accuser. Judge Cena denied the motion, and the trial continued. Judge Cena also ruled that the jury would not hear from three witnesses prepared to testify that as children, they too had been molested by Jerold Lindner. The judge ordered the jury to disregard Lindner's testimony altogether.

     The next day, prosecutor Genetti put a Sacred Heart Jesuit Center health care worker on the stand who had witnessed the assault. Mary Eden testified that she heard William Lynch scream that Lindner had raped him and his brother, and had ruined their lives. When it came time for the defense to present its case, William Lynch took the stand, and in great detail, told the jurors what the priest had done to him and his brother, and how the sexual assaults had affected their lives. According to the defendant, when he went to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center that day, his intention was to get Lindner to take responsibility for what he had done by signing a written confession. When Lindner refused, and looked as though he might become aggressive, Lynch resorted to violence. (With this testimony, the defense was giving the jurors an opportunity, an excuse if you will, to nullify the evidence, and find Lynch not guilty.)

     Following William Lynch's compelling testimony, the defense rested its case. Prosecutor Genetti, in her closing remarks to the jury, said that what Lindner had done to the defendant and his brother 37 years ago did not legally justify the assault. The prosecutor also accused the defense of encouraging the jurors to return a "nullified" verdict, one that ignored the evidence against the defendant.

     On Thursday, July 5, the jury, in this difficult and unusal case, found William Lynch not guilty of felony assault and elder abuse. By this verdict, the jury sent a clear message to priests who get away with molesting boys. If as adults their victims hunt them down and beat them up, tough luck.   

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Gilbert Collar Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Gilbert Thomas Collar grew up in Wetumpka, Alabama, a town of 6,000 within the Montgomery metropolitan area in the central part of the state. The 135-pound, 5-foot-7 high school wrestling star was enrolled at the University of South Alabama, a 15,000-student university located in Mobile, Alabama. Collar, a social sciences major, wanted to become a high school teacher and a wrestling coach.

     A university police officer named Trevis Austin, at 1:23 in the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2012, heard someone banging loudly on one of the campus police station's windows. Upon investigation of this noise, the officer encountered Gilbert Collar, nude and crouched into a fighting stance. The muscular young man, who challenged the officer to a fight, obviously appeared to be out of his mind. When Collar made an aggressive move toward Trevis Austin, the officer drew his weapon, backed-off, and warned the threatening 18-year-old to settle down. Collar rushed toward the campus cop several times, and each time the retreating officer ordered the man to stop and desist. Collar took a knee, rose, and charged the officer again. This time officer Austin shot Collar once in the chest. The attacking freshman stumbled, regained his footing, rushed toward the officer again, then collapsed and died.

     University police officer Austin was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation to be conducted by the Mobile County District Attorney's Office and the local sheriff's department. An important aspect of the inquiry involved reviewing the surveillance camera footage of the bizarre confrontation. Some of the questions that had to be answered included whether or not the student and the officer who shot him knew each other. Investigators also wanted to determine if Collar had a  history of mental illness and/or drug use. The autopsy and toxicological would answer the question of drugs and or alcohol.

     Jeff Glass, Collar's high school wrestling coach, told a reporter that "He [Collar] was a kind soul. He was never aggressive to anyone off the mat. He was a 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy." Chis Estes, an 18-year-old who grew up with Collar, reportedly said, "Gil was a very 'chill' guy, mellow and easy-going. That's why I don't understand the story that he attacked the cop."

     According to the toxicology report, Gilbert Collar had gotten high on a laboratory drug that mimics the effects of LSD. He had taken the drug at the BayFest music concert on the night of the deadly encounter. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, at a press conference, announced that the student had assaulted others prior to his death at the hands of the officer.

     In 2013, a grand jury sitting in Mobile County cleared Trevis Austin of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.

     In the wake of the grand jury no bill, members of Gilbert Collar's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against former officer Austin and the university. In 2015, pursuant to that suit, former Tallahassee police chief Melvin Tucker, on behalf of the plaintiff, rendered an expert opinion regarding whether the officer's use of deadly force in the case was appropriate.

     In his report, made public in May 2015, Mr. Tucker concluded that officer Austin had used excessive force in violation of his department's deadly force policy. Melvin Tucker wrote that the officer should either have retreated or used non-lethal means to subdue the student.

     Mr. Tucker noted in his report that over the past 131 years only three police officers in the state of Alabama had been killed by an unarmed assailant. The use of force expert wrote that in 2012 not a single police officer in the United States had died as a result of being disarmed by an arrestee.

     This is one of those difficult cases that no matter how it is resolved, won't satisfy anyone. From the campus police officer's point of view, he was confronted by an aggressive, muscular young man who was apparently out of his mind and intent on engaging him in a wrestling match. For all the officer knew, he was dealing with a drug-crazed man with supernatural strength. (The officer was 5-foot-eleven and the student 5-foot-seven.) Had these two people gotten into hand-to-hand combat, there was a possibility that the attacker could have ended up with the officer's gun. Even if the officer had been equipped with a taser device, there was no guarantee it would have subdued this aggressive, out-of-control subject, particularly with the LSD type drug in his system.

     Looking at this case through the eyes of Gilbert Collar's friends and relatives, it's easy to understand why they have questions regarding this student's sudden and violent death. His mother Bonnie said this to a reporter: "Freshmen kids do stupid things, and campus police should be equipped to handle activity like that without having to use lethal force." Although Gilbert Collar was not a kid, college freshmen are known to do stupid things. But taking off your clothes in the middle of the night, and without provocation or notice, attacking a police officer, goes beyond youthful stupidity.



     

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Pallavi Dhawan Double Murder-Suicide Case

     Sumeet and Pallavi Dhawan, before becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, were married by arrangement in their native home country, India. In 2014, the couple and their 10-year-old son Arnav resided in Frisco, a suburban community north of Dallas, Texas. A computer programmer, Sumeet spent a lot of time away from home. Pallavi had worked in the computer field as well but quit her job to care full time for their special-needs son.

     Arnav, a fifth grade student at Isbell Elementary School was born with a brain cyst and microcephaly, a condition characterized by a smaller than normal head. Pallavi often found herself alone in the house caring for the boy during her husband's extended absences. Recently she had been coping with mental problems and a marriage that was falling apart.

     On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, Sumeet, while on a three week business trip, received an email from Arnav's school informing him that the boy had been absent several days. At 4:30 PM that afternoon, as he was about to arrive home, Sumeet called Pallavi who said she was just leaving the house to pick up Arnav at his after-school tutoring center.

     At 6:30 PM that evening, when Pallavi and the boy had yet to arrive home from the school, Sumeet, concerned about their welfare, called the police.

     Pallavi arrived home, without the boy, while police officers were questioning Sumeet. An officer speaking to the mother asked about Arnav. Where is he? Instead of answering the officer, Pallavi asked if she could speak to her husband privately. The officers backed away.

     Sumeet became visibly upset when Pallavi, referring to their son, said: "He is no more." The distraught father informed the officers that Arnav was in the locked bathroom.

     Inside the dry bathtub officers found the dead boy wrapped up to his neck in a cloth. His body was surrounded by several empty plastic bags.

     The day after the discovery of the dead child, the Collin County medical examiner, without issuing a statement regarding the specific cause of death, ruled the case a homicide. The cause of death was being withheld pending the results of toxicological tests. According to the forensic pathologist, the boy had been dead two days.

     On Thursday, January 30, 2014, police officers booked Pallavi Dhawan into the Frisco City Jail on the charge of capital murder. According to the police, before officers entered the bathroom, one of them asked Pallavi if she had killed her son. She responded by nodding her head in the affirmative. When asked if the body was in the bathroom, she also nodded her head yes.

     On Friday, January 31, 2014, just after midnight, Pallavi's attorney, David Finn, posted her $50,000 bail. Later that day, in speaking to reporters, the Dallas based defense attorney insisted that his client, when she nodded her head in the affirmative, had responded to the question regarding her son's whereabouts, not to the question about whether she had killed him. The police simply misunderstood and misinterpreted what they saw.

     Pointing out that the boy's body showed no signs of physical trauma, and that his lungs did not contain water, attorney Finn announced that he would ask Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the Fort Worth based chief medical examiner of Tarrant County, to conduct his own postmortem inquiry.

     Attorney Finn said that his client had doted on her son, a happy, fun-loving kid. He also claimed that Sumeet Dhawan did not believe his wife had killed their son, and that he stood by her. A reporter asked the attorney why the mother didn't notify the authorities after her son's death. "That's the million-dollar question," Finn replied. Pallavi, he speculated, was probably in a state of shock after Arnav's death. She may have been waiting for her husband to come home.

     In August 2014, Pallavi and Sumeet Dhawan testified before a Collin County Grand Jury looking into the death of their son. In January, the couple had petitioned the authorities to return their car, fax machine and passports, items seized pursuant to the investigation of Arnav's death. The Dhawans had been forced to rent a car and needed their passports to travel back to India.

     On September 3, 2014, police officers arrived at the Dhawan residence at three in the afternoon in response to a 911 call regarding a body floating in the home swimming pool. Inside the house, lying on a bed, searchers discovered a man's body. The dead adults were presumed to be Pallavi and Sumeet Dhawan.

     The medical examiner, on September 6, 2014, confirmed the identities of the deceased couple. Sumeet had suffered blunt force trauma to his head. One of his hands had been fractured, probably as he raised that hand in defense.

     In October 2014, a spokesperson for the Collin County Medical Examiner's Office announced that Pallavi Dhawan had killed herself. She had drowned under the influence of the common antihistamine diphenhydramine. Sumeet Dhawan, according to the medical examiner's office, had been murdered by his wife. He had died from a combination of blunt force head injures and a toxic dose of several over-the-counter medications.
     

Friday, August 14, 2015

Adolfo and Deborah Gomez: Parents From Hell

     In January 1994, 34-year-old Adolfo Gomez walked out of prison in Illinois after serving three years for burglary and theft. Four years later, he was living in the suburban Chicago community of Naperville with his 29-year-old wife Deborah and their two sons, ages one and two. In October 1998, Deborah pleaded guilty to child neglect after leaving the boys alone in their apartment for 8 hours.

     In 2007, the couple, now with four children ages 2 to 11, were living in Lombard, Illinois. That November Adolfo pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge.

     From 2008 through 2010, the Gomez family, now comprised of 5 children, moved from one apartment to another around DuPage and Cook Counties, Illinois. Their landlord in Wood Dale from whom they rented a basement apartment, noticed that Adolfo had installed padlocks on the doors to his children's bedrooms. The oldest Gomez child told the landlord he did all the cooking, and that the family acquired its food from local churches.

     While living in Northlake, another suburban Chicago community, the Illinois Department of Family Services, in November 2011, opened a child neglect case on Adolfo and Deborah Gomez. Following the investigation, the agency, in April 2012, closed the case without taking action against the parents. Two months earlier, Adolfo spent 12 days in the DuPage County Jail for failure to pay several fines and comply with various court orders.

     On June 10, 2012, the Gomez family, while on a road trip to Arizona to visit relatives, had car trouble in Lawrence, Kansas. Adolfo managed to coax the Chevy Suburban utility vehicle into a remote spot on a Walmart parking lot. Late in the morning of Wednesday, June 13, a Walmart shopper noticed a 5-year-old boy sitting on the ground near the Gomez vehicle. The child's hands were tied behind his back and his feet were bound. The boy had also been blindfolded. The shopper called 911.

     When officers from the Lawrence Police Department rolled up to the scene, they saw the boy and his 7-year-old sister, also bound and blindfolded, sitting near the broken down Suburban. The other three Gomez children were in the vehicle with their father. Deborah was inside the Walmart store.

     Adolfo Gomez resisted arrest causing the officers to subdue him with a stun gun. Ten minutes later, they took Deborah Gomez into custody when she walked out of the store. The five children were turned over to a child protection agency and the Chevy was hauled to a police towing lot.

     A Douglas County prosecutor charged the 52 and 43-year-old couple with two counts of child abuse and five counts of child endangerment. Adolfo was also charged with resisting arrest. The judge scheduled the preliminary hearing on the case for August 10. In the meantime, Adolfo and Deborah were held in the Douglas County Jail under $50,000 bond each. Adolfo had informed the court he intended to represent himself and his wife against the charges. The judge ordered mental evaluations of both defendants.

   In May 2013, Deborah Gomez pleaded no contest to child abuse. The judge sentenced her to one year probation. A month later, her husband, pursuant to a plea arrangement, pleaded guilty to child abuse and resisting arrest. The judge sentenced Adolfo to 30 months in prison minus the 371 days he had spent in jail. At his sentencing hearing, Gomez told the judge that he and his children had been fearful of demon possession.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Kim Nguyen Police Brutality Case

     At three in the morning, March 17, 2013, 28-year-old Kim Nguyen and two of her male acquaintances were waiting for their designated driver outside a bar in Los Angeles' Koreatown. Police officers David Shin and Jin Oh, in a marked LAPD patrol car, pulled up to the trio. Following a brief questioning of Nguyen and her friends, the young officers drove off.

     For some reason the officers circled back to Nguyen and her companions. As the patrol car approached the bar's parking lot, Nguyen crossed the street to an all-night coffee shop. At this point the officers decided to arrest the Loyola Marymount University graduate student for public intoxication. (This part of LA must be crime-free.) One of the officers handcuffed Nguyen behind her back and placed her into the back of the patrol vehicle.

     The young woman's friends asked the officers where they were taking Nguyen. The officers drove off without answering that question.

     Video footage from a surveillance camera at an intersection not far from Nguyen's arrest showed her lying on her back in the street with a badly bloodied face. The video did not reveal how Nguyen had exited the patrol vehicle. Because she was not moving, it appeared she was either dead or unconscious.

     A patrol car occupied by another set of officers pulled into surveillance camera view. These officers were followed thirty seconds later by the car containing the arresting cops. Officers Shin and Oh were observed standing over Nguyen's body. Finally one of them crouched down next to her and rolled her onto her side. (Perhaps to take off the handcuffs.) Nguyen had regained consciousness and was writhing in pain. Paramedics arrived at the scene, gathered up Nguyen, and took her to a nearby hospital.

     Nguyen's jaw had been shattered and she suffered bleeding on the brain. She had also lost several teeth. Doctors kept her heavily sedated for several days.

     According to the responding paramedics, the LAPD officers told them that Nguyen had fallen out of the patrol car as it accelerated to 10 miles-per-hour from a stop sign. Surveillance camera footage, however, contradicted this account. Video footage showed the patrol car carrying Nguyen traveling through a stop sign at a much higher speed.

     Since Kim Nguyen had no memory of how she got from the patrol vehicle to the street, and patrol cars are equipped with locks that officers can engage when transporting arrestees, how this woman exited the patrol car remained a mystery. Moreover, it was apparently a mystery no one at the LAPD was interested in solving.

     In September 2013, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times doing a story about Nguyen's lawsuit against the police department asked a police commander if the department had launched an internal investigation into the matter. Commander Andrew Smith said that he didn't know if such an inquiry had been conducted. According to Commander Smith, now that a lawsuit had been filed against the LAPD an investigation would be conducted for sure.

     In May 2015, the UCLA graduate, with her state civil lawsuit unresolved, filed a suit against the police department in federal court. Her attorney told reporters that the officers involved had sexually assaulted her. Surveillance camera footage revealed that Nguyen's left bra strap was broken and the top of her dress was pulled down to her waist. According to the lawsuit, when she awoke from the trauma days later, she found bruising on the inside of her thighs.

         

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Michael Nolan Murder-Suicide Case

     Michael Nolan lived in his 86-year-old father's house in Brentwood, New Hampshire, a town of 4,200 in the southern part of the state. The 47-year-old son and his father, Walter Nolan, shared a two-story house in a tree-shaded neighborhood restricted to people 55 and older.

     At four in the afternoon of Monday, May 12, 2014, a neighbor on Mill Pond Road called 911 to report shouting and screams coming from the Nolan residence. Ten minutes later, officer Stephen Arkell, a part time, 15-year veteran of the Brentwood Police Department, pulled up to the scene and was let into the house by Walter Nolan, the owner of the dwelling.

     Four minutes after officer Arkell entered the Nolan house, Derek Franek, an officer with the Fremont Police Department, arrived at the scene. Inside the house, officer Arkell, as he spoke to the old man, was shot and killed by the old man's son, Michael Nolan. When officer Franek entered the dwelling through the front entrance, Michael Nolan opened fire on him. Both the Fremont officer and the senior Mr. Nolan managed to escape the house without being shot. Once outside, officer Franek radioed that an officer was down, and that he had been fired upon by someone inside the Nolan dwelling.

     Officer Franek's urgent call brought a New Hampshire state SWAT unit and the Seacoast Regional Emergency Response Team. Walter Nolan, the 86-year-old owner of the house, in a state of shock and unable to communicate coherently with police officers, was taken by ambulance to Exeter Hospital.

     Inside the police-surrounded house, Michael Nolan poured gasoline throughout the dwelling, lit a match, then began shooting out a window at the SWAT officers. When the SWAT police fired back, a bullet hit a propane gas line that touched off a massive explosion.

     At six o'clock that evening, thirty minutes after the propane blast blew off a third of the Nolan house roof, firefighters began dousing the charred structure with water. Firefighters remained on the scene until nine-thirty that night.

    Cause and origin arson investigators combing through the debris found Michael Nolan's remains. Lying next to his body the officers found three handguns, three rifles, and a cache of ammunition.

     Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell, killed in the line of duty, left behind a wife and two teenage daughters. He was 48-years-old.

     Although a forensic pathologist performed an autopsy on Michael Nolan, the medical examiner's office did not immediately reveal if he had been shot to death by the SWAT police, died in the fire, or had killed himself.

     According to neighbors, Michael Nolan rarely spoke to anyone, and spent most of his time in his room watching television. Police officers had not been called to the Nolan residence in the past, and Michael did not have a criminal record.

     In May 2015, the authorities, under pressure from the local media, released the results of the joint investigation of the case by the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, the State Police Major Crime Unit, and the ATF. According to the report, Mr. Nolan had shot himself to death before the house exploded. In the report he was described as a "stressed out" alcoholic gun enthusiast.
     

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Donald Eugene Borders and the "Three Women" Murder Case

     In 2003, 85-year-old Lottie Ledford lived by herself in a low-income neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina, a town of 20,000 fifty miles west of Charlotte. As a younger woman, Lottie had worked in the region's textile mills. On August 23, 2003, a relative discovered Lottie lying dead on her bed. Because of her age, the police didn't suspect foul play. The Cleveland County Coroner ruled that Lottie Ledford had died of an heart attack.

     Bobby Fisher, Ledford's nephew, believed that his aunt had been murdered. Based upon his own observations, and what the funeral director had seen and noted, Fisher knew that Ledford's face and arms had been covered in bruises. (In January 2013, Bobby Fisher's widow, Barbara Ann, in speaking to a reporter, said, "It looked as if someone had taken two fingers and pinched her nose and held her across the mouth.") The fact that someone had cut Ledford's telephone line also suggested homicide. Bobby Fisher pleaded with the Shelby police to launch a murder investigation, but they ignored his request.

     On September 20, 2003, six weeks after Lottie Ledford's death, in the same neighborhood, Margaret Tessneer's daughter and son-in-law went by her (Margaret's) house at ten that morning. The couple had brought Tessneer a biscuit from Hardee's. The visitors found Tessneer's front door ajar, and inside the dwelling, the 79-year-old lying face-up on her rumpled bed. The dead woman had bruises on her face, arms, and legs. Someone had pulled the telephone drop-line away from her house.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy noted the bruises, and concluded that Margaret Tessneer had been raped. While he ruled the manner of death in this case homicide, the pathologist classified Tessneer's cause of death, "undetermined."

     On November 10, 2003, in the same part  of town, a neighbor discovered Lillian Mullinax lying dead in her own bed. The 87-year-old's body was covered in bruises, her front door had been left ajar, and someone had cut her phone line. Following the autopsy, Mullinax's cause of death went into the books as "undetermined."

     One didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that these three elderly women had been raped and murdered in their homes by the same man.

     In early 2004, Shelby detectives investigating Margaret Tessneer's September 20, 2003 death, became interested in a 53-year-old man named Donald Eugene Borders. After graduating from high school in 1977, Borders got married, worked in the region's textile mills, and fathered two children. But in the 1990s he turned to crime and was arrested dozens of times for robbery, burglary, and assault. In 2001, Borders was sent to state prison on a conviction for breaking and entering a home. After his release from custody in January 2003, Borders lived as a homeless man on the streets of Shelby.

     On March 20, 2004, detectives, after publicly asking for help in locating Borders, found him living in a homeless shelter in Charlotte. Armed with an arrest warrant pertaining to a matter unrelated to the so-called "three women" murder case, Shelby officer James Brienza took Donald Borders into custody. Before hauiling him to jail, Brienza let the prisoner have a cigarette. When Borders finished his smoke, Brienza saved the butt for DNA analysis.

     A state forensic scientist, in August 2004, found trace evidence from Margaret Tessneer's underwear that revealed she had been raped. Following the passage of more than five years (I have no idea what caused this delay) a DNA analyst matched the Tessneer murder scene evidence with the saliva on Border's cigarette butt.

     A Cleveland County Grand Jury, on December 28, 2009, more that six years after Margaret Tessneer's rape and killing, indicted Donald Eugene Borders for first-degree murder. He was taken into custody and held in the Cleveland County Jail without bond.

     Border's trial got underway in Cleveland on January 5, 2013. On January 28, the jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Donald Eugene Borders to life in prison without the chance of parole. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Passing the Trash: Why Was Wilbert Cortez Still Teaching?

     In 2000, 37-year-old Wilbert Cortez, an elementary school teacher at PS 184 in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of inappropriately touching two of his male students. One of the boys reported the abuse to another teacher--three times. The teacher wrote a letter detailing the accusations, and put it in Cortez's personnel file. He did not, however, report the incident to the principal. Shortly after the students made their complaints, school administrators decided to transfer Cortez to PS 174 in Queens. Instead of dealing with the problem, and if appropriate, firing this teacher, they "passed the trash."

     On February 16, 2012, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown charged Wilbert Cortez, now 49, with the sexual abuse of two male elementary students in his computer lab class. The next day, after posting his $50,000 bail, Cortez walked out of the Queen's County Criminal Court building.

     The accused child molester, on May 29, was arraigned on additional charges he had repeatedly molested three male students at PS 174 between 2007 and 2011. Cortez faced up to seven years in prison on each count.

     When word got out that Wilbert Cortez had been accused of sexual molestation back in 2000 at PS 184 in Brooklyn, parents of children who had attended both schools were outraged that education administrators had swept the problem under the rug by sending him to Queens.

     Feeling the heat, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, on May 30, called an emergency meeting with these angry parents. More than 100 people attended the meeting held at PS 174, and they all wanted to know why this teacher hadn't been investigated in 2000. Attendees also expressed concern that the school system's hiring procedures did not screen out pedophiles. Chancellor Walcott told those assembled that his staff would be digging through personnel files looking for old sexual complaints that had been ignored, and "take appropriate action where necessary."

     Chancellor Walcott's response, the promise to fix a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place, didn't satisfy too many people at the meeting. Elementary schools in New York City and around the country are crawling with sex offenders, and because of government laws and regulations that limit what employers can ask job candidates about their past, pedophiles, like foxes into the henhouses, get into our schools. And once they get in, because of teacher's unions, they are hard to get out. Administrators know this. That's why it's just easier to pass the trash. Public education, as we all know, is more about teachers than students.

     On February 25, 2015, Wilbert Cortez pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching one student and endangering three others. Following his guilty plea, Chancellor Walcott stripped him of his New York State teaching certificate.

     Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge sentenced Cortez to ten years' probation. The molester was also required to register as a sex offender and undergo counseling. Like so many ex-public school teachers like him, he got off light. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Jason Beckman: The Murderous Son

     In 2009, 17-year-old Jason Beckman lived with his 52-year-old father, Jay Beckman, in South Miami, Florida. The South Miami High School student's mother had died of cancer in 1998 when he was six. Mr. Beckman, since 2006, had been a South Miami City Commissioner.

     In the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Jason Beckman called 911 to report an accidental shooting that had killed his father. Miami-Dade police officers found Jay Beckman in his bathroom shower stall with his face blow away from a close-range shotgun blast.

     When questioned at the police station, Jason Beckman said he had taken his father's Browning Citori 12-gauge, double barrel shotgun out of the closet and assembled it. He carried the gun into his father's bathroom to show him that he knew how to assemble and load the weapon. In the bathroom he slipped and fell causing the shotgun to discharge. The boy claimed that his father's death had been a tragic accident. At this point, although Jason's story didn't make a whole lot of sense, detectives had no reason to suspect an intentional killing.

     A local prosecutor, on the theory the fatal shooting had been an accident, charged Jason Beckman with manslaughter by firearm, a lesser homicide offense involving negligent behavior rather than specific criminal intent.

     As the investigation into the violent death progressed, detectives began to question whether the shooting had been an accident. Among Jason's belongings investigators found a list of people he said he wanted to kill. Jay Beckman's name was at the top of the hit list. A Beckman neighbor told officers that Jason, for years, had made no secret of the fact he planned to kill his father some day. Jason's friends came forward and confirmed the boy's hatred of his father and his stated plans to murder him.

     Jason, when questioned by detectives a second time, stuck to his original account of the shooting. He did, however, say that his father had threatened to kill him.

     In light of the new, incriminating evidence, the prosecutor upgraded the charge against Jason Beckman to first-degree murder. Investigators now believed the killing had been intentional and pre-meditated.

     The Beckman trial got underway on November 4, 3013. Prosecutor Jessica Dobbins, in her opening statement to the jury, said, "We are here today because the defendant regularly talked about his hatred for his father and his desire to kill him." Defense attorney Tara Kawass told the jurors that Jason was not an aggressive person. "No one was scared of him," she said.

     On November 8, two of the defendant's classmates took the stand for the prosecution. According to both witnesses Jason kept a list of people who had crossed him. Moreover, the defendant had told several people, "countless times," that he hated his father and intended to kill him.

     Jailhouse snitch Michael Nistal took the stand for the prosecution. In 2008 the burglar had been involved in a high-speed police chase that ended with his brother being shot to death by the police. In 2009, while incarcerated at the Turner Guilford Knight Correction Center in West Miami, one of Nistal's fellow prisoners--Jason Beckman--told him why he had murdered his father.

     According to the jailhouse informant, just before the shooting, Jason had asked his father what he thought of an actress named Megan Fox. Nistal testified that, "Jason's father told him he [Jason] wouldn't know what to do with that. So he [the defendant] went and got a shotgun and blew his father's head off." After the shooting, according to Nistal, Jason poked his father's body to see if he was still alive.

     Nistal testified that Beckman had told him that he planned to beat the murder rap by claiming the shooting was an accident or by asserting self-defense or insanity. According to the witness, Jason knew right from wrong and was not mentally ill when he committed the murder.

     Tara Kawass, Beckman's attorney, did her best to convince the jury that testimony from jailhouse snitches was notoriously unreliable. She said that Nistal, who was serving a seven-year stretch in prison, had exchanged his bogus testimony for a lighter sentence. Attorney Kawass did not put her client on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On November 8, 2013 the jury, at eight o'clock that night, announced its verdict. The jurors found Jason Beckman guilty as charged. In Florida, first-degree murder brings a sentence that ranges between 25 years and life.

     The defendant, when he heard the verdict, shook his head. "I don't understand," he said. "I really don't."

     In December 2014, when Judge Rodney Smith sentenced Beckman to life in prison, he said, "You had no remorse. You even told your fellow inmate you were glad your father was dead." 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Raid the Wrong House, Kill the Wrong Person

     Sixty-four-year-old John Adams and his wife Loraine lived in Lebanon, Tennessee, a town of 20,000, 14 miles east of Nashville. John, suffering from arthritis, had retired after working 37 years for the Precision Rubber Company. With his lump-sum disability payment, John had purchased a new Cadillac and a double-wide trailer on Joseph Street, a short, dead-end road on the eastern side of town. His place and the house next door were the only dwellings on the block.

     At 10 o'clock Wednesday night, October 4, 2000, John and Loraine were watching television in their living room when someone pounded loudly on their front door. Loranine got out of her chair, "Who is it?" she asked. Whoever it was didn't respond. The pounding grew more intense. Realizing that someone was breaking down the door, Loraine, thinking that criminals were invading their house, yelled to John, "Baby, get your gun!"

     John Adams grabbed the cane next to his easy chair and hobbled out of the room. Seconds later, five men, wearing helmets and ski masks and dressed in black combat fatigues, burst into the house. They shoved Loraine against a wall and forced her to her knees. Handcuffed and terrified, she said, "Y'all have got the wrong place! What are you looking for?"

     Officers Greg Day and Kyle Shedron, rookies in their mid-twenties, encountered John standing in the hallway holding a sawed-off shotgun. Mr. Adams fired one shot, and the officers returned fire, hitting him in three places. Mr. Adams crumbled to the floor, and died four hours later on the operating table at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

     At a news conference the following day, Lebanon chief of police Billy Weeks admitted that his officers had raided the wrong house. He acknowledged that because there were only two residences on that block, and one was a house trailer, people had a right to know how this could have happened. Chief Weeks said that the narcotics officer in charge of the case, a person he would not identify, had written the correct address on the search warrant. This address belonged to the drug suspect's house located next door to the Adams dwelling. The narcotics officer, in directing the SWAT team to the place to be entered, relied on the description of the raid target rather than the address written on the warrant. Nobody could figure out what the hell that meant.

     According to Chief Weeks, the narcotics officer who had acquired the search warrant had been watching the drug suspect's house for more than a month. The judge had issued the warrant after this officer had sworn to him that an informant had purchased drugs at this house. The drug suspect's car had been parked in the Adams's driveway, which may have caused the mix-up. Although this explained how the narcotics cop might have incorrectly assigned the drug suspect's address to the Adams trailer, it also suggested that the officer had not actually witnessed the snitch enter the suspect's place to make the buy. If he had, the wrong description would not have ended up on the search warrant. Nevertheless, Chief Weeks said, "We did the best surveillance we could do, and a mistake was made. It's a very sincere mistake (what does that mean?), a costly mistake. They [Mr. and Mrs. Adams] were not the target of our investigation. [Mr. Adams was, unfortunately, the target of the shooters.] It makes us look at our own policies and procedures to make sure this never occurs again." Mr. Adams had been shot, the chief went on to say, because he fired a shotgun at officers Shedron and Day. The incident (the homicide) was being looked into by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).

     Chief of Police Weeks called a second news conference on October 19 to update the media on the status of the case. Having earlier assured the public that "We did the best surveillance we could do," he now revealed that "We lost sight of our informant, and that never should occur." It seemed the head of the narcotics unit who had watched the suspect's house, and acquired the search warrant, had not actually witnessed him enter the dwelling for drugs. "What we think happened is that we have a particular [narcotics] supervisor who made a very unwise decision." The "unwise decision" presumably, was to lie to the magistrate who had issued the search warrant.

     Chief Weeks placed this officer on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the TBI investigation. "We are not trying to make excuses for what happened. But I can tell you that we did identifiy ourselves [before breaking into the wrong house], and maybe they [the occupants] got confused. [Mr. and Mrs. Adams were not confused. They were in the right house.] And I know we were reacting to him [Mr. Adams] shooting at us. But obviously, this wouldn't have happened if we had not been in the man's house.

     John Fox, the mayor of Lebanon, also appearing before reporters that day, made the point that, wrong house or not, Mr. Adams would be alive had the SWAT team not been deployed in the first place. "We're going to back off this knocking down doors," he said. "There's going to have to be some really strong evidence that something life-threatening is actually there. I told him [Chief Weeks] to get rid of those damn black uniforms, get rid of them!" [The Lebanon SWAT team had been trained by DEA agents who recommend that officers dress in the "narco ninja" style which consists of all-black outfits and ski masks.] When we go up to knock on a door, we're going to have our suit and tie, or our [regular] police uniform, and that's it. And when they open the door, a citizen is going to be a citizen until there is actually proof of guilt."

    Mayor Fox also provided information that possibly explained how the narcotics supervisor had confused the suspect's residence with the Adams trailer. According to the mayor, the confidential informant was merely an anonymous tipster. Moreover, the so-called surveillance was nothing more than a "drive-by" scan of the neighborhood. If this were true, it's hard to imagine how the narcotics officer could have acquired the search warrant without fudging the facts.

     The TBI completed its investigation, and on November 3, 2000, a Wison County grand jury indicted Lieutenant Steve Nokes, the head of the Lebanon narcotics unit. Lieutenant Nokes stood accused of criminal responsibility for reckless homicide, tampering or fabricating evidence, and aggravated perjury, all felony offenses. At his trial, Nokes pleaded not guilty, and in June 2001, the jury acquitted him of all charges.

     The city of Lebanon, in May 2002, agreed to pay Loraine Adams the lump sum of $200,000. Pursuant to the court settlement, she would also receive $1,675 a month for the rest of her life. The city also paid Mr. Adams' $45,000 hospital bill, and his $5,804 funeral expenses.